Where it all comes together: Douglas to Guernsey
Monday July 8, 2013, 67 miles (108 km) – Total so far: 2,737 miles (4,405 km)
This old road used to be US 185 from 1926-1936. From 1936 to 1956, it was US 87. In 1956, parts of it disappeared under the new I-25. However, parts of it remained US 87 until the mid-1980s when all sections of I-25 were finally completed.
This old road, the Yellowstone Highway, still carries local traffic and an occasional bicycle tourist. It is designated WY 319 from I-25 Exit 100 to Orin. Between Orin and Douglas, it doesn’t even get a highway number. I enjoy its winding ways and its steep grade – not every road needs to blast through the landscape like an interstate.
The biggest surprise for me this morning is the rough topography extending toward the Laramie Range. If you ever spend much time along the Front Range of Colorado north of Pueblo, you get spoiled with a neat and tidy transition from the Plains to the foothills. The landscape rises gently and evenly, for the most part, until you hit the first row of hogbacks in the foothills.
The Laramie Range is just an extension of the Front Range of Colorado. But it feels totally different. Stretching as far as I can see toward the range is a broken badlands topography. This is the White River formation, deposited 34 to 27 million years ago. We came across this back in Nebraska in May. Here it creates a formidable and imposing landscape. If I were an emigrant traveling through here on the Oregon Trail, the sight of that peak and the rough and rugged land leading toward it would have me really scared about what was to come.
I cross over I-25 at Orin and head south on 319. Here the landscape is lush, at least in Wyoming terms. We are in the valley of the North Platte River. The cottonwoods grow tall and bend their willowy branches with the wind. Bright green grass shows off a colour palette not often associated with this state. Crops are being grown. In places, the west side of the valley draws in close to the road and railroad track with cliffs of pink and tan sandstone. Tall deciduous trees hug the cliff base. To the east, on the other side of Glendo Reservoir, high cliffs rise up vertically, covered with grasslands and dotted with pines.
It is here, that it all comes together for me. All of the time scales converge in this one place, at this one point in time.
Here I am, just one little human riding a bicycle in July 2013 along a road first laid out in 1926. The road roughly follows the Oregon Trail, in use from roughly the 1840s to the 1860s – a significant piece of history because it represents one of the largest unforced migrations of humans ever recorded.
The river was dammed here in 1958 to create Glendo Reservoir which is keeping us company off to the east. Rising above the east-side of the reservoir in dramatic fashion is the Hartville Uplift. This is a structural arch separating the Powder River Basin from the Denver Basin. The arch was uplifted 55-60 million years ago during the Laramide Orogeny (mountain-building episode). Outcrops of the uplifted rocks reveal 320 million-year-old sandstones, those pink rocks we see right next to us. East of the reservoir, indigenous cultures have been roaming the Hartville Uplift for the last 10-12,000 years to mine the chert, iron oxide and other minerals found there. Tools made from Hartville area stones have been found all over the continent, and even in South America.
If all those timelines aren’t enough to boggle the mind, consider that the temporarily stationary 1.5 mile-long coal train I’m riding next to at this exact moment is hauling coal from the Powder River Basin. That coal was deposited about 60 million years ago. It’s been mined within the last week. The train was loaded this morning, the coal will reach the power stations east of here tomorrow, and will most likely be burnt within the next month. The guy driving the train, who is waving to me out the window as I pass by the engine, looks to be in his mid-50s, about 20 years older than me. We are not the same generation.
Enough thinking about the convergence of time scales all in this one place in July 2013?
Okay, then…. I’ll save the thoughts about the Mullen-Nash Fork Shear Zone until we get to the Snowy Range. It parallels this area and is 1.7 billion-years-old.
I’ve ridden I-90 and I-80, so I might as well ride I-25, too. If I knew how to connect up the pieces of the old Yellowstone Highway with Highway 26, I would do that. But I don’t have that info, so it’s onto the freeway we go for about 14 miles. I don’t enjoy this at all, though. The shoulder is rough, and not as wide as I-90 or 80. There is a fair bit of traffic. But we survive.
We take a break at the rest area. Since everyone, regardless of race, class or other catergorisation needs to pee on occasion, there is interesting people-watching to be had while I gulp down heaps of water. I’m also trying to get up the oomph to go riding into that headwind. It is pretty stiff. If I thought I was going to sail east across Wyoming on tailwinds, I was sadly wrong. I’ve had headwinds everyday since leaving Rock Springs.
The road toward Guernsey passes through interesting and varied topography. There are plenty of hills, though they are long and gentle. To the northeast the Hartville Uplift looks like just another line of hills – the gentle little arch is covered in sediments, you’d never know it was part of the latest round of mountain-building.
In town, I hit up the info centre to find out where the campground is located. The woman also tells me how to get to all of the local Oregon Trail sites, and gives me a ‘list’ of about three places to eat. One of the suggestions includes the gas station. So, instead, I get fixings for sandwiches at the supermarket and gorge on the food once I get to the campsite. Of course, the campground lies along the old Oregon Trail – there’s no escaping it here in the North Platte River valley. The golf course is built on it – you can still see wagon swales out there on the greens. The time scales continue to converge.