I like to hike a mountain pass. There’s nothing else like them. The very word, “pass”, comes from “passage” and itself implies the most significant part of a journey, that of some kind of transformation. Translated from the Shoshone language, “Togwotee Pass”, means “from here we can go anywhere”.This seems especially fitting as we complete our walk north from southern Colorado to northern Wyoming and nearly complete our three year trek of the Continental Divide Trail. But let’s go back to where we left off, in Rawlins Wyoming. Since we have not had computer access for the last two weeks (Sunday of Labor Day weekend in Lander Wyoming, the Library was not open and there were no public computers anywhere). So we’ll break those report into two parts: the Great Basin Divide and the Wind Rivers.
Part 1 – The Great Basin
Rawlins – a truck stop town on the wide open plains of south central Wyoming. The general area has long been a travel corridor west as there is a break between the Northern and Southern Rocky Mountains. This is an area of high, barren plains punctuated by long mesas, ridges and occasional canyons. High elevation, barren countryside with extremes of heat in the summer and cold in the winter and wind all the time. There nothingto block the wind, nothing for hundreds of miles. Here there is no distinct watershed divide. The Continental Divide actually splits into a ring and forms a rim around a large basin over 100 miles across. The water that enters the basin, what little water there is which falls here, does not run east or west, it simply sinks into the ground. There are no large evaporative lakes (like the Great Salt lake in Utah), in fact there are very few features shaped at all by flowing or falling water. It is, simply put, a desert. And it is deserted. Sand and sage dominate. The landscape is dominated by long sight lines to faraway ridges, flat tops and some rolling bottoms. The edges are defined by low rolling hills. We hiked across this land and in 5 days, 120 miles saw no trees, except for one patch of plantation pines a few miles outside of Rawlins platned by some long ago deserted rancher.
Yet it is the very vast emptiness, stark, naked landscape that brings a strong appeal to this section of our journey. It is a wild and raw, untamed land; just like the wild horse which roam across it and the antelope who are masters of this domain. There are NO people, and very very little sign of humans every having been there. Sure, we follow jeep roads, but in five days see just one or two vehicles on them. It is a rough and rugged area that commands you to meet it on its terms, not your own. Abide by its rules and you can let your imagination roam along with you as you walk and picture yourself in a primordial time and place.
The most memorable part of this section will be the wind. Somehow “windswept” falls short of describing it. More like wind shovelled. At times the strength of the gusts would literally push us a foot or more to the side with the step of each foot forward. There was no place to shelter a tent and, for all the flatness, the ground was almost always lumpy with desert grass or rocky with un-eroded chunks of large gravel. No soft sand to sleep on; but, on the other hand, the starry skies were brilliant to sleep under.
Part two – the Wind Rivers, coming up in a seperate post.