CDT 2021: Day 54, Rawlins to Bison Basin Road

I'm hitch hikin' all day long

Clouds over Wyoming

Top O' and I made it to Wyoming. Now we just needed to go about 100 miles farther north to begin hiking again. Our plan seemed simple enough. It involved hitchhiking, which we've done dozens of times on this and other thru-hikes.

We wanted to go as far as Lander but would settle for Atlantic City or South Pass City. The CDT was easily accessible from there, so these were not only good places to begin hiking south, we wouldn't have a problem getting back there when we flipped again to hike north.

DateSaturday, June 5, 2021
WeatherPartly cloudy; temperatures from the mid-50s to mid-80s
Trail ConditionsAsphalt highway and gravel road before returning to the trail
Today's Miles2.4
Trip Miles709.0

Before setting out, we walked a few blocks down to a convenience store. This wasn't the best place to go for breakfast in Rawlins, but it was the closest. Otherwise, we would have had to walk much farther.

Top O' sticks his thumb out

The CDT left Rawlins by following U.S. Highway 287. Although we made a couple of brief attempts to catch a ride as we walked, we figured our best bet was to get to the edge of town. Besides, we were unsure if it was legal to hitchhike within city limits.

We were hoping someone would stop who was planning to go at least as far as we were. Our aspirations turned out to be far greater than reality. We stood on that road for two hours with no one stopping to pick us up. Traffic was light, but enough cars went by that it seemed like we should have gotten a ride sooner.

I learned later that the local sheriff's office issued a "do not pick up hitchhikers" warning a year ago after a motorist was found dead in his car from a gunshot wound. Perhaps that was why no one wanted to pick up two old guys who looked like drifters.

Eventually, though, a kind man named Frank pulled over and offered us a ride. He told us he works on gas pipelines in the area, but today, he was driving to see his grandkids. He couldn't take us all the way to Lander because he was going to Riverton.

We agreed to go with him because this was the only offer we'd had so far. It seemed like it could be our only chance for a ride for a long while, and at least we could get a lot farther north than we were now.

Stopping near Split Rock

Frank was proud of his work and the area, and told us a lot about both. He had much to say about the San Pedro Mountains Mummy, which was discovered near here by a couple of miners in 1934. Frank told us there is a lot of mystery about the mummy, which looked more alien than human.

Some people thought it was a member of a race of pygmies or proved a Native American legend about a race of little people with magical powers. They were said to be vicious cannibals.

Researchers who examined the mummy said it appeared to be the body of an infant that died at birth from a rare genetic condition called anencephaly.

Frank pulled over at one point so we could get out and read signs about Split Rock.

Looking toward Split Rock

Split Rock was an important navigation landmark for emigrants crossing the plains on the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails. The notch in the rock was visible for two days before they arrived here.

A Pony Express station was located near here in the early 1860s.

The highway north of Sweetwater Station

Frank dropped us off at a rest area at Sweetwater Junction. This was where the road to Riverton intersected with the road to Lander. We thought we could take a short break here for lunch, and wouldn't have much trouble getting a ride the rest of the way. After all, there were people here. At least some of them ought to be going in the same direction we were.

That didn't turn out to be the case at all. We stood on the road for another two hours. Nearly all of the cars and trucks that drove by turned to go to Riverton. Of the few that were heading to Lander, nearly all were RVs, and tourists rarely pick up hitchhikers.

Walking south from Sweetwater Station

We were getting desperate by 3 p.m. The number of cars going by had dwindled to none and we were in the middle of nowhere.

It was time to come up with a Plan B. The first option we considered was walking north. Maybe someone would pick us up on the way, we thought. The problem with this option was the distance. If we didn't get picked up, we could be walking for more than 30 miles before we found another water source. Considering how late in the day it was, that didn't seem like a worthy idea.

Fortunately, I had just enough cell service to use Google Maps. As I began to scroll around on my phone, I found Bison Basin Road a short distance away from us and saw that it could lead us directly to the trail. This option had two big advantages, with the first being that we could walk to the trail in 11.8 miles. Despite the lateness of the day, we figured we could get there before dark.

The second advantage of walking this road was there was a pond where it crossed the trail. We would have a water source available when we got there.

There was a disadvantage to this option, however. We had no idea how we could get back to that spot when it came time for us to connect our footsteps and begin walking north. Maybe someone would be willing to drive to the trail and drop us off there, but finding the right person for that seemed iffy at best.

Walking on Bison Basin Road

Despite that concern, we decided to go for it. We didn't have much to lose and this would at least get us back on the trail today.

As luck would have it, Bison Basin Road was wide and well maintained. It was easy to walk on. We recognized that if someone was willing to drive us back this way when we came back to here, any vehicle could do it.

No trees to be seen

Soon after we were away from the highway, it began to sink in how far from anywhere we were. There were no trees, no buildings, no power lines in sight in any direction I looked. This was the true definition of wide-open spaces.

A truck passed us going in the opposite direction, so I knew this road led to somewhere. I just couldn't imagine where.

A marker for the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails

After walking for an hour, we came upon a historic marker. A concrete pillar showed that the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, and the California Trail crossed here. All three followed much of the same route through Wyoming. They were collectively known as the Emigrant Trail.

The three trails would continue west from here, first going to South Pass, then to Ft. Bridger. Mormons would then continue to Utah, while the other trails would lead emigrants farther west before separating in Idaho. More than half a million emigrants crossed here between 1843 and 1869.

The trails' usefulness ended with the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

Wind hits Top O' in the face

There were times when the wind was blowing so hard we had to lean into it to walk. There wasn't a tree or a shrub to stop the wind from blasting us. It slowed us down when we were heading in the right direction for it to hit us straight on.

A view of the mountains of Wind River Range

The terrain wasn't completely flat, and the road occasionally climbed to where we could look north and see the mountains of Wind River Range. We could tell there was still a lot of snow at higher elevations, which reinforced our decision to stay south of there for now.

By the time we finish walking through Colorado and flip back this way, most of that snow should be gone.

A curve in the road

Another truck passed us late in the day, and it was going in the same direction as us. It sped past without slowing down and the driver didn't acknowledge our presence.

"That guy wanted nothing to do with us," I told Top O'.

"He’s probably a serial killer and didn’t want us to discover he was hauling a body," Top O' laughed.

Nearing the trail

My feet began to hurt as we neared the end of our walk. I was surprised by this because I was wearing the same size and model of shoes I've worn this entire hike. I didn't have problems with them before, so it didn't seem like the problem should be because they were new.

At any rate, the pain wasn't bad enough to be a big concern. It could have been simply due to being off the trail for six days.

Wild iris

I didn't expect to see wildflowers in such a dry and treeless terrain, but I found some wild iris just before we reached the CDT. It stood tall among the prairie grasses.

The Continental Divide Trail

We were finally back on the CDT shortly after 8 p.m. It felt good to be back and especially good to be here before dark.

Top O' collects water from a pond

The pond was about a half-mile down the trail. It was man-made and was intended to be drinking water for cattle. Considering we were sharing the water with livestock, it was reasonably clean. However, it had the unexpected flavor of sagebrush.

A campsite on the CDT in Wyoming

We waited to set up our tents so we could filter our water before the last light faded. Of course, with no trees or mountains, there was nothing to cast a late afternoon shadow.

Although we walked more than 14 miles today, only 2.4 of them were on the CDT. Of that, 1.9 miles were what we walked this morning when we left Rawlins.

This day didn't go as I expected, but I was glad we were resourceful. We didn't get where we intended, but we were still able to get on the trail in one day.

In a day of surprises, it would have to end with one more. We were bothered by mosquitoes tonight for the first time.

Thumb stuck out as I go
I'm just travelin' up the road
Maps don't do much for me, friend
I follow the weather and the wind

I'm hitch hikin' all day long
Got what I can carry and my song
I'm a rolling stone just rolling on
Catch me now 'cause tomorrow I'll be gone


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.