There was one landmark that I was looking forward to seeing and sketching, more than any other. And like the emigrants, I saw it miles before I reached it.
A good number of the pioneers were midwestern flatlands and their first sightings of Chimney Rock must have made them feel like they were in a completely different world, in a landscape they could not quite comprehend.
Seeing the spire of Chimney Rock, through my windshield was like a beacon that drew me toward it. No wonder why this unique landform is the most mentioned landmark in pioneer journal accounts.
As I pulled into the visitor’s center parking lot, I noted the numerous rattlesnake warning signs. The center was closed for Columbus Day so I skirted around the building, keeping my eyes down, scanning for a snake in the grass, to reach the viewing deck.
The winds and the rains of the morning seemed a thing of the past. The storm covered Cheyenne in six inches of snow and closed highway 80 for 9 hours but now the majestic prairie clouds rolled above the spire.
I could picture the masses of wagons, livestock, and people, populating the plains around the rock where now a few cows grazed. As I sketched the landmark, I was continuing a long tradition of drawing the landscape along the trail. At the time the spire was much taller in the mid 19th century due to erosion and a little pioneer vandalism. I read one pioneer pastime included shooting at the spire and collecting what ever pieces were blown off and kept as souvenirs. Another pastime was carving their names into the rock. Now all names have eroded away but in two locations further to the west, emigrates signatures are still visible to this day. But more about that in another post.