The `Wild West' In Memory

A RECENT trip by auto through some of Nevada's most spectacular country, including the brilliant red sandstone formations of the Valley of Fire, has stirred up memories of a long ago journey. I'm thinking of a time in the early 1950s when I took my wife and two young children over an abandoned, perilous road between the south fork and the north fork of the Shoshone River, near Cody, Wyo. We came into Cody via the old entrance on the north side of Shoshone Canyon, along a perilous road where the canyon fell away just inches from our wheels.

In those awe-filled moments we had ``rediscovered'' the wild West - not usually seen by those who travel today's highways. On our western trip that summer, we had viewed the mountain grandeur and breathed the mountain air. But we had to go out onto a rock-strewn, barely identifiable trail to find the West of yesterday, the West of the pioneers.

Theirs was not a trip; it was an adventure. Ours was an adventure, too. We should have been using a Jeep, not a car that rode so low to the ground.

There still are roads through the mountains that lead into the wildness of the old West. They are abandoned logging roads and mining roads and roads across which the stagecoaches and the wagon trains once drove. And they are being rediscovered by people who believe in the spirit of the West.

This trail adventure with my family had been a sentimental journey. Back in the late teens my father had taken his family from our nearby ranch near Cody out on that very same trail for weekends of camping under the stars. We had a model-T Ford that liked to rough it. No worries there.

I'm thinking, too, of our journey from Cody in 1919, which took us via Tin Lizzie to Los Angeles, and then back to Urbana, Ill., our new home.

It was late fall before we were under way. Yellowstone was already officially closed for the winter - but we headed in anyway, despite warnings from our friends who said that if we ran into snow we couldn't make it up a long, steep ascent just ahead. Snow fell as we started up this pass. But my mother, father, and a teenage sister pushed the car up the slippery slope.

The trip left lasting memories of spectacular mountain scenery. The roads through the high peaks were narrow. The outside wheels were often inches from slipping into the canyon. Dad did all of the driving, but it was Mother who was the heroine, keeping our spirits up during that difficult trip, which did not end until Christmas Eve - about three months later.

We forded streams with water up to the midpoint of our doors. We ferried big rivers, the Missouri and the Mississippi. The ferries were usually flat rafts pulled by a small boat.

The roads were all unpaved.

Crossing the Western desert in those days called for careful planning. We were loaded down with extra canteens and large quantities of extra fuel. There were no hard roads, and the sand was sticky as mud. We were stuck time after time, pushed out by bigger cars with more traction.

Blowouts were as common as gasoline stops today. Dad lived with his cold-patch outfit, and our inner tubes soon became 98 percent patches and 2 percent tube. Or so it seemed. Old tires and inner tubes lined the ditches along our route.

Roads were marked as trails with symbols, not numbers. Travelers from one's own state were greeted as brothers.

Several times we were sidelined for repairs, twice for more than a week for replacement of tops damaged after sliding and rolling into deep ditches.

As we neared our final destination, we got stuck in the Midwest mud again and again. Farmers with wagon and team would pull us out for $5 - a lot back then.

All through Missouri it rained. Dad ground away in the mud, keeping his foot constantly on the ``low'' pedal. If we made 100 miles in a day through that muck, we thought we had done well.

But we made it! That journey has left me with a lasting memory of a United States that few others today have ever seen.

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