I've been working on photoshopping the 600+ photos I took on the Trek. (And feeling grateful that I didn't take almost 2,000 like others I know!) I am a slow and hesitant photoshopper so it takes me awhile. I've just uploaded the first of the photos, those I took when we were at Independence Rock. (You'll see them when you scroll down past the "recent posts" on the left side of my blog.) I have labeled all the photos with the names of people I know, but if you were on the Trek and know names I don't, will you please, please email me?
Because I rode in a car instead of the bus, we arrived about 45 minutes before the kids did. I grabbed the opportunity to sit in the silence near the rock, thinking about the people who had passed this way. You hear about the distances the pioneers traveled—nearly 1300 miles—but it starts to come into scope when you see all the rolling distances. Many of my own ancestors stopped in this same place. I wrote in my journal, photographed the landscape, and wondered how it really felt, making it to this enormous marker.
Later, after we'd eaten lunch, we climbed up to the top. The wind was fierce at the top. It was different than I expected; more conglomerate than smooth stone. The boys were running around, jumping over cracks, dropping their water bottles and shoes into the crevices, making me anxious. I finally just had to sit back and not nag, hoping no one got hurt. (No one did.) Somehow I managed to be one of the last of our group—not on purpose, but because the kids who left last went down a different route. I sat in the silence for a minute, thinking about a question someone else had asked me. "Why do you think those footsore and exhausted pioneers took the time and energy to climb this rock?" a friend asked as we huffed to the top.
I didn't have answer for her while we climbed, or even when the top was crowded with laughing teenagers. But in those few moments of solitude—alone save one lonely rabbit—I looked across the landscape. A few rolling hills, an enormity of prairie, a few mountain-ish peaks in the distance. High enough to watch the shadows of the clouds cast patterns on the ground. The wind tugging at my bonnet and telling its persistent secrets in my ear. I think they climbed it because it was a reprieve from the endless days of moving West, always West, the sun behind them and then glaring in their face all afternoon, the stretches of monotonous travel. Almost to me it seems like it might have felt like walking on the treadmill: always moving but never getting anywhere. Arriving at Independence Rock and climbing it (some pioneers also carved their name into the stone) must have been a relief to them, a change; an exhilaration of height and wind to keep with them.