Thursday, October 29, 2020

Rockin’ and Rollin’ Through the Hills of Wyoming

Rumination From the Rock and Beyond

Some of my readers might remember a column I wrote last summer about fossil hunting in southwest Wyoming. Guess what? It’s addictive! I had to go back and try again this summer to see what specimens I could find and of course, learn from the grizzled ole hunters that make fossiling their life’s work and profit, by the way.

Note: I recently attended a performance at Venue Naples and they had multiple fish fossils and a gigantic fossilized palm frond on the walls with prices from $40,000 to $60,000, and no, I did not add an extra zero.

I spoke with George, the operator of the site, who told me about its expansion to a new promising area opening soon – Oh my Gigantasaurus, get out of my way, I’ve got the fever!

I also met Kim Nielsen from Nebraska, who has been fossiling in this location for over twenty-five years with piles and stacks of successful finds that he cleans up and sells. He’s found birds, a huge, open-mouthed piranha, crocodiles, plants, and pre-historic jellyfish. How a jellyfish shows up as a fossil is mind-boggling; it’s gelatinous, right? It’s like a treasure hunt and the fun, if I can borrow a well-known line, lies in the fact that, “You never know what you’re going to get!”



So much for the Rockin’, moving on now to the Rollin’. It’s a good idea to have a truck rather than a pristine luxury car when combing the hills and valleys for “finds.” A must see is an ancient old mining town called South Pass City outside of Lander, Wyoming. It was once a lively community back in the 1800s when the mere scent of gold drove men to dig craters and pan for the sparkle and promise of riches. The Carissa Mine was created in 1867 on the tide of gold. It was first called the Cariso Lode and evolved to “Cariso,” then Carisa, and finally the Carissa Mine. They must have had some reason to feminize the name, but it eludes me.

You’d never know all this existed because it’s off the highway and it takes some up and down hill riding to get there. Much to my surprise, the Friends of South Pass, a non-profit organization, operates a General Store and has reconstructed, and furnished with historical accuracy, many of the old buildings and display signage to explain the anthropological impacts. I had no idea until I toured the buildings that they could have a saloon with card playing tables, a roulette wheel, a barber’s chair and possibly a bordello under one roof. A drink while getting your hair cut? One stop shopping.

The school, of course, was of intense interest to me and I had a hard time realizing that the one-room school was actually used for classes until 1947. The school was moved from its original location to higher ground due to flooding and it later served as a storage building for hay, but it was refurbished as you can see from the photo.

The students then were no angels, contrary to popular belief that the students of today are more mischievous, undisciplined and disengaged than “back in the day.” According to a brochure produced by the Friends of South Pass, “William Carr, a former student, recalled a male teacher who was quick to take up a willow stick as he was to take a nap and smoke a pipe after lunch. One day during the teacher’s nap, Carr slipped gun powder into the pipe. The pipe exploded when lit and the switch was put to work overtime slashing at any student within reach.”

There’s rich history and experiences to be had in our amazing country. Here’s hoping that you find your own pot ‘o gold by adventuring and leaving the “news” behind; you’ll be happier, more learned and balanced as you are transformed.

Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!

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