June 14, 2006 - Casper to Kemmerer

Before flying today, I got a good weather brief and filed a flight plan for the first time this trip.  Today I would be crossing the Rockies and the Continental Divide over some remote area and I wanted to know someone would come looking for me if I had to land in the of nowhere. 

I took off from Casper (KCPR) - elevation 5,500 feet - at 5:50AM, just as the sun coming up.  I climbed up to 8,500 feet which was the highest I had ever been in the Citabria.  The morning air was calm and cool.  After yesterday's experience with the high oil temperature, I was worried about the heat. 

The Trail turns southwest from Casper.   As (bad) luck would have it, the winds today were from the southwest as well.  Because of the headwind and high altitude, I was only making 65 mph over the ground! 

The immigrants didn't have the luxury of that road to get over these hills.  They had to haul the wagons up themselves. 
It was very scenic to be high over the flat desert and everything glowing because of the early morning sun behind me. 
I'm pretty sure those are ruts running by that rock in the center. 
The famous Independence Rock in the center of the picture.  You can see the trail running to the left of the highway.

"Named for a fur trader's Fourth of July celebration in 1830, this huge rock became one of the most famous of all Oregon Trail landmarks. The giant piece of granite is 1,900 feet long, 700 feet wide, and 128 feet high.

The landmark was a favorite resting place for travelers along the trail. Called the "Great Register of the Desert", more than 5,000 names of early emigrant were carved on this boulder.

Starting the trail in the early spring, emigrants along the Oregon Trail hoped to reach Independence Rock by July 4, Independence Day. If they had not arrived by then, they knew they were behind schedule."


I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to tour the rock on the ground. 
After Independence Rock, the Trail and I started following the Sweetwater River. 
At this point I turned due west.  My groundspeed picked up a little to 75 mph. 
I can understand why this river was named Sweetwater.  As the only water around in all this high desert, I'm sure it was very sweet.  I caught my first glimpse of snow-covered mountains ahead to the right.   
A scenic canyon off to the right. 
South Pass -- where I will cross the continental divide -- is dead-ahead.  I used some ridge-lift to climb up to 9500 feet around here.  Unfortunately, the wind had either increased or shifted because my groundspeed was dropping -- first to 55mph, then 45 mph!
When my groundspeed got into the 40s, I mentally reviewed my flight plan.  I had been flying for about an hour and a half now.  I still had roughly 150 miles to go to get to my destination:  Fort Bridger.  Normally, 150 miles is nothing.  But when you're going 45 mph, it's over three hours!  I started this leg with five hours of gas.  Three more hours would leave me with only 30 minutes of fuel.  Airplanes aren't like cars.  You don't cut it that close.  I knew there was an airport about 20 miles to the north so I banked right and headed that way. 

The good news was that I got to see this scenic canyon up close. 

Heading northwest. 
The town of Lander, Wyoming, dead ahead.  Hunt Field Airport (KLND) elevation 5,586 feet -- is just south of the town. 
I landed at Hunt Field around 8AM.  While helping me fill up with gas, the FBO manager noticed the Citabria's N-number was 9117L.  He said he used to own 9119L.  He gave me the keys to the courtesy car and recommended a good place for breakfast in town. 
I had a great breakfast at this Lodge restaurant. 
I called flight service and got another weather brief.  The winds weren't that bad - 10 knots or so -- but they were still from the southwest.  The Trail headed west through South Pass, then southwest to Fort Bridger.  So I wouldn't fly straight into the wind, I decided that I'd fly west through South Pass, but then break from the trail and continue west to Kemmerer, Wyoming. 

I took off from Hunt Field at 9:20AM, headed south, joined the trail and turned west to go through South Pass.  By 10AM I was at 9,500 feet and making 70 mph over the ground. 

"South Pass was the most important landmark on the Oregon Trail; the key to westward migration. Without South Pass, wagon travel across the continent would have been impossible--and Oregon and California would probably not have become a part of the United States. Yet, there's no narrow gorge here--this gap in the Rockies is miles wide.

Most emigrants have a very erroneous idea of South Pass.  They suppose it to be a narrow defile in the Rocky Mountains walled by perpendicular rocks hundreds of feet high. The fact is the pass is a valley some 20 miles wide.

South Pass crossed the continental divide and hence marked the boundary between the United States and Oregon Country. Even though the emigrants were now in Oregon, there was no reason to celebrate. They were still only half-way to their destination. There were a thousand miles yet to travel."

Below: entering South Pass.

Looking north, flying through South Pass.
Looking north. 
Looking south.
After South Pass, I continued west through some pretty desolate high desert.  The sky started clouding up and I even got rained on a little.  I was still making OK groundspeed:  60-70 mph.
About 25 miles from Kemmerer I passed a front of some sort and the sun came out again.  Unfortunately, the headwind really picked up.  My groundspeed dropped down to 40mph!  Kemmerer had an automated weather station that gave current weather over the radio.  The wind at the airport was gusting to 30 mph.  Kemmerer (KEMM) -- elevation 7,285 -- has three runways so I would be able to land on one parallel with the wind.
I made a decent landing, considering, and tied the Citabria down securely.  It was only 12 Noon but I was done flying for the day. 
The terminal is moving from the little building to a new building on the right.  There was a self-service fuel pump and the fuel was inexpensive.  This airport doesn't get a lot of traffic but the manager was on-site and helped me get tied down.  The courtesy car was brand new!  I followed the manager down the hill -- the airport is on a plateau above town -- into town and he pointed out some good places to eat and where the motels were.