Incidentally, there also weren't any irons. Colby wanted to iron his shirt, so he walked down to the office to ask the nice Indian man. This is how it went:
Colby: Do you have an iron?
Nice Indian Man: Iron? Nooooooo. Haha! You want some coffee?
We got dressed anyway and headed for church. We've been finding our wards online, on the LDS meetinghouses map page, which has been super handy. Also, it's been mostly reliable. So we were surprised when we showed up at the chapel in Rawlins at 9 am to find one (1) car in the parking lot. Hmmm. So we walked in to find the one man that had driven the one car, and we found him setting up a projector in the chapel. Ah, stake conference! That explained it. And we only had an hour to wait. We took a short walk down the street to take up some time.
Rawlins, Wyoming smells SO GOOD. It was this delicious mix of clean, fresh air, sagebrush and desert-y plants, dust, and a super faint trace of livestock. I highly recommend it.
After our walk we sat down in the chapel and had a very peaceful (listening to the prelude) and highly entertaining (watching children and families come into the chapel) 25 minutes or so before the meeting started. It was wonderful, a regional conference broadcast to most/all of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and we felt very blessed to be accidentally crashing it. We heard from Elder Hallstrom, Elder Perry, Sister Cook and President Uchtdorf. What a stellar accident.
I also decided that there should be a Sacrament Meeting rule that requires all mothers of tiny babies to either put them up against their shoulders or stand them up on the bench so that all of the rest of us can appreciate their kids. It's no fair to keep all the entertainment to yourself when people for rows and rows behind you could be making ridiculous faces at your child for 2 hours.
After the meeting we hopped in the car and headed for Martin's Cove Mormon Pioneer Memorial. We've been looking forward to this for the whole trip - I've wanted to go for a while. It's not really to or from anywhere - except, I guess, Independence Rock - and it really gave us a sense of the spacious emptiness the pioneers must have been crossing when they got to this point. The desert-y grassland up here is VAST.
We had a nice presentation from the elderly couples at the visitors' center, and watched a really heart-wrenching video about one boy's story who was in the Martin handcart company. There are lists of pioneers who traveled with handcart companies near the exit of the visitors' center, and I found a record of my ancestor, Ann Grimshaw Jackson! She made the journey as a single mother with 5 of her children, one of whom she carried most of the way on her back. I felt really proud to be related to someone so strong and faithful.
[For anyone wondering: when early leaders of the LDS church called members to come to Zion in Salt Lake City, many people couldn't afford to come with wagons and oxen. So church leaders introduced the idea of handcart companies, in which people could pull a wheelbarrow-type cart full of their belongings and walk all the way across the plains. As harsh as such a journey sounds, many people leapt at the chance. The memorial we visited commemorates the sacrifice and suffering of two handcart companies, the Willie Company and the Martin Company, who left for Salt Lake City late in the year and were caught in a terrible snowstorm in what is now central Wyoming. Many of them died doing their duty to their God. For more on this incredible story of faith I recommend this talk by a modern prophet, or else the history section of the wikipedia article is actually quite accurate.]
By the time we left the visitors' center it was already afternoon, and the walk out to Martin's Cove, where the pioneers camped for 5 days in the snow, was a round trip hike of 5 miles. We were a little concerned about time, but still wanted to do it, so we headed out to our car to see how far we still had to drive that night. As we passed a couple of old missionaries at the entrance, we mentioned our predicament to them, and one of them informed us that there was a little turn-off a little way down the road, and by driving to that point and then walking, we could shorted our hike by at least a mile and a half. Great news! That is exactly what we did. We estimated that that way, it was probably only about a 3 mile trip, very doable. It was incredibly windy, which felt good to us because the sun was so warm, but kind of made me sick to think about people trying to walk through it in a snowstorm. Wind like that would be merciless in the winter.
We crossed the incredibly windy Sweetwater river on a footbridge, glad we didn't have to ford it in freezing weather. There's a memorial on the shore to four young men, rescuers from the Valley, who between them carried most of the Martin company pioneers across the river. It's an incredible story, and Colby and I both found ourselves wondering if we would be brave enough to make a sacrifice like that if we were put in that situation.
The walk was beautiful, and sobering. The land is harsh, and I kept imagining myself as a pioneer, wondering if my faith would last through so many awful trials. As we walked through the cove, the Spirit was very strong. The "cove" is a wide gully in the rocky hills that the Martin company camped in in hopes of escaping some of the brutality of the wind. It was a little less windy in there, but not much. I guess it didn't help all that much. They camped on one side and buried their dead on the other side, under a thin layer of snow and all the while hearing wolves coming out of the hills to dig up their loved ones as soon as they had left. I tried to imagine burying my family members, or Colby, as we walked, but couldn't. Oh, how awful.
It was a great experience. I was glad to be able to walk out and see the actual place. Also, we counted a total of 45+ antelope (and 3 deer) during our walk. That's a LOT! There were seriously pronghorn all over the place. It was sad to think we saw so many in a place where so many people had starved to death.
We next headed for Independence Rock, a major landmark on many westward trails, and only about 5 miles up the road from Martin's Cove. Colby and I both had the unsettling realization as we arrived that most of what we know about pioneers we learned from the Oregon Trail computer game. That's maybe not such a great thing to admit. We walked around Independence Rock until we found the names carved into the south side, which I thought was SO neat. It was fun to see things like "So-and-so, US Cavalry" and early dates. It's interesting that people feel the need to leave their mark on something when they're in the middle of nowhere, far away from everything familiar to them. I think I would probably react the same way.
There are also a lot of snakes in the grass, out here. Colby and I figured out later that we had both been silently making plans about "What I'm Going to do if my Spouse Gets Bitten by a Rattlesnake" the entire time. Lucky for us, we didn't have to find out what each other's plans actually were. Although, for your information, Colby's involved sucking the venom out of my leg, while mine involved running for the car and driving him to someone who knew what to do about it.
After Independence Rock we were both pretty beat, and when we rolled into the KOA in Casper, WY (actually it's in Bar Nunn, a little town OUTSIDE Casper, with a population of 491) it was definitely time for bed.