Monday, February 20, 2017

Connecting with History at Independence Rock

Traveling the Oregon Trail Backwards, a Road Trip Adventure Part 5

You don't at first notice the sheer massiveness of Independence Rock, dwarfed as it is within a gargantuan landscape. Rising at its highest point 136 feet above the Sweetwater Valley and sprawling more than 27 acres, the rock seems to expand as you approach. Spanning 700 feet in width, Independence Rock is 1900 feet long and has a circumference of more than a mile.

This article is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Likened by emigrants to a tortoise, whale, halved apple, upside-down bowl, unevenly-rising loaf of bread, and even a big elephant up to its sides in mud, Independence Rock is actually the eroded and wind-polished top of an ancient mountain range that sank into the soil under its own weight. Long before emigrants carved their initials into the granite monolith, the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Shoshone, Ute, and other Indian tribes left carvings on this rock. They called it Timpe Nabor, which meant Painted Rock.
Rock of Independence by Alfred Jacob Miller, watercolor on paper, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons
Jesuit missionary Father Pierre-Jean De Smet called it the Register of the Desert. According to the most likely account, '"Rock Independence" was christened by William L. Sublette, who celebrated the Fourth of July there "in due style" on his way to Wind River in 1830. Located at the approximate midpoint between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean, the road became an important way marker on the Oregon Trail. Settlers who reached it by Independence Day, considered themselves well on their way and could reasonably expect to avoid being caught in winter snows in the Rocky Mountains.

Western pioneers found inscribing their names and the date of their passage in the granite at Independence Rock irresistible. 
My small family group arrived at Independence Rock in sweltering weather. We didn't let that stop us, however. Making sure everyone had water, we followed our curiosity to the top. It soon became apparent that living in the balmy Pacific Northwest was no preparation for enduring the heat of Wyoming. Should I ever return, I will climb the rock in cooler weather, but climb it I will. The best carvings are on the top. I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps the forces of erosion blast the sides with more fury. Fearful of rattlesnakes, we didn't poke into the rock crevices, but after coming across the video, below, I wish I'd taken the risk. Over 5,000 names were carved by emigrants into Independence Rock. The paint and tar applied to the carvings or to make signatures that were not carved, has mostly weathered away. However, you can still see it in sheltered places, like the ones this video explores.

Scaling Independence Rock was high adventure, but coming back down proved traumatic. Like a treed cat, I felt in need of rescue. You don't notice while going up how steep the climb is, but once you turn around it hits you. The rounded shape and smoothness of the granite adds to the challenge. My smooth-soled tennis shoes weren’t designed with this use in mind, but taking baby steps, I made it safely down.

This image gives a perspective on the size and steepness of Independence Rock by Werne1nm (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
The path around the circumference of the rock includes fenced areas that protect some of the most vulnerable signatures.As we moved off, I had the sense that visiting Independence Rock had somehow changed me. There's something incredibly intimate about a person's name, and seeing the ones left in this place forged a connection with an immediacy that took my breath away.

Later, I would call upon my experiences during this trip and the other locations on this trip while writing Montana Gold, a western historical romance series with the Oregon Trail always in the background. Hills of Nevermore, the first installment, is now available for Kindle preorder. Order Hills of Nevermore before the May 1st launch date, and you will receive a free copy of Miralee Ferrell's Lassoed by Love romance novella. 

Can a young widow hide her secret shame from the Irish circuit preacher bent on helping her survive? 
In an Idaho Territory boom town, America Liberty Reed overhears circuit preacher Shane Hayes try to persuade a hotel owner to close his saloon on Sunday. Shane lands face-down in the mud for his trouble, and there’s talk of shooting him. America intervenes and finds herself in an unexpectedly personal conversation with the blue-eyed preacher. Certain she has angered God in the past, she shies away from Shane.
Addie Martin, another widow, invites America to help in her cook tent in Virginia City, the new mining town. Even with Addie’s teenage son helping with America’s baby, life is hard. Shane urges America to depart for a more civilized location. Neither Shane’s persuasions nor road agents, murder, sickness, or vigilante violence can sway America. Loyalty and ambition hold her fast until dire circumstances force her to confront everything she believes about herself, Shane, and God.
Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Hills of Nevermore explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

 Preorder Hills of Nevermore 

About Janalyn Voigt

My father instilled a love of literature in me at an early age by reading chapters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe and other classics. When I grew older, and he stopped reading bedtime stories, I put myself to sleep with tales I 'wrote' in my head. My sixth-grade teacher noticed my interest in storytelling and influenced me to become a writer.

I'm what is known as a multi-genre author, but I like to think of myself as a storyteller. 

The same elements appear in all my novels in proportions dictated by their genre: romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy.

Epic Fantasy: DawnSinger and Wayfarer are the first two novels in the epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven. The final books in the series, Sojourner and DawnKing, are under contract with my publisher.

Historical Fiction: Hills of Nevermore, first installment in Montana Gold, set during Montana's gold rush in the days of vigilante justice, will release May 1, 2017.

Romantic Suspense/Mystery: Deceptive Tide (Islands of Intrigue-San Juans) is set to launch in 2017. This title is romantic suspense, but I am also moving into writing mystery novels written in the classic style of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.

Sign up at to be notified when these titles release and for book extras and reader bonuses.


  1. Wow! It would be amazing to see that! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you for sharing, Janalyn. What a great experience and to use your travel adventures in your new series. I'm looking forward to reading Hills of Nevermore.

    1. You're welcome, Marilyn. It's a memory I'll treasure. It was this trip that sowed the seeds of the Montana Gold series. I'm so glad you want to read it.