Split Rock was a key landmark for emigrants on the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

We hear about metaphorical landmarks nearly every day: landmark legal decisions, sports victories, speeches, etc.

But in this era of ubiquitous GPS and navigation applications, fewer and fewer Americans have regular use for the real thing — “An object or feature of a landscape or town that is easily seen and recognized from a distance, especially one that enables someone to establish their location,” according to Oxford Dictionaries online.

That hasn’t always been the case. Hundreds of thousands of emigrants on the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails across Wyoming relied on known landmarks to set their courses through the vast expanses of high desert prairie. Perhaps none was more prominent on the landscape or in the imagination than Split Rock, with its distinctive “gun-site notch” aiming the way to the continental divide at South Pass, some 75 miles distant.

At covered-wagon pace, travelers once kept Split Rock in sight for days. Now, most zip past in minutes on Highway 789/287. But Split Rock didn’t become an icon for no reason. It still grabs the eye, and the imagination, as it did with one modern migrant and her camera last month. 

After all, a landmark’s not much use without staying power.

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Matthew Copeland

Matthew Copeland is the chief executive & editor of WyoFile. Contact him at matthew@wyofile.com or (307) 287-2839. Follow Matt on Twitter at @WyoCope

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  1. In the foreword to “Love Song to the Plains”, Mari Sandoz wrote, “When I was seven or eight I liked to climb to the top of Indian Hill overlooking miles of the river and beyond, to where I hoped to see far places in the shimmering mirages, perhaps even Laramie Peak, as old-timers promised.”