By: Jon Wiebe, AHW Volunteer
It was a cold and grey as we crested the summit of I-80, between Cheyenne and Laramie. Growing up in western Nebraska and later moving to Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming, this sinuous stretch of road has become one of my most familiar treks. Westbound, the boulders of Vedauwoo have always signified the end of my journey. The Laramie Valley opens wide before me, and the sun finally pierces the rocky corridor’s high walls.
Today, however, is not a homecoming. A good friend of mine and fellow graduate of UW, Annie, are taking a trip to the Abraham Lincoln statue at the 1-80 Summit. The Lincoln-head was one of the most poised landmarks along my route commuting home from school, but I’ve never stopped for closer inspection. When I was younger, I marveled at the towering obelisk but never took it upon myself to learn more. With each passing trip, I grew to think of Lincoln as a relic in the back of my pocket—something that I was saving for myself, like the last chocolate chip cookie in the bottom of the jar. I had the cloudy day off and decided it was time to reach into my rainy day fund of sites and scenery.
Thankfully, the clouds didn’t completely cover the landscape ahead of Annie and I. We headed off I-80 and followed a barn fence to pull up to Abraham Lincoln’s footsteps. Even though I’d seen it a thousand times from a hundred angles, the view West from the summit took the cold wind from my lungs. The Interstate bleeds down from the sweeping prairie and separates the fierce peaks of Sherman’s granite from the snow-dusted horizon of Colorado in the distance.
Standing at the base of the monument, I realized how imposing the statue truly is. Standing at nearly 50 feet, the monument dominates the surrounding hills. Lincoln’s own bust measures 13.5 feet, two of me!
“It looks like Lincoln, all right,” remarked Annie, “right before he went to the theater.” I thought my friend’s comment was a little off-color, but I did see her point. Lincoln gazes over the valley with certain earnestness. The artist’s casting captures the weight of Lincoln’s presidency. His expression is heavy, his brow wrinkled and his cheeks sunken. His lips aren’t curled upwards, not even in the slightest. But this is not a sad Lincoln. He’s watching the road before him, almost as if he’s still charged with the responsibility of keeping our country connected.
Annie and I walked into the visitor’s center adjacent to the monument expecting to find some dusty plaques and chintzy pamphlets but met something else entirely. A little girl and her mother were standing at the edge of an enclosed glass enclave overlooked the highway.
“You’re standing at the highest point of the Lincoln Highway,” said the older woman holding her daughter’s hand. “How crazy is that? Look where we came from!” gesturing out towards the road ahead. “It’s too high for me!” said the little girl, retreating back to a safe bench.
My friend Annie has been to the monument before. In fact, it was one of the first things she remembers from visiting the University of Wyoming. She and her family stopped when they trekked up from Colorado, on one of their first visits to the state. Now, she’s a full-time teacher in Denver. Her classroom is full of faces only a few years older than the little girl shuddering beside her. The two struck a conversation, and in a matter of minutes, Julia and Sophia were our new best friends. The two were traveling from Sterling, Colorado, on a family trip, and were there to learn just like us. They had just come from a book fair where Julia had purchased her daughter a new pencil bag, the contents of which Sophie was displaying in close detail to Annie.
We said our goodbyes, Annie got a hug, and we went back to the plaques. I couldn’t help overhearing the excitement laced into little Sophie’s words as she and her mother kept moving through the visitor’s center. The Lincoln monument held her limited concentration completely, even if she was a little bit scared from teetering on top.
As we strolled back to our car, I saw Julia and her daughter hand-in-hand, sprinting over a snow bank. Sophie was yelping unapologetically, with a grin etched on her face from tiny ear to ear. And from way up above, I’m pretty sure I saw Mr. Lincoln smiling, too.
Have you been on any adventures in Wyoming? Share your memories, here.
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