This may well be one
of the most subtly dramatic sites remaining on the emigrant trails. Here,
in the middle of an open, sagebrush plain, the trails diverge. Emigrants
had to decide whether to stay on the main route and head southwest towards
Fort Bridger or veer right and cross the Little Colorado Desert on the
Greenwood or Sublette Cutoff. The cutoff, opened in 1844, saved about
46 miles but included some fifty waterless miles. The popularity of this
route increased markedly in 1849; argonauts were much more willing to
take risks if they promised to save time.
Parting of the
Ways has been the subject of many misunderstandings. On State Route 28
a few miles beyond the BLM interpretive overlook at South Pass, a historic
marker erected by the Historic Landmark Commission of Wyoming in 1956
proclaims this site to be Parting of the Ways,
stating "This marks a fork in the trail, right to Oregon, left to
Utah and California." 32 years later, the Oregon-California Trails
Association erected another marker next to this one which correctly states
that the true Parting of the Ways lies another 9½ miles to the west. This
site on SR 28 is now widely known as False Parting of the Ways and directions
to trail sites in this area will often reference "False Parting."
The real site will often be called "True Parting." At True Parting,
the eye can follow the divergent trails for miles towards the horizon.
It is also inaccurate,
though frequently stated, that Parting of the Ways marked the point where
parties headed to California and those headed to Oregon parted ways. In
fact, if your destination was either California or Oregon, either branch
would serve you well. Those in need of supplies or worried about the condition
of their members or livestock usually took the left fork, towards Fort
Bridger. Since this was also the route to Utah, Mormon parties also took
the road to the left. But California-bound emigrants could and often did
travel with their Oregon-bound friends as far as the middle of Idaho.
Nonetheless, Parting of the Ways did mark a spot where many emigrants
bid a tearful farewell to friends they would probably never see again.
A marker at
True Parting of the Ways, indicating the right fork for the Sublette Cutoff
and the left fork for Fort Bridger, is not original.
Sweetwater County, Wyoming. T26N/R104W.
Head southwest on SR 28 from False Parting for about 2.2 miles to a dirt
road on the north side of the highway. Follow this about one mile to Plume
Rocks, then turn southwest and follow the trail ruts for about 7 miles
to Parting of the Ways. The site is not easy to find as the old trail
is not well marked in this area. There are also a number of auxiliary
roads that have been created by energy developers.
National Park Service
Comprehensive Management Plan
This site is threatened by encroaching mineral exploration and development.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.