Sunday Drive: Ramblin’ along the Lincoln Highway
Opinion Opinion | Aug 2, 2023
Looking up from my biscuits and gravy, I pondered the mural on the wall depicting a retro car driving a winding road in Wyoming. Jody’s Diner in Evanston is a throwback to the days of Route 66 when places like Cadillac Ranch and the Wigwam Motel were iconic stops in the 1950s and ’60s.
But today we were going back further in time, exploring the original mother road. Dedicated in 1913, the Lincoln Highway was America’s first transcontinental highway, a well-organized collection of dirt country roads stretching over 3,300 miles from New York to San Francisco — somewhat mirroring what we know today as I-80.
The Lincoln Highway is enjoying a resurgence of interest today, thanks to the 2021 Amor Towles novel of the same name, set in the early ’50s with the old highway as a backdrop. Started by Indianapolis 500 and Miami Beach creator Carl Fisher, the Lincoln Highway was characterized by dusty drives in box-like motor cars and tourist camps along makeshift roads, winding its way through the heartland of America. It was privately funded, through the Lincoln Highway Association, with towns clamoring to have the route pass through their main streets. Battles were waged from competing private highways, most notably in Utah, until the federal government nationalized the private roads in the late ’20s.
Starting in Evanston, we marveled at the still-standing Sunset Cabins where you got a room and a garage for about a buck in the 1930s. We decided to backtrack east, heading to Fort Bridger and Lyman in search of a rare original Lincoln Highway marker. En route, we checked out the renovated Orange and Black Cabins, a cozy camp in the trees at Fort Bridger.
As the Lincoln Highway Association was about to dissolve in 1928, Boy Scouts across the country installed some 3,000 concrete roadway markers. After searching for hours, we enlisted the help of local rancher Ramon Walker, who led us straight to the prize, standing alongside a towering sage.
Ramon regaled us with stories of his 80-plus years in the Bridger Valley, including the time he climbed Utah’s King’s Peak, on the ridge line in the distance, when he was 73. It was a bit emotional standing by the roadway marker, with the blue L on white, flanked by red and blue stripes, thinking of travelers who passed this spot on what today is a rural country road.
Heading back into Utah, we dove into Summit County’s detailed guide, pulling off to view the old railroad water tower still standing in Wahsatch. We ducked off again at Emory, visiting the site of the old town and looking up to natural features like Castle Rock. Through Echo to Coalville, Hoytsville to Wanship, we cruised. We climbed the twisty-turny canyon to Atkinson Ranch outside Park City and the old stone Kimball Ranch near Bitner Road.
Highways are part of our life today — conduits to get from one place to another.
This corridor that today we take fore granted was a principal part of the evolution of Western America. From 1840 as the Oregon Trail used by Mormon pioneers to the overland stage routes of the 1850s, Pony Express of the 1860s and the Union Pacific Railroad, Echo Canyon has seen millions of migrants pass through its red rock bluffs, with Parley’s Canyon bringing a sense of joy in putting the mountains behind.
Today we were just tourists, cruising in comfort on paved roads in an air conditioned SUV. But the small towns, rolling terrain and bits of memorabilia took us back in time to when America’s highway passed through our town.
Getting There: Evanston is a great place to start, following I-80, frontage roads and country byways through Uinta County, Wyoming and Summit County. You can continue on down to Salt Lake City and out into the West Desert. No dirt roads on the local route, so the family SUV is just fine.
Info: The Utah and Wyoming chapters of the Lincoln Highway Association are great resources. Both the Uinta and Summit County Historical Societies have detailed guides to points of interest. Here’s a folder of helpful PDF guides.
Kids: Do some Google searches to find the locations of Lincoln Highway markers or replicas in Utah and Wyoming.
Dining: Start your day at Jody’s Diner in Evanston (open on Sundays). On the way home, stop at Polar King in Coalville for an ice cream.
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Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.DETAILSGetting There:Info: Kids:Dining:Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.