Roadside Classic: Tree Rock – Standing Vigil Over I-80 Since Well Before I-80 Existed

Even though I usually take Hwy 287 when traveling between Fort Collins, CO and Laramie, WY, on occasion I have reason to take the long way using I-25 and I-80 and for years have been curious about the sight of a tree growing out of what seems like solid rock between the East- and West-bound lanes.  Anyone who has traveled across the country on I-80 (or at least across Wyoming) has likely seen it as it is clearly visible from both directions but it’s easy not to really notice until it’s too late to stop.  A couple of weeks as I was piloting the RAM 3500 along I-80 I finally decided to stop at the little parking lot in the median and check it out.

This part of Southern Wyoming is fairly wind-swept and doesn’t have that many trees, so this one is already a bit noteworthy but the setting just gives it more mystery (and charm).  Back when the Union Pacific Railroad laid its tracks in the 1860’s in this area of the Sherman Mountains before there was a road, the workers noted the Limber Pine and actually jogged the tracks sideways a bit more than originally planned in order to get closer to it.

It became a stop for the trains and the firemen on the trains would give the tree a bucket of water as a drink, or so the story goes.  In 1901 the railroad moved their tracks a few miles to the south and the abandoned grade became a wagon road. Then in 1913, the old Lincoln Highway came by the rock; in the 1920’s, the Lincoln Highway gave way to US Highway 30 and then in the 1960’s Interstate 80 was built, solidifying the tree in the rock as an icon to be looked at by millions of motorists when passing by.

The tree now has a little fence to protect it but the age of the tree is unknown.  Limber Pines can apparently grow to be 2000 years old.  It’s a good little place to stop during a long journey to stretch ones legs but not much is nearby although it is considered to be in the town of Buford, population either 1 or 2, depending on the decade.  You’d better supply your own snacks though as there is nothing around besides a small parking area accessible from either side as well as the tree and some rocks.

Tree Rock has been the subject of numerous postcards (the above example dates from the 1930’s) and entries in travel books over the years.  I kind of look at it as symbolizing Wyoming and a large part of the American West, with one plucky individual (or tree) able to withstand significant hardships and make a go of it.  I’m not a born American myself, but this tree sort of represents America to me in a way and the values I like to associate with it.

Those values being the ideas that adversity will be overcome and obstacles can and will be conquered.  What greater obstacle can there be than needing to grow roots through solid rock?  (Note – Of course there is likely really a crack in the rock for the roots to extend below into the soil but the symbolism stands.  Also, this isn’t meant to be political in any way whatsoever so please don’t make it that but just take it for what it is.)

In any case it’s a worthy place to stop on a long journey just for a few minutes; it’s right at mile marker 333 on I-80 halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie.  If you have kids with you (or others young at heart) there is a small pile of more pink granite (visible in the lead picture) in front of the tree that is easy to climb and provides both a good picture perch as well as an excellent opportunity for a photo of the others on the rocks in front of the tree.  And perhaps you’ll give this plucky little tree a sip from your water bottle.  Safe Travels!