Above the valley, two monuments honor nation’s highest transportation feats

 

By IKE FREDREGILL

“As far as the eye can see” takes on new meaning from the peaks of the Laramie Range.

Residents of the hell-on-wheels towns dotting the first Transcontinental Railroad toured the frontier at its wildest, overcoming numerous challenges along the way, but crossing the Rocky Mountains would be a experience unto itself.

To mark the highest point along the steel highway, Ames Monument was erected in 1882. Built 8,247 feet above sea level, the 60-feet tall granite pyramid is located about 20 miles southeast of Laramie. A registered National Historic Landmark, the structure honors the Ames brothers, Oakes and Oliver, financiers and politicians, who, in large part, were responsible for the completion of the first transcontinental railroad, according to the Wyoming State Historical Society.

Building the monument cost approximately $64,000 — the equivalent of about $150 million today, based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index. Although the monument still stands, the railroad tracks were diverted south 19 years later in 1901. To visit the monument, drive 16 miles east from Laramie on Interstate 80, take Exit 329 and head south for about four miles on Monument Road.

On the way to Ames Monument, visitors will pass under the watchful gaze of the United State’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Following in the Ames brothers footsteps, Dr. Charles E. Jeffrey sponsored the construction of the Abe Lincoln memorial in 1958 atop Sherman Hill — the highest point of the nation’s first transcontinental highway, aka the Lincoln Highway. The route ran alongside the first transcontinental railroad and was later designated U.S. Highway 30.

Standing at just over 12-feet tall, Lincoln’s bronze bust was mounted on a 30-feet tall granite plinth built on Sherman Summit at 8,878 feet above sea level, the Casper Star Tribune reported. About a decade later, however, the monument was moved to its current location about 12 miles east of Laramie on I-80.

The bronze bust was designed and created by Robert I. Russin, a Laramie native and former University of Wyoming art professor. Russin was one of Wyoming’s best known sculptors and his works can be viewed at locations across the U.S. including the Embarcadero Center and the City of Hope in California, the Menorah Medical Center in Kansas City and the United States Department of Energy Building in Washington, D.C.

Both the Ames and Lincoln monuments are magnificent reminders of America’s greatest transportation feats and are sure to dazzle at any time of day or year, but for an added bonus, plan your monuments tour in the afternoon. As you drive down the summit to Laramie in the evening, you’ll have the opportunity to see just why the city’s founders dubbed it the “Gem City of the Plains.”