Anyone who’s made the drive between Cheyenne and Laramie has seen it, a lonely scrubby-looking tree growing right out of a boulder in the center median between the east and westbound lanes of Interstate 80.
It’s at a rest stop, but for the most part it’s not well-used by general motorists because there are usually a host of semitrailers blocking it. Or perhaps it’s something to look at each time driving by, but you've never been curious enough to stop.
We finally did, and were surprised to learn there’s a lot to this weird tree growing from a rock.
It Could Be How Old?
Called simply “Tree Rock,” it’s cordoned off by an old ironwork fence to keep people from climbing all over it.
And apparently it’s old. Maybe really old.
Tree Rock is a limber pine, a type of hardy pine tree that not only survives in less-than-ideal conditions, it thrives. Limber pines can be found all over the central and northern Rocky Mountains and Great Basin on dry, rocky slopes, ridgelines and on high cliffs “where most other trees cannot grow,” according to the National Park Service.
They also can live to be 2,000 years old, which means there’s really no telling how old the limber pine growing out of Tree Rock is.
What we do know is it was there well before Wyoming became a state in 1890.
Noticed Right Away
When work crews were pushing through construction of the railroad across Wyoming and the West, they came across this unique tree that seems to grow right out of a rock.
“This tree was growing out of a crevice in the rock when the Union Pacific Railroad built its original main line fifty feet south of this rock in 1868,” reads a weathered plaque attached to the rock. “The fence and cable were provided by the Union Pacific Railroad Co. at the request of the Historical Landmark Commission of Wyoming.”
The cable the plaque mentions is a strong band that’s cinched around the rock to keep the growing tree from splitting it more.
After being discovered by and fenced off by the railroad, it was again protected in 1913 when the Lincoln Highway Association formed to build a continuous highway across the United States. What began as Highway 30 — aka the Lincoln Highway — has evolved into the Interstate 80 we use today.
But the tree remains, as the highway was built to bypass it and, as it’s expanded over the years, around it.
It’s when the highway was built that the tree began to get noticed more.
“The view of the surrounding mountains (along the highway) was like nothing that westbound easterners had ever seen,” says a sign at the site explaining Tree Rock. “Still, they noticed the little tree, which became the favored subject of many early postcards and photographs. It still is.”
Could Be Around For Centuries
Without knowing just how old the limber pine growing out of that crack in a giant Sherman granite a few miles west of the metropolis of Buford (population 1) is, it could remain there for centuries.
Which makes it worth a look the next time you’re cruising along I-80 making good time debating whether to stop or not.
Want to know what the heck something is in Wyoming? Ask Managing Editor Greg Johnson and he’ll try to find out. Send your “What the heck is …” questions to him, along with high-quality horizontal photos of whatever it is to Greg@CowboyStateDaily.com.