Independence Rock , also known as the great register of the desert, is a large granite rock located approximately 130 feet (40 m) high, near Alcova in the U.S. state of Wyoming.
During the middle of the 19th century, the rock was a prominent and well-known landmark on the Oregon, Mormon and California emigrant trails. It was here that settlers venturing westward carved their names into the soft rock . Independence Rock was designated a National Historic Landmark on January 20, 1961. It is now part of Independence Rock State Historic Site, owned and operated by the state of Wyoming.
There have been several theories regarding how the rock was carved. One explanation that comes from The History Channel states that several stonecarvers set up shop on the rock and charged a small fee to carve names. This would explain the fact that some names appear to be from the same hand and are professional looking as well. However they got there, they serve to remind us of the varied history of the founding and settling of the United States. Independence Rock is considered the highest point of the short Granite Mountains sub-range.
The rock takes its name from the fact that it lies directly along the route of the Emigrant Trail and that emigrant wagon parties which usually left the Missouri River in the early spring, attempted to reach the rock by July 4 (Independence Day in the United States), in order to reach their destinations before the first mountain snowfalls.
During the period of westward emigration on the trail (from 1843 to 1869) many emigrants inscribed their names on the sturdy granite. The Jesuit missionary, Pierre Jean De Smet, is credited with giving it the name “Great Register of the Desert.”
Names were placed on the rock through engraving or by painting them with wagon grease, tar or a combination of buffalo grease and glue. Over time, many of these name have flaked off or been obscured by lichens. Despite this, thousands of names remain and are a source of delight to those who climb the rock.