Saturday, June 16, 2018

End of the Journey

     After driving some 3800 miles, we arrived at the end of the Oregon Trail, located in The Dalles, OR. The emigrants were headed to Oregon City and the Willamette valley, another hundred miles farther on. But the official end-of-trail marker is here because for the last hundred miles there is no trail.

Marker erected in The Dalles, OR, by Ezra Meeker who retraced the trail in 1906

     The emigrants had a choice to make in The Dalles. They had to get over the Cascades, which at times run right down to the river, so they could not follow along the banks. One choice was to load their wagons onto a raft and float down the river. Unfortunately, they often had to leave their oxen behind ... animals they needed to work their farms in the Willamette valley. But with or without the oxen, the river was pretty wild in the 1840s, before all the dams were built, and a lot of the rafts hung up on the rapids and were broken apart. The river route was a dangerous choice.

View today of the Columbia from The Dalles

     The alternative was the Barlow Road, constructed in 1846 by Sam Barlow and some 40-odd men, which skirted around Mount Hood. But this route also proved a rough ride. It took an extra week or ten days and involved a steep and exhausting climb for the already exhausted people and animals.

Brave the Columbia, or trek around Mt. Hood?

     We ourselves couldn't make that choice. There's no way to get our car down the river, and we were told that while some of the old Barlow Road still exists, it's pretty rough, even for an all-wheel-drive vehicle.

     Still, we couldn't help but wonder, traveling all this way in a modern four-door sedan, how the emigrants did it. By most estimates, some 30,000 people died on the trail, mostly from cholera and other diseases, others from accidents and a few by Indian attack. But most of them made it -- some 500,000 of them during the 1840s and '50s, all in search of a new life in Oregon, California or Utah.

Two modern-day pioneers
     It was a tough journey -- for them, not for us. But they were up to the challenge. And it made us wonder if we modern Americans are prepared for the challenges we face, which sometimes seem intractable and unsolvable, but which, let's face it, are less daunting than what our forebearers faced on the Oregon Trail.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Trail Weary

     By the time the emigrants had reached what is now present-day Oregon, they were plenty trail weary. So were we. There are about 350 miles left to go. For them it was a couple of weeks. For us, four more days. Then we'll be off the trail -- continuing up to Seattle to see family and friends.

Farewell Bend on the Snake River

     The pioneers said goodbye to the Snake River at Farewell Bend to travel, as the sign says, overland to the Columbia River. They only had a few narrow valleys to ease their way, along the Burnt River, the Powder River, the Grande Ronde River.

Sign at Farewell Bend

     But none of these proved much help when they had to climb over the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. We stopped at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center which sits atop on Flagstaff hill, outside Baker City, OR.

The view from Flagstaff hill ... where old wagon ruts scar the hillside

     We stopped again at Hilgard Junction State Park where many of the emigrants made camp along the Grande Ronde. But first they had to get down this hill, one of the many dangerous descents in the Blues.
Emigrants unhitched their oxen and used ropes to lower their wagons down this hill

     We met David and Vicki, a retired couple volunteering to take care of Hilgard for the month of June. David moved to Oregon from New York 12 years ago, and now he and Vicki, from South Dakota, live fulltime in their RV. They summer in eastern Oregon and winter on the coast. 

David and Vicki sell wood for $5 by the cart-full to Hilgard campers

     They seem to like this lifestyle. But I'm a little trail weary. So I don't know if I would. Would you?

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Hot Springs, Lava Beds and Sand Dunes

     I'd never in my life been to Idaho until four days ago when we followed the old Oregon Trail, crossing over from Wyoming north of Bear Lake, to Montpelier and Soda Springs. According to most reports from the trail, the emigrants were thrilled to be done with the rough and boring landscape of Nebraska and Wyoming, and welcomed the smoother terrain of the Snake River valley.

     Furthermore, after leaving the cholera-ridden Platte River and gasping across the dry high prairie, they were glad to see fresh water in the Snake River, its tributaries, and the fresh springs that bubbled out of the ground.

Hooper Spring

     We stopped at Hooper Springs, outside of Soda Springs, ID.

Potable, but not so great

     We were allowed to sample the water. There were a few bubbles, and it tasted faintly of minerals. Not the best, in our opinion, but to the pioneers it was manna from heaven.

Are they crazy?

     A little farther on, in Lava Hot Springs, there's the cold, clear Portneuf River, which draws a lot of visitors to this day, many from Salt Lake City which is only two hours away. Some people raft the river.

Looking down on the hot baths

     B and I just took advantage of the hot springs. There are four different pools. The water temperature ranges from 105 to 115 degrees.

View across the lava beds

     After Lava Hot Springs we angled north to see Crater of the Moon National Monument. Most of the emigrants kept to the south, along the Snake River. But others followed the Goodale cutoff which skirted the northern edge of the lava beds and rejoined the main trail south of present-day Boise.

Rough going

     The lava beds themselves were almost impassable for the wagons.

Indian cave

     They'd be impassable for modern hikers as well, but for the paths that cut through the beds and lead up the hills and down into the lava caves.

Looking from the bottom

     We stopped at Bruneau Dunes State Park. The dunes were actually not on the path of the pioneers. But we wanted to see them.

Looking down at our car from the top

     Then it was a night in Boise, which got its name from the old mountain men of the early 1800s. Set in the high desert area, the tree lined valley was an oasis dominated by cottonwood trees. They called it la riviere boisee, which means "the wooded river."

Boise River runs through the city

     And now . . . it's on to Oregon!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Rocks and Ruts, Ridges and Bridges

     Again, for those who were dropped by "Networked Blogs" as followers to this blog, you can still follow by scrolling down to Follow in the right-hand column if this page and clicking on "Follow" or you can follow through your own email by submitting your address.

     So anyway . . .  when you follow the Oregon Trail you spend a lot of time and effort looking for the old wagon ruts. Usually they are hard to spot and not so obvious. You're searching for eroded and grown-over swales that look to the untrained eye like any other uneven landscape.

     But sometimes, as in Guernsey, NE, they are much more obvious.

     You also look for landmarks that were noted time and again by the pioneers, such as Independence Rock in Wyoming. It got its name from the pioneers who needed to get this far by Independence Day in order to assure that they could make it over the California or Oregon mountains before the snows fell.

     Below is a closeup of the rock, which many emigrants climbed to view the landscape and sometimes carve their initials. Actually, visitors are still allowed to climb up the rock today. We thought about making the ascent, but decided at our age that discretion was the better part of valor.

     Not too long after Independence Rock comes South Pass, the long shallow rise over the Continental Divide, at 7550 feet above sea level. Here is the view from South Pass, looking east from where the emigrants came.

     Here is the view going west, where they were going.

     And here is the view to the north -- the Wind River peaks that the pioneers were avoiding.

     After traveling down the west side of the Divide, and turning south, we came to Fort Bridger, named after Jim Bridger, a fur trapper who opened a trading post here in 1843. The Fort Bridger State Historic Site has built a replica of his post, which was later, in 1858, turned into a military fort.

     Below is a replica of his store. It served the emigrants who, Bridger said, "In coming out were generally well supplied with money but by the time they get here are in need of all kinds of supplies, horses provisions, smithwork, etc." After the emigrants left Fort Bridger they all split up -- the Mormons heading south to Salt Lake, the miners southwest to California, the farmers northwest to Oregon.

     Meanwhile, we're still picturing those wagon ruts, carved into the stone so many years ago.