On The Oregon Trail

Wednesday, September 2, 2009
On the Oregon Trail between Pocatello and Twin Falls, ID

Dar's driving this morning and that gives me a chance to get the journal up to date. It's another bright morning with light winds. Morning driving when heading west is the best because the sun is on your back and the scenery ahead of you is lit up and bright.

We left Little America on Tuesday morning about 9am. I got a good nights sleep despite some idiot with a Dodge diesel pickup who insisted on idling the louder-than-stock machine all night long for who knows what reason. I'm sure he knew everything about diesels and had somehow rationalized in his pea-sized brain that wasting fuel for 8 hours was the right thing to do.

Little America is right on I-80, but just a couple miles west we turned north on US-30, which we stayed on much of the day. Near Sage the road makes an abrupt curve from west to north at the point where we picked up the path of the Oregon Trail. The Trail continues north and west, winding over hills and through valleys, following Bear River to Soda Springs and then north to the Snake River, just north of present day Pocatello. The California Trail followed this same route through here but eventually veered south, across Nevada and into Northern California.

We stopped at the National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier and truly enjoyed the time we spent at this state of the art interpretive center. The exhibits are very well done. They have a series of re-created full-size "sets" complete with tour guides playing the roles of the trail boss, and a blacksmith and his wife. They walk you through the process settlers went through from preparation for the trip, the trip itself, and what they found and how they lived when they got to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Typically, the trip from Kansas City to Oregon took about 160 days and cost about $500. The motivation? For some it was land... the promise of 320 acres of land for a single man, 640 acres for a couple. For others, it was gold... remember the California Gold Rush? Most of the travel occurred in the late 1840's and through the 1850's. These people said good-bye to family -- maybe never to see them again -- endured a treacherous trip, out in the elements, hunting for food, seeking fresh water, walking most of the way as the wagon was full of supplies and a few possessions. Oxen were preferred over horses or mules and they were easier to manage and able to endure difficult conditions better. The wagon of choice was a "prairie schooner", a lightened up version of the old Conestoga Wagon used extensively in the East but far too heavy for climbing steep mountain passes and fording deep streams.

Disease was common. Cholera took many lives and quickly too, as you could feel fine in the morning, become very sick in the afternoon, and be dead by nightfall. They didn't understand the disease and didn't know what to do to prevent it. Very scary, I'm sure.

They did travel in groups usually, as there was strength in numbers. Commonly, a blacksmith traveled with each group and was highly valued for wagon and wheel repair, and to make shoes for the animals -- a necessity when traveling over rough rocky terrain.

Streams, deserts, mountains, prairies... they all had to be crossed and endured. Many never made it... they died along the way. Why did they leave presumably more comfortable situations at their home in the east? The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill. The pull of a hope for a better life is strong. I'm still mystified as to the why.

There are not a lot of places for big ol' bus-house to camp through the tight valleys and hilly county around Soda Springs and Lava Hot Springs... and the pull of Grandkids keeps nudging us along. So we made it to Pocatello about 4pm. Our fall-back was to boondock at WalMart, but once we found it, the parking lot was so small, and so full, that there was literally no place to park. Hmmm.

We drove a bit further, actually right behind the WalMart, and found a new Lowes. A quick phone call to management said we were OK to use their big parking lot and we found an almost perfectly level spot to spend the night. Since we've been going easy on fees with all the free boondocking lately, and considering the late hour, and considering the hassle with whipping something up for dinner... we decided to walk across the parking lot to a new Texas Road House. The meal was very good and, because we were dining early... before 6pm, reasonably priced. Dar pointed out that dining out twice in two nights is becoming a pattern -- a pattern we can't afford. So I don't think this isn't going to become a habit.

The bus-house was rolling again by 9am this morning. Dar was driving and she drove most of the way today... almost to Oregon. Actually, 29 miles short. The route was all Interstate, I-86 to I-84. We're in Caldwell, ID. at "neat as a pin" Ambassador RV Resort just a mile or so from I-84. After 11 days without full hookups, it becomes a necessity to re-connect to the grid and get some laundry done, clean the place, and take long hot showers... all of which were accomplished within a few hours of landing here about 2pm.

Tomorrow, we're rolling again, but just a short trip into Easter Oregon to the town of La Grande. I want to visit Northwoods Manufacturing, the makers of some high quality smaller RV's that could become part of our life someday... after we settle into another home base and decide to downsize the camper. I found another RV park near La Grande that can take us for the Labor Day weekend, and if we like the place and find enough to do in the area, we may stay until Monday.



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