Friday, September 10, 2010

On the Oregon Trail

Yesterday, work sent me to a small town in Oregon near the Oregon-Idaho border.  I had a schedule to keep, so after leaving the airport zoomed up the highway to the little town.  Afterward, my schedule was not quite as tight and so I decided to take a "blue highway" road to loop back toward Boise.  The road smelled very strongly of onions,

but was also a section of the Oregon Trail auto tour route.  Wow!  I love serendipity.  I have always been intrigued by the Oregon Trail, not just because of this history, but because many generations back, a grandmother of mine was a little girl when she made the trip.  Family lore says she was orphaned -- her mother died of typoid of some sort and her father may have made it to Oregeon where he was killed, but the details are somewhat lost to history.  So, I couldn't pass up this stop.

There was one stop along this road (Keeney Pass) where the wagon train ruts are still visible.  Keeney Pass is about 1,500 miles from the trail's start in Missouri.

One interpretive sign said that only 15% of the wagon train ruts along the length of the trail are still visible.  It is an accident of geography and geology that these ruts are still there-- they are a depression about 2 or 3 feet lower than the surrounding ground surface. In this area the rock is a dusty sandstone, without a lot of topsoil or vegetation, and the ruts were probably about 4 feet deep when the last wagons were rolling through. 

There was also a short trail from the Keeney Pass ruts- about half a mile, to the top of a bluff overlooking one day's 15 mile journey, from Fort Boise at the Snake River on the south to the Malheur River on the north.  I wasn't wearing appropriate walking shoes but did the trail anyway, I mean, did my great-great-great-great grandmother have comfortable shoes?  So it was the least I could do to take this little walk.  And in this half mile I saw anklebiter cactus:

A big snake and three horny toads:

And a gorgeous view:

The valley in the distance beyond those cloud-shaded hills would have been day's end camp at the river.  There was no water for the emigrants along this 15-mile trail section--I am sure that they were relieved to see that slightly greener area up ahead, but I am also sure that it looked very far away when they were at this spot.

Another interpretive sign discussed the things that the emigrants brought along with them, and what they discarded along the way.  Of course it was the heavy stuff like books and china and furniture, however valuable in dollars, that got left behind when going got tough.  But the quilts and the blankets and the needles and thread, those were light and valuable for survival, and those were brought along the whole length of the trip. 

Of course I brought mine too...

WIP: Ink Circles "Growth Rings" with HDF silk thread and linen
but my day's trip of 1000+ miles was nothing compared to my great grandmother's.

"o dear if we were only in Willamette or where ever we are going for I am very tired." -diary entry from Agnes Stewart Warner, September 9, 1853

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