Saturday, September 25, 2010 Sunny and 95 degrees
Oregon Trail Interpretive Center: America's Oregon Trail heritage is told here through the lives of the pioneers themselves. Life-size replicas of prairie schooners, yokes of oxen, men, women, and children, buffalo, wolves, cows, and animal dung are arranged in dioramas throughout the building. One section of the floor is uneven with wagon wheel ruts, footprints, and hoof prints to give visitors a sense of what it would have been like to walk behind a wagon on the trail.
Dioramas are arranged chronologically both in time---generally late April to late October---and from point of departure to point of arrival---generally from the Missouri River to the Willamette (wil-LAM-it) Valley. Actual recorded diary entries narrate what is being portrayed: the excitement of the venture, the boredom of the daily routine, the agony of pain, death, and loss. Additionally films, interpretive panels, and quotes from diaries painted on the walls explain elements of the history, geography, weather, terrain, and politics that affected life on the trail.
The economic downturn of 1836, burgeoning population growth of the states east of the Mississippi, and by 1843, the enticement of free land encouraged these emigrants to move west. After obtaining a wagon, a team to pull it, and acquiring provisions for six months on the trail, wagon trains were formed and a trail master hired. The journey began when the prairie grass was tall enough for the animals to graze (4"), and the spring mud had dried.
Early on the travel was easy and spirits high, but once rivers had to be forded, mountains climbed, and dwindling provisions resupplied, the challenges took their physical and emotional toll. Also, accidents, cholera, and the stress of the journey claimed many lives. By the time the migration ended in 1869, there was one grave for every 80 yards of the trail.
From the Center looking out the large window across Virtue Flat and Baker Valley at land covered with sagebrush and with mountains on every side, it's hard to imagine that anyone would venture into an uncertain future in such an unfamiliar, forbidding land. Yet over a half million people made that trip, leaving ruts from thousands of wagon wheels and animal hooves that are still visible today.
We couldn't help but wonder if we faced the problems and concerns those pioneer did, would we be that courageous and determined.
THOMAS CONDON PALEONTOLOGY CENTER: This is a research facility dedicated to the study of the John Day Fossil Beds. The lobby has exhibits on paleontology, and the museum gallery walks through 40,000,000 years of the Age of Mammals. Hundred of fossil specimens are displayed, along with eight large murals depicting plants and animals of that time.
Since we are not particularly interested in paleontology, this stop was a case of passing by, so why not? This is a wonderful place for those with an interest in this topic, and the ranger on duty exuded passion for his science. We, however, were much more interested in the geology of the area. The variations of the land---mesas, rounded and pointed mountains, sloughed off areas, and various other rock formations, their colors and layers---would be easily identifiable by a geologist. So we were back on the road in awe, but with lots of questions, too.
TODAY'S ROUTE: WA 7S to US 26 W to US 97 S
MILEAGE TO DATE: 5,953 miles