Monday, July 22, 2013

Road Trip, Part 3: From Provo, Utah to Richland, Washington

Modern day "prairie schooners" make their way easily up and down hills and through mountain passes

I didn't take many photos as we made our way from Provo to Washington state, going across a little corner of Idaho and another little corner of Oregon, but I did notice every single speck of water. Back home in the desert of New Mexico, in the middle of a drought, we dash out after every tiny rainfall to take pictures of the teeniest puddles (New Mexican Facebook friends, you know who you are! We all do it).

These two water photos are all I have to show our progress for this part of our road trip. However, I was constantly aware that some of the routes we traveled were along the historic Oregon Trail. As we tired from a long day in the car, I couldn't help but think of those long-ago covered wagon travelers, inching across the map toward a new life in an unknown and strange land.

As a child, I was always fascinated by the idea of a family packing a Conestoga wagon and heading west. In our neighborhood in San Francisco I got my friends to play covered wagon; one child would sit on a gate pretending to be the driver holding the reins of the pretend oxen; the other kids would sit behind and would be the family.

Here is a photo of the interior of one of the wagons that might have traveled the Oregon Trail. I've borrowed it from the website for the National Oregon/California Trail Center at Montpelier, Idaho. According to the Center, a wagon needed to be strong enough to carry a load and passengers for the five month journey, yet light enough not to exhaust the oxen pulling it. The wagons had no springs: I thought about that as we comfortably and safely drove over smoothly paved highways, up and down mountains, and over rivers.

According to the Wikipedia article on the Oregon Trail, the main Oregon Trail was 2000 miles long, an east-west large-wheeled wagon route that ran through the present-day states of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. Again, from the Wikipedia article: From the early to mid-1830s and particularly through the epoch years 1846–1869, the Oregon Trail and its many offshoots were used by about 400,000 settlers, ranchers, farmers, miners, and businessmen and their families. 

If bouncing along unpaved, rutted trails for months at a time wasn't difficult enough, the dangers were many: River crossings were most dangerous, but folks traveling this way were also at risk of being run over by the heavy wagons or shot when loaded firearms were accidentally discharged. Weather, diseases, stampeding animals, snakebite--the list of hazards goes on. See the article, Trail Basics: Dangers for more.

Traveling in our little Prius, by contrast, was quiet and comfortable. We had an adjustable cabin temperature, comfy seats, GPS apps to guide our way, access to constant weather and news reports, and even an altimeter to figure out the height of the mountain passes. We could stop to admire the view or to get a snack whenever we wanted. I wish we might have invited one of those travelers from the past to ride along with us.


Joyful said...

Enjoyed this post Claire. Many years ago I travelled part of the Oregon Trail and wondered a lot about how it was "back then" during the Lewis & Clark expedition. The top photo you've shown reminds me so much of my trips north on the Coquihalla Hwy. as one enters the Town of Merritt. Lovely scenery.

Sylvia K said...

What a great post, Clairz!! Love the pic of inside of the old wagon, WOW! We do have it considerably easier than our forefathers don't we!! Hope you have a great week!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Enjoyed your musings Clair -- we don't have much to complain about in our modern-day travel (but I too still get tired sometimes)....we stayed overnight in beautiful little Montpelier on our recent roadtrip.

JC said...

So it seems you liked the dry part of my state. When were you in this area ?

clairz said...

JC, we were passing through in June.