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Oregon Trail

July 14, 2013

Wyoming – Saturday, July 6

My little motel had been kind of hard to find last night in the dark and rain – it was up the side of a steep hill, and I passed the road I needed a couple times. But in doing so, I had seen a sign for the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, so I knew I wanted to make a stop there this morning since I’m on an Oregon Trail kick. Tula and I got a couple miles of walking done around the center first, then I was able to use my national park pass here to save the entry fee. (I should have been keeping a list of all the entry fees I’ve saved because of that card!). It was a really good interpretive center, and was set up to show exhibits about all 4 trails west – the pioneer Oregon Trail, the California Gold Rush Trail, the Pony Express route and the Mormon Trail. All 4 trails converged near Casper, because it was the location of the last crossing of the North Platte River. More people drowned in treacherous river crossings than were killed in hostile attacks. There were some interactive displays, and I was able to climb into a covered wagon, where they showed a video in the front of a river crossing. To my surprise, the wagon started lurching as it entered the river, and with the sound effects, it kind of made it seem like we were indeed crossing a river. They also had a Mormon handcart that was set up in front of a conveyor belt-like track, and people could test their strength pulling it. There was a little meter next to it that indicated if you were pulling too slow to complete the journey, or if you were pulling at a reasonable pace, or if you were pulling too fast to sustain the pace week after week. The cart was heavy (since it was a sturdy wagon made of wood it was heavy even without supplies) and the needle on the meter for me hovered between too slow and adequate. In reality, I doubt I could pull the thing one mile, let alone halfway across the country! Fifteen miles a day would certainly be an accomplishment – and once again, I’m reminded what a physical toll these journeys took on the pioneers…and how comfortable and easy travel is today. I also got in a stagecoach where they showed another video out the side windows, again making it seem like we were on a stagecoach ride. There were a lot of exhibits and dioramas and another video about the trail history, and yet another account of the handcart people, and I’m so glad I stopped here. I ended up making today’s donation here, which will be used for educational purposes – they actually had 2 places to make donations, so I put my check and a note into the box, and the other place accepted coins and then people could write their names on a virtual brick on their virtual brick wall – so I put 56 cents in and did that too! With all the Oregon Trail history I’ve been soaking up (starting way back in Nauvoo IL at the start of one of the Mormon Trails) it was a good donation to make as I begin to move away from the trails a bit.

Then it was time for more walking. Tula and I got out on one of the bike trails by the river and walked a couple miles. It was a pretty warm day and there was no shade on this trail, so after 2 miles I put her back in the car and got my hat and walked 2 1/2 more miles in the other direction. I passed one of the preserved old-style wooden oil rigs – technology has come so far! There were quite a few people floating down the river on big inner tubes, or canoeing and kayaking. As I was walking back, I saw a bunch of EMS people on the other side of the river, and word was that someone had suffered a seizure while out on the river. Then we went to downtown Casper and walked around a bit – there had apparently been a sidewalk chalk contest as a part of the upcoming fair/rodeo festivities, so that gave us more to look at. Some drawings were just fun child drawings, but some were pretty complex and creative, especially since the kids were using chalk on rough sidewalk! They seemed to have a lot of movie theatres in town. I was happy to see that the fair was open, so I headed to the fairgrounds, but in walking around I discovered only the midway was open with all the rides, and the grandstand was open for a demolition derby. None of the animal buildings or exhibit buildings were open, and those are what I wanted to see. Those wouldn’t open til the following week. So I didn’t stay very long – just enough to soak up a little fair atmosphere in the grandstand crowds and carnival rides.

By now it was early evening, but my walking was done for the day, and I headed north to Buffalo, through more open and empty land. With such a wide open view, I could watch heavy rainstorms making their way toward me, although I avoided most of them as I was heading north. It made for some dramatic skies though. I had managed to reserve a campsite in Buffalo this morning for $10 at a motel/campground combination place, and while it was kind of small and crowded, I stayed on the end of a row in the shade, and was happy to have found such a cheap place to stay on a holiday weekend in the middle of summer!

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