Monday—April 28, 2014
A difficult, not-so-fun day—leaving family and friends, to be gone again for months, not knowing if I’ll see them again. The old man is whining already and he’s not even on the trail!
My Sister, Salle Anne, niece Becky, and Grand Nephew, Isaac, saw me off from the train station in Jefferson City for the three-hour trip to Independence.
In Independence now, first visit will be to Mount Washington Cemetery, some 20 blocks distant, to pay my respects to Jim Bridger. I’m there in good order—in the cold wind and overcast. Had quiet time with Jim, the greatest and most well-known mountain man of the old west. Couldn’t fail but to whisper, “I was born 200 years too late, Jim, for sure I’d have been out there on the wild frontier—with you.”
From Mount Washington it’s maybe six more to Upper Independence Landing, where the journey to the west by wagon truly began. Glad I took the time to visit the overlook. Just a very impressive site.
Evening now and the cold wind is bringing dark clouds from the northwest. Not good. Just at dark I find a place to stealth camp behind the Baptist church. Cold rain the whole night.
The used Garmin I bought off eBay, can’t get it to work right, so wasn’t able to check waypoints. Six miles the wrong way, three out , three back. Kind of a shaky start. Hope it smoothes out.
This is the grave of the greatest mountain man of them all, Jim Bridger—Old Gabe, the Blanket Chief. Jim Bridger was a Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok and John Colter all rolled into one. He could speak English, Spanish and French but he couldn’t read or write a word of any language. But he could read sign. He could look at a moccasin track and tell the age, weight, sex and tribe of the maker. He had a fantastic memory—etched on his brain was a topographic map of the American West.
Tuesday—April 29, 2014
Was stuck in my tent this morning. Hard, steady rain. Finally got all my wet gear packed and managed to get moving south toward Independence mid-morning. From Old Wayne City Landing, the trail follows the ridge south along Liberty Street. I’ve some five miles to cover before reaching the square—and the “beginning” of the Oregon Trail. By the time I visit the old jail, the old log courthouse, the Jackson County Courthouse on the square, OCTA Headquarters/National Trails Museum—and have breakfast, it’s early afternoon.
The rain remains steady and cold as I head down Noland Road toward the old Rice-Tremonti House.
Late evening, after ducking into a couple McDonald’s, I reach the old log slave cabin by Rice-Tremonti—in the rain. Down by SR-350 I find an old run-down motel (hiker trash deal) and I’m in and finally out of it for the day.
A zero-miler for this first day out, as I’m still a fair distance from New Santa Fe, the day’s destination. Got the GPS to working, kinda, so stayed on track better—save for two miles. More cold rain forecast for tomorrow.
The site of the town is beautiful, and very we’ll selected, standing on a high point of land, and overlooking the surrounding country, but the town itself is very indifferent. The houses (about fifty) are very much scattered, composed of logs and clay… There are six or eight stores here, two taverns…
[Nathaniel J. Wyeth describing Independence 1832]
Wednesday—April 30, 2014
Location—New Santa Fe
Certainly a great benefit to be out of it last night. My clothing, my tent, even my down bag, wet, all wet. Hung and strung things all about my room. Then a foot-deep tub of hot water to warm my cold, creaking bones.
I’m out to more cold, driving wind (out of the northwest) this morning. Rain must certainly be coming. Oh yes, here it comes. I manage to make it to an underpass, but not before the rain. Wet again. So now I dig out my poncho—duh.
A couple of neat short sections of trail ruts to visit today, first those at Manchester and 85th, then the amazing deep cut ones coming up the far bank from Big Blue River at Minor Park. Both trail remnants are quite remarkable, if for no other reason than they’ve survived the urban onslaught. A new ped bridge (Red Bridge) over the Big Blue, padlocks hung the wrought iron railing. Never saw anything the likes of this before. Locks engraved with lovers names, family locks, all locked together. Just a very unique thing, much better than graffiti everywhere.
Entirely a roadwalk today. Actually it’s a sidewalk walk, over 20 miles, all sidewalk. One fine section covers perhaps three miles of bike path, directly overlaying the trail, complete with limestone marker posts every 25 yards or so. Check out the photo/video albums if a couple weeks.
This is setting up to be a very memorable journey. Hey, how about McDonald’s for breakfast—and lunch. And Burger King for supper. And Wi-Fi connect. This is roughing it, eh! Overrides the cold wind and rain.
Turned some miles today as the streets and avenues south of Olathe cut the meandering trail. Monuments, posts, and signs along, giving me the heads up. Folks in Missouri and Kansas (crossed into Kansas early afternoon) take pride in this special bit of American History—and their heritage.
Into Kansas, one state already behind me, five more to go, I’m entering the prairie. But no way to tell. Totally civilized, all built over, subdivisions, grid roads, shopping strips and malls, airports, the like. Man sure likes this prairie!
The prairies are beautiful beyond description, yielding prairie grass, wild sun flowers, small flowers in great variety and color, and continually presenting, or “keeping up appearances” of a highly cultivated country without inhabitants.
[W. Phelps, Mormon chronicler, 1830]
Thursday—May 1, 2014
Location—Lone Elm Campground (area), then on to just south of Prairie Center
A very cold night last. Tested my 45-degree summer bag for sure. Managed to sleep okay, but have done better.
QT at the first road crossing this morning, so I’m in for coffee—on the house hey, hey! Back out no more than a few minutes and there are coins laying along. I’ll be starting my third quart Mason jar of coins. An amazing thing, actually. I’ve picked up all kinds of coins along the road over the years. The usual stuff, but also a half-dollar, a silver dollar, plus loonies, toonies, and a few pesos. I don’t know. Just never been able to figure it out—how coins get scattered along the road.
A short distance further comes a spoon that I could add to my flatware collection. And as to flatware? Well, as a youngster I remember mother and grandmother referring to their beautiful silver servings as flatware. So, quite awhile (and thousands of road miles) back, I decided to start my own “flatware” collection. Difference is, the knives, forks, and spoons in my collection are really and truly flat. Have managed to put together a complete serving set for eight. The spoons came easiest. The forks less so. And the knives, they were few and far between. Finally managed to find eight, though!
Short while and it’s time for breakfast. I-Hop, that’ll work. Bacon and eggs, the works, compliments of my waitress and her parents dining nearby.
The sidewalks gave out late yesterday, so today I’m grinding the road shoulders. My legs are coming back under me quite well. The usual beginning-of-trek shin splints, but tolerable. I’ve a new shoe sponsor. Oboz Footwear out of Bozeman, Montana. They put me in a pair of their Sawtooth Lows. They fit great, and my feet like them a lot. Click on their banner on my Sponsors page.
For dinner it’s into Perkins outside Gardner, Kansas. Just the very best roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. Try carrying that in your pack. Folks always ask me what I eat on the trail. Of course I tell them roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy!
The trail highlight for this day is the parting of the ways, the junction of the Santa Fe and Oregon/California Trail(s). A really impressive highway rest stop, complete with kiosk and interpretive signs. Lots more pictures.
Picked up another mileage click today. Still not as far along as I’d planned. But not a problem. I end the day stealthed in a hedgerow by the highway a bit south of Prairie Center. Another cold and windy one. It was an okay day, but looking for better.
Cold and windy, so cold that every man had to put on two or three coats…Camped on a branch of Blue River near the place of leaving the Santafee Road.
[Amos Josslyn, May 1, 1849]
Friday-May 2, 2014
Location—Blue Mound, then on to Lawrence
Another very cold night. The wind finally gave it up late evening. I’m awake this morning at seven, but linger in my tent, as the sun is out and warming things up in the nicest way. By nine I’m finally pack up and moving. The roads I’m hiking today, primarily paved county roads, keep me within a half-mile or so of the old trail all day.. The road crosses it in one spot, but due to years and years of cultivation, no way telling where the old trail might have been.
Plenty of road kill today. Started with a good-sized snapping turtle, followed by lesser birds, rabbits, and squirrel. Behind the fences are cattle, sheep, horses, and goats—but no oxen or mules.
The trail-related site I was looking forward to today is called Wakarusa Crossing, south of Lawrence. It’s supposedly right beside the bridge, but there’s no signage, not anything to indicate the trail passed here. Just west of the bridge is Baker Wetlands, but it’s closed, so if any ruts exist anywhere here, they’re inaccessible. Quite a disappointment.
The trail and highway are right next each other on into Lawrence, and I’m there (to Applebee’s) late afternoon.
Was able to remove my wind jacket for the first time today. Wind’s still pushing hard from the northwest, but the bitter bite is gone, as I continue into it—headed ever west.
James Moore in attempting to cross the Wakarusa at Bluejacket Crossing, on Tuesday last, was drowned. He was driving a team attached to a wagon, and had his wife in with him…the horses got frightened and jumped over…Wagons had to be dismantled and lowered down the limestone beds [of the [Wakarusa], towed across and roped up the opposing bank…Shawnee Indian, Pascal Fish, charged $5 to help…
[news account, Lawrence Republican 2/21/1861]
Saturday—May 3, 2014
Location—Big Springs, then on to East Topeka
Kindness from the Kansas folks, nothing but kindness all along this Trail (when you see the “T” capitalized, means Oregon/California Trail). I think many of them are descendants from pioneers gone before. Example: Managed a room last, one of the higher end major motel chains. Hiker Trash deal, less than a third of their usual rate. And at the bank on my way out of Lawrence, cash advance on my debit card. Usually get turned down. No account (NPI), usually the excuse given. Paid the ATM fee for years, till it got to be a rip. Hey, three bucks, that’s a. burger, fries, and a frosty at Wendy’s!
Took a picture of the first US-40 highway sign. What’s that? you ask. We’ll US highways are going to be a good part of MY Trail, and US-40 (and 30, and 24, and…) will make up grand extended sections of it.
The Trail today weaves back and forth under the highway pavement most of this day, from Lawrence to Topeka. I think I can see faint ruts some places along. a tough go, heavy traffic, virtually no shoulder.
Don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many motorcycles on the road, except perhaps those passing in organized rides. The Kansas guys and gals are out enjoying this glorious spring day. Don’t understand why the pilgrims ventured any further west, what with the near-paradise that is northeastern Kansas. Jim Bridger tried to discourage them. He knew the expanse of sheer desolation, the desert, they’d have to cross. He told the Mormons, especially, when he met Brigham Young and found out they were headed for Great Salt Lake Valley. Bridger discovered the Great Salt Lake and knew what they were in for.
Guess you notice, as I become older and older, my journal entries tend to head off, different directions, to ramble the least. Gotta cut me some slack!
Anyway, continuing about the kindness of Kansas folks: West of Lawrence, where the highway and I-70 come near each other—there’s this old fellow out mowing. He stops, gets off, then comes to the road to greet me. Mountain Dew in one hand, cold Bud Light in the other. “Use a cold drink? he asks with a grin. “Sure, I’d enjoy that Dew.” And I meet Jim. Comes then the usual questions: “Where ya goin’?” he asks. When I tell him I’m on the Trail. “My place goes clear up to the interstate; there are ruts crossing behind my house. They’re faint, but they’re there.” Far ago westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure. Thoreauway glint in his eye. Then the next usual question, “How old are you? I’m 79.” I tell him he’s further toward the back of the bus than me. “I’m still in good health, but I couldn’t do what you’re doing.” he says. I chug the Dew and hand the can back. “We’ll, be careful.” his final comment as he dodges the traffic to get back to his mowing.
A bit further down the road, and needing water, folks are outside. I wave my water bottle. They wave me over. Here I meet Jeff and Kathy. (I think that’s what I was told. I’ve got to start writing down names. Not good to get people’s names wrong—not good at all. Sorry folks if I’m wrong.)
Just plain spigot water; nope, won’t work. It’s gotta be icewater. Couldn’t talk them out of it. Their dog likes ice cubes. Find that out when I drop one. So, as Kathy brings more ice, I keep feeding it to their dog.
Kathy was raised in Big Spring (or Springs, don’t know which is correct). No matter, there’s no spring (or springs) anywhere around the place. Perhaps during the 1800s, who knows!
Before I can shoulder my pack and get moving again, I’m offered food. “Can I fix you a sandwich or something? asks Kathy. Just more pure down to earth kind Kansas folks. Thanks, dear friends!
Late evening I make it to Casey’s, East Topeka. Young fellows there making pizza. One look at this tired old hiker (had half a bag of Fritos all day) and they clean off all the racks. I do get to pay for one (of the five) slices. A quart of Gatorade, to go with the pizza and I beat it for the woods behind. Here I call it a day. And what a day it’s been!
We go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure.
Sunday—May 4, 2014
Location—Silver Lake, then on to near Rossville
What a marvelous day yesterday. Went the entire time without my jacket.
Right back into Casey’s first thing for coffee, then it’s hit the road. This US-40, not the most-kind US highway I’ve ever hiked. Unusual for a federal highway to have narrow shoulders, but this one does, only a few inches, then the road drops off. Being such a perfect weekend, sure makes for heavy traffic. Yup, a real grinder of a road.
In Topeka now, I’ve sidewalks. Lots of taco/burrito drive-up joints. One fellow’s out mowing street side. Five minutes later this car passes, flips a U-ey then stops just ahead of me. I recognize him—the guy mowing. He’s got a bag full of food, hands it to me. Not a word spoken. Big smile as he extends his hand. I’m dumbfounded, but manage “Thank You” as he turns back to his car.
There are more drive-ups, complete with tables and chairs. I stop and sit one. In the bag there’s a huge burrito, rice, chips, and containers of salsa—also, a cold strawberry/banana pop. Pretty amazing, eh!
In downtown Topeka now, it’s only four or five blocks to the Kansas State Capitol. I take the detour. An impressive structure, but no comparison to my Missouri Capitol. Sure I’m partial, but tell you what, the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City, sitting the bluff overlooking the Mighty Mo is absolutely second to none for pure stature and beauty! Sorry folks, but that includes Kansas.
I’ve been having one fit of a time with my left foot. A hotspot on my heel two days ago—and I kept right on going. The skin is totally scuffed off, and I can’t get a bandage to stay in place. Sure enough it’s not the fault of my new shoes (Oboz). Rather, more the fault of the bozo who knew better than to keep going. Ah, so now I remember!
Near Silver Lake this vehicle stops. Lady offers me a ride. When I explain what I’m about she gives me money—and wishes me we’ll. In Silver Lake, comes the same car again. I meet the kind lady’s daughter, Amanda. She gives me food, then wishes me a safe journey.
Five-plus more miles and I’m in Rossville. Headed for the convenience store a lady intercepts me from Mikey’s Bar next door. Traci is her name. Wants to know what I’m doing, where I’m going. I give her the short version. She’s much excited to hear I’m on the Trail, invites to the bar. “I can tell you about the Oregon Trail through here. Folks in the bar can tell you about it too!” she exclaims. I follow Traci into Mikey’s!
I’m seated right away, and offered food and drink, compliments of Traci’s friend, Rodney. And these folks sure enough know about the Trail. “Not all the wagon trains crossed at Topeka. Many continued on, along the south bank of the Kansas River, to cross at Willard. Good hard, rock bottom. Still, many a pilgrim died there. There’s an old cemetery right by. Graves dating the mid-eighteen hundreds. Indian graves, too.” I listen in fascination, totally captivated by the Trail “energy” erupting from these dear new friends. Later, Dave comes and sits, and we talk more Trail. Aw, Em [bartender and cook] just a super burger—thanks. And thanks for your kindness and generosity, dear new friends!
Late evening, the sun soon to set, I bid farewell and head on west. With just a bit of daylight remaining I find a spot across the tracks and pitch for the night.
Yet the ferry on the Kaw [Kansas River], with its creaking pulleys and its sagging rope; its slow passage and its enormous fees; the long lines of wagons which crept away…
[The Kansas Magazine 1873]
Monday—May 5, 2014
Location—Lost. Creek, then on to Red Vermillion Crossing
Having problems getting out and moving in the morning. It’s nine and I still haven’t struck camp. This first week back out has turned to quite the shakedown. Every day, seems there’s something else to bother about. Today, in St. Mary’s I’ve got to hit the post office, the drug store, library and grocery—then find a place to eat before heading out of town.
Trains running most of the night. Only thing that kept them from going in one door and out the other is my tent only has one door. Seemed the ground would barely have time to quit jumping up and down till the whole thing started all over again.
Much heavy truck traffic on US-24 this morning. Drivers are all most courteous, but their continual passing, the tornado blasts to follow, unnerving. Crossing the county line improves the situation. Emergency lane widens from two feet to near five. That helps a bunch. Finally reach St. Mary’s just as the noon siren goes off.
By the time I’ve all my errands done and get caught up on email and journal entries at the library it’s pushing four.
One of the streets out from St. Mary’s turns into Oregon Trail Road. Not much traffic, but what little there is, man-oh-man, what dust. About as bad as I’ve seen. The emigrants wrote often and much about the dust. Sure enough it is stifling.
The road is aptly named, as it’s laid down right over the old Trail ruts. Where it wanders away, ruts and swales can be seen running along.
A short distance from St. Mary’s is Oregon Trail Park. Neat place, complete with a big silo-turned-mural-canvas. Pretty remarkably detailed map of the Trail, clear from Independence to Oregon City. Gotta walk around the base a bit to take the whole thing in.
Got my head down and am hauling now, best I can in the loose gravel. Want to make it to Red Vermillion Crossing, and the Vieux Cemetery there, before dark. Just make it with enough light left for a few pictures. I pitch by, and take water from, the river. Not worried about cholera, but treat the water anyway. A good day, short on hiking, long on chores.
As we approached what is called the…prairie, the road became much drier and less difficult. The vast prairie itself soon opened before us in all its grandeur and beauty. I had never before beheld extensive scenery of this kind. The many descriptions of the prairies of the West had forestalled in some measure the first impressions produced by the magnificent landscape spread out before me as far as the eye could reach, bounded alone by the blue wall of the sky. No description, however, which I have read of these scenes, or which can be written, can convey more than a faint impression to the imagination of their effects upon the eye.
[Edwin Bryant, entering Kansas 1846]
Tuesday—May 6, 2014
Location—Westmoreland, then on to north of Pottawatomi Park
Just enough daylight left to get a few pictures of Vieux Cemetery and Red Vermillion Crossing. Found a fine campsite right by the river for the night.
As I move west from the crossing, and all along would there have been many graves, victims of cholera. Such a deadly disease. A pioneer family could be well, tending chores to start the day, and dead and buried by evening.
A few more miles along Oregon Trail Road and I’m in the little village of Louisville. No chance for water since St. Marie’s. Fellow in his yard invites me over when I wave my water bottle. After answering the usual questions, he wishes me safe travels and I’m back on the road, SR-99. No more than a mile up stops this pickup. Hard to believe but my dear friends from New England, Honey and Bear, have done it again. They’ve somehow managed to track me down, just amazing. It’s so good seeing them again. They drive on up, as I hike on up to Westmoreland, where we visit Oregon Trail Park, then enjoy time together over lunch.
After lunch, it’s back on the road for me, another three hours, and nine more miles, till they come to fetch me from the highway and bring me back to the Oregon Trail Campground in Westmoreland. Honey fixes supper, and we spend a delightful evening visiting.
Just a perfect day, a 25-miler, plus time with friends. Doesn’t get any better!
“There was an epidemic of cholera, think it was caused from drinking water from the holes dug by campers. All along was a graveyard most any time of day you could see people burying their dead. Some places five or six graves in a row. It was a sad sight. No one could realize it unless they had seen it.”
[Jane D. Kellogg 1852]
Wednesday—May 7, 2014
Location—Black Vermillion Crossing, then on to Blue Rapids
We’re all up and moving a bit after seven. Honey and Bear have a fine popup topper on their truck. All the conveniences of home—almost. My home on the trail is my spartan Nimblewill tent.
We waste no time heading for the Back-40 Cafe in Westmoreland. What a treat, pancakes, bacon and eggs—and plenty of coffee.
Honey and Bear have me back on the road before nine. Another fine day, very warm, but the least windy. No complaints.
Short ways on up SR-99 road crews are busy heating up, ripping up, pulverizing, then rolling the asphalt back down. It’s a deal. Huge machines, plenty of heat, noise, and smoke. Chatted with one fellow taking a break. Told him they’d made my day. Something actually moving down the road slower than me.
Honey and Bear will be with me off and on the remainder of this day. As I turn west on Bobcat Road, toward Black Vermillion Crossing, they’ll be visiting some of the sites around.
Some zigs, some zags, then a trip down a rutted, rocky two-track and I’m soon near the Black Vermillion crossing. I say near because the crossing is on private property, but there’s a fine old stone marker indicating I’m only rods from it. I cross the river twice, but not near where the wagons crossed.
Dust, incredible dust kicked up by passing vehicles. Ah, but what I must deal with here—no comparison to the constant dust kicked up by the oxen and wagons.
By late afternoon, no Honey and Bear. What could have happened; where could they be? I fear they tried coming behind me over the rutted, rocky road. By the time I reach the turn to Blue Rapids, they still haven’t shown up. As I turn and head for Blue Rapids, here they come—with a flat tire. Turns out it was their third. They had gone down the road as I’d feared, and had problems, just as I’d feared. They’d changed the first flat. A farmer fixed the second. And here they come limping into town on the third!
Kind local comes and opens his tire shop and gets them rolling again.
Subway up the street, that’ll work, then up to Marysville for a room. Sure glad to be taken in tonight. Bad storm, much wind and heavy rain. Thanks, Honey and Bear!
“You in the states know nothing about dust. It will fly so that you can hardly see the horns of your oxen. It often seems that the cattle must die for want of a breath. And then in our wagons, such a spectacle. Beds, clothes and children completely covered.”
[Elizabeth Dixon Smith (Geer) 1847]
Thursday—May 8, 2014
Location—Independence Crossing/Alcove Spring, then on to south of Hanover
Sure glad I was in a room rather than my tent last. The storm that came through was intense. Would have gotten soaked. But all my stuff is dry this morning. Me too, and I slept well.
The motel provides breakfast, so we hit that. Then it’s time to return to the trail. Always difficult for me, bidding farewell. And it’s that time. So long Honey. So long Bear. Thanks for coming out and tracking me down one more time. Sure hope to see you again. Can’t hold the tears back as they wave goodbye and drive away.
The usual clutter that hangs around after a bad storm is still around this morning. Still acting like rain, and there is a bit of drizzle for awhile.
I’ll be trekking on gravel and dirt the better part of this day, toward two major Trail highlights, Independence Crossing and Alcove Spring. Roads are gravel into there, but nothing like yesterday. The crossing is over Big Blue River. This was another dangerous and difficult ford. The Donner/Reed party had to wait two days here for waters to recede. Days lost that would later seal their fate. They needed but one more day to cross out of the Sierras, but the blizzard came and stranded them for the winter. We’re all familiar with that tragedy.
Just a few yards from the crossing, and next the meadow where emigrants camped, is beautiful Alcove Spring. It was visited by the pioneers and others. John Fremont camped here and carved his initials in the stone next the spring. They can still be clearly seen today.
From Alcove Spring I’ve a short hike on up to Marysville, for a stop at the library. Then it’s on downtown to The Wagon Wheel for lunch.
Marysville is famous for its original Pony Express Station—No. 2 along the route to Sacramento. I get a few pictures. And now, I’ll be following the Pony Express route in addition to the Oregon and California.
It’s four by the time I clear Marysville. The day has turned perfectly clear, but windy. The remainder is spent on dirt roads, which cross the Trail, but there is no signage or ruts, so I just take a guess at the locations.
Dusk, I find a fine campsite in a locust grove. On my hands and knees picking up the thorns. a melancholy sort of day.
Occupied this day in crossing the Blue River by fording; raising our wagons by placing blocks between the beds and bolsters and went over dry. Camped on a beautiful spring branch on the right bank of the river…This is the most beautiful and convenient spot for a farm I’ve seen.
[Virginia Pringle, May 23, 1846]
Friday—May 9, 2014
Location—Hanover, then Steele City, then on to near Endicott
Okay, the mileage thing for those of you not familiar: My itinerary posted here; I stick with the mileage numbers there. The mileage shown for each day is considered a “click.” Once a daily click is passed (and only then) is the mileage for that day listed in the daily stats. Partial mileages are not calculated. I had nearly reached Hanover yesterday. I passed there this morning, then hiked on to Steele City this afternoon, total for the day somewhere around 22 miles. Took both clicks, though, for Hanover and Steele City. Make sense?
Had a fine (short) stay in Hanover, just enough time for more great roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn—and a dinner plate size salad at the local mom-n-pop. Yup, nasty old trail food again, more roughing it!
The Trail highlight this day is passing from Kansas into Nebraska, the Pony Express marker and the Trail monument there. Very impressive. But let me tell you something that’s unbelievably remarkable: Since the beginning of this trek I’ve been thinking how amazing it would be should I be blessed with something from the Trail, anything to connect me (and this odyssey) physically and directly with the times of the pioneers, a little fragment, some small something left behind or dropped along the way. Not possible, eh! Well, as it’s turned out today, it is possible—because it’s actually happened! Believe me; don’t believe me!
There’s a road along the state line. Not much of a road (it’s totally dirt where the trail crosses), but it’s a road. And the dirt on the road’s been bladed last day or so. Walking to the crossing monument, and looking down, there it is, laying in the road right where the trail crosses, a small piece of black-iron (the kind of iron wagon parts were made from). I bent down and pick it up, just like I’ve bent to pick up coins and other things these many years. I knew immediately, though, this find was going to be the most precious find I’ve ever made. Folks, in my pocket right now I’ve a piece of history. A small piece of metal from one of the covered wagons that passed here 150-plus years ago. There’s little left of it, but enough to figure out what it was—a hook that would have been attached to some wooden part of the wagon, to hold a bit of harness, something. Is this not amazing? I’m clutching it right now. Hey, got pictures; check them out in a couple weeks when we get them posted.
There’s a bar and grill in Steele City. I make a stop to water up, then head on up the road toward Rock Creek State Park. Pitch for the night near a fine running branch next the highway.
Here…if one looks and listens and ponders, he can hear the creak of harness, the crack of bullwhips, the bellowing of oxen, the shouts of drivers, the rustling of wagon covers in the wind.
[Merrill J. Mattes, 1969]
Saturday—May 10, 2014
Trains passing all night, coal haulers, one every half-hour or so. No problem; I just dream about trains!
Rock Creek Station is an historical park rich in Trail, Pony Express, and “Wild West” history. I’ve a five-mile hike up, make good time and arrive late morning.
Rock Creek is a fine facility, complete with visitor center—where I meet Leigh and Jeff. They both join in my excitement—the old wagon part that I found yesterday. Jeff brings out a large wagon diagram. From that and by looking at the old prairie schooner out front, we figure it out. Lash hooks were used to hold the canvas tight on the top ribs of the wagon. Each wagon had ten or twelve of these hooks fastened to the sideboards, five or six each side. The hook-like fragment of iron I found was one of those. a canvas tie down hook.
Leigh then fills me in on Rock Creek, where to start and what to look for. First are the wagon ruts coming up from the creek, some of the deepest and most pronounced that I’ve seen. Then the replica buildings, post office, livery, ranch cabins. At the east ranch house I meet Wild Bill Hickok. We’ll, the guy’s name really is Bill, and he’s fully decked out, six-shooters and all, just like Wild Bill. Bill consented to do a short video, and for the next few minutes I get a history lesson about how Wild Bill killed David McCanles at this very site, thus starting his career as a gunfighter.
From Rock Creek, I follow the gravel road to Fairbury, where I have a late lunch. Then it’s head-down-and-haul the 14 miles to Gilead. I reach there just at dark, and just before Elsa shuts the grill down at the Pioneer Inn. What luck; just made it.
A great burger and fries, plus three cans of Sprite, compliments of Elsa.
From the Pioneer Inn I hobble across the street to Gilead city park, pitch, and call it a day.
Rock Creek Station might have faded into obscurity, like so many other stage and Pony Express stations. If not for what happened July 12, 1861. On that fateful afternoon, James Butler Hickok killed David McCanles there…
Sunday—May 11, 2014
A quiet night in Gilead city park, save the hour of rain early this morning. I’d picked a nice grassy spot to pitch, so, not too big a mess breaking camp.
First thing—Hey, right back over to Pioneer Inn for coffee. The place is buzzing; ladies busy preparing for the Mother’s Day dinner rush coming up. I linger, chatting with locals.
Today there’s nothing special along my route, just a head-down grind-it-out roadwalk to Deshler. And yes, I know, I should be hiking the mile-grid roads up by Little Blue River; the Trail passes there. But I’ve opted instead for US-136 and a straight shot west. Sure enough, there’s considerable history along the Little Blue. However, much of it relates to other than the early Trail—generally from the 1860s, a good bit of it Pony Express, stage stops, ranch, and Indian related.
The wind pushes me around, but the traffic is light and I reach Deshler a bit after three.
And here I sit, west end of town, in the Sinclair jiffy. Good place to be in (and out of) the pouring down rain. Pitch black with no sign of letting up. Good time to work journal entries, have supper, and wait it out.
Others are biding their time here too. Strike up a conversation with Jarmon. His folks live up by the Trail right next Kiowa Station. In fact it’s been determined that the Trail goes directly through their backyard. He invites me to come back and spend a day. He’ll show me the Narrows; Jarmon knows the folks.
The rain lets up and we all head out. I’m little more than a half-mile west when the wind picks up and the rain begins anew. The big splatter-splat drops kind of anew. I see the impending wall coming toward me. Get someplace fast, old man! There’s a petro/chemical business just ahead. Their gates are open. I make a mad rush across the highway, then past their office to the back lot and a lean-to attached to one of their steel buildings. The open side is in the lee of the arriving storm, and I get under just in time. Behind one of the chemical tanks there’s just room enough for my dink tent. I set it as quick as I can, but still get hosed down good by the swirl of mist coming around the side.
Many emigrant journals mention the unbelievable intensity of these prairie storms. I’m under shelter, relatively protected. I absolutely cannot understand how they survived these blasts. Hard, bucket-brigade rain, then hail mixed in. The roof above me is tin. Never heard such a crashing racket. Half-hour and it’s over. Comes now a very uneasy calm. Then another wave passes, even more intense. Then calm. Then another—wave after wave. Two hours and the final wave tapers to steady hard rain, all night, with occasional rat-a-tats of hail. What a blessing, the lean-to being in the lee. I was sheltered from the wind and driving rain. Just a blessing.
Storm on the prairie…
The thunder here is not like the tame thunder of the Atlantic coast. Bursting with a terrific crash above or heads, it roared over the boundless waste of prairie, seeming to roll around the whole circle of the firmament with a peculiar and awful reverberation. The lightning flashed…playing with its livid glare upon the neighboring trees, revealing the vast expanse of the plain, and then leaving us shut in as if by a palpable wall of darkness.
Monday—May 12, 2014
Location—Shed by the Schultz farm, then on to shed by the Meyer farm, west of Gilead
Train racket, rain/hail racket, what the hey! These noise-filled nights—really no problem. Slept quite well, in fact, on the concrete slab behind the chemical tanks—under the lean-to.
Eight in the morning now and the day is getting cranked up in the business office. I head in, and am welcomed. “Help you with something?” Kind fellow comes out from the corner office. “You already have!” My reply. Hey, and hot coffee—and a “dry” toilet.
Out on the highway now, not good. Early morning had been calm, but the wind is sure coming up again, no nonsense, out of the north. Another dark wall headed my way, driven by a cold wind. Trees ahead, south side of the road. Trees on the prairie usually mean there’s a house. Yup, this one belongs to the Schultz family. Says so on the carved log by their drive. I hurry down, ring the doorbell. Mr. Schultz greets me. After listening to my story, I’m permitted to wait out the storm in his (dry) barn.
It’s cold and I’m wet, and this storm isn’t leaving anytime soon. So, I carve out a spot back in the corner and pitch my tent. That was nine. Next thing I know it’s three, and I’m awakened by the Schultzes. They’ve brought me hot soup and a big BBQ burger.
Kind folks, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome. So, though it’s still overcast and very dark (but no rain) I head on west. Another bad idea. In a half-hour the rain begins again. Another grove of trees on the prairie ahead. Another farmhouse, this one belonging to the Meyer family. I head over, ring their doorbell. No one home but the cats. Another wall of rain arriving. Decision time. Yup, I head for a little shed out back. Narrow entrance, no door. I’m in just as the onslaught arrives. Hey, tight roof, wood floor.
The cold, relentless rain, hard driven from the north, continues through late afternoon and into the evening. The wind takes joy in bending the trees and shoving against the little building—and it’s turning very cold. I clear out one more corner, one more time, and pitch my tent, one more time. Gotta keep heading west, old man—But this is it for this day.
Eastward I go only by force, but westward I go free…This is the prevailing tendency of my countrymen. I must walk toward Oregon…
[Henry David Thoreau]
Tuesday—May 13, 2014
Location—Nelson, OxBow Motel
A terribly fretful night. I really knew better than to cover my tent full around with the fly, but I did it anyway. It was so much warmer—to begin with. But by early morning, when it really got cold, so did this old doofus. Condensation, yup, condensation all over the inside of my tent. Every time I moved the least, a bit more of it rubbed off on my sleeping bag. Down is superb, the very lightest and best insulation there is. That is, as long as it’s kept dry. By five this morning, my bag was nothing but total soggy, and I was total cold. Toughed it out till eight, when the sun came to welcome me to a new day.
Cold feet, shoes won’t go on. Cold sticks-for-fingers, can’t tie my laces once I finally get my shoes on. Forget the zippers, snaps, and buckles for now.
Still no one home at the Meyer residence, save the cats. Thanks friends for the stay.
As I trudge on west with my soggy everything, the sun is certainly giving it a go, but with little luck. The wind sure isn’t all gone out of old man winter, and he’s letting us know who’s still boss. Cold, biting wind, directly out of the north at 25-per.
There’s a farm machinery business in Ruskin. Cold wind drives me in there. Kind folks, all—with plenty of extra hot coffee (plus a warm, dry toilet). I linger for more coffee, and to let the day come around the least. One of the fellows in the office sees the trouble I’m having holding and lifting my styro coffee cup, and soon comes with a new pair of gloves for me. “Bet these’ll help.” as he hands them to me.
The wind’s been shoving me off the road the entire day. Four miles from Nelson I hang a 90 north. Now it’s pushing straight at me, 25-per, on into Nelson. I’m finally there by three.
The deli in the jiffy closed at two, and folks running the bar and grill across the street are on vacation, so it’s micro burrito time again, plus chips.
It’s four by the time I reach the post office. The window closed at three-thirty. My bounce box is here, so I gently tap on the postmaster’s door. Hey, she’s still here—and gives me my box!
And to really turn the day, there’s a fine mom-n-pop motel up the street—with a room for this tired, stinky old hiker.
At OxBow Motel, I’m greeted by Barb, inkeep for the day, filling in for her cousin. A local gal, much interested in Trail lore. Did a short video of her telling about how she played the part of a young girl, Laura Roper Vance, who was captured by Indians. Barb played the part as Laura during the annual reenactment festival in Oak—when she was a child.
Oh my, this old man’s been whining and whining about a bad day, when it’s actually turned out quite well!
West of Oak is the site of the Narrows, a place between bluffs and River where only one wagon could pass. Here, Indians lay in wait, and here 16 year old Laura Roper Vance was captured on August 7, 1864.
[The Oregon Trail, Nuckolls County – Brochure]
Wednesday—May 14, 2014
Location—Lawrence, then on to near US-281 south of Blue Hill
Just a delightful (much needed) stay at OxBow Motel in Nelson. All my gear is dried out now. I’m clean. My clothes are (reasonably) clean. Thanks Barb and Vicky—thanks, especially, for the great breakfast!
Clear, a bit windy again, but the makings for a fine hiking day. Narrow to no shoulder, though, so it’s walk the white line, SR-4. Sparse traffic, so no problem.
Farmers are all busy, at least as busy as they can be considering the muddy fields. They’re all spraying and planting. Fertilizer, I think, and corn. Huge machines, some with tracks. In the implement place yesterday, farmers were needing parts, some talking new machines, numbers in the hundreds-of-thousands flying around. Talk about a crap-shoot. Owe the bank a million or so and have your crop fail, eh!
The emigrants, in their wildest dreams, could never have foreseen the prairie turned entirely into fields of grain. But then again, every day they had to break the sod to bury their dead, so they knew the fertile topsoil ran deep. If you haven’t yet read the ditty “How the West was Won” click back to the Odyssey 2014 page here and scroll down to read that somewhat melancholy poem that mentions “…dear loved kin and many a friend…”
Late evening the wind comes cold and hard again, once again out of the north, driving dark, low-draped clouds. More rain coming, appears. An old field barn and long ago abandoned homestead on the horizon (a fair distance out here). Half-hour and I’m there. Looking at the two possibilities for the night, I choose the old barn, it still has a roof.
I’m in and pitched as my fingers once again turn to so many sticks. Ah, but my down bag is thick and soft—I’ll stay warm and dry tonight, hopefully.
This is supposed to be spring; will winter ever be gone?
You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.
Thursday—May 15, 2014
Location—Little Blue River, then on to near Holstein
Made it to within a couple miles of the intersection of SR-4 and US-281 last evening. The old barn I pitched in held a bit of warmth from the day and I managed to sleep comfortable and warm.
The sun comes shining through the old door opening this morning, and as soon as it hits my tent, I warm right up. The ritual I now go through breaking camp every morning is nothing short of an ordeal. A full half-hour of chores. My left heel stopped bleeding and began to mend a couple days ago, but it remains tender and very sore, so each morning I’ve still that extra four or five minutes of bandaging. And when it’s cold and my fingers aren’t working, just the simple task of getting my shoes on (feet swollen, fingers useless) can be totally exasperating. Part of getting old (and older) for sure. And the continual whining? Part of it too, I reckon. I’ll try doing better. If the weather would do better, too, that’d certainly help.
About half this day will be spent hiking west, the other half, north. Oh yes, the wind is out of the northwest (steady at 20, gusting to 35), and as I lean into it—yup, gonna make for a long lean into it for this roadwalk day.
The route I’ve chosen through this part of Nebraska is south of the Trail, and south of the Little Blue River. I already crossed the river once, to its southwest bank, and will cross it again today, to its northeast bank. And I’ll be closer to the Trail. The emigrants needed water, and plenty of it each and every day. Following the Little Blue River provided for that need. But nearing its headwaters, the river makes a sharp bend from trending northwest, to turn like a hook to the south. So, a fair distance south of the Platte River, the Trail leaves the Little Blue to strike out (and continue) across the prairie to the northwest—toward the Great Platte River Road. I’ll meet up with the Trail again in a couple of days at Fort Kearny.
Interesting road kill today, a raccoon big as a bobcat, and a bobcat big as a tall dog. And the usual skunks, rabbits, squirrel, and hawks. Lots of wildlife out here. Don’t know how they make it, especially through the brutal winters up here on the plains.
More than a few folks stop today, ask if I’m okay, want to know what this is all about, “Passed you three, four times the last couple of days.” the usual greeting.
In Blue Hill (everything’s named some color or other out here) I hang a left for downtown. Had been told about the full service restaurant in the rear of the grocery—not the usual deli, a sit yourself down and dine arrangement. Special today is pork steak, potatoes and gravy, green beans, a roll, plus a no limit pass at the fountain and coffee pot. High octane. Pure jet fuel! Hey, and they’ve free WiFi! I’m first in, last out—with 50-75 folks in between.
Back on the highway, the wind has decided to bump it up a notch. By the time I reach Rosemont, it’s steady at thirty. So, I duck downtown again, to the bar and grill, Boomer’s, name of the place I think. It’s jumping. I pick a corner table and order the wings special. Soon comes one of the local lasses, Amber is her name. “What are you doing?” bam, straight out. I give her the short version—plus one of my cards. Then comes Ed, Amber’s Godfather. I invite them both to join me. Great conversation. They’re fascinated when I explain how refreshing it is to find most all the folks in these little Nebraska villages to be so kind, friendly, and outgoing. Hey, just not used to this sort of welcome—know what I mean!
Sunset’s coming on and I need to move out and set camp. Been told I could pitch in the city park, but it’s small, houses nearby. Just not a good idea. So I beat it back out to the highway. By the time I’ve found a place to hide (another small, dilapidated barn) it’s nearing dark-thirty. Using my trusty little Photon, I’m able to get in, clear out a corner, and pitch for the night.
Gonna be another cold one. On my NeoAir, knees under my chin, my 45-degree summer bag tucked around best possible—I’m gone…
The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.
Friday—May 16, 2014
Location—Norman, then on to Minden, the Pioneer Motel
Not the most comfortable night, considering a 45-degree bag doesn’t work all that well at 40-degrees!
I’m abruptly jolted from my dream this morning (about wasting my last match trying to start a warming fire, 40-below in the Yukon), by rumbling vibrations directly outside.
Oh my, now isn’t this day getting off to an interesting start! To reach the old barn last night I passed a huge track-hoe. All appearances, it’d been sitting unused in front of the place for a very long time. Well, as I peer out, it’s not sitting there any longer. Two fellows, one jockeying, one directing, are loading it on a low-boy. Five minutes or so, the machine loaded, both head straight for the barn. I’m not believing this; there’s nothing but dirt-covered junk in here. I’d come in through the back door because I could see no way of sliding the front door open (what was left of it) without it falling in a heap. But here they come. I can see them clearly through my no-seeum screen—and the broken down door. Moving some steel props aside, they give it a heave, it creaks and groans, but comes open a couple feet.
It’s strange, certainly interesting enough, that I find myself more amused than frightened—because I know what’s going to happen next, as soon as they look in. Even more strange, and I’m unable to stifle it—I begin laughing. Sure enough, soon as they realize someone’s in here, and see my tent, they turn to gape at each other. Then in unison, just as I knew would happen, they blurt out, “What the ~~~~!” Use your imagination to fill in the four-letter expletive. Before either could gain enough composure to speak, I tell them I’m a hiker, had no place to stay last night but here, then added: “If you decide to call the sheriff, I sure understand.” Comes a gripping moment of silence, then the fellow who’d loaded the track-hoe, calmly, and with not the least hint of anger in his voice, replies, “You’re okay, man.” With that they force the old door back shut, turn, and in no more than a moment they’re rumbling out the drive, and are gone. Sure no rush, but I break camp pronto—and stumbling out the drive, I’m gone!
And how might one explain this bizarre incident? My take is: After years and years—this sort of stealth camping—sooner or later, odds gonna get ya!
Sometime during the night a solid blanket of pure cold-weather mush settled over these parts on Nebraska. And appears, as with the other day, there’s not the least rush in moving on. In fact, I think I recognize these clouds. They’re the same ones that were being driven south and east by the northwest wind last Monday. Yup, the wind’s out of the southeast this morning, pushing them right back. There they go!
Late morning I’m in Holstein, the bar and grill there. Even with the gloves given me by the kind soul the other day, my fingers are once again sticks. The klatch at the nearby grouped-up tables glance over as I try getting my poncho off, then my pack. Way early for lunch, but there’s hot coffee to warm my hands and my innards. And the kind lady in the kitchen microwaves a sweet roll for me. I linger, drain their coffee pot, and make a trip to the (warm) room—that has the pot.
From the folks in the bar I’ve learned there’s also a grocery store in Minden that serves full meals, and there’s a motel in the village. I’m haulin’!
Square mile after square mile of fields being planted. Been told it is corn. Hey, Cornhuskers gotta have corn! And prices must be good on corn now. Countless grain trucks parked by the storage bins and silos along, being loaded. No less than a hundred pass me today, going both directions. For sure, I’m trekking through the breadbasket of the world—or is it the cornbread basket? Oh, and besides us, our vehicles are also tanking down the dregs from this stuff!
Driving across this magnificent prairie, mile after seemingly endless mile, one no doubt gets some appreciation for the sheer magnitude and expanse of it. Ah, but to walk it, step by countless step, as did the pioneers of old (and this old modern-day pioneer) does there come an entirely different understanding.
I’m in Minden by four. The grocery is on the way downtown. I’m right in there for their special, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, with peas, a large roll, and endless coffee.
I order two sandwiches to go, then hit the grocery aisles for fresh fruit and candy.
Minden is the county seat. Just a magnificent old courthouse, kept up and still in use today.
Five blocks north, I’m at the Pioneer Motel. Seems I’m the only pioneer to have hoofed it from Independence, through Minden, in the past 150 years. Great Hiker Trash deal; thanks, Rachel!
As we approached what is called the…prairie, the road became much drier and less difficult. The vast prairie itself soon opened before us in all its grandeur and beauty. I had never before beheld extensive scenery of this kind. The many descriptions of the prairies of the West had forestalled in some measure the first impressions produced by the magnificent landscape spread out before me as far as the eye could reach, bounded alone by the blue wall of the sky. No description, however, which I have read of these scenes, or which can be written, can convey more than a faint impression to the imagination of their effects upon the eye.
[Edwin Bryant, 1846]
Saturday—May 17, 2014
Location—Fort Kearny State Park, then on to Kearney
I’ve certainly enjoyed my stay in Minden; a pleasant city, kind folks. The continental breakfast at Pioneer Motel gets me fueled up for the morning trek on up to Fort Kearny and I’m out to a bright (but chilly) sunshiny morning.
Three Trail related highlights for this day, old Fort Kearny, meeting up with The Great Platte River Road, and finally, the crossing of the Platte River at Kearney.
I’ve heavy traffic on SR-10 to contend with, but a fully paved emergency lane provides me safe and comfortable space from it, the constant rush and racket not a problem. By one, I’ve covered the 12 miles to the old fort.
Fort Kearny was established in the 1840s to protect the Overland Trail, from where the trails coming out of Independence, Council Bluffs, and Omaha merged. Over time, as the Transcontinental Railroad replaced the Overland Trail, the fort was no longer needed, and it was finally abandoned in 1871. I make a pass through the visitor center and tour the grounds before continuing on to the river.
I crossed the Platte River in 2004 and again in 2006, during my outbound and return Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail treks. Those crossing were at the confluence of the Platte and Missouri Rivers. Here at Kearney, I’m surprised by the narrowness of the river, as it is much wider downstream at its mouth.
Early evening I reach the roadside historic marker commemorating The Great Platte River Road. The marker is the only evidence here that it ever existed. But I can sure hear the grind from the traffic plying the modern Great Platte River Road—Interstate 80!
Heading into Kearney I make a stop at McDonald’s before finding a mom-n-pop motel and a Hiker Trash deal downtown.
The road on our side of the river for miles ahead are lined with teams from our camp and from the Missouri behind us is one continuous line of wagons.
[Emigrant, north side of Platte, across from Fort Kearny, 1850]
Sunday, May 18, 2014
Location—Odessa, then on to Overton
Another fine night, camped in another mom-n-pop, this time in Kearney. Two nights in a row; yes, pure decadence. But the overnight temps were to drop into the low 40s. Warm room, much better choice than the cold, hard ground. Hey, been there plenty of times; paid my dues!
As to the Trail today? Very significant, for sure. But there’s nothing to give the least hint to indicate I’m tracking another National Historic Trail, the Mormon. I’m now setting tracks down on no less than four National Historic Trails (considering which side of the Platte I’m on, apparently).
I think I might have mentioned that in the very early days of the Oregon Trail, the “road” it followed passed along the north bank of the Platte River. During the late 1840s and through the ‘50s, and along with the Pony Express and the Overland Stage, it tracked the “road” along the south bank of the Platte. However, the Mormon Trail, during its entire existence, tracked the north “road.”
The Transcontinental Railroad was built along the north bank, and there it remains to this day. Union Pacific, an incredibly busy rail line. During my hike today, no less than 100 trains have passed. Loaded with coal going east—and empties coming back. Reminds me of a catchy ditty by Angelo de Ponciano:
Have you ever sat by the railroad track
and watched the emptys cuming back?
lumbering along with a groan and a whine,-
smoke strung out in a long gray line
belched from the panting injun’s stack
– just emptys cuming back.
Ah, and as to that wanderlust that dwells deep down in all of us, that smoldering fire in our gut, I’ll end this day with a bit of a soulful ditty, about trains and wanderlust, by Langston Hughes.
So, it’s been a head down, get in the zone and haul kind of day. Ah, and US-30 is going to be kind to this old intrepid, a fully paved emergency lane, and courteous folks passing by. Motorists pull off and stop, offer me rides. Yup, kind, thoughtful Nebraska folks.
The wind has whipped me good today. I arrive Overton very tired. A short stop at the jiffy, a bite to eat, and I head on west to pitch. But as I head out of town, and trek on and on, and as the sun starts to set, there’s simply no place along the highway or the tracks to stealth for the night.
It’s getting dark now, and I’m becoming anxious. Motorists have their headlights on and I can sense they’re startled when they see me walking toward them in the emergency lane.
Another five minutes on ahead there’s a golf course on the north side of the road. I wait till there’s no traffic that might see me—then I make a mad dash across to the cart path. A quick glance tells me there’s no one on the course. Cedar trees are all about, but none situated in a manner that might provide concealment; all have had their lower limbs removed for ease of mowing. So, still no place to hide. Looking about, I figure the farther from the road the better, so I follow a dirt path that leads to the maintenance shed. Finally, clear to the back of the golf course, and by a field fence I finally find a large cedar I can get under.
Aw folks, here we go again. I can’t believe this. I no sooner crawl under the tree and begin setting camp than a car passes on the dirt road, between the tree and the field fence. Not the least deterred, I continue setting my tent. But when the vehicle returns, then slows by the tree, I know the jig is up. I’m now shoving things back in my pack as fast as I can, totally disbelieving anyone could possibly know I’m here. About to crawl back out, comes this golf cart up the road. It stops right by the tree. A man calls out, “What are you doing here?” followed immediately by, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” Oh my, this old trespasser is going to get arrested for sure this time!
Well, the long and short of it: There was someone else on the golf course. In the subdued light of nightfall, and with my failing eyesight, I’d just failed to pick him up. He’d picked me up, though—and called his neighbor. Makes sense folks would get the least edgy having someone sneaking around their golf course at dusk with a backpack on.
Out from under the tree, and by the road, I meet Larry and his daughter, Gracie. Again, and amazing (for the second time in just short days) is there shown not the least anger or unfriendliness. In fact, as they both listen calmly to my story, Larry glances toward Gracie, then with a genuine and friendly smile says, “I want to help you, follow me and I’ll show you a safe place.”
And so I follow. Nearing their home, Larry slows the cart, looks at Gracie, then to me—and invites me to their home for the night. With hesitancy, and because this whole amazing circumstance has developed so rapidly, I first decline, then accept their kind invitation.
What a day; what a day. Tell you more tomorrow.
“De railroad bridges
A sad song in de air.
Ever’ time de trains pass
I want to go somewhere.”
[Langston Hughes, Homesick Blues]
Monday—May 19, 2014
Location—Lexington, then on to Cozad
Oh my, how the path of life twists and turns at times. We can only follow, never knowing where it will lead. Yesterday evening, and for a short while, I was certain beyond doubt that I would be spending time in jail. Yet, not twenty minutes later I’m sitting at the dining room table, in the home of perfect strangers, enjoying a fresh slice of blueberry pie topped with whipped cream, along with a tall glass of milk.
Larry, his daughter, Gracie, and son, Payton, have a very lovely home (right on the golf course). As soon as I entered last evening I met their little dog, Girlfriend. She took to me right away and stayed next to me the entire night. Just a very enjoyable evening with these dear new friends—and I never even got their last name! Thanks, folks, for your patience, understanding, and your gentle kindness.
Larry has coffee for me this morning, along with breakfast, and food to go. I’m certainly rested and ready for another day on the Trail; and a fine one it’s shaping to be. I start out with my jacket but that isn’t needed long.
Through these parts, pretty much everything ended up on the north bank of the Platte, the villages, US-30, I-80, and the railroad. I’m trekking US-30 right next the railroad. Long, straight highways, with wide shoulders, make for long-mile days, and today will be one of them. I’d like to reach Cozad this afternoon. It’s 25 miles from Overton to Cozad, so it’s head down and haul time again.
Another 100 or so trains pass again today, but there’s no highway traffic. US-30 is closed for repair most of the way into Cozad.
I make decent time and arrive around four. There are some motels out by the interstate. Five minutes that way I’m at the first one, just a perfect mom-n-pop. I’m tired. My feet are really tired and I need to get them up. Hiker Trash deal? Oh yes. Just another fine day on the open road—”near” the Oregon Trail as I continue west.
travel, travel, TRAVEL—nothing else will take you to the end of your journey; nothing is wise that does not help you along; nothing is good for you that causes a moments delay.
[Marcus Whitman, M.D., Oregon Trail 1843]
Tuesday—May 20, 2014
Location—Gothenburg, then on to Brady
Trouble getting up, out, and moving. Eight-thirty before I rise, and well after nine before I’m back on US-30 headed west. Road sign just outside Cozad reads “North Platte – 45 Miles.” I want to be in North Platte tomorrow afternoon, so that means a 20-plus today, same tomorrow.
The little village of Brady is half way, so I’m headed for Brady. Kind lady at the motel said there was a convenience in Brady. Just a great split, Gothenburg, about half way to Brady—for lunch. Then Get-n-Go (that’s the jiffy in Brady) for supper.
More trains, more trucks, lots of confusion, rumble and racket—help me, Lord, here I come! A cool day, light wind out of the northeast. Perfect for getting in a 20-plus. More road kill, raccoons, skunks, and the first deer in awhile, two very big deer.
And the empties keep coming back, coal cars bound for another load from the coal fields north and west of here. Their constant passing sets me to thinking about trains—and life. Trains have always been there—in my life, great memories. Both my grandfathers worked for Pennsylvania Railroad, back when the huge steam locomotives were king of the tracks. Grandpa Johnson was a stationmaster for PRR. Used to send mother Pullman tickets for us to visit back east (from Missouri). As a child, hey, better than Disney World, for sure! Horseshoe Bend, where one could look out the train car window and see both ends of the train at the same time, winding its way through the Appalachian Mountains. Oh yes, just such great memories! But that was then. This is now.
Trains, their rumbling sound, the mournful, beckoning whistle far away, conjures the least melancholy in me. And now, as I trek along, seeing the highway lift and disappear to a pinpoint mirage, I can’t help but think of where, how, my life has gone. And so, as I trip along today, I compose my own ditty about “empties coming back.” I’ll have Webmaster, CyWiz, close this day with my take on them.
McDonald’s, a quarter-mile out toward the interstate in Gothenburg. Oh yes, I’m right there for lunch, then to check email and get caught up on journals.
I’m headed for Brady by four. A long, uninterrupted pull (gradually climbing toward the high plains desert), I’m in the Get-n-Go, Brady, just after eight. Kind cashier, Cheryl, picks up my tab for supper. Thanks, Cheryl, for your kindness!
Better luck this evening, much better than night before last. Quarter-mile out of Brady, just the finest cedar windbreak. I’m off the highway (unseen) to pitch back a ways in the highway loop-around for the night.
For sure, a mixed bag, emotionally, yet a very enjoyable hiking day.
I trek this lonely highway,
Beside the railroad track.
While passing by the whole long day,
—Just empties coming back.
And so, I think about my life,
How it got out of whack,
While yet another train goes by,
—Just empties coming back.
As go these trains, so went my life,
That never had the knack,
To string together little more
—Just empties coming back.
[N. Nomad 2014]
Wednesday—May 21, 2014
Another long, uninterrupted straightaway today—high gear and haul. And yet another split, Maxwell, approximately half way. No jiffy, just water from the auto shop there, to cool my engine and keep me motoring.
As mentioned, Brady is about half the distance from Lexington to North Platte. I’d reached Brady yesterday, leaving me with a 20-plus to reach North Platte today. Over the past few days I’d climbed up on the Maxwell itinerary click, so took that, plus the North Platte click today. Anyway, and no, I didn’t trek 45+ miles today! Again, this mileage thing isn’t a big deal. May appear to you an obsession, but it’s really not. The whole issue of setting goals—as to the mindset, dedication—goals set with little or no hope of ever accomplishing them—failure. Make that FAILURE! So, y’all know that this old intrepid has set (and achieved) some pretty amazing goals. Not brag; just fact—as they say. And yes, I do know from where my blessings come. Blessings (through Grace), have enabled me to reach these goals. Each day, every day, with true humility, do I give thanks to God. And so, so much for goal setting!
Entering North Platte, I cross the North Platte River, just upstream from the confluence of the North and South Platte Rivers. Pioneers passing here—the Mormons stayed the north side of the North Platte, those California/Oregon bound, the south side of the South Platte, a short distance further, anyway. Crossing the North Platte, sure enough do I see what an obstacle these rivers presented.
No luck finding a motel in North Platte. Railroad fellows have taken up all the cheap rooms, by the week. The others, the chains, no way; just crazy rates.
So, I hit Subway for their foot-long five buck special, then a jiffy for a quart of Gatorade, and it’s on west, still on US-30, to Log Cabin Restaurant. Sammy (kind young lady, owner) lets me pitch behind.
I’m right next the Union Pacific Railroad switching yards. Grinding, banging, all night. Used to this. Quiet, sure that’s better, but beggars can’t be choosers—racket’s okay this night!
Near North Platte Nebraska, the Platte River splits into two major forks, with the South Platte running generally southwest towards Denver and the North Platte heading northwest towards Fort Laramie. Sooner or later, the emigrants were forced to cross the South Platte in order to reach and follow the North Platte towards South Pass.
[California Hill – US Park Service]
Thursday—May 22, 2014
The train switch-yard banging and slamming caused not the least disturbance. However, the rain early morning, pelting my face did. Not a problem, just glad it woke me. I always rig my fly so it’s secure at the peak, with the front flipped back. A quick door unzip and I can easily reach up and pull the fly forward and down over the tent front. I no sooner get the fly totally rigged than the rain stops. By the time I wake (again) to morning, my tent and fly are completely dry.
Today, and now finally back up to speed with my itinerary schedule, I’ve a twenty to get to Sutherland, today’s destination. There’s a mom-n-pop motel there, reasonable rates I’m told, so that’s probably as far as I’ll get today.
Log Cabin Restaurant opens at six. I’d glanced at their breakfast menu while in there last evening. Great home cooked grub, plain and simple. I’m back in there soon as they open this morning. Oh yes, a siphon hooked to their coffee pot, biscuits/sausage gravy, topped with two large eggs. Pure, high octane aviation fuel. Gets my props whirling! I linger (Sammy has WiFi), to work email and journal entries till half past eight. Then it’s hit the straightaway again—time to haul.
Another split today, the little village of Hershey. Fine little community, as have been all the little villages passed so far this trek. On the front flap of the official Nebraska State Map, Governor Heineman states, “Wherever your travels take you, we hope you’ll take advantage of opportunities to experience the welcoming atmosphere that is a hallmark of our state. A feeling of hospitality and a strong sense of community has attracted travelers and kept them coming back…” Certainly a sincere and factual statement. Oh yes, Governor, I am taking advantage!
Kind reception at the bank in Hershey. And Butch’s Steakhouse & Lounge, a very popular place for lunch; it’s packed. Their special, Swiss cheese/mushroom melt, fries, and two tall Sierra Mists and I waddle out, and on down the road toward Sutherland.
More rides offered today. Those familiar with the Oregon Trail understand why I decline. Others simply shake their heads and drive away.
So, though I’ve crossed the (North) Platte River, I’m still on the opposite bank of the (South) Platte River—from the Trail. In 1845 the emigrants followed the shortest, easiest, and safest route (hopefully all three but rarely the case). Even then, alternate routes known as “cutoffs” were being developed. Today, there certainly is an easier, and safer route. Though it’s really no shorter, I’ve chosen to call it the “Nimblewill Cutoff.” It closely tracks the old Trail along, but seldom exactly.
I’ve been chided for that, understandably I guess. My reply (somewhat tangential and non-confrontational) “My momma didn’t raise no dummy.” Those of you who’ve tracked the Trail by car, who’ve driven the mile-grid county roads along, great. Not a bad deal in your air conditioned vehicle, riding along comfortably, watching your Navigator GPS for the next turn, to the next “Oregon Trail Crossing” sign. Then to stare across the plowed field where the sod was broken and the Trail turned under over 100 years ago—”There it is, I think!”
Sure, I’ll miss a few of the ruts along, perhaps even a couple of the old historic landmarks. But I am walking it, doing the best I can, and for sure, my mind is definitely into the pioneering spirit of it.
The noted authority on the Oregon Trail, Gregory Franzwa, deceased (whose guide and maps I’ve extensively poured over), also other noted historians, have estimated, and agree, that as best can be determined, the Oregon Trail, from Independence to Oregon City, covered a distance of some 2,100 miles. if you’ll take a moment to look at my itinerary; it’s posted here, you’ll find my estimated trek distance to be 2,109.6 miles. My chosen route—easier? Sure (The emigrants would have taken the concrete bridge across the Platte River, had it been there!). Safer? Of course (lots of semis, but no Indians or cholera to contend with). But shorter? Definitely not the case!
So, for those of you who’ve “Been there, done that, got that T-shirt.”—Yes mother, I know, “If you can’t say something kind just be quiet!”
Mid-afternoon I arrive Sutherland. There is (in fact) a fine little mom-n-pop motel in Sutherland. By four-thirty I’m in, feet up, and this weary old intrepid is a happy camper!
There were almost as many Oregon trails as there were people who took them. Each year the route changed; sometimes only slightly, sometimes drastically. This book [The Oregon Trail Revisited] would have to be ten times as thick as it is if all the major routes were covered. The best known routes are covered in this volume—many others are shown in our Maps of the Oregon Trail. This route is that of the mid-1840s.
Friday—May 23, 2014
Half a block from the motel, a fine jiffy, with deli. Right over there for a huge breakfast burrito, plus my usual bottomless cup of coffee. It’s nine-thirty before I drop off the room key and hit the highway.
Another Old Lincoln Highway/US-30 straightaway day. Luck is with me again—on a split for lunch. Paxton is around 12 miles out. The klatch at the jiffy said to hit Windy Gap Bar & Grill there for lunch. So that’s where I’m headed.
The day starts dreary and quickly turns to drizzle, then gentle but steady rain. Just a bit of breeze from behind, so the trek on up (climbing steady now) to Paxton goes fine and I’m in just after one.
Ah, and Windy Gap certainly is the place. Great burger and fries, with two more burgers to go. No jiffies between Paxton and Ogallala. And I’ll not reach there till late tomorrow morning, so gotta carry food and water for tonight.
I while my time at the bar waiting out another wave of rain. A quick stop at the jiffy right next for some snacks and I’m back on the road to Roscoe before two.
A bit more rain, but it proves gentle, no wind. A pleasant trek on up to Roscoe. I’m passing there (don’t blink) by seven-thirty.
More wide open fields/rangeland. No cover; no place to hide. Looking to the railroad (more empties coming back) I reach a stand-up-under bridge at a wash. Oh yes, this is home, a dry home for the night, as the gentle rain begins anew. I hasten over and duck under the tracks before anyone can see me—I think.
Another pleasant day hiking down history along The Great Platte River Road/Lincoln Highway (US-30).
The Great Platte River Road was the convergence point for the Trapper’s Trail, the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail, the California Trail, the Pony Express route, [the Overland Stage] and the military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Laramie across Nebraska. The Road, which extended from the Second Fort Kearny [visited recently] to Fort Laramie, was utilized primarily from 1841 to 1866. Currently regarded as a sort of superhighway of its times, the road has been referred to as “the grand corridor of America’s westward expansion.”
[Mattes, M The Great Platte River Road 1987]
Saturday—May 24. 2014
Location—Brule, then on towards Ash Hollow
It rained during the night, but I didn’t hear it. Thick roof. Solid concrete, covered with rock, cross ties and rails. Only thing I heard were the frequent trains. I’m dry. Nice breaking camp and packing dry gear.
I’ve slept under highway bridges many times, especially in the Florida Keys. A semi now and then, a quick jolt, and that was it. Trains? Different deal with trains, especially ones that are a mile long. Each railcar, one after the other, like a whole line of semis. Slam, slam, slam, directly overhead. Starts with the “puller” engines and ends with the “pusher.” First train that passed after I got under scared me to death. A combination of the deafening noise—and the ground moving up and down. Hey, but didn’t take long to get used to it, and I did sleep quite well.
A light rain as I hike on into Ogallala. I hit Cowboys for breakfast. Old West pictures and drawings, lots of Buffalo Bill Cody stuff. Good coffee; good grub. Waitress told me there was a convenience in Brule, but I better not depend on it. Sometimes it’s open—sometimes. A fine grocery right down the street; in I go to stock up for two days. As usual, bought way too much food. Back on the road by one—going to be a long afternoon of lugging. The heavier than usual pack settles in and I make decent time, passing through Brule at four-thirty.
This is the end of my trek along Lincoln Highway/US-30. A short distance west of Brule the emigrants bit it off and finally forded the South Platte—in order to continue northwest. So I’ll have to turn more north now too, in order to track the Trail.
California Hill had to be climbed after fording the South Platte. It was the first real steep uphill test of any distance for the emigrants. As I leave the South Platte, I head up my own California Hill, Road West 1N. A good pull on the gravel for most of two miles.
Out of Brule I manage another eight (24 for the day) to set up for a short day tomorrow, as I want to spend time at Windlass Hill and Ash Hollow. The sun is setting as I turn onto US-26. Up the highway a mile or so, a farm, complete with a fine cedar wind break. Home—no trains tonight!
California Hill, encountered immediately after crossing the South Platte, was the first major grade faced by the emigrants. This necessitated a climb of 240 feet in just over 1½ miles in order to reach the plateau between the North and South Platte Rivers.
[National Park Service]
Sunday—May 25, 2014
Location—Ash Hollow State Historic Park, then on to Lewellen
A totally quiet night, not even a coyote howling. A good night’s sleep; I’m back on the road and moving toward Windlass Hill/Ash Hollow by eight.
A cool, foggy morning. Up here on the plateau (locals call it “The Table”) between these two great rivers, the open expanse is all but overwhelming. What looks a mile distant becomes closer to three. The land is so open and rolling. Corn and other crops just planted haven’t sprouted yet, so the smooth, undulating contour, the vastness of it, is so visibly present. Driving across this expanse must certainly be attention getting. Walking it, as did the pioneers (and is this old intrepid) would have conjured an overwhelming and emotional sense of awe-struck wonderment.
As the sun burns its magic against the shroud, the fog slowly lifts to reveal the surroundings for miles. On the horizon, a copse of trees here, another there, evidence that the area is truly inhabited. For within each, a farm with its main dwelling and associated out buildings.
Early afternoon, the highway has worked its way to the north edge of the table and begins the descent to Windlass Hill. The North Platte and the densely treed area known as Ash Hollow can be seen in the distance below.
I had been to Windlass Hill once before, so I don’t hike the walkway to the top. I do, however, climb to where the bridge crosses the downhill rut. It has, of course, become deeply eroded over time. Yet one can imagine the challenge in lowering the wagons down. I get a video and a few shots.
To reach the superb Ash Hollow Visitor Center, I’ve a good climb back up to near the table, across from the hollow. It’s a top notch facility, packed with history, both of the Trail and of man’s early presence.
Below the center, and arriving there by a walkway from the center above, is the famous Ash Hollow Spring. Emigrants that kept journals or diaries, most all wrote about the pure, cold water that came forth from the spring.
Back on US-26, and just past Ash Hollow Spring is the Ash Hollow Cemetery. It dates back to the 1840s, with many graves of emigrants who died here on the Oregon Trail. One such grave is that of Rachel Pattison, a child of 19, who died at Ash Hollow June 18, 1849. Her gravestone is one of precious few that have survived. Cholera, the invisible killer, was likely the cause of her death.
Continuing along US-26, its but a short distance to the village of Lewellen. I arrive a bit after four. As I turn the corner, from the highway to Main Street, comes a broad smile on my face. A lady in the process of closing the lumber yard gate overhears me declare how I love these small, old villages. Looking her way I mention that Lewellen is a very fine community. The smile is returned as she says, “Lewellen is a very fine community.”—and I meet Winnie, wife of the 82-year-old lumber yard owner. As usual, when I’ve a captive audience, I talk on and on. Yup, with Winnie I talk on and on. Delightful conversation about the folks and this place that is Lewellen. “We’ve got to sell the lumber yard, just too much for us to keep it going” (I paraphrase). And I comment to Winnie how much the village of Lewellen and the small town of Russellville where I was raised are alike. Sad expression as I tell Winnie that the old lumber yard in Russellville is being torn down. The second oldest business since the village was established well over a hundred years ago—it’s now gone.
There’s a little motel/B&B here in Lewellen. Winnie motions to the end of Main Street. “Down on the end.” she says. All the best to you Winnie. Sure hope your lumber yard doesn’t end up being torn down.
And at the end of the well-kept business block, the Gander Inn. In the small alcove/lobby, a phone number posted. I give it a ring, to be greeted by Dave the proprietor, who comes shortly. Dave has a room for me, at an affordable (Hiker Trash) rate. Ah, and it’s a delightful room, indeed. Hey, even Wi-Fi! Thanks, Dave, for your kindness and generosity; this old wanderer is certainly blessed!
Another fine day trekking the Oregon Trail.
Low down near the mouth [of Ash Hollow] a number of springs of cold and crystal water gushed forth from under the high and barren bluff, of which without ceremony, and with common consent we all partook most freely—the best and purest ever drank, a beverage prepared by God himself.
[Madison Moorman 1850]
Monday—May 26, 2014
A perfect night’s rest at Gander Inn. I’m up a little before eight, make coffee then head toward the restaurant. It’s open, and the dining room is nearly full. There were many other guests here last night that I was not aware of—a group, their breakfast now, the B&B part of the motel/inn. I immediately sense I’m not where I should be, but as I’m leaving, Dave comes by. He tells me to help myself as there’s plenty of food. I’m then welcomed by the group and enjoy the hospitality—especially Dave’s (bacon and eggs, French toast with blueberry syrup—and lots of [more] coffee). Thanks, Dave, for your generosity and kindness!
My trek today will prove short, less than 15 miles, on up to Oshkosh.
A cool, clear morning; just a perfect hiking day. I’m in Oshkosh early afternoon, and here I’ll stay, as I’ve mail waiting for me at the post office. And yes, the post office is closed, Memorial Day.
There are two motels here in Oshkosh. As I cross the highway toward the first one, I recognize the fellow getting out of a vehicle parked by the corner. It’s Jerry. He’d stopped to check on me back toward Lewellen. With him now are two of his children, Austin and Autumn. Ear-to-ear grins from all as I’m invited to stay (and dine) with them this evening. A moment to compose myself, and as the invitation is repeated, I accept their kindness. They load me and we’re soon at their home where I meet Jerry’s wife, Shilow.
Jerry and Shilow have a travel trailer, which they immediately set to hooking up for me to use. Just a remarkable turn of events, an amazing afternoon. Jerry has always been interested in the Oregon Trail, and when I told him I was hiking it, he’d gone straight home after meeting me to tell his wife. She’d set to preparing a chocolate cake while Jerry and the kids came back to the highway to fetch me. Just amazing!
In the evening and after I’ve settled in, Jerry and Austin run me across the river to their golf course, where the trail ruts run directly down one of the fairways. The old sign describing the ruts, a picture of which is in Franzwa’s guide, is still right there near the green. I’d sure have missed this very special (manicured) section of old Trail. Thanks, Jerry and Austin!
Evening now, and before supper, Jerry, Autumn, and Ryan (Jerry and Shilow’s oldest son, who I’ve now meet) show me their antler collection in the “Hunting Shed.” They hunt deer with both bow and gun. The many antler racks hanging about—very impressive, especially so, the ones belonging to Jerry’s young daughter, Autumn.
During and after dinner we share the most enjoyable conversation. I learn that Ryan is one of the fastest runners in the state. That Jerry is both a cowboy and a minister. That aside from being a fine hunter, Autumn is also a runner. That Austin has saved up for his new scoped rifle and will be hunting with his father, brother and sister for the first time this fall. And that Shilow, aside from being a fantastic cook (I’m the judge of that), keeps busy with home-schooling.
Just an amazing family. Ah, and ‘twas my great fortune to have met them—and to have been with them this day…
Friend For A Day
How can some folks befriend us, though
They’ve known us just one day,
As if we’ve been there all their life,
And treat us just that way!
Ah, ‘tis a blessing all the same,
I know that’s true for sure.
God sets the clock around this place,
So folks like this endure.
[N. Nomad – 2014]
Tuesday—May 27, 2014
Location—North Platte River near Cisco/Lisco
What a really kind family, the Smiths. Invited me to their home, fed me, washed my filthy clothes, set me up in their fine camper, all hookups. Got to shower, work my journals, then a (second) quiet night’s sleep.
This morning, comes a gentle knock, it’s Jerry, “Breakfast’s ready.” Oh yes, I’m right over. Shilow has prepared the full spread, bacon, eggs, potatoes, French toast, and pancakes. Helped myself to a good serving of everything. And as usual, I’m the last to finish.
More fun conversation, plus prayer time. Then that inevitable (and sad) moment comes once more. Glory be, does this old man have such a hard time bidding farewell to new friends, dear folks I’ll likely never see again. I try hard to hold back the tears, but it’s no use. So long Austin, Autumn, Ryan, and Shilow!
Jerry gets me loaded, then to head for the post office. Shilow and the children all wave goodbye from the porch. At the post office, more kind words from Jerry, as he bids farewell. Forcing back tears, I’m able to get out a halfway respectable thanks—then he’s gone.
A stack of boxes waiting here for me, and cards. It takes over an hour to get everything sorted, things to mail home, bounce box to bounce on. I spread everything out on the bench in front of the post office. Lots of folks coming and going, most take time to stop and chat a moment. Kelly from the local paper comes by, wants an interview. I clear the end of the bench so she can sit. A good time; she takes my picture with all the boxes. An old codger sees me sitting, stuff scattered. He stops, knows Kelly. “Remember the old hobo that got run over by a train, both legs cut off—used to sit around here, sell pencils.” He’s talking to Kelly. First opportunity I politely interrupt, then interject—”Don’t have any pencils, but here’s my card, mister.” I hand him a card. He squints at it, mutters something to Kelly—and is gone. One more hobo down, eh, old-timer! Enjoyed the visit; thanks, Kelly.
Nothing in the form of services, south side of the river for miles, but I sure want to hike there today and the next couple, as The Great Platte River Road runs directly alongside (sometimes under) the gravel road. No services means a stop at the gas station/jiffy on my way out. A couple of sandwiches, bags of snacks—I’m good to go till day-after-tomorrow when I should arrive Bridgeport, some 50 miles on up.
As I’m hiking south toward the Platte, passes this van. In a short while it returns, slows, then stops right in the middle of the road. Passenger window comes down. Two gentlemen, beaming smiles, both. “You hiking the American Discovery Trail (ADT)?” the fellow nearest asks. I had no idea I was anywhere near the ADT, but apparently I am. I give them the short version of what I’m about. The driver then asks, “Are you M.J. uh M.J., can’t think of the last name.” I’m dumbfounded, totally dumbfounded; I can’t believe this. He remembers my name from the cover of one of my books. I hand them both a card. “Nimblewill, yes we know you, says the fellow closest. This is my twin brother, Silverback, I’m Cotton Patch. We thru-hiked the AT [Appalachian National Scenic Trail] in ‘92.” Come to find they’re out here hiking sections of the ADT. Seeing someone tripping along with hiking sticks—in Nebraska, turned them curious, enough to make them turn around. Hey, picture time. Thanks for stopping, fellows; sure enough made my day. Like I said Bosephus, “We gotta get us some bigger shades!”
Just across the Platte I pick up the road west. At the intersection there, a roadside marker for the John Hollman grave. The marker tells of the hundreds of emigrants who died (in present-day Nebraska) while traveling The Great Platte River Road on their way to Oregon. Of those, only seven have ever been identified, as few ever had the least semblance of a headstone. John Hollman, and Rachel Pattison at Ash Hollow, are two of those seven graves I’ve now passed. The coordinates for the Hollman grave are given, so I’m able to locate it—and pay my respects. His gravestone is situated atop a small knoll (now inside a rectangular post and rail fence) a short distance up the road.
In places where the old Trail moves from under the roadbed, the ruts are easy to spot, and quite remarkable. Through this section the lands along the Platte are very wide and near-perfect flat. So, in many places, as I pass today, there are multiple sets of parallel ruts. Almost daily written in emigrant diaries and journals were remarks about the stifling dust. So, makes sense—where possible, the wagons sought separate paths in order to avoid dust being kicked up by wagons ahead. One diarist wrote about how they had to extract the mud (formed by dust and mucus) from the nostrils of the oxen, so they could breathe.
Late evening I arrive the road leading to Cisco/Lisco. I’ve enough food for two days, so I need not cross over. Rather, I want to stay the south side of the Platte, as here passed the Great Platte River Road, o’er which passed the Oregon, California, Pony Express, and the Overland Stage Trail(s). So, I stay the gravel road, and continue west—to Riverview Lodge. Needing water for the night, I head over. A most impressive facility, complete with a separate motel-like section of rooms, and a grand lodge. There’s no one about, the entire place wide open. I hit their pop machine, then the laundry/ice machine room. On the covered porch I lounge with my iced-down 7-up(s). Hey, and I was just looking to refill my water bottles! A lodge worker finally drives up. I learn about how this spot along the Platte River is THE goose hunting capital of Nebraska. And Riverview Lodge, THE goose hunters place to stay. Just not goose season right now—but the place is still up and running—just empty! Almost forget to fill my water bottles as I thank the fellow—and head on up the river.
A short ways, a machinery shed (for the giant tracked Cat cultivators, planters, and sprayers). Almost dark now, not a soul around. Cottonwood trees thick, out behind. Perfect for this old happy camper. It’s home; I’m in!
Turn south there [Oshkosh] and proceed just .2 mile past the bridge over the North Platte and turn right. Go just a half mile and the Oregon Trail will come beneath the road and stay beneath it (or next to it) for the next eight miles.
[Gregory Franzwa The Oregon Trail Revisited]
Wednesday—May 28, 2014
Location—North Platte River near Broadwater, then on toward Bridgeport
Under the cottonwood, deep, thick grass all around. Never dreamt there could be a softer mat on which to pitch than a bed of pine needles, but the soft mat of flattened grass here beats ‘em! Another quiet, peaceful night. I’m well rested and ready to give it another go.
Look at this—not a cloud in the sky; cool, just the least breeze. Oh no, I’m not taking this day (or one like it, ever) for granted. I’ll be thankful, always. Ah, and as to being thankful for day after day of wide, safe passage along America’s byways, blessings daily showered upon me—thank You, Lord, for hearing my prayer each morning, as I venture forth on the path You’ve prepared.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned previously, during other journeys, daily praying the ditty, “A Path By the Side of the Road,” and how, since that very first time, how I’ve been kept safe from harm. I’ll pray it now as I begin this day—then close this entry with it.
Lots of racket and banging in the shed as I break camp and lift my pack. Rounding the shed I see the same young lad who went flying by me in the tracked Cat last evening, headed for this shed at dusk. He’s getting ready to hit the fields again this morning. He stops a moment, and we chat. Told him he was too fast, last, for me to catch him, to ask permission to camp. Broad smile. Another “You’re okay.” I then comment about how everyone I’ve met recently seems so happy, his beaming smile a sure giveaway. His comment, “I like playing in the dirt!”
More ruts and swales along the gravel road this entire day. Single at times. Then other times, the quite remarkable multiple parallel ones. As I trek along, open range both sides, comes the river over by me, then to once more move away, much reminding me of my journey up (then back down) the mighty Missouri during Odysseys 2004 and 2006, Lewis and Clark.
Getting low on water, I stop at one of the few farm houses near the road. Just as I knock on the door a fellow pulls into the drive in one of these huge John Deere’s. He comes and greets me. (Dang, I’ve got to write down names. I tell myself I’ll remember, but I don’t.) Short conversation as we go to his kitchen for water—and he’s right back in the huge cab, and hauling on up the road. Another hard-working, happy lad—preparing his fields for beans. I told him I hoped there’d come rain soon. Seems with farmers hereabouts, fatalism is the right mindset. With a smile, he just shrugged “It is what it is!”
By afternoon it’s really cooking. One fellow who stopped to give me water earlier said his car thermometer was reading 92. And now, that water depleted, I’m by another farmer’s house. The fellow is outside, motions to me, then calls, “You need water?” Not refusing this kindness, oh no! Hey, and just as I’m handing Kim (Remember his name!) pulls this white van to his drive. Oh m
I recognize these folks immediately. “We’re returning from a funeral in Scotts Bluff, we hoped we’d see you.” Yes, the Smith family, Jerry, Shilow, Autumn, and Austin. They all greet me with the most positive energy! Shilow hands me a cold pop and a packet of candy. “You did say you liked Sierra Mist and M&Ms didn’t you?” beams Shilow.
Folks, you thought I was making this stuff up, didn’t you—about the remarkable kindness (and almost universal trait) of the gentle people of Nebraska. So now you see—just no way to make this stuff up, okay!
Kim goes to fill my water bottle. The old hiker and the Smith family share a few more short moments of enjoyable company. Kim returns; we all chat, just a few more precious moments shared, moments to soothe the long-road-ahead loneliness that’s stuck hard to this old intrepid. More sad farewells. The Smiths continue east, back to Oshkosh, and this weary traveler—ever onward west, on the Oregon Trail.
Late evening, nearing Bridgeport, but no way of reaching there before dark—one more farmhouse, one more stop for water. Then it’s duck off the road into one of the many pine windbreaks along. More tall, thick (and soft) grass to mat down, and to bed down on to end this fine hiking day…
Lord set me a path by the side of the road,
Pray this be a part of Your plan.
Then heap on the burden and pile on the load,
And I’ll trek it the best that I can.
Please bless me with patience, touch strength to my back,
Then cut me loose and I’ll go,
Just like the burro toting his pack,
The oxen plowing his row.
And once on this journey, a witness for You,
Toward the truth, thy way…and the light.
Shine forth my countenance steady and true,
O’er the pathway to goodness and right.
And lest I should falter and lest I should fail,
Let all who know that I tried.
For I am a bungler, feeble and frail,
When You, dear Lord, I’ve denied.
So, blessed be the day Your judgment comes due,
And blessed be thy mercies bestowed.
And blessed be this journey, all praises to You
O’er this path by the side of the road.
[N. Nomad 3 – 01]
Thursday—May 29, 2014
Makings for another fine day trekking the Oregon Trail; cool, perfectly clear, the least breeze. I’m pack up and hauling toward Bridgeport shortly after eight.
After bidding the Smiths farewell yesterday, and off and on during the remainder of the day, I could see Courthouse and Jail Rock(s) dancing the horizon. Nearing Bridgeport now, I’m the closest I’ll get, some four miles northeast. Steadying my camera against one of the roadway reflector posts, and zooming in the max, I’m able to get a couple respectable shots.
Turning the corner to Bridgeport, first stop, the jiffy, where I proceed to drain their fountain. Inquiring of the attendant, I’m told the Bridgeport Inn, owned and managed by Ryan and Rachel Patterson is a fine place. I get directions.
Along the way I stop by the bank. Remember how I talked about judging a town by how I was treated at their bank? Ah yes, nice town, Bridgeport, cash advance on my debit card!
Headed for the motel, I stop at Dollar General for a camera memory card, as I’ve only the one in my camera, and it’s nearly full. When the manager inquires as to what I’m about, I get a nice discount!
Just as I was told, Bridgeport Inn—nothing fancy, but impeccably clean and neat. In the office I glance around—at the many turkey fans/beards, and deer heads/antlers. Rachel and her young son, Zeth, are both hunters, their names/dates, in brass on the trophies. Back out and over to the laundry room, I meet Rachel and Zeth. Rachel is intrigued by my story about trekking the Trail, and I’m offered a room at a great Hiker Trash rate. They’re still cleaning rooms (it’s just noon), so I head for the library two blocks down to check my email. What is this? The library ladies are having fun blowing up balloons stuck on pop bottles filled with baking soda and vinegar—it’s a hoot! Got a couple of shots. from the library, I’m in my room, feet up and resting by one. Hey, a day off, almost.
In the evening Rachel, her mother, Renay, and Everett, Rachel’s brother, come to my door. Rachel had obviously told her mother about the old hiker, and she wanted to meet me. Fun conversation—and while visiting, Renay hands me a gift of money. Oh, and says Rachel, “Our church is having a social at the community center, sloppy joes, three bucks—going on right now. We’re headed there shortly. Why don’t you come too?” And so, I get respectable as I can—and go.
A nice, large center. Many tables, all nearly full. Rachel, Renay, and Everett see me, my plate full of sloppy joes, and motion me over.
As we’re enjoying our meal, I tell Rachel how I had to steady my camera to get a decent shot of Courthouse and Jail. “I’d like to hike down but it’s just too far, twelve miles there and back.” I mention, casually. Then, amazingly, without hesitation or the least forethought, Rachel says, “We’ve still got plenty of daylight, I’ll drive you down.” Ah yes, more stuff I’m making up about the kind folks of Nebraska, right!
What an amazing development! Back at the motel, we all load up, Rachel, Renay, Zeth, Everett, and the old hiker, and we’re soon headed the six miles south to “The Rocks.”
Rachel knows the closest place to park, and the best vantage, which is certainly close enough, and high enough for me. Areas around rocks (and these are huge rocks) harbor rattlesnakes, so we stay the trail and keep an eye. Zeth is ripping all over, jumping and climbing, and his mother is frantic.
This time of evening, just the right light angle and relief for some impressive photos. Sure never thought I’d have an opportunity like this. A very special time. Thanks Rachel!
Back to Bridgeport, then back to my room, time to work journals, and get some rest.
Occupying a perfectly level site in an open prairie, it [Courthouse Rock] stands as the proud palace of Solitude, amid here boundless domains. Its position commands a view of the country for forty miles around and meets the eye of the traveler for several successive days, in journeying up the Platte.
[Rufus B. Sage 1841]
Friday—May 30, 2014
Location—A mile west of McGrew
I’m having such a pleasant stay here at Bridgeport Inn. Rachel and her family have been so kind to me. Before checking out, I want to visit some more with these kind folks; so, to the office I go. Zeth hears me enter and comes from their living quarters to greet me.
Many of the trophies here in the office belong to Zeth. Ah, and he’s most proud of them, as certainly he should be. He shot his first turkey when he was only nine. The fan, beard, and spurs from that tom are most impressive. Since, and every year he’s been a very successful hunter, taking at least one tom, one doe, and one buck. For turkey Zeth uses a 410 shotgun, and for deer, one of his grandfather’s centerfire rifles.
Each trophy has an interesting story behind it. Relating one, his mother (Rachel’s come to the office) interrupts him. “You left out the part about trouble at school that day, and were told you couldn’t go hunting—then how I changed my mind after seeing you so terribly disappointed.” Zeth, looking down and away a bit, “Oh yeah!”
Rachel shot her first turkey with a 20-gauge shotgun. The fan, beard, and spurs are mounted and hanging right next to Zeth’s. Also on display are fine mounts of bucks taken by both Zeth and Rachel. Her most recent, just mounted—should it not score with Boone and Crockett, it’ll come mighty close.
Changing the subject, I asked Rachel if she’d ever been to Ash Hollow, the old cemetery there—had she’d looked at the grave stones. She said she had, and was aware that Rachel Pattison was buried at Ash Hollow. I’ve never given much thought to the concept of reincarnation, but the name similarity is uncanny. A few days ago I passed Rachel Pattison’s grave, and now I meet Rachel Patterson. Makes you think, eh!
By the time I finally get checked out it’s after eleven, and nearly noon before I’m on the road out of town. Rain has been threatening all morning, and before I reach my stride, here it comes, driven by a strong west wind. I dodge under the awning at a farm implement place. Now it’s 12:30. I’m not getting anywhere.
Four, I finally manage to reach Chimney Rock, the fine Settler’s Trading Post there, run by Joe and Laura. Joe prepares a burger for me, then comes to sit—and we chat. I learn that Gordon Howard is a friend of Joes. Gordon is the modern-day wagon master, having led many a wagon train through these hills. “Backed his truck off the road and 50 feet down a ravine last evening; broke his nose. I’m sure he’d like to meet you, but he’s likely not feeling too good right now.” says Joe.
Best view of Chimney Rock is right here at Settler’s. Picture time. Joe shows me a knothole in one of his porch posts. “Look at Chimney Rock through here.” he says. Another great picture, this one a cameo of the Chimney—taken through the knothole!
Late evening and I’m nearing McGrew. The rain has returned, and the clouds look ominous. There’s a bar and grill in McGrew and I head there. The place is busy, yet even before I can remove my wet poncho, I’m waited on. I inquire as to a place where I might pitch for the night. “Don’t know” says the waitress. “Fellow in the kitchen will though.” She goes back and brings him out. He gives me the once-over—and just as quickly replies, “No place for you here in McGrew, out by the road, maybe—not here.” He’s back to the kitchen. A trip to the bathroom to fill my water bottle and I beat it out of town.
Long straightaway, the highway ahead. No place to hide here, and the rain is intensifying. A mile or so on west, and across the tracks, there’s a farmhouse with associated outbuildings. One, an old two-bay shed. It’s open because there are no doors. It’s right off the guy’s yard. I hesitate, then make a dash across the tracks before the next train comes rumbling through. I get under just as the deluge hits. The place is sure nothing to brag about, but over in one corner, it’s dry. A couple sheets of loose old corrugated roofing propped just right and the mist stops blowing in. The train passes and the farmer hasn’t come to hasten me along. So, this is home—I set my tent and crawl in. The rain and hail hammer the shed roof for ten minutes, then It slacks off to steady rain—and more trains.
Thank You, Lord, for this place, this day. Sleep comes soon.
…camped opposite to & about 1 mile from Chimney Rock. I had some curiosity to see this…Imagine a pyramid standing alone though surrounded by rocky precipices…No conception can be formed of the magnitude of this grand work of nature until you stand at its base & look up. If a man does not feel like an insect then I don’t know when he should.
[Elisha Perkins 1849]
Saturday—May 31, 2014
Location—Melbeta, then on to Gering
I know I was trespassing; I do this frequently in order to find a place to set camp for the night. I never abuse, but always respect people’s private property. And yes, I know, I should ask permission—and I know that just because a place isn’t posted, in no way does that give me the right to enter. Anyway, thanks Mr. farmer/truck driver, your old two-bay shed, absolutely five star!
I’m up and out to a bright, cool, and clear new day. Takes awhile, for some reason, to get the kinks out this morning. By eight, I’m trekking right along. Lots more trains both ways. Coal rolling east; empties coming back. Many of the engineers have no doubt seen me multiple times now, as many give me a nice blast or two from their shrill whistle as they go grinding by.
It’s only a short hike into Melbeta, where I should have arrived yesterday, were I to have been on schedule. Spending that additional time with my dear new friends in Bridgeport, way more important to me. Oregon City will still be there when I enter the Willamette Valley later this summer. So, not to worry.
There’s a fine convenience in Melbeta, the Melbeta All Around. Hey, they’re open. Coffee, breakfast? In I go. Coffee, “Sure,” says Brandy, the cashier. Breakfast, “Sure,” says Andrea the cook, “What do you want?” Doo-dah, this day is sure up and running. A coffee or three, biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs (with laces). “Been a cook fifteen years now. Never got an order for eggs with laces; what’s that?” says Andrea. I explain. She laughs. They’re perfect! Not too busy this morning, Melbeta All Around. We chat. Brandy fetches (then so does Andrea) more coffee for me. They’re both fascinated by my story about the old Trail, my hiking it. During the conversation, I mention the incident with the grouch in McGrew—and how one bad apple sure wasn’t going to spoil the basketful—the near-countless gentle, kind folks it’s been my great fortune to meet here in Nebraska. Thanks, ladies, just a really fine place you got—Melbeta All Around!
I’d inquired about their post office, and miracle-on-miracle, it’s open Saturday mornings, and it’s open right now! I’ve a couple of letters to mail, so I head there. It’s a short distance on my way, just a block off the highway (pretty much all of Melbeta is within a block of the highway). Amazing that it’s on my way, and that it’s open! Quite small, but a neat-looking building. Associate Postmistress, Laura, big smile for me, standing right there behind the little cubbyhole. Laura hasn’t had a call for a money order for awhile, obviously. But she digs out the little machine and gets it clickety-clacking. She’s definitely into the Trail thing. “There’s a monument in the park describing the Trail. We had to finally move it out of a fellow’s front yard. Folks couldn’t find it.” When I mentioned I probably wouldn’t be going back to see it, I could sense the least disappointment in her voice. Dang, old man, it was just a couple of blocks—what’s the deal! Should have gone back; forgive me, Laura.
Back on the highway and heading toward Gering/Scotts Bluff, slows this pickup from behind—it pulls off the road and stops directly across. Down goes the driver’s window, and the fellow greets me with, “Want a ride?” “I’m hiking the Oregon Trail; so no—but thanks!” my return. Then the most unusual thing happens: The guy slams his truck in park, jumps out and crosses the road. Right hand extended, “My name’s Chuck, from McGrew.” We shake hands. Then very intently, looking me straight in the eye to make sure he’s got my attention, and in a very serious, solemn voice, he tells me, “The folks in McGrew are good people; I want you to know that.” At that same instant he hands me a gift of money. “You had no place to stay in McGrew last night; take this and get a good room tonight—it’s is from the folks in McGrew.” Just as quickly as he came, he turns and crosses the road, gets back in his truck—and is gone.
This whole thing has happened so fast. Dumbfounded can’t begin to describe my feelings right now. I’m certain that either Brandy or Andrea had told him what happened to me in McGrew. Chuck said he’d stopped in there. Used to, I’d mention the amount of the gifts given me, but for a number of years now I’ve not, not since understanding the true meaning, what is actually taking place with the act of giving and receiving. I’ll close this entry with a quote by Antoinne de Saint-Exupery that brought true understanding. Just so you know; the kind folks in McGrew, like Chuck, are very, very generous!
Now in Gering and headed for the mom-n-pop motel up the street (more violent weather forecast for this evening) this van turns into the gravel lot just ahead. I recognize the lady immediately, it’s Laura from the post office. She has her children, Emma, Mayda, and Wyatt, with her. “Where are you having lunch? Would you like to go with us?” broad, beaming smile from Laura. Well, my goodness folks, how could anyone possibly refuse such genuine, profound kindness? Of course, I accept!
I hoof it the remaining few blocks to the Circle S Lodge, where I meet Heather, Inkeep. Sure enough, kind lady—Hiker Trash deal for the old hiker.
Within moments comes Laura and her children to fetch me and whisk me off to lunch. “McDonald’s okay?” asks Laura. “My husband, Ben, and our oldest son, Tyler, can meet us there?” Well, y’all know the thing with me and McDonald’s. “Sure, McDonald’s would be great.” my reply. Laura calls Ben. We meet at McDonalds!
More kind, generous, Nebraska folks. The place is packed but we’re soon seated, enjoying lunch—and each other’s company. Across the aisle, at the table in the corner, I’m introduced to friends of Ben and Laura. The Andersons, Rich, his wife, Shelley, their son, Jon, and Jon’s girlfriend, Annie. More kind folks. Just incredible energy coming to this weary old man—as I’m asked question after question, and as their interest and excitement builds. Jon and Annie then ask if I’d like to visit some of the historic Trail sites with them this afternoon, places I’ll miss, like Robidoux Pass and the old trading post there.
Is this not incredible? The Andersons have a service to attend, but Jon says he and Annie can come for me at four. Four it is! Ben and the boys return me to my room at Circle C, where they linger and talk—about the railroad (Ben works for BN&SF), his neat (almost totally homemade four-wheel drive) Chevy, and of course, hunting and fishing. Ben, Laura, Tyler, Emma, Mayda, and Wyatt—thanks for befriending this old intrepid: thanks for your generosity! I hope we can meet again.
Jon and Annie come for me at four, and off we go to Robidoux Pass, and the old log trading post there. Until 1850, thereabouts, the Trail went through Robidoux Pass, a fair distance south of Scotts Bluff, the famous Trail landmark. It wasn’t until after that date that the Trail through Mitchell Pass, right next the bluff, had been hacked out enough for wagons to pass. I had to make a decision—which way would I go? Well folks, now I’ll get to see both!
At the old trading post now, time for pictures and a couple videos. Annie reads the delightful narration on the marker there, and we linger the longest time. Jon is sure enough into the remarkable history here. He understands the heritage, the sacrifices and hardships the pioneers endured—and he and Annie truly love this place.
From Robidoux Pass, we venture on west, past some remarkable ruts and swales marking the prairie, single ruts, and deep, parallel, multiple ruts all along. In a fair distance we stop by an old abandoned, fallen-down wagon, the site of many emigrant graves. Just an absolutely remarkable time!
Returning to Gering, and in the evening, I’m the guest for dinner at the Anderson’s. A fine meal. More fascinating conversation. I learn that the Andersons are bee keepers. Rich gives me a bear-shaped bottle of their pure honey—Crazy Beez, from their hives.
We’d been dining on their deck, but suddenly had to rush inside as the afternoon storm (as forecast) arrives, bringing a deluge of bouncing and pelting hail. Jon runs to get his car out of it.
Sad goodbyes earlier, and more now. So long, Rich, Shelly, Jon, and Annie. Beautiful folks, just beautiful! Perhaps someday I can return.
Charity never humiliated him who profited from it, nor ever bound him by the chains of gratitude, since it was not to him but to God that the gift was made.
[Antoine de Saint-Exupery]
Sunday—June 1, 2014
Location—South of Mitchell
Another slow start; it’s near eleven before I’m out and hiking toward Scotts Bluff. A fine morning, tufted, cirrus clouds. Just a beautiful day.
A little after twelve I reach Scotts Bluff National Monument. Lynn, ranger at the monument, greets me. She’d come over to meet me yesterday while I was in McDonald’s with Laura and her family, and welcomed me then. Just a top-notch facility. My Golden Age Passport gets me in for the enjoyable and educational visit. On the grounds outside, and directly on the old Trail, there’s an interpretive path, complete with covered wagons and oxen (figurines). From the walkway, I cut back over to the road and continue on to Mitchell Pass. Just amazing photo ops!
Mid afternoon now, I decide to walk the gravel service road beside the tracks; a shortcut that saves me a couple of miles as I trek toward the village of Mitchell.
Turning back to the highway now, I suffer a bit of a setback. As has been the case every afternoon recently, an angry storm comes sweeping across the plains. I was still hiking the railroad grade south and east of Mitchell when it first began. By the time I reach the highway leading to Mitchell, the calm (before the storm) ceases and the gale-force winds set to blowing violently from the northwest. Up the road, on the east side of the highway, a farmhouse, and directly across, grain silos and associated buildings. I see the door ajar on the taller, main structure and head there with all haste, breaking into a full run.
Huge splatter drops, the impending wall of rain and hail now closing in on me. I’m looking at the open door on the barn, then to the silver-black wall approaching, then back to the door. Everything out here is much further away than appears. I’m moving as fast as I can, yet the building remains distant.
Running, not paying attention to my path under foot, that’s when it happens—I fail to see a cable tightly stretched across in the tall grass and hit it at full tilt. And full tilt is what happens.
When you reach my age, folks, you’ve many experiences—to which you can relate, from which you can draw. For sure, I’ve taken my fair share of falls. But the tumbling wreck that’s happened here has got to top them all. One second I’m running for all I’m worth, next, loud ringing in my ears, dirt in my mouth—and a dreadful, awful pain in my left shoulder.
Still hung up in the cable, butt up, head down, my sticks all tangled, my pack, which tried to keep going, bound up in my arms, I attempt working free. I finally manage to extract myself from the cable, my pack, and my sticks, and with much effort, get to my feet.
A lightning bolt of pain shoots from my left arm. It’s dangling strangely limp by my side, a couple inches longer than my right. “Well, old man, you’ve done it now. You’ve busted yourself before, but this one takes it.” I mutter to myself.
I quickly realize that my left arm is completely dislocated. Poking around, I’m unable to tell if it’s also broken. Getting my wits about me, I size up the situation. “This storm is holding off for you, old man. Get your stuff, and get across the road to the farmhouse—now!” I hasten best I can, cross the road in the gale, and reach the farmer’s door.
The lady of the house answers. She is terribly frightened—at home alone with her child. No doubt, this impending storm has her scared to death, and now this “bum” is standing at her door, pleading for help. “I’ll call someone that can help you.” very urgent tone to her voice. She closes the door and goes to make the call. Then, to my surprise, she comes out of the house with her daughter, to console and comfort me. In moments, first responders arrive from Mitchell, followed by an ambulance. The paramedics hover over me, check my vital signs, and make sure I’m stable. The storm finally hits as I climb into the ambulance. Betty, sweet lady, tries to help me recline on the stretcher, but I’m unable to uncoil myself due to the intense pain. As we roll toward Scotts Bluff, Regional West Emergency Center, she does all she can to comfort me.
The E.R. Is packed, yet they move me with haste while quickly preparing an exam room. Aides and doctors come and I’m asked to give the pain number, one through ten—and I’m given a shot for the excruciating pain. I can feel my arm and shoulder muscles beginning to spasm, ah, and glory be, the injection soon relaxes me and brings some relief.
After looking at the X-rays, Dr. Meyer gives me the news. “Good and bad.” he says. “Good is, your arm’s not broken—Bad is, it’s totally dislocated, completely out of the socket. I’d rather not give you general anesthesia, but it’s going to hurt.” an expression of compassion on his face now. “Just give me something to bite down on, and let’s get it done.” my reply (trying to elicit some air of confidence). Two docs now, one pulling and twisting (slowly and gently, believe it or not), the other holding me steady, gripping a wrap around my chest and back, as they go to work. I bite down, but this bit of theatrics would not have been needed. For, as soon as traction is applied I feel immediate relief. And as my arm is slowly and methodically worked back into its socket, all apprehension drains from me.
Now, relaxing fairly comfortably, no further urgency—when the hospital folks realize I’ve nowhere to go, they give me clothing, and arrange for me to stay a couple of days, their guest, at Inn Touch, Regional West’s fine “Hotel” facility. It’s down the street from the hospital, and I’m taken there by two kind Inn Touch staff members.
Before leaving the E. R., I dig out the bear bottle of honey from my pack. On the label, the Anderson’s phone number. I call, then talk with Shelly. In the evening now, they all come to see me, check, on me, and feed me. Jon and Annie, Rich and Shelly, what a joy seeing all of you again!
Well, folks, on the road, the good Lord continually places angels both my shoulders, keeping me from harm. He does, however, permit me to wander on my own, time-to-time. Ah, and just give this old wanderer free rein for no more than a moment, then look at the trouble he can get into! It’s been one amazing day—for sure.
How can I describe the scene that now bursts upon us? Tower, bastion, dome and battlement vie in all their majesty before us. A dark cloud is rising in the northwest. A more beautiful and majestic scene cannot be conceived. How wonderful, how great, how sublime are Thy works, O God!
[Thomas Easton, emigrant – describing Scotts Bluff]
Monday—June 2, 2014
Location—South of Mitchell
Inn Touch is five-star, in my opinion. The epitome of “Home away from home.” It had been the Scotts Bluff hospital at one time, until the new Regional West was built. It sat idle then—before undergoing updating and upgrading to house modern clinical facilities and this grand “Hospital Hotel” known as Inn Touch. I’ll rest and begin my recovery here, then spend another night, thanks to the kind and generous folks at Regional West.
Not fun, the task at hand now, calling, then telling sister Salle Anne and girlfriend, Dwinda Joyce, what’s happened. They worry about me so, and telling them what I must tell them—just more stress and anxiety in their busy lives. And so, reluctantly, I call. Both handle the news better than I expected. Dear ones, I’m so sorry to put you and yours through constant worry.
Feet up, ice on my shoulder, I’ve a much needed idle day. Time to simply relax and permit the healing process to begin. Oh my, and oh yes, not an easy time of it—someone used to being constantly on the move. But here I am, and here I’ll stay, at least until later tomorrow.
In the afternoon, comes a gentle knock on my door. What a wonderful surprise seeing Laura and the children again. Little Mayda comes forward, wide-eyed and beaming. Arms outstretched, she hands me a vase of fresh flowers, and a card. The iris are in bloom now, and these just given me are so happy and beautiful. What pleasure and excitement for Laura and her children, the joy of giving. Ah, and as to receiving—the old Nimblewill is certainly accustomed to receiving. Yet, does the joy of it prove always and ever new, the experience fresh and uniquely special. Just a lovely card, too, signed by the entire family, wishing this broken old man quick recovery and continued good health.
In the evening, yet another gentle knock to my door. It’s Rich and Shelley (forgive me for misspelling your name—I missed it; Webmaster missed it). They’ve brought supper—salad, spaghetti, creamed corn, fresh watermelon, and of course, Sierra Mist, a full liter! How could one ever hope to be better cared for! Ah, and shortly arrive both Jon and Annie. Just another wonderful evening in the company of these dear new friends.
Ten thousand precious gifts
My daily thanks employ;
Among them is a grateful heart
To take those gifts with joy.
Tuesday—June 3, 2014
Location—South of Mitchell
A very quiet, peaceful night. I’ve certainly conditioned myself to dealing with the usual confusion and racket commonly associated with stealth camping, but quiet works so much better!
Today I begin attending to the therapy initiated yesterday by the doctors and staff at Regional West. Kristen set up the routine for me, a series of arm movements/exercises designed to aid recovery and return use of my badly abused left arm to full strength and range of motion. Before Kristen got to me, I’d begun my own routine—which didn’t hurt. Glory be, Kristen, what y’all got me doing, this hurts! Okay, okay, here goes…
Sharon has been given the task of Innkeeper here at Inn Touch. Soft touch, Sharon; I have coffee, bagels, yogurt, writing paper, envelopes, Ziplock bags of ice. Well, actually, she first offered me most of what I’ve mentioned. And I can stay my room until noon today, when Shelley comes for me, to take me to her home. Thanks, Sharon, for all your help!
And just at noon, Shelley’s here. She works at an auto repair business nearby. With her, her boss, Ray. Shelley had apparently told Ray about this old intrepid, and he wanted to meet me.
A trip to the post office so I can mail home the honey the Andersons gave me, then to get off a couple thank-you letters, and we’re right away at Shelley’s. Dropping me off, Shelley gives me a tour of her kitchen. “There’s food here in the cupboard, and in the refrigerator; help yourself!” says Shelley, kind gesture. Then they’re out and headed back to work. A pleasure meeting you, Ray!
The Andersons have moved me into their spare bedroom. I’m at home because they’ve all made sure that I feel at home. Best thing I can do is recline and rest. Not easy, but certainly best. Shelley is used to needs such as mine—icy mush packs in her freezer. Her son, Jon, was a tough, hard-playing high school athlete, basketball, football, and track, so she’s dealt with “busted up” before. I grab the ice packs from her freezer, apply them, and lay down for the afternoon.
Shelley is home shortly after five and goes directly to the kitchen to prepare supper. She’s had a chicken in the Crockpot all afternoon. Then Rich comes in, then Jon, then Annie. Um-umm, home cooking at its absolute best—thanks, Shelley.
Evening now, and with a couple hours of daylight remaining, Rich yet needs to tend some of his bee hives. This bunch is over between McGrew and Melbeta. Hey, hey, I’m invited to go along. First stop, his brother’s place in Melbeta, to hook up his trailer and load some honey boxes. Neat (very complete) shop, his dad’s and brother’s, where Rich builds his own boxes. Here, I meet his brother, David, then am shown the shop—and the special power saws/tools used for box making.
In Melbeta now, I remember Laura telling me about the Oregon Trail monument in their park, and I ask Rich to run by so I can get some pictures. On the way, I get to meet Rich’s mother, Janice, out for her evening walk.. At the park, I discover the Melbeta monument not to be the usual Oregon Trail marker, nothing like I’d expected. An entire corner is taken up, not only by a very impressive stone, but also by a large artistic steel sign, plus another stone dedicated to community members who gave of their time and resources in creating the memorial. Anderson Construction heads the list of donors! Oh yes, picture time. No wonder Laura, kind postmistress, was disappoint in me!
Down the highway, past one field of hives, we cross the tracks to reach another hive location. Rich opens the gate and we pull to within a hundred-feet or so of his boxes.
Out of his truck now, “Hey, Rich, I just came to watch—from a distance.” my anxious response as Rich hands me an extra bee keeper’s suit. “Put this on; you’re gonna help.” laughs Rich. The suit, what a deal. Not your ordinary coveralls. He finally has to help as I trip and struggle.
Oh my, sure enough I’ve done a lot of unusual things in my 75+ years, but I’ve never gone tromping into a bee hive, at least not intentionally. Rich assures me I’ll do fine as he gets his smoker fired up. “What’s that for?” I ask, even more hesitant now. “Smoke quiets ‘em down.” explains Rich. Aw man—here we go!
I’ve managed to collect my wits enough to remember my camera. First hive, smoked up bottom and top—off comes the lid. Hundreds of bees, I mean HUNDREDS. But they just continue mingling and tumbling about. Lifting one of the hive screens, hundreds more bees. They cling to the hive, jump to his hand. Different kinds of bees, big ones, little ones, in-between ones. “This is a drone bee, no stinger.” Rich hands it to me. Then workers, other ones—can’t remember. Just watch the video when it’s up, if it’s not too shaky—you’ll hear Rich explain the whole thing.
What we’re set to doing this evening, and I’m able to help—A-hmmm, is to add honey boxes (from which honey is harvested) to the brood boxes (where the queen is busy laying eggs—to hatch). “I’ve around 150 hives now, building up to 300, hopefully within the next two years. Then I can devote full-time to my bee keeping.” very big smile now on Rich’s face, easy to see even through his protective suit veil!
Aw-aw, last hive now, last honey box added for the day—and it happens; Rich turns wrong somehow for just an instant, his cheek touching the protective veil. Oh yes, a bunch of bees not “smoked” (and smokin’) hit him good. Rich quickly adjusts his veil/head net, but it’s too late. From what I can tell, bee keepers don’t even get used to being stung!
Back to Rich and Shelley’s lovely home, we relax, sharing more pleasant time together. I learn more about this family’s busy life. About Rich’s construction work. Jon’s long days of welding on huge trailers. Annie’s pre-nurse position at the hospital. And more about Shelley’s job working for Ray.
And Jon’s life of athletics, the happy times (his huge and heavy bag of medals), and the scary conclusion. A severe concussion, which ended a promising career—and thankfully, not his life.
Outdoor folks, all. You shouldn’t be surprised at that. I’m told of the grand times (and read about them in Pheasants Forever magazine.
Late evening, assessing my condition, my left arm near-totally black, and badly swollen, the family insist I remain another day. “Forecast is for more severe weather again tomorrow.” says Shelley. She shows me some on-line pictures of softball-size hail, from right where I’d have been hiking, had I not suffered the arm dislocation. No argument out of me; I know I’m not near ready for the road again. Another day (to keep and cherish) with these dear new friends.
“How beautiful a day can be —- When kindness touches it!”
Wednesday—June 4, 2014
Location—South of Mitchell
The Andersons have insisted I stay until my arm gets better. I am improving, but the trauma that caused the arm dislocation to begin with has manifested big time. The contusion reaches clear to my elbow. Shelley wrapped it last night and the compression has done wonders, but the internal hemorrhaging hasn’t yet totally stopped. I’ve also not been really hard into the needed rehab for fear of prolonging the internal bleeding. So, here I sit trying to be quiet and patient, biding my time.
Everyone is out and gone to work this morning. Just me and the dogs here to hold the place down. Buddy, big, friendly old black lab. And Remy (short for Remington) a German Pointer. Ha, I hadn’t known what was going on when I first entered the Anderson home. All eyes were on Buddy, to watch his take on me. “I knew you were okay soon as I saw Buddy’s reaction. Buddy either likes you or he doesn’t, and he’s a good judge of character. You passed the Buddy test—so you’re okay!” said Shelley. And they’re both people pets, big time. I’m their friend, like for their whole life, though I’ve been here but a very short time. Actually, and in addition to the dogs, I’m being treated the same by the whole Anderson family!
Annie gets off early afternoon and comes directly home, and spends time with me. Shelley, Rich, and Jon are all back around five. I’d made Shelley promise not to cook, rather, to let me treat. Didn’t go over well with any of them, but they finally relented. Just a wonderful time. It is such a joy to be on the giving end for a change!
Evening now, the predicted storm comes rumbling through, plenty more rain and hail. Rich and I (and Buddy, who’s scared to death of thunder) retreat to the basement-turned-family-room. Rich is a fly fisherman. He finds enjoyment and takes great pleasure in tying his own flies. Has his own “man cave” corner, he calls it. Neat setup. A custom (homemade) fly-tying console. The guy’s got great dexterity, despite his huge mitts. He can spin up the most unbelievably small and delicate flies—makes a nymph from the itty-bittiest fish hook I believe I’ve ever seen. “You wouldn’t believe some of the fish I’ve caught on one of these—big fish.” I get the fish-this-big gesture as he tells me. An easy chair in his corner, also, with stacks of bee keeping, fly fishing, bird hunting, outdoor, and other assorted magazines.
Back upstairs, we all gather, and it’s another memorable evening with the Anderson family!
A journey is best measured in friends rather than miles.
Thursday—June 5, 2014
Location—South of Mitchell
Today, another day of rest. And another day as guest of the Anderson family here in Gering. Shelley’s been studying about shoulder/arm dislocation. A number of things learned, some of which she shares with me—not such great news. Four to six weeks recovery period; oh my, not likely. Bruising/discoloration below the shoulder—see your doctor; not an option. As to the internal damage, I’m confident the injuries from the muscular/vascular trauma will mend quickly. The heat pad Rich uses for his back—it’s been very beneficial. The swelling has diminished significantly, and the bruised areas are markedly improved. I need to get back on the road, the sooner the better—like tomorrow.
All are deeply concerned, friends here, family back home. In the evening now, the Andersons home from work, each in turn comes to me expressing their misgivings. Rich spends nearly an hour sitting and talking with me. In his gentle manner he encourages me not to go yet, but rather, to stay until I’m well enough. He suggests I try a test hike in the morning, from here to the National Monument, a round trip of some four miles. Then, in addition, he wants me to set my tent to make sure I’m able to do this otherwise simple and routine task. Pure logic, for sure—makes perfect sense.
Of course there’s no urgency, no rush. There’s more to what this trek is about than just reaching Oregon. Rich’s voice goes silent, bringing a somewhat urgent and still quiet—I reluctantly agree to stay. So, here I’ll remain another day, in the caring company of these kind folks.
Evening, Shelly prepares chicken and potatoes on the grill, and I once again join them—as family.
Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for.
Friday—June 6, 2014
Location—South of Mitchell
Another cool, perfectly clear morning. The weather here can be so deceiving. I’d made a promise to Rich to hike to Scotts Bluff and back as a test run (walk) and there’s sure no excuse not to go this morning. Pack up (a very slow, deliberate process), mid-morning I’m headed for the monument. I’ve my sticks, but have decided to simply carry them. I’m able to grip the left stick, lift it and dig it in without pain, but I’m concerned that the impact to my arm and shoulder might cause more injury—so I’ll just tote them along in my right hand, my left bent and tucked to my side, thumb hooked between my two upper shirt buttons.
I move along comfortably, not as fast as usual, but at an okay pace. Not long I’m at the monument entrance. At the gate, a couple of vehicles ahead in line, I wait my turn. At the window now, I’m greeted by Matthew, a shiny-faced young park ranger. As I hand the lad my Golden Age Passport card and driver’s license, the usual questions. Come to find, Matthew’s last National Park Service assignment was at Harpers Ferry, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy—and that we have a mutual friend there, Information Services Manager, Laurie Mountain Laurel Potteiger. Laurie has befriended me so many times, as our paths have crossed and re-crossed over the years. Comes now more vehicles to the monument, and Matthew must greet them. A pleasure meeting you, Matthew; please give my regards to Laurie next you speak with her.
Rather than just turning and hiking back down the hill, I’ve returned to the visitor center in hopes of seeing Lynn again, but she’s not here today. Instead, I meet Jerry, senior ranger on duty, and he welcomes me to the monument. I’d wanted a photo with Lynn, out front by the welcome sign, but failed to do that last Sunday. Jerry agrees to sub, fetches his ranger hat and poses with me instead. Thanks, Jerry—regards to Lynn (and my apology for forgetting) please!
I’m back to the Anderson’s home a little before noon, to spend lunch time with Jon, Shelley, and Annie.
In the evening we all load and head for Ben and Laura’s home in Melbeta. They (and sweet children, Wyatt, Mayda, Emma, and Tyler) have invited us for a cookout. Just a grand time with all these dear friends once more.
There is no race to win and nothing to be proven,
only dreams to be nurtured…and love to be shared.
Saturday—June 7, 2014
Location—Mitchell, then on to Torrington (a 23-mile day)
A most fretful night’s sleep, caused by anxiety, fear of returning to the trail (am I really well enough), and the soon-to-come agonizing moment of bidding these dear friends goodbye. It’s early morning, but all are up at the Anderson’s. Rich has coffee made. We sit a few moments—nervous small talk.
I finally get my pack organized, we all load and Shelley gets us on our way to the farmhouse south of Mitchell.
There’s an Oregon Trail monument next the road right where I stumbled across the highway last Sunday, and I hadn’t even seen it. We gather there for a picture or two.
Then that dreaded moment arrives. I say my morning pray. Rather, I blubber it. Firm hugs, much energy from all, Rich, Shelley, Annie, and Jon—and a card, “Don’t open it now!” Says Annie, as I turn it over. They all linger as I move away and down the road. “Call us if you need anything.” says Shelley, tears full flowing. Aw jeez, what a sad deal—Goodbye, dear friends, goodbye…
A cool, overcast (dismal—just perfect to match my mood) morning, the least breeze. I’ve my jacket on, hands in my pockets. Jon used a bit of his lanyard to tie off my collapsed sticks to my pack. I’m going to keep my left arm as quiet as I can, until I see how it’s doing before I try putting it back to work.
It’s less than two miles to Mitchell, north across the North Platte River. I’m there in decent order. A few kinks in the old body yet to be worked out this morning. Strange and awkward trekking without my trekkers, very strange. I never realized how much I depend on my sticks to keep me halfway straight and balanced. My gyro has definitely slowed down over the years—balance isn’t totally shot, but my reflexes are molasses slow. The hiking sticks keep me on track and going the right direction. Without them, I’m over the white line. “You’re gonna get the breathalyzer stuck in your face if you don’t straighten up old man.” more muttering to myself.
West edge of town, a place called Okey’s, run by a fellow named Okey (from Muskogee) an old fud about my age. His garage is open. Okey’s open for business. An old Ford convertible in one of the bays catches my eye. “52 or 53?” I ask as he greets me. “52” says Okey, proud grin. I tell him about my 53 Ford convertible, first car I ever owned, how it was big-time souped-up, 55 Merc engine, and jazzed up, shaved hood, deck, and doors, chopped and dropped just like his. Huge fascinating grin from Okey. “It still got the old flathead?” I ask. “Heck no!” exclaims Okey. “Small block Chevy now, the works.” “My little Ford would take the Olds 88s, the big Cads, even the 55 Chevy power packs—bet it woulda took yours too” I smart off. “Hey, this thing’ll move!” exclaims Okey in defense. What memories, what wonderful memories—took Dwinda Joyce out in that old Ford. I was the first boy she ever dated. She was only 14 at the time. Thanks, Okey, thanks for the wonderful drive back—in time!
It’s only mid-afternoon when I reach the Wyoming line. I unlashed my sticks and hitched them up a ways back, and my left arm hasn’t complained about being put back to digging in (gingerly). So, sights are on Torrington now. It’s really chilled down. The wind’s come up, and rain is threatening. There are a couple or three motels in Torrington. Torrington here I come!
Two more historic markers today. One, the 1812 Stuart/Astoria party camp. The other, the site of the Great Smoke/Horse Creek Treaty of 1852.
Never thought I’d hike by a McDonald’s, but it’s evening as I enter Torrington. Sure looks and acts like rain now, so no time to dilly-dally. The Motel 6 in Torrington is down to about a 3, really decrepit and in rough shape. Just my speed. Yup, Hiker Trash deal for this old decrepit. Across the street to the (run-down) cafe for supper and this day’s done.
Nothing short of phenomenal, my first day back. I’m so relieved to know my left arm will mend and be okay. It sure did well today. Some minor discomfort, the least weakness, but not enough for concern. Thank You, Lord, thank You!
From all directions they came in late summer 1851—Plains Indian tribes, summoned by government officials so their chiefs could smoke the peace pipe and sign a treaty with representatives of “The Great Father.” Never before had so many American Indians assembled to parley with the white man. (Estimates range from 8,000 to 12,000.) It was perhaps history’s most dramatic demonstration of the Plains tribes’ desire to live at peace with the whites.
[Nebraska State Historical Society]
Sunday—June 8, 2014
Sure glad now that I hiked on into Torrington last evening. Made for a long day, first day back out, but sure enough proved a benefit as the night remained cold and rainy. Under the cottonwoods, not five-star. Motel 6 (more like Motel 3) sure not five-star either. But I did manage an almost full tub of hot water to soak my arm. Ah, and warm and dry—way better than cold and wet. Been there plenty. Memories are holding good on that one.
Day or so ago, Webmaster, CyWiz, sent me a message, which she received from a fellow in Cheyenne. “Obviously someone who is following your journey closely, and wants to offer his help.” her note attached. The offer is for a few days of support—like that provided by dear friend, Gordon, who so unselfishly gave of his time and helped me along so many years. Fellow’s name is Marvin. Goes by Rip Stop on the trail. Oh my, what to do? Duh! I replied immediately. “Yes, I can use your support—and thank you!”
Well, this morning as I’m hoofin’ it out of Torrington, here comes Rip walking toward me. “Nimblewill, I’m Marvin.” his greetings. He has wheels (shiny Toyota pickup), a cooler loaded with pop, snacks—and the most important thing—time on his hands. At his truck, we talk strategy a few moments, then we’re both headed west. He’s off to scout out our lunch stop, and I’m headed toward it, hopefully.
A cool-turning-colder, overcast-turning-rain, gentle-breeze-turning-nasty (push-me-back) wind, that sorta day coming on. By one-and-change I’ve ten down, to reach Lingle—and the Mexican Restaurant there for lunch, right where Rip is waiting. I’m on the receiving end again. Oh yes, he insists on buying my lunch.
I’m back on the road before two, with a very light pack, as I’ve parked a bunch of stuff in his truck (I’m a slacker, folks). Rip goes on ahead to pay a visit to Fort Laramie. I’d met Sandra, the fort’s resident historian, last summer, and I have hopes that she’ll be in tomorrow morning. Rip is checking on that for me.
A not-so-fun afternoon. The wind has picked up to 25 per, gusting to 35. Yup, coming right at me. And the cold rain keeps kicking in and out. I need my poncho (over my wind jacket, which I’ve had on two days straight) to keep halfway dry and to protect me from the biting wind. Dang, wouldn’t you think, going on mid-June now, that the sun would be high enough and strong enough to beat back these cold storms? But here comes another one easily pushing and shoving its way through. I manage to lean into it long enough to reach Fort Laramie. Here, I’m a third of the way along this Oregon Trail. “Keep plodding, old man; you’re getting there!” a gentle reminder to myself.
Heavy commercial traffic (say eighteen-wheelers) flying both directions; then the relentless wind and cold rain, and by evening, as I reach the little village of Fort Laramie, I’m tired to the bone. Another 23 or so again today. My left shoulder and arm remain weak and the least painful, but there’s been no additional internal bleeding and the swelling has stayed down. Despite heavy, continual use these past two days, the dislocated arm is healing.
“Got good news and bad news.” said Rip, as he stopped to check on me earlier, as the stormy day intensified. “Okay, the bad.” I said. Turned out the place in Fort Laramie he thought had rooms to rent, didn’t. “And the good?” I continue. Well, Rip is retired military, was stationed (and then later worked some) at Camp Guernsey Army Airfield just up the road. He has come up with a room there for both of us tonight—in the General’s Quarters! Uh, I did not ask any questions!
Supper at the “Mall.” Then back to the General’s Quarters at the base (after clearing base gate guard one more time).
My, oh my, folks, now do you really think I could possibly be creative enough to make up stuff anywhere near this good!
I’m doing pretty well so far…It’s been a long journey.
Monday—June 9, 2014
A very comfortable stay in the General’s Quarters at the Army base. Rip has coffee ready by the time I’m up. Warrant Officer, Black, a friend of Rip’s, comes by and we enjoy each other’s company. Out front, and loading, I snap a photo of the two standing by the General’s Quarters sign, just so you can check what I’ve told you about where I stayed last night!
I’ve a short hike on out to the old fort. I’d been hoping on hope that Sandra would be in this morning, and great news—she is! What a joy seeing her and spending a bit of time again. She has so helped me prepare for this grand ONHT trek. Come to find, her son, Jay, is on the Pacific Crest Trail right now, headed north.
The buildings and grounds of old Fort Laramie are being kept up in such a grand manner. Rip and I tour the grounds. Lots of good pics.
Back on the Trail, there’s a climb first thing up beside Old Bedlam Ruts. On the ridge now, I stop to do a video back toward the old fort. It’s just a blue-perfect day for visiting the fort, and for trekking this Trail!
From Fort Laramie, it’s just a few more miles to another historic Trail site, Register Cliffs. Hundreds of names and dates of passing emigrants are carved in the bluff wall. It is most impressive, right on the banks of the North Platte River.
Another short hike and comes yet another remarkable historic site, the Guernsey Ruts. Here, the steel-rimmed wheels of thousands of wagons carved ruts over five feet deep in the solid rock. Just unbelievable. Standing, gazing at these deep-cut channels, only being here to see for yourself, could you ever appreciate or possibly understand.
From the historic ruts, I’ve a short trek across the North Platte to the town of Guernsey. This ends my hike for today.
It’s four-thirty as Rip loads me and we head for his home in Cheyenne. It’s 100 miles to his place , and we make it a bit after six. Here I meet Rip’s wife, Mary Jo, and their son, Matt, daughter-in-law, Heather, and their grandson, Landon. Mary Jo has prepared a grand meal for me, followed by a root beer float made by Matt.
In the evening, Both Rip and Mary Jo do repairs to my weary old pack. This has been a very memorable day!
Fort Laramie’s emigrant season lasted only about 45 days each year, in the late spring and early summer. These were days of intense activity. After weeks on the trail, the emigrants bathed and washed clothes in the clear waters of the Laramie River. They rested, bought fresh supplies, replaced worn-out draft animals, and made repairs to their wagons before setting out on the rest of their journey.
[NPS – Fort Laramie NHS]
Tuesday—June 10, 2014
Location— Cottonwood Creek, then on to Little Cottonwood Creek, Wendover Canyon, North Platte River, BNSF Railroad
The Shutz family have a really lovely home in northeast Cheyenne. An hour-and-a-half drive got us there a bit after six last evening. A shower, then a grand meal prepared by Mary Jo. It wasn’t a long hiking day, but with the arm pain, I’m tiring much faster—and earlier in the day. So, in the evening—afraid I wasn’t the best company.
This morning I’m up and back out to the kitchen before seven. Rip has already been to McDonald’s and back. Breakfast for all. And my coffee fix; thanks, Rip! And thank you, Mary Jo, for making me feel totally at home!
It’s Interstate most the entire way from Cheyenne, back to Guernsey, and we’re there in good order before ten. Rip then heads back to Cheyenne, but he’ll be back up again tomorrow evening to support me for a couple more days.
Heading for the post office, fellow crosses the street to greet me. “You’re hiking the Oregon Trail?” his greetings. And I’m welcomed by Bruce, Guernsey Community Development Coordinator. He urges me to visit their welcome center, so I stop. Neat displays, lots of trail related history. By the time I hit the pharmacy, then the “Mall” for food for tonight, it’s noon before I’m back on the road.
A short way out of Guernsey, and into a steady climb, I turn onto Wendover Road. For the next seven miles the road has been built directly over the old Trail. Where it tends to wander the least, more fine swales next. I was figuring I’d have this road to myself, but a new pipeline is being built up on the high ground, so I’m having to deal with heavy construction traffic, plus their dust. Friendly guys and gals. All offer me water—and good energy (encouragement).
In Wendover (ghost town), decision time; turn left and begin an incredible round-about roadwalk (as my map #36 shows). Or take a right beside the BNSF Railroad tracks, and follow them through Wendover Canyon and up the North Platte River. Well sure, it’s the canyon!
Ah, and the right decision, too. Mention the Platte River and the last thing you’d ever envision would be a whitewater stream, rapids, and sheer rock walls—forming the most magnificent canyon. But here it is, and it’s the North Platte, of all rivers! What an absolutely remarkable hike. Just got to let the coal haulers (and the empties coming back) have the tracks from time to time. Oh, and something quite amazing that I hadn’t realized: When the switch was made from timber cross ties to concrete ones, they’re now placed further apart. The old wood cross ties, too short a step from one to the next, and too long a step if trying to skip every other one. But hey, these new concrete cross ties are spaced perfectly for a leisurely pace—just a beautiful thing!
Late afternoon, the sky darkens, the wind comes up, and the temperature drops. Looks to be the makings for another mean afternoon storm. Just ahead, the trestle over Little Cottonwood Creek. I duck under to gain shelter. It’s five, been a tiring day, and I’m within striking distance of Glendo for tomorrow, some 14-miles on up the tracks. So, decision is to pitch here under the bridge. Supper is from the “Mall” in Guernsey, fried chicken bits and potatoes. Water—directly from the North Platte (treated with an Aquamira tablet).
Guernsey Ruts (Deep Rut Hill) – Guernsey, Wyoming
At this site [Deep Rut Hill – Guernsey Ruts] where the trail was forced away from the river and crossed a ridge of soft sandstone, the track is worn to a depth of five feet, creating some of the most spectacular ruts remaining along the entire length of the Oregon-California Trail. The geography of the area dictated that practically every wagon that went west crossed the ridge in exactly the same place, with impressive results.
[National Park Service]
Wednesday—June 11, 2014
Location—Horseshoe Creek, then on to Elkhorn Creek, north of Glendo
Never did storm last evening, although thunder and lightning (very close by) lasted till after dark. Then a quiet night, save for the mile-long coal trains grinding overhead every half-hour.
Not a cloud in the sky this morning as the sun breaks above the canyon rim to flood my tent. Then, within a half-hour, it darkens to become totally overcast, the wind comes in, bringing ten degree cooler temperatures. Another winter-hanger-on day. This was my first night back in the confines of my little tent. What a deal trying to move around on one elbow. Slow, slow, slow!
Poncho goes on, hood goes up as I shoulder my pack and climb back to the tracks. More impressive sights as I hike the short ties on up Wendover Canyon. And more photo ops. Just a grand time all along. But the weather is definitely not cooperating as pile after pile of low-pushing clouds continue rolling through, hurried along by the chilled northwest wind.
By two I’m in the village of Glendo. I see the sign on the gas station (jiffy) down by the interstate, and I head right there. A ham sandwich and some chips from the deli, oh, and a large soft ice cream, and I’m set for the rest of the afternoon.
I’ve got my cell phone turned on, expecting a call from Rip, and he calls just before five. After he tracks me down, I trek a couple more miles, then call it a day.
Plans are to drive on up to Douglas, some 20 miles, get a room and a hot meal. Great plan till we check around to find all the motels full. So, decision is to drive on to Casper in hopes of getting a room there. Casper is packed too! What is this? Cowboy goings-on, that’s what. Finally, third time’s charm. A good thing—Rip was running out of options. Right next the motel, Pizza Hut. That’ll work.
Another day of being very tired, from near-beginning of the day, to the end. The arm pain, plus the limited use of it, kind of wears on a fellow. A hot tub and a good night’s rest will do wonders. I’ll be able to see tomorrow better then.
The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.
[Ralph Waldo Emerson]
Thursday—June 12, 2014
Location—Orin, then on to Douglas
“Look old man, folks don’t come here to listen to your whining. They’re interested in reading stories and accounts that are lighthearted, upbeat and adventure driven. They’ve enough of their own day-to-day disappointments and drudgery to deal without help from you.” gotta remind myself, time-to-time.
Our room last was on the third floor. So, what noise there may have been was below. I fell asleep working my daily journal entry and didn’t awaken until six. My room was compliments of Rip. And the fine breakfast compliments of the motel, an unusually lavish setup, as continental-like offerings go.
The Evansville post office opens at 8:15, and we’re right there. I’ve a mail drop here, good a time as any to pick it up. At the postal counter, my ID in hand, I ask for my general delivery mail. “Should be two boxes and a couple of letters.” Clerk looks at my ID, then frowns. “We’ve a letter but no boxes. A box did come here. It had our zip, but was addressed to Evansville. This is the Casper post office. We sent it over to Evansville.
Aw, for cripes sake. Seems I manage to pull some stunt like this constantly. Kind clerk gives me directions to the Evansville post office, and with just the least confusion, we’re now at the Evansville office. They’ve my bounce box and a couple letters. Oh happy day!
What a great benefit having Rip drive me around. Turned out to be a blessing—all the motels full in Douglas last evening, which ended us up in Casper/Evansville.
Late morning Rip has me back on the highway headed for Orin Junction. A fine hiking day coming on. Windy again, but it’s out of the east, pushing 25-per, and pushing me (in the right direction for a change).
Just before the turn to Oren Junction, the highway crosses the North Platte. At a pull-off, a stone monument tells of the Jim Bridger Ferry that operated nearby during the late 1860s. That fellow, Bridger, he sure got around plenty. My next mail drop, yup, Fort Bridger, way west of here, clear over the Continental Divide.
Just a great mileage split today, Orin Junction and the jiffy there. Actually it’s a truck stop with a fine deli, about half way. Another three hours and change, and I’ll have the final ten and change for today in my rearview.
Where I crossed the South Platte, south of there is very limited road access. The Trail dips a fair distance southwest and away from the river in order to avoid the deep-cut ravines caused by numerous creeks in the area—which flow northeast to the Platte. They are the Elkhorn, North Elkhorn, Little Indian, Indian, and Spring Creek(s). All these streams would have been flowing, thus, water would have been plentiful for the emigrants even though they were far from the Platte. Today, the area is all private ranch land.
We’ve had problems with our guestbook, so entries have gone unposted the past month or so. Recent entries are now up and can be viewed. One particular one I’d like to comment on—#1196. It’s from the dear family that came to my aid when I fell and dislocated my left arm. It was a time of great distress and pain—Thank you, Jenny, Justin, Danika, and Laney. I will forever be grateful for your kindness.
From 1866 into ‘67 Bridger’s ferry was an important starting point for Bozeman Trail traffic. In 1865, the government furnished materials and equipment to Jim Bridger and associates to build a cable ferry across the dangerous North Platte River.
[Bozeman Trail Association]
Friday—June 13, 2014
Location—Sunflower Trail by La Prele Creek, then on to near Glenrock
The room we were able to rent last night needed work. That’s how we managed to get it. What we didn’t know was they were going to work on it all afternoon. We didn’t get in until almost seven. I finally managed to soak my arm and shoulder in the tub at seven-thirty.
This morning Rip makes a run to McDonald’s to fetch us breakfast while I finish yesterday’s journal and get my bounce box ready to send on to Fort Bridger, my next mail drop some 15 days out. Then a run to the post office, and it’s pack-up and get hiking.
Marv, what a great time we’ve had. You’ve been so kind to come all the way from Cheyenne to support me, and at such a critical time. Your help has been such a benefit as I get well again—thanks Marv and Mary Jo!
Passing through Douglas I’m still on the Mormon Trail side of the North Platte, but just west of town I cross back to the south side. Here, and along for most this day the Trail remains well to the south as I hike the frontage roads along I-25.
Early afternoon, the road I’m trekking, SR-96, ends at the interstate—Exit #146. Here I pick up Sunflower Trail, a gravel farm road. It ends at Exit #151. Here I’ve no choice but to take I-25 to the next exit, where (according to my map) begins Old Douglas Highway, which I’m to follow for the next nine miles.
Oh my, the old highway is here alright, but it’s gated and locked—complete with a NO TRESPASSING sign. Two choices: Ignore the sign, jump the gate, and take the highway, or walk I-25 for the next 11 miles. Not the right decision perhaps, but I choose the old highway.
Appears this had once been the main road. Most of the asphalt is crumbled away now, but at times the roadway is remarkably intact, compete with white and yellow striping. Five miles or so along, and on one of the good pavement sections comes this pickup. It pulls beside me and stops. “Out for a long hike, are you?” asks the driver. I get out one of my cards while I explain why I’m trespassing. Fellow smiles. I meet Keith, a hand at Bixby Ranch. Keith understands my predicament, that taking to their road was a better choice—over the interstate. Seems I’m getting good at getting caught this trek, also at getting off easy! “We’ve got four more hands; I’ll let them know you’re passing through.” A firm handshake and he’s gone!
Late evening I reach the paved (public) road by the Dave Johnson River Plant. The entrance is gated with a guard house, guards on duty. Time to water up for the night, so I stop in. Hey, they’ve not only a public bathroom, but in the corner, a pop machine. Mark, one of the Johnson guards greets me with, “Need some change?” as he sees me eyeing the machine. Mark is much interested in my trek to Oregon. “Fellow went through here on horseback couple of years ago.” says Mark. “He was on the Oregon Trail too, but headed the other way, towards Missouri.”
Here by the power plant the Trail comes to meet then follow beside the road. In a short distance, a roadside monument marking the grave of young Alvah Unthank. Just days before he’d carved his name in the rock at Register Cliff.
A short distance from Glenrock, night approaching, I find a spot in the cottonwood next the North Platte, pitch and call it a day.
Traveling with friends and relatives, Alvah Unthank left Westport (now Kansas City), Missouri, bound for the gold fields of California. Not yet turned 20, he carefully carved his name in the sandstone of Register Cliff only to be struck down within the week by dreaded cholera. His Uncle Joe placed a stone bearing these words on his grave: A H Unthank – Wayne Co. Ind. Died July 2, 1850.
[Glenrock Historical Commission]
Saturday,—June 14, 2014
Location,—Glenrock, then on to East Evansville
It turned cold during the night, bringing rain, hard at times. Some wind, but the trees sheltered me and I remained warm and dry.
I’m greeted this morning by a dazzling bright sun, which lights and warms my tent. Breaking camp, agonizingly slow and deliberate. Then comes shouldering my pack. Two weeks tomorrow, this mangled up arm thing. There has been improvement, but it too, is agonizingly slow.
I’m no more on the road than it darks over and the wind comes again,—to beat me up good most of the day, just like yesterday, straight out of the northwest. Yup, I’m hiking northwest.
In Glenrock now, mid-morning, I head for breakfast at The Breakfast Place. It had been recommended to me, “Hang a right at 4th, block down on the left.” I’d been told. I head there. Bad decision. $12.50 (not counting tip) and a full hour later I finally manage to clear the place. “Yes, Mother, I’ll be quiet!”
A fine museum,—Glenrock Deer Creek. It’s open; I stop in. Great info concerning the Trail. “Make sure and stop to see Rock in the Glen.” says the lady volunteer. “Kit Carson, guiding John Fremont on his first expedition west,—they camped there July 26, 1842. Lots of emigrant names carved in the rock.” Up the road a short way now, I stop at Rock in the Glen!
The Trail and highway are pretty much one in the same today. Where they wander apart the least, some clearly discernible ruts. More graves along. One of an infant, Ada Magill. The other (actually two), Parker-Ringo. The Ringo story,—fascinating. I’ll close this entry with a quote concerning Ringo.
The day remains pleasant, though the incessant wind keeps pushing, until late afternoon when the temperature drops precipitously, the wind whips to 40-per, driving hard rain. I rush toward a semblance of shelter behind a state park entrance sign.
Late evening I arrive East Evansville, the refinery area. I’m bone weary tired. Been pretty much a head down and head into it day.
By a lumber yard, wooden storage sheds for sale, sitting right next the parallelservice road. No traffic now, no one to see me, I dash over for a look. Hey, they’re not padlocked! Oh yes, I pick the middle one, get in and close the door. Home!
Located two miles west of Glenrock on Highway 20-26, stands two sandstone markers, silent sentinels over the final resting place of two more victims of the old trails. One simply reads, “J.P. Parker, Died July 1, 1860, Age 41 Yrs., Iowa.” The other bears only the name “M. Ringo,” nothing more. And yet, research brings to light a fascinating tale: Martin Ringo, veteran, wagonmaster and freighter during the war with Mexico, was enroute to California with his family. While camped near Deer Creek an accident caused his gun to discharge, mortally wounding him. To John, his 14-year old son, fell the distasteful task of burying his father. John continued with his family, successfully reaching California. But perhaps the traumatic experience of his father’s death proved his undoing, for Martin’s son reportedly grew up to be the notorious gunman and outlaw of the southwest, Johnny Ringo.
[Ed Bartholomew, Researcher – Glenrock Historical Commission]
Sunday—June 15, 2014
Location—Evansville, then on to Casper
What a fine little shelter last night, the wooden storage shed. Temperature dropped to 42, but I stayed cozy and warm, as the heat of the day somewhat held. In my tent, on my pad, and in my bag (even though it’s only rated to 45-degrees), no problem with a very comfortable night’s sleep.
I’ve only a four-mile hike on in to Casper. And what luck. A classic mom-n-pop restaurant first thing. I’m starved as I had no supper last, just some cheese crackers and a few Fritos. Super service, though the place is packed. I go for coffee, then eggs, taters, corned beef hash, and sourdough toast—and coffee. Sure made up for yesterday morning!
By eleven I’m at the Royal Motel in downtown Casper. Rip had called them Friday and talked to Tim. “I’ll have a room for him. If not, I’ll find him one and drive him there.” Rip immediately gave me the good news. A call to Tim yesterday confirmed what he’d told Rip. I’ll definitely have a room in Casper.
Standing at the window now, comes the motel innkeep, “You the hiker?” Ah, I meet kind fellow, Tim. “Your room’s being made up right now; give us a few minutes.” says Tim. We both linger, and chat. He’s fascinated that someone could have actually walked to Casper—from Missouri. “And you’re walking to where?” he asks. While we’re still talking, comes staff to let him know my room’s ready. Hey, only eleven, and this hiking day’s done.
Don’t know if I mentioned—Jerry, the kind minister back in Oshkosh, has an uncle living in Casper, Dan is his name. He’s a Trail buff. Jerry had given me Dan’s email address, and I’d sent him a message a couple days ago. I immediately received his reply, offering me assistance while here in Casper. In my room, I give Dan a call. He’ll be here in an hour!
A bunch of questions about the Trail first thing. I’d been concerned about getting from Casper to South Pass. Much great help and suggestions from Dan. I know I’ll make it up and over the Continental Divide just fine now!
In the afternoon, Dan drives me around Casper, first to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, then to Fort Caspar and the early Mormon Crossing (of the North Platte). Before taking me back to the motel, Dan treats me to supper at one of his favorite places.
Just a super fine day—off the road. Nice to take a bit of a break, time-to-time.
I meant to do my work today,
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flittered across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand,
So what could I do, but laugh and go?
[Richard Le Gallienne]
Monday—June 16, 2014
Location—Rock Avenue/Devil’s Backbone, on the Trail north of Government Bridge (alternate route)
Getting in early yesterday and having my room ready at eleven practically gave me a whole day off. It was great; I needed the rest—at Royal Inn. Thanks, Tim, for your kindness!
Dan comes by a bit after eight to run me to the post office this morning, then to McDonald’s for breakfast. Back to the motel comes that not fun time again, bidding farewell. Dan, I’m sure glad your nephew, Jerry, told me about you. And I’m especially glad we were able to share some Trail time. Next you go east, plan to make a stop in Missouri. Till then, thanks for all your help while I was in Casper!
Looks of it, I’ll have perhaps three days between resupply, so before heading back out this morning I stop by Safeway—right on the trail. Some bread, cheese, packaged meat, a few snacks, and I should be good to go. Bells are chiming twelve by the time I’m back on the road.
A great trail related historic site today, Bessemer Bend. Alter hundreds of miles and countless days following the Platte, emigrants crossed the river and left it behind, if not at Evansville or Casper, then here at Bessemer Bend. For here at the bend, the Platte turns south, to head up to the Rockies clear down in Colorado. So, today, I also cross the Platte, climb the hill, and head toward the Sweetwater River and Independence Rock. I’m figuring I should pass the rock and pick up the Sweetwater day after tomorrow.
The afternoon is spent hiking a county road toward Rock Avenue/Devil’s Backbone, a lesser known historic landmark along the Trail. Ruts both sides of the road for miles. Many, quite impressive.
Late evening (after eight) I arrive the Avenue, find a spot in the sage (moving into the desert now) and pitch for the night.
Wind proved problematic until late afternoon, then slacked off just as I was stopping for water by one of the irrigation canals.
When we came in sight of N. Platte [At Bessemer Bend] we had the Pleasant sight of Beholding the valley to a great distance with People Horses cattle wagons and Tents their being 30 wagons all Busily engaged in crossing the River…
[James Clyman, June 23, 1846]
Tuesday—June 17, 2014
Location—Horse Creek near Steamboat Rock
Set up my tent off the road just past Rock Avenue/Devil’s Backbone last evening—in the coarse grass. Before inflating my sleeping pad and laying it out, I always smooth out the tent pan. Ouch, and double ouch! Little prickly needles coming through everywhere. Been in the sagebrush all around since climbing up from the North Platte. And as to sagebrush? Yup, desert! And in the desert, everything, so it seems, has thorns, even the grass. After much tamping down, then using my poncho as a ground cloth, I finally put my pad down. What a deal! Ah, but this morning my NeoAir is still inflated, so I must have cleared the needles. Sure gotta pay attention to where I pitch from here on out!
Just as I’m beginning the day comes traffic towards me, first the sheriff, followed by three horse trailers, then a pickup sporting a Wyoming BLM sticker. All pass me save the BLM fellow. He stops; we chat. Face sure looks familiar. “Saw you hiking out of Casper yesterday.” hand comes out the window and I meet Reid. “I think we met last summer.” says Reid. Now I remember. I’d attended a presentation in Casper at the trail center, given by Reid!
“What’s going on?” I ask. “Pony Express rider’ll be coming through in a few minutes, annual reenactment of the ride, this year from Sacramento to St. Joe. They’re six days out right now, an hour-and-a-half ahead of schedule, four more days to reach St. Joe.” Amazing, is it not? The route is some 2,000 miles long. To cover that distance in ten days means riding 200 miles a day! What’s taken me 50 days to hike, these Pony Express riders will cover in just four days—amazing, simply amazing! And here she comes, yes, a young lady riding Pony Express—gallops right by, full tilt. Hey, some really great video. Be sure and check it out in a couple of weeks. A short few minutes with Reid before he has to move on. What a joy our paths crossed again; thanks for stopping, Reid—sure hope we meet again!
In awhile, and as I’m trekking along this morning, I hear a sound behind. Turning, I see a motorcycle approaching. Oh my, it’s Dan! He’s come out to check on me, and to bring pop and candy. When he’d told me he had a dual sport cycle, I’d commented that he should come out—and bring me some M&Ms—and here he is, with a huge bag of M&Ms! He stays until I reach Willow Springs, keeps me hydrated. The road is right atop the old Trail for miles. I watch closely for Trail related artifacts laying along. There’s an assortment of old iron fragments stuck in the roadbed dirt. I pry up half an old horseshoe, pieces of chain, and some forged nails.
Dan is a Trail buff, think I mentioned that. He doesn’t need much of an excuse to get out exploring. And with the dirt road I’m hiking laid down right over the Trail for miles, Dan knows this area, been out here many times. He points out all the lesser peaks and mountain ranges around. I give him a couple of the old Trail artifacts I picked up, part of a horseshoe and a very old piece of chain. Great spending time with you again, Dan; thanks for coming out!
Miles and miles of nothing but more miles out here. Wide open spaces. After a 400-foot climb up Ryan/Prospect Hill, I can see the Rockies, and a slightly lower spot on the mountain dominated horizon. The road/Trail is generally headed that way, so it might well be South Pass—over 100-miles away.
In the evening, needing water, and as the wind again intensifies, I decide to call it a day at Horse Creek. A spot in the dirt between the sagebrush next the creek works fine. I’m in. No needles in the dirt, just lots of cow patties!
Coming up tomorrow: Independence Rock and Martin’s Grove at Sun Ranch, where I hope to see friends again, Elder Williams and his wife, Cheryl. I had the pleasure of meeting them last summer—greeters at the Mormon Martin’s Grove.
Here [at Prospect Hill] travelers reflected upon once-familiar places and loved ones, and bade farewell to the Great Plains. As the comforts of the Platte River route faded into memory, they focused on the challenges that lay ahead. The outline of Red Buttes soon disappeared as they descended the gradual slope to the west, to resume their trek to Independence Rock and the Sweetwater River.
[Department of Interior, BLM]
Wednesday—June 18, 2014
Location—Martin’s Cove by Devil’s Gate (short of Turkey Track Ranch)
The cold wind started blowing, bringing rain late night—yet another cold front driving through. I manage to doze again, but awake at first light, very cold. No more sleep till the sun arrives—which lasts 20-minutes. Got my fly fully rigged, so the interior of my tent warmed some.
A real ordeal breaking camp, what with my bum shoulder, and now sticks-for-fingers. I’m not pack up and trekking till nearly nine.
Gonna be another head down and grind it out day—with hands in my pockets to try keeping them from complaining too much.
Three more miles of Trail-under-road, then back to the highway on west to Independence Rock, and Devil’s Gate at Martin’s Grove.
The wind is blowing hard, 25-35, out of the northwest. I lean into it while trying to think positive thoughts. But with each passing eighteen-wheeler (and there are many), that process gets harder and harder as I struggle to stay upright and on the road shoulder. By the time I reach Independence Rock I’m fighting back tears—from the brutally cold wind—and my emotional fight with this disheartening day. Arriving Independence Rock was to be a time of exhilaration and celebration, not this. I take a few pictures, get a video of the flag being near ripped from its halyard, and I turn and move on, best I can, toward Martin’s Cove.
By Devil’s Gate, on the old highway, a car stops. I meet Jude (another BLM fellow) and Amanda. They both wish me well as they see me struggling against the unyielding wind. Thanks, Jude and Amanda, for stopping and for your kind encouragement!
At Sun Ranch, I turn in. It’s now the Mormon’s memorial center in honor of the Martin Handcart Company emigrants who perished nearby during the terrible winter storm of 1856. I’d stopped here last summer and was greeted then by Elder Williams and his wife, Cheryl. We became friends, since exchanging emails. I’m hoping and praying they’ll be here again today. I’m so anxious to see them both once more. Sure enough, I can use their moral and spiritual support.
As I enter the cove I’m greeted by Elder Morris. The Williams have gone for the day, but Elder Morris offers to drive me the ten miles to their home. I tell the elder I appreciate his offer, but resist, since it’s a fair distance. But he insists, even though there’s no way of making certain they’re home. So, Elder Morris loads my pack, and me, and we’re off to the Williams’ home!
Ah, and they’re both here; what great fortune. “Nimblewill” exclaims Elder Williams, when he sees me. Just a joy, pure joy, to see these dear friends again!
“I need your help, Elder Williams, I really need your help; I’m distraught. I know you can help me.” my near pleading. With not the least hesitation, he tells me to get out, come in—and stay!
Elder Morris helps me with my pack and sticks, then remains a few minutes to offer his support—by passing the most generous gift to Elder Williams (to be given me) before departing.
In the evening, I shower, Cheryl feeds me, then I’m boosted by the most positive and reassuring (much needed) Good Lord-centered conversation. I’ll be warm and comfortable, and will sleep soundly tonight…
The Mormon handcart disaster of 1856 resulted in the greatest loss of life from any single event during the entire Westward migration period.
[BLM, Wyoming – Martin’s Cove Brochure]
Thursday—June 19, 2014
Location—Sweetwater River near Turkey Track Ranch SPHS
A memorable time spent with the Williams. A fine meal and great conversation. I was able to work journals and correspondence as they have WiFi. Then to follow, a very sound night of contented sleep.
This morning, a fine breakfast, then the ten mile ride back to Martin’s Cove. A short tour of the center, a few pictures, and it’s farewell time once more. Dear friends, please know how much I’ve enjoyed our visit. Your gentle reassurance and encouragement, true blessings to this tired old intrepid; thank you!
I’ll be trekking the old Trail ruts this entire day as I’ve just begun the South Pass Hiking Segment. And today will be the first and longest off-road hike since beginning in Independence 52 days ago.
The two-track is well marked and has seen fair use up to the Mormon’s Jackson Campground. Past there both trail use and signage drop off significantly. Entering a very large low area next the Sweetwater River I get lost. I’ve a waypoint set some three miles up, so I take off in that direction, following the arrow on my GPS. In awhile, and after crossing the marsh, I find the trail again (and a fine footbridge) right behind a house.
A short hike along a gravel road and the Trail forks. I have the choice of staying the river, the easiest way, or taking a shortcut below a hill, which includes, for a fair distance, difficult going in deep sand. I choose the shortcut.
There are concrete posts marking the Trail now to keep me going the right direction. For additional reassurance, and for the remainder of the afternoon (as I continue churning deep sand), I’m headed toward Split Rock, in that general direction. Just spectacular scenery. Rolling hills covered with sage, the meandering Sweetwater, and the most lofty rocky ridge—plus the remarkable formation that’s loomed for this entire day—Split Rock.
A hard go of it, what with the relentless wind, steady, 25-30 out of the west—and the deep sand. Late afternoon, staggering and stumble-down tired, I take water from the Sweetwater and pitch in the nearby sagebrush (the sagebrush is ever nearby)
As the dominant landmark of the Sweetwater Valley, the unmistakable “gun sight” notch in the summit of Split Rock aimed the emigrants directly at Great South Pass, still more than 75 miles to the west.
Friday—June 20, 2014
Location—Sweetwater River near Clayton Ranch – Jeffrey City SPHS
A bunch of mosquitoes to help me get settled in last night. I’m fair game during the day while on the trail, but I need to be left alone at night. My hat, I’ve found works remarkably well in pulverizing them. The flying darts dispatched, quickly came peaceful sleep. Can’t recall being anywhere near as tired this hike. Hardly got started on my journal entry, than I was gone. Didn’t wiggle all night.
Mosquitoes to greet me yet again this morning. Just worked more diligently breaking camp, then left them behind as soon as I hit the road.
There’s a segment of Trail I could hike before Jeffrey City, but I’ve decided to hike the highway instead. The end of the deep, loose sand yesterday will be the beginning of the deep, loose sand today. Just not the least excited about that.
Jeffrey City is around eleven miles. Set to that task, and perhaps an hour into it, I’m brought out of my zone thing by greetings from across the road, a fellow on a bicycle. He crosses to my side and stops. I return his greetings, extend my hand, and meet Paul. He and seven of his friends are biking from Pennsylvania to Idaho and they’ve caught up with me here today. Their destination is Jeffrey City, so I’ll get to spend more time with Paul there early afternoon.
More wind to contend with today. Used to really bother me. But I think I’d have a problem hiking now if I wasn’t constantly leaning forward!
I’d met Vicki at the Split Rock Bar and Grill while passing through Jeffrey City last summer, and I’m hoping on hope she’s still there. Hey, my lucky day; Vicki is here, and she remembers me right off! I also get to meet Lisa, also the new owners, Dusty and his wife, Isabel.
Paul invites me to his table and we continue our conversation. He’s an orthopedic surgeon. We discuss my shoulder dislocation and healing time—that using it is the way to go. Then he buys my dinner.
Dusty goes over my maps. He’s vague as to SPHT segment between Ice Slough and Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater, but informs me of the Mormon’s use of handcarts from the Sixth Crossing on up to the Divide. “They have all kinds of maps and info at Sweetwater Junction; you need to go there.” says Dusty.
Heading west from Jeffrey City, a Wyoming Highway Patrol stops; name’s Jim. He’s concerned seeing me walking way out here. Gives me water. Much intrigued by my story.
Hordes of mosquitoes at Ice Slough, and from there on to the top of the hill, where I pitch behind a large snow fence.
…we grow strong or weak; and at last some crisis shows what we have become.
[Brooke Foss Westcott]
Saturday—June 21, 2014
Location—Sweetwater River Crossing near Jamerman Ranch, then on to Upper Mormon Monument, Rocky Ridge – SPHS
Long pants on this morning to provide a little protection from the skeeters. I’m out and hiking at seven-thirty. And the skeeters? They come right out with me. Never thought I’d ever be wishing for the wind.
I’d hoped to see Paul again. The group of cyclists he was riding with stayed the night in Jeffrey City, but by the time I’m on the road, he’s already gone by.
A short time, though, another cyclist comes riding up, then crosses to meet me. Happy, cheerful lad—Casey. Our paths crossed previously on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2008. Many mutual friends, including Billy Goat. Thanks for stopping, Casey, and thanks for the great memories!
I reach Willie Handcart Memorial Center (Sixth Crossing, Sweetwater River) mid-morning. Here I meet Elder Hutcheson, also, Elder and Sister Baker, greeters. Sister Baker soon sets to preparing lunch for me, plus provisions enough for four days, their gift.
Elder Baker, I find, is descendent of a Mormon emigrant, an ancestral Elder of prominence, his name engraved on the memorial plaque out front. For, as it so happened, Elder Baker’s Great Grandfather was one of the members of the party from Salt Lake City that hastened to rescue the Martin and Willie Handcart Company folks from starvation and certain death in 1856.
Before I depart, Elders Baker and Hutcheson look over my maps and provide much needed information for hiking the SPHS to South Pass.
The day turns to be hard hiking, the swarm of mosquitoes constant company. I’ve much climbing late in the day, up to the Lower Mormon Monument, then more climbing to the Upper Monument by Rocky Ridge, the highest point on the Trail at 7,500 feet.
Willie Handcart Company Marker — A mass grave and plaque commemorate the fate of the Willie Handcart Company. Poorly supplied and traveling far too late in the season, the company was trapped by a winter storm as it approached South Pass in mid-October 1856. Before help arrived from Salt Lake City, about 67 of the 404-member party had starved or frozen to death. In terms of numbers of deaths, the combined Willie and Martin handcart companies disasters were the greatest ever suffered by any group traveling the trail.
[BLM – Wyoming]
Sunday—June 22, 2014
Location—Strawberry Creek by Giblin Gulch, then on to Burnt Ranch, 9th Crossing, Sweetwater River SPHS
It turned most frustrating trying to find a spot to camp, last. Finally, out of desperation, I pitched right in the middle of the two-track; there was absolutely no place free of rocks large enough to set my tent. Ha, then I worried all night about getting run over!
I discover first thing this morning, though, that my fears were for naught, as just over the ridge there’s a sign that reads, “No vehicles beyond this point.”
Wide open spaces up here at 7,500 feet. Rocky Ridge is the highest point along the entire Oregon Trail, higher even than South Pass. Rolling country with sagebrush the tallest thing out here (besides me) for miles. And the wind’s blowing right across, but I’m happy for it as the skeeters are staying down.
By noon I arrive Rock Creek, location of the Mormon Willie Handcart Company Memorial. Here I meet hosts Elder and Sister Woodbury. They insist I stay for lunch. Then Elder gives me the tour of this peaceful cove, final resting place for at least thirteen members of the fateful Willie Handcart Company.
Trekking on, and evening now, I arrive Burnt Ranch, ninth and final crossing of the Sweetwater River. My maps shows a bridge across the Sweetwater, but to my dismay, I find that the road ends smack in a rancher’s yard, right next a weathered old homestead cabin. Stopping short, I hear voices from within, as I’m not 20 paces away. I go to the door and knock. Three folks come right away, all likely wondering how someone arrived without making the least racket. Curious looks for sure, this old bum-like character standing with his pack and sticks. I apologize for disturbing (say startling) them, and ask about the bridge. “You hiking the Continental Divide Trail?” asks the weather-faced old gent. I tell him no, that I’d already done that trail—then I give the short version of what I’m about. Big grins now, all three, and I meet owners, Rob and Martha, and their son-in-law, Ross. I’m invited in. As I talk with Rob and Ross, Martha sets to fixing supper, and I’m invited to stay.
Evening now, Rob walks me to the river and shows me the 1913 monument erected by Ezra Meeker, also the foundations of the old army fort. Today, Burnt Ranch is a quiet out-of-the-way place. The old ranch house (very old) remains, still in three-season use, along with some scattered out-buildings—that’s pretty much it.
A very historic spot for sure, the ninth and final crossing of the Sweetwater River. Besides the Oregon/California/Mormon/Pony Express/Overland Stage Trail(s), other important trails either terminated or had their beginning here. The Seminoe Cutoff ended at this crossing and the Lander Cutoff began here.
Rob explains the origin of the name, Burnt Ranch, that all the buildings that once stood these grounds had been burned down, not once, but at least three times, by hostile Indians, and the Mormons. Rob then walks me across his bridge, an old submerged boxcar, to show me a delightful campsite in the willows next the Sweetwater—and offers me the spot to camp the night. As I prepare to set my tent, and before Rob departs, he invites me to come back over in the morning for coffee and a full breakfast.
Variously known as Gilbert’s Station, South Pass Station, Upper Sweetwater Station, and after 1868 as “Burnt Ranch” because the Indians burned it… Originally built in 1857, it [was] burned by the Mormons in 1857 to slow the advance of Johnson’s army during the so-called “Mormon War.” The Seminoe Cutoff rejoined the primary Oregon Trail at this point and the Lander Cutoff began here. (Wyoming Recreation Commission, 1984) —This location has been known as the “South Pass Station” while it was being used as a military post, as the “Burnt Fork” following the time that it was burned, “Burnt Ranch” and “The Ninth Crossing of the Sweetwater.” … It was used as a Pony Express station, a telegraph station and as a stage station during the period these different enterprises functioned through this area.— (Annals of Wyoming 30:1) Located 12 miles from Rock Creek Station and 12 miles from Pacific Springs Station. Other designations given this old station were South Pass, Gilbert’s Trading Post and last Burnt Ranch.
[BLM – Wyoming]
Monday—June 23, 2014
Location—Continental Divide at South Pass, then on past False Parting of the Ways/Parting of the Ways at Sublette Cutoff – SPHS
A cold night, but the willows sheltered me and the murmur of the rolling Sweetwater comforted me—and though chilled, I slept well.
Back across Rob’s boxcar bridge, my nose leading me toward the sweet aroma of freshly brewed coffee, I’m right to Rob’s delightful old place. Warm and cozy, a wood fire in the old cast iron stove. Cheerful greetings from both Rob and Ross. “How ya take your coffee? asks Ross. “How ya want your eggs?” follows Rob. I’m seated at the table, a hand-warming mug of steaming hot coffee set before me. Dang, if this ain’t roughing it!
My, oh my, if this isn’t such a nostalgic, back-in-time place—a place in time, definitely, before all the “modern conveniences.” How in the world, folks would surely ask, could anyone live in even the least comfort without the ever-present tether to electric power? How could folks possibly get by without running water, a flush toilet, all the myriad of necessary “things?” Ah, but these folks out here near the wilderness, miles from anywhere and everywhere—they make do just fine. They sure do. So, thank you very much!
I’ve miles to cover today, yet I tarry, enjoying fine company. Lots to talk about, not much new, mostly old—the good old days, those great and memorable old times. I’m closer to the back of the bus than Rob, but not by much. As to distance, we were raised far apart, yet in time, so very close—that time when keenness of right living, of fierce independence, of faith-centered morality, and love of family and friends were above all. Time spent here this morning with these two new friends—pure joy to the heart of this tired old man.
But that time, as always, comes again. Martha had things to tend to away last evening. So, she’s gone and that one’s easy. I must now bid goodbye to Ross, and to Rob. Ah, but Rob then decides to walk with me a ways—as he permits me, and accompanies me, across his bridge o’er the Sweetwater, along the old Oregon Trail, ninth and final crossing of this grand old river.
I’ll not soon forget this special place, nor these new and special friends. Thanks, Martha, thanks, Ross, and thanks, especially, Rob! This old Oregon Trail, and the kind and generous folks along it—fixed in time, fixed in time. All good!
It’s a grand, wide, and endless horizon up here above the worry and bustle of the mad city. The climb on up to South Pass, the Continental Divide, most gentle. A fair distance, but I’m standing soon at yet another monument erected in 1913 by Ezra Meeker. Also here in the pass, another monument dedicated to the memory of the first white women to cross the Great Divide, Eliza Spalding and Narcissa Whitman.
Trekking on, I’m soon at Pacific Springs, where the headwaters of the great western rivers flow to the Pacific Ocean. Time to rest awhile; time to reflect. This long, memorable odyssey, this journey back through time—it’s half over now.
At South Pass Overlook, I take to the highway. There’s still miles of the SPHS ahead, but my back and knees are tired from lugging the extra weight through the deep, loose sand. The Trail ahead crosses the Dry Sandy, then follows the Big Sandy down to Green River. And that trail? Also sandy, I’m told. Forgive me, folks, but I must take to the road, the remaining miles to Farson, my next place for rest and nourishment.
Past False Parting of the Ways, across the highway fence, behind taller, brushy sage, I find a thorn-free spot in the sand and pitch for the night.
A memorable day, what an absolutely memorable day!
Bounded by the Wind River Range on the north and the Antelope Hills on the south, the pass offered overland travelers a broad, relatively level corridor between the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds. For early travelers passing through South Pass, the gradual incline left them unaware that they were crossing the Continental Divide. Between 1840 and 1860 an estimated 300,000 settlers traveled through the gap, their wagon wheels leaving deep ruts in the earth. This broad pass…was the key to the entire trail system. Every emigrant wagon train and handcart company that went westward rolled through this Pass. There was no other way to go. No other path offered a dependable supply of grass and water plus an easy grade to and through the mountains. On crossing the pass one pioneer woman noted that, “…we have forever taken leave of the waters running toward the home of our childhood and youth….”
[BLM – Wyoming]
Tuesday—June 24, 2014
Location—Big Sandy River near Farson, then on to Farson
I was able to hunker down in a swale, across the highway fence, in between the ever-present lumps and clumps of sagebrush. Gentle but steady wind the night, but beneficial in clearing condensation that forms in my tent when I’ve the fly fully rigged, which provides some internal warmth on cold desert nights.
My GPS, a waypoint set for Farson, shows the as-the-crow-flies distance to reach there—18 miles. By the less than straight road, that means closer to 21 or 22. Gonna be a head down and hammer/haul kind of day.
As yesterday, truckers and other kind folks along stop to check on me, to give me water. Out here, pure high plains desert, no water, nowhere.
Late morning, and jolting me from my zone (which permits me to ignore the endless expanse of nothingness to the mirage on the horizon) pulls well off the shoulder this pickup towing a horse trailer. Fellow jumps out, hand extended. I meet Bret. “Can’t pass up interesting people; you looked interesting. Took awhile to get my rig turned around.” his excited comment. We lean his front fender and talk the longest time. Bret is way my junior, could well have been my son. But for sure we’re on the same page in life—that page that emphasizes the importance of fulfilling our lifelong ambitions and dreams, especially the totally unexplainable wanderlust part. The lad’s a cowboy poet, a writer of song, of verse, and of fiction. He’s written a series of books about Nirumbee, The Little People. He plays guitar, sings his songs, performs, giving freely of his time around his home in Queen Creek, Arizona—all around the Pryors, and points west.
I recite a couple of my ditties. We agree to exchange signed copies, one of our books. Then it’s picture time, right in the middle of the road, the majestic snow-capped Wind River Range of Wyoming jutting the background horizon.
Daily trekking the endless miles, I’ve suffered some, and y’all have suffered my whining about it. Last number of days have proven particularly vexing. My poor old left shoulder is mending ever slowly. Sure enough it hasn’t appreciated the near-double pack weight, the needed days of additional food and extra water. Also (and let me whine about this a minute then we’ll move on), the raw sore I was too dumb to care for right away, way back, never has healed. It’s more a bunion now, painful, might you know bunions. My great Oboz shoes, they’ve got over a thousand miles on them now. I’ve had to Shoe-Goo the heals, but they’re holding up remarkably well—and serving me well. Oboz has offered to send me new ones. Anyway, problem isn’t and never was with the shoes; my bonehead neglect was the problem. Okay, nuff of this!
Mid afternoon I drop from the high desert floor at over 6,000 feet, down to Eden Valley and the Big Sandy River. It’s just a short five miles now to the little crossroads village of Farson. I’m in by four. Sure would like to take a break. A day off, that’d be great. That fire in my gut, that wanderlust that drives me toward that elusive, never ending horizon, that land of beyond, it’ll still be out there—tomorrow!
Hey, hey, my lucky day, a little mom-n-pop motel, plus a cafe, one right next the other. This is home! Save for those five days I was off-trail due to the shoulder dislocation, I’ve not rested a full day since departing Independence some thousand-plus miles, and near two months ago.
A Hiker Trash deal at the motel—I go for it!
Thank God! There is always a Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A farness that never will fail;
A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Beyond it, our Land of Beyond!
[Robert W. Service]
Wednesday—June 25, 2014
Last evening, one of the very best double-burger burgers and fries, ever, at the mom-n-pop cafe, not fifty yards from my motel room. Oh my, was I ever hungry for a good hot meal—after three days of cold sandwiches and energy bars!
I’m right back over first thing this morning to hit their coffee, plus breakfast. No way to ever carry enough food when burning (or needing to burn) 3,000+ calories a day, so now it’s catch up time.
And today, a much needed day of rest. Time for feet up, correspondence and journal catch-up, and a phone call or two.
Trail Days, all are true blessings. So too, days of rest from pain.
For all the happiness mankind can gain
Is not in pleasure, but in rest from pain.
Thursday—June 26, 2914
Location—Big Sandy River- Little Colorado Desert
Farson is an oasis in the truest sense; a little crossroads village out where “You can’t get there from here.” The day off provided much needed rest, and save for a few trips to the cafe next door, I did little else. The little motel, quiet, very comfortable. Thanks, Mickie (proprietor/inkeep), for all your help, your kindness!
From Farson, another no man’s land for 80 miles. No resupply points, little water, just sagebrush to the horizon. I go for some provisions from the crossroads jiffy, camel-up, then top off my water bottle for the desert.
SR-28 follows the Big Sandy River southwest, dropping ever so slightly from near 7,000 feet elevation. The old Trail is under the highway or right next for miles. In places where it wanders away, do there remain remarkably pristine ruts, many three or more swales wide, paralleling each other for great distances.
I’m half-way along this Oregon Trail now, this Odyssey 2014. Independence Square seems so long ago and far away. I’ll be happy to reach Oregon City and the end of this journey, hopefully mid to late August. I have become the least weary—and lonely. Tis a long journey.
A couple of noteworthy Trail landmarks today.
First: Just the other side of the Big Sandy Crossing are markers noting the meeting that took place nearby between Jim Bridger and Brigham Young. Each was apparently leery of the other. Bridger, in fact, came to detest Young. He’d long before discovered the Great Salt Lake, knew all about the valley. Consequently, he’d advised Young not to attempt settling there. Young ignored Bridger’s advice, obviously!
Second: On down SR-28 a distance is a place called Simpson’s Hollow. It was here that a Mormon battalion, known as “Brigham’s Destroying Angels,” burned a U.S. Army supply train during the so called Mormon War. Nearby are a number of unmarked/unidentified graves. For sure, the U.S. Army had a particularly rough and troublesome time with the Mormons. They’d been sent with orders to wipe the Mormons out, but the Mormons weren’t keen on the idea. The whole ordeal finally ended when Young agreed to be replaced as Utah Territorial Governor. And my take on the matter? Well, as to Young’s decision to step down—it was certainly not made from a position of weakness or defeat. Never have figured it out.
I’ve stopped, then turned to look back a number of times this day. From each vantage, till now, I’ve been able to faintly make out the jagged snow-capped Wind River Range dancing the far eastern horizon behind. Their majestic presence first appeared many days ago—while beginning my ascent to the Continental Divide at South Pass. And from the Pacific watershed side, have they remained the dominant feature to the east. Many emigrants, both diarists and journalists, commented about the imposing (and forbidding) “Winds.” Ah, and to the eyes of this old come-lately pioneer? Breathtaking, absolutely breathtaking! The memory card in my camera is nearly full now. I’ll likely be mailing it to CyWiz in the next few days. You know what they say about a picture’s worth—so, make sure and look at the (my) Winds when the next album pages are posted!
The Little Colorado Desert; what’s the difference—desert is desert, right? Wrong! Might there be such differentiation as “good desert” and “bad desert,” then the Little Colorado Desert would sure end up in the “bad desert” category. Deserts, by their very nature are commonly desolate. Yet, they can possess a uniquely uncommon beauty. The dunes of the desert, many and varied, come to mind. But the Little Colorado? Bad, just bad! Only description I can come up with. Ah, and perhaps the reason they appear so bad might be because of the haste with which I’ve had to find, then pitch camp this evening. It seldom rains in the desert. But here, as happened just east of here, while trekking the Great Divide Basin, the Red Desert, in 2005, I ended up in one horrendous storm. Got soaked as the wall of water and ice (hail) descended, seemingly out of nowhere. Once in my tent (in the Red Desert, and now here in the Little Colorado) the arctic-like wind came in gale force, driving the wall of rain and hail. I gripped my trekking sticks (tent poles), keeping them fixed to the ground with all my strength, while praying that my tent pegs would hold. The wind remained in a rage for over half an hour before backing off the least. My pegs held, and I held. What an absolutely harrowing ordeal. The noise was near deafening. Why my fly remained in one piece, why it wasn’t totally shredded, I’ll never know. Thank You, Lord, thank You. Oh yes, bad, just BAD!
God is well able to take care of us. He can prosper us even in the desert if we’ll just be bold enough to believe.
Friday—June 27, 2014
Location—Brigham Young 1847/Lombard Road by Blue Point
A very frightening and scary time last night. My tent stayed up and in place through the fierce storm. How I stayed reasonably dry I’ll never know. It continued to rain off and on the whole night, and it ‘s still completely overcast with rain off and on this morning.
I’d mistaken the storm for the typical afternoon here-and-gone thunderbuster. It wasn’t. What came through, and is still at it, is another driving cold front. The current clutter might thin out some by evening, but I’ll be surprised should that happen. More likely, the waves of cold rain will continue this entire day, to be followed by two to three days of intense (and cold) west wind. Unbelievable, we’re past the longest day of the year—it’s summer—and these arctic-like blasts are still charging through.
I’m finally scuffing off the least bit of altitude as I hike on down to Green River Crossing. I’ve been rationing the bit of water left from Farson, so I’m much relieved to see the Green running swift and clear. I take water directly from the river and gulp it down.
Past the Green, the day begins unraveling. My waypoint set for the junction of SRs 28/372 isn’t even close. SR-28 should be going southwest. Instead, it’s running north of west. I finally connect with SR-372, but way out. Hard to believe, but my DeLorme map is wrong. This error adds at least four additional miles. A really bad deal. I’d hoped to reach Lyman by knocking out three consecutive 25s. Not happening. I was cut short yesterday because of the storm; had to stop and get out of it. And now this, four more miles added to today’s 25. 29 is a whole different distance than 25. The additional miles tend to compound enormously—on your back, on your knees and legs, then to weigh heavily on your mind. For me, 25 is a good cutoff. Miles 26 through 29 are totally different than miles six through nine!
Turning south and continuing down SR-372, I finally reach the waypoint for my turn onto Brigham Young 1847/Lombard Road—but there is no road, just trail ruts and a concrete Oregon Trail marker. My map shows the Trail crossing the highway at least five miles further south. What is going on? None of this makes any sense. What should I do? Should I take to the ruts and hope they’ll get me through, or should I hike on down to the city of Green River, which is at least 40 miles out of my way?
As I’m frustrating all of this a forest-green Wyoming Game and Fish Commission truck passes. The lady ranger sees me and waves. I motion for her to stop, and she does—and I meet Lucy. She’s on her way to Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge just up the road. She can tell immediately that I’m disoriented and need help. “I don’t know anything about the trail through here.” her reply to my inquiry about where the ruts go. “Get in, there are trail maps at the Refuge and there’ll be folks there that can help you.” Lucy gets me loaded, cranks the cab heat (as she sees I’ve become hypothermic) and we head for Seedskadee.
At the Reserve now, Lucy introduces me to Adam. He takes a look at my maps, then brings out much better detailed BLM ones. Studying Adam’s more detailed maps, I manage to get pretty well straightened out. Past the Green, the highway indeed goes more west and north to the junction than my map shows. That’s why my waypoint for that intersection was so far off. And the ruts, the concrete Trail post where Lucy stopped for me, to help me, that is the Trail. The trail marked on my map was apparently a shorter Pony Express Route. Finally, and as to the condition of the Trail, as to whether I’ll be able to hike along the 24+ miles to US-30, Lucy suggests we go to her office in the city of Green River, there to talk further with Mark. She tells me he rides horses on the Trail up here. I hesitate accepting her kind offer, for I know Green River is no short distance—and that she’ll just have to turn around right away and bring me all the way back. She insists; we head for Green River (with the cab heater cranking).
At the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission office, Lucy introduces me to Mark. More maps—and during the next 30-minutes, more information about the Trail that leads to US-30 (and Granger). Mark assures me it’s well marked with the BLM concrete posts and that I can hike it through.
On the way in to Green River, I had downed what food I had left in my pack, as Lucy has offered to take me to Smith’s Grocery before heading back to the Trail. And a fine grocery it is. Enough food now for at least two more days.
Earlier, when Lucy found I’d be hiking through Granger, she called a friend there, Vern. He’s a trapper/hunter for the Feds and has offered to put me up when I reach the little village of Granger.
Back to the Trail junction, where Lucy stopped to help me earlier today, that unhappy time. And was it not such a short time, yet time enough to bring another kind and caring friend into my life. Thanks, Adam, Mark, and especially, thank you, Lucy!
Heading into the ruts, I manage no more than a couple miles before another squall line comes through. I pitch just in time, in the sagebrush, below the brow of the upper hill, where there’s at least a bit of protection from the cold rain and wind. I no sooner hunker down than the storm charged through. Tent hold-down time again. More rain all night.
Jamie: You know what I figured out today?
Jamie: Maybe God has a bigger plan for me than I had for myself. Like this journey never ends. Like you were sent to me…To help me…You’re my angel.
[Nicholas Sparks – A Walk to Remember]
Saturday—June 28, 2014
Location—Vern’s Home in Granger
A very cold night, low 40s. Learning to sleep cold; should have brought my 32-degree bag. But for the saving of less than a pound pack weight, I decided on the 45-degree one instead. Not too brilliant, eh! But who’d have ever thought there’d be near-freezing temperatures this late in June?
The rain continued until after midnight, but I’m up this morning to a cloud-free sky, with the wind already whipping (oh yes) at 25, gusting to 30, out of the west.
Surprisingly, the ruts are reasonably dry, which, save for the constant push from the onrushing wind, makes for pleasant hiking, and I make good time. Many grand photo opportunities. I stop often to reflect—what I’m now seeing, ruts and swales full ahead, much the same view presented the pioneers some 150+ years ago. Just not the solid, unbroken line of covered wagons as far as the eye can see. Ah, and the majestic snow-capped Uinta Mountains now making their appearance on the southern horizon. Remarkable, just remarkable, this Brigham Young 1847/Lombard “Road.” My goodness, Lucy, isn’t this so amazing. Yesterday you came to help me as I was consumed with fear and anxiety about this Trail. Today, sure wish you could see me. Ah, dear friend—to the depths of my being am I overwhelmed with pure joy, free from the fears of yesterday—the satisfaction of having completed this very special passage. Thank you, Lucy, thank you!
Late afternoon I reach US-30, completing this section of Trail. By the highway now I drop my pack, dig out my phone and call Vern. You’ll recall, Lucy had contacted him yesterday. So, he’s expecting me. I get his answering machine, leave a message. Another hour and I’m in the little far away (and tucked away) community of Granger. By the old restored Pony Express Station, the interesting historical marker here, and as I’m taking a couple of pictures, my phone rings. It’s Vern. He lives in the house directly next the old station, and he comes right away to greet me. And again, comes the offer to stay the night. Certainly, I accept!
First order of business, get some grub. I offer to buy, Vern offers to drive, and we’re soon headed for I-80 and the oasis called Little America. A fine restaurant, and a fine (cowboy’s) burger and fries. Not so roughing it now!
Back at Vern’s place, much enjoyable conversation. Vern and me, we’re cut from the same cloth—an old tattered piece of that born-200-years-too-late cloth. I’m his senior (aren’t I always), but not by much. Vern hunts and traps for the U. S. Government. He’s what’s better known as a “Varmint Hunter.” Ranchers around, their lambs and calves easy prey for the coyotes, Vern is the modern-day frontiersman/hunter (say Drouillard, from Lewis & Clark) sent to respond to those calls. No Kentucky long rifle, this marksman though. Vern’s weapon of choice—the Ruger long rifle, chambered for the deadly 220 Swift. Accuracy? Tight groups, say cover with a coin sort of tight—at 500 yards; that’s over a quarter of a mile distant folks!
Vern shows me one of his pastimes, his skilled work at flint knapping (look it up), and he’s taken by the fact that I know the name of one of the primitive weapons hanging on his living room wall—an atladl (look that up too).
Oh my, am I glad to be in this night, as I’m very tired, the unyielding wind and rocks late day having well done their job on this tired old trekker.
Ultimately we know deeply that the other side of every fear is freedom.
Sunday—June 29, 2014
Location—CR-223 at Blacks Fork River, then on to Lyman
A really enjoyable evening visiting with Vern. We’ve so many things in common, not the least of which, our love for Ma Natures great out-of-doors.
Set my mattress right out on his living room floor. A welcome change outside the confines of my dink tent. A great night’s sleep.
We’re both up before sunrise. Coffee’s soon on and Vern’s peeling and slicing potatoes. Breakfast time. Hey, and Vern is a master at eggs up with laces—doo-dah! A mighty fine way to begin another fine day!
And yet again, second time in as many days, comes that time—way too soon, another sad goodbye. A real joy meeting you, Vern! And another debt of gratitude to you, Lucy, for introducing us; thanks!
This will be a hit it hard and hammer day. I want to be in Lyman this evening, a distance of 29 miles. I’m pack up and hauling well before eight. So, the miles should present no problem. Just gotta keep my sticks clicking.
The road I’m hiking is gravel, well packed, what with the big commercial oil tankers running it. Probably the finest gravel road I’ve been on. Treated with magnesium chloride to control the dust, it’s just like pavement. There are a few gentle ups and downs, but until I reach Church Rock (the Trail is beside the road) some 11 miles out, it’s pretty much just straight ahead haul. Being Sunday, there’s no traffic to deal with. But in awhile, from behind I hear a vehicle approaching. I turn to see Vern. He’s been doing some sighting in with a new rifle out this way and has brought me a couple bottles of much needed water. I take a short break, rest a few minutes as I chug on one. But gotta keep moving. Very thoughtful of you; thanks, Vern!
Late afternoon, been grinding at it ten hours now, the road deteriorates to so much loose gravel, and the wind has notched it up to a hard and steady 30 per. The final four miles, after passing under I-80, is paved, and I manage okay on into the little town of Lyman.
Surprising enough, the motel I’m looking for is on the way in—and I’m in. A short trip to the Taco joint, and this day’s a wrap. Been a long and tough haul kind of day, but I’ve managed to capture and keep the joy in it…
As long as you’re having fun, that’s the key. The moment it becomes a grind, it’s over.
Monday—June 30, 2014
Lyman is a neat, quiet little village. A most relaxed and restful stay.
Trekking through the business district this morning—a young lady with a city truck, moving from one light post to the next watering the hanging baskets of lovely flowers. Just a very delightful place, Lyman.
Passing through the little crossroads of Urie I venture into a small electronics-like store. What luck, they’ve got camera memory cards. I need one in the worst way. The one now in my camera is loaded and I’ve no spare. Yup, what a fine stroke of luck!
In Urie, three miles past Lyman, I’m already halfway to Fort Bridger, my destination for today. The wind has already begun its daily rush, but today, I’m gonna beat it. Another hour and this trekking day is done!
I’m anxious to reach Fort Bridger, it’s one of the most important of all the historic landmarks along the entire Oregon Trail. You’ll recall my visit made to Jim Bridger’s grave in Independence. Jim was the mountain man’s mountain man.
A shade afore noon I’m in Fort Bridger. Nikki, owner of the little mom-n-pop motel, had told me to call her when I arrived, and she’d come right away to provide me a room. Love it when a plan comes together. I’m in my room, feet up, well before twelve-thirty.
Decision is to rest here an additional day; I need it, and the Hiker Trash deal given me by Nikki—that cinched it.
Old Gabe” [Jim Bridger] had seen it all. He’d trapped since the business began, back in the ‘20s, and was a “32nd Degree Mountain Man.” He had fought Indians, three times at least had married an Indian, had discovered the Great Salt Lake, and carried the map of half a continent in his head. Bridger had seen the West when the map was blank, and helped explore it, and now was alive to see eastern farmers and druggists pile in a wagon and go to Oregon in a summer, with a guidebook.
Tuesday—July 1, 2014
I’ve decided to take a full day off here in Fort Bridger. Besides giving my weary old body a rest, I’ve plenty to keep me busy. This is a mail-drop, so there’s my bounce box to go through, sort out, repack, and bounce on to Burley, Idaho. I definitely want to spend a fair bit of time at the old fort. Plus, I’ve journal entries and correspondence to get caught up on, and phone calls to make.
Oh, and thanks, dear friends, for the cards, letters, and “care” packages, just great energy passed along to this tired old intrepid. Yes, thank you!
Never Miss A Chance To Sit Down And Rest Your Feet.
[King Edward VIII]
Wednesday—July 2, 2014
Location—Bear River Divide Hiking Segment – Little Muddy Creek
The day of rest has been a great benefit, both physically and mentally. I feel renewed in body and spirit—and am now prepared for another no-man’s land, the Bear River Divide Hiking Segment. There’s just no place to resupply between Fort Bridger and Cokeville, a distance of over 80 miles. So I’m departing Fort Bridger with a very heavy pack, enough food for four days.
I’ve made some good friends in Fort Bridger, Nikki, owner of the Wagon Wheel Motel, and Linda, Superintendent of Fort Bridger State Historic Site. Both have befriended me, helped me. Thanks, Nikki and Linda!
At the old fort, the Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express Trail(s) turned southwest. The Oregon Trail went north out of Fort Bridger, so I’m leaving them behind. Many of the emigrants bound for the Sacramento Valley also headed southwest from Fort Bridger. California emigrants that continued on the Oregon Trail were bound for Fort Hall, from there to turn southwest toward California. The vast majority of “49ers” never passed through Fort Bridger, rather, they took the Sublette Cutoff, saving many days as they cut over to Fort Hall.
Just north of Fort Bridger, an old Lincoln Highway marker. The Lincoln Highway was the first transcontinental automobiles route across the United States. It was formally dedicated in October, 1913. It ran coast-to-coast from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco, originally through 13 states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. An interesting bit of what I remember being told about the old road: Some of the hills were so steep that autos of that early era had to turn around and back up. Reverse was geared lower than was the forward low gear, so up they went, backwards!
The roads I’m hiking today are mostly unimproved two-track. Sure glad I set waypoints along, or I’d have gotten lost first thing. Dirt roads cross or come along in great profusion/confusion. Ah, and the road I’m trying to pass through on is totally blocked by a double-stacked fence next an airport. Guessed my way (correctly) around that obstacle.
I’ve taken few videos for awhile because my camera memory card is nearly full, and I’ve no spare. Lucked out and came up with one the other day. So, video time again. First up, some fascinating footage about the transcontinental telegraph system that was completed in 1859 (ended the short life of the Pony Express). Hard to believe that old telegraph wire (much of it) has survived. Been seeing wadded and tangled pieces all along the Trail for the longest time. Today, I pass fragments of this old wire scattered all over. I stop and take a video.
These next few days I expect to run short on water, and I’ve started right off with the problem today. Carter is pretty much a ghost town, but one old place is still inhabited. I’m low on water, have been running pretty much on empty all afternoon, so I pull off at the old place. Fellow comes right out to see what his dogs are barking at, and gives me some really fine water. He’s fascinated by where I’ve walked from and where I’m headed.
Late evening and low on water again, a fellow stops to see if I’m okay—and gives me water. He’s local. When I ask if the Little Muddy is running, he says it is, but for sure it’s muddy. “Don’t want to drink that water.” he tells me as he pulls away.
More stark and forbidding landscape today. Not much other than sagebrush—everywhere. No trees, nothing taller than the brush.
I stop for the day where the highway crosses the Little Muddy. I pitch right next the stream. Fellow was right, Little Muddy is big-time muddy—bad water!
The mountain men blazed the trail for the great Westward Expansion and immigrants followed routes through the Bear River Divide first identified by trappers such as Jim Bridger decades earlier.
[A. Dudley Gardner]
Thursday—July 3, 2014
Location—Bear River Divide Hiking Segment – near High Top
I pitched last night right next the culvert box, where the Little Muddy Creek goes under SR-412. Took water from the Little Muddy, and treated it, as it was, indeed, muddy (oh, and there was a cow standing in it). The only water around, so couldn’t be choosey.
Not off to a good start with the Bear River Divide Hiking Segment this morning. The old ruts continue on, directly across US-189, but there’s a fence and no gate. I climb the fence. The ruts are right here, but they’re completely grown over. There’s no two-track.
I bushwhack beside the ruts for a ways, then it’s hand-over-hand as I hit a bunch of ravines. Finally, some five miles into the “hiking segment” I pick up a road running beside.
As I trek along, I’m able to follow the Trail using my GPS; would be a real problem otherwise—two-tracks going everywhere.
Early afternoon, I must take water again from the Little Muddy. Climbing up the creek drainage (and I’ve been into the climb all day), I’ve left the cattle behind, so the tiny stream is much less muddy now.
The only wildlife I’ve seen are sage grouse, killdeer, and assorted small chippy birds. No forage, just (scrawny) sagebrush. Beauty of a simple form is present, though, monochromatic and barren as it is.
Late evening, and after climbing the entire day, I reach the Bear River Divide—at elevation 7,700 feet. Here I’m standing higher than on either Rocky Ridge or the Continental Divide. I no more than claim the divide than a loud and direct-above thunderbuster drives me from the Trail. The wind and lightning come on so suddenly. Off the ridge a bit, in a cluster of gnarly sage, and with all haste, I’m able to get pitched, then in before the oncoming rage.
The mountain fills with thunder, It’s hollow and it’s wild.
Now full with fright and wonder, I cower like a child.
[N. Nomad – 5/01]
Friday—July 4, 2014
Location—Twin Creek near Sage, then on to Cokeville (took a ride)
The thunderstorm passed over quickly, then swept to the east. Appears, all I caught was the tail end of it, which was plenty enough!
Turned out, the storm was a blessing in disguise; it stopped me, as I was going the wrong way. Right at the crest of the divide, where the Trail passed over, an all-weather gravel road was running the ridge. I loaded my next waypoint, then checked to find the road was going my way, pretty much. Yup, got suckered into following it. What happened, it kept bearing ever-so-slightly east of north. I needed to be going northwest. Looking closely at my map this morning, there it is, the road I’m on. Wrong road! I missed the slightest trace of Trail, which passed directly over the divide and down. That was two miles back. Ah, and you know me, I’d rather take a good hard beating than turn around and go back.
So, this morning, after discovering my mistake, I hang a left, thence to butt-skid 500 feet near straight down off the ridge, in order to hit the Trail way down on the upper valley floor. Dumb move, real dumb. Yet, I managed to skid to a halt safely—next the Trail. Lots of “Thank You Lord, oh Thank You Lord!” Oh yes, dumb, real dumb!
I’m out of water—again. There’s a small lake a short distance from the trail. I could see the silver shimmering reflection from up on the ridge. I head there to find the water clear and sweet. No evidence of cattle or sheep up here this season, and few (none fresh) game tracks. I chug down two full bottles of the refreshing elixir—directly from the lake, then top-off for the long, barren stretch that’s surely ahead.
In the afternoon I get on the wrong track again, climbing instead of dropping, as I should be. I’m nearly to High Top—but should be well below High Top. My waypoint shows I’m over a quarter-mile off. Got zoned in on following a well-used two-track. The Trail bailed off to the left somewhere back, probably, again, on a hardly noticeable trace. My map shows the road I’m now on. Yup, I’m headed over High Top!
Another hard left, and another butt-skid straight down, this time off High Top—to the upper valley floor below. I hear you! I hear you! “This guy never learns, he just never learns!”
The Trail along has been marked with the customary BLM concrete posts. Difference being, since leaving the Mormon and Pony Express Trail(s), these posts have no inscription, just a magnificent bronze Oregon Trail medallion countersunk into the post near the top. And for the dozen or so posts passed so far? There used to be a medallion. These posts are quite old, and over time, thoughtless yahoos have blasted them to kingdom come—the bronze medallions long gone. Aw, no wonder responsible gun owners have taken such a bum rap.
Ah, but here, now, along a nearly impossible section of Trail to get to (even by ORV) are there two absolutely pristine concrete posts—with the extraordinarily beautiful bronze Oregon Trail medallions still intact. Just seeing these old posts, their medallions—sure enough been worth another butt-skid back down today!
Below the divide, this side, begins Bear Creek. However, apparently this stream is not spring fed, the beginning of its upper waters, as is Muddy Creek, the other side. I’d hoped for the best, ended up with the worst—a few stagnant pools of mosquito larvae infested slime. Just no way is this stuff near treatable, or ever drinkable. So I thirst my way on, as likely did the pioneers, as I squint a mirage lifting from the cobble of Trail ahead “…that big green tree where the water’s running free…”
At SR-89, where the Trail comes out (barbed wire fence, no gate again). Gotta climb the fence—again. A Lincoln County Deputy has a fellow pulled over. Oh my, my lucky day. Just need to get his attention. I wave my water bottle frantically as he pulls back on the highway—he sees me, and pulls back off. Kind and courteous young man, Deputy Sam.
I can hardly speak, my throat is so dry. I point to my near empty water bottle, and with what voice I can muster, ask Sam if he’s got some water to spare. “Sure.” he says, but checking his patrol car, no water. That’s when he asks what’s going on, where I’m headed. He gets the abbreviated version. Shaking his head, he offers me a ride—to Cokeville. “There’s a Flying J Truck Stop there, closest water!” says Sam, a concerned look on his face. I immediately accept the ride!
From where I emerged at SR-89, it’s 23 miles to Cokeville. The ounce or two of water I have left, that downed, my voice working a bit better, we enjoy each other’s company for the next half-hour. At the truck stop, Sam buys me a large bottle-water—and supper; thanks, Sam, and a happy 4th to you!
A couple of motels right next the truck stop. I choose the right one. Young lad, Adam, innkeep, cuts me the best Hiker Trash deal yet—then offers to drive me back to SR-89 first thing in the morning so I can close out that section. Oh yes, gonna stay at Adam’s place for two nights!
Ah dear friends, I’m most fortunate and very relieved to have the long, waterless Bear River Divide Hiking Segment now in my rearview!
Dan, can’t you see that big green tree (water)
Where the water’s runnin’ free (water)
And it’s waitin’ there for me and you
Cool clear water (water, water)
[Jack Scott/Sons of the Pioneers – Cool Water]
Saturday—July 5, 2014
Seven this morning, just as promised, Adam gets me loaded (easy to do, most of my gear is still in my room) and we’re headed south to SR-89, back to the spot where I accepted Deputy Sam’s kind offer of a ride yesterday. Interesting, that at this place, and back here now, I’m less than a mile from the Utah line. But the Trail never ventures into Utah!
I’m hiking, (with a light pack and a light heart) before eight. Plenty of skeeters, but no wind, and a perfectly clear day. I’ve a 23 to knock out to reach Cokeville, which will prove no problem, at least no more a problem than the final five miles of Trail yesterday, which amounted to continued dry cobbles of heaved up mud along a meandering livestock path. Just brutal to the feet. This smooth, fully-paved shoulder today? Oh, what a better choice!
In an hour I’m again trekking along US-30, a kind, dear old highway-friend. The Trail, southwest to Fort Bridger, took me away for awhile, but I’m headed back northwest again now, and here’s that road, good old US-30!
The old Trail, and this highway, run side-by-side near this entire day. At times it wanders over toward the Union Pacific tracks, from there to follow before meandering back here toward the highway. The landscape is greening up ever so slightly; the sagebrush much taller and healthier. There’s grass now, lush fields of irrigated alfalfa. The Trail has become much more difficult to discern, but it’s out there!
Sandhill cranes, can’t spot them, but can sure hear their shrill, unmistakable call. And ducks; first ducks I’ve seen since clear back in eastern Nebraska. For sure, the landscape is changing. Perhaps now, there’ll be more than one dwelling every eighty miles!
Gotta share this with you, what a truly happy thing—I’m able now, for the first time since my accident, to lift my left arm up and back high enough to reach into my pack side pocket. Till now, I’ve had to take my pack off to do so—a really major deal! You were right, Dr. Paul, use it, that’s the best therapy!
Mid afternoon now, and cruising along locked in my zone, does this vehicle flip a Uey and pull to the shoulder just ahead. Chap jumps right out. Energy and enthusiasm like I’ve not seen. Comes right up to me. “We’re curious, where are you going, what are you doing?” When he says “we” I look toward the car to see a lady on the passenger side. We move to the passenger side—and I meet Logan, Kristen, and their little daughter, Felicity. They’re young, outdoor-oriented folks, and don’t they just bust with excitement as I relate my Oregon Trail trek. What a deal! I just cherish these chance meetings. Amazing and incredible energy for me (and the cool water and treats provided don’t hurt). What a pleasure, dear new friends; thanks for stopping and brightening my day!
By four I’m back to the motel, where Adam and his wife greet me.
There’s a fine mom-n-pop restaurant right next, and I’m in for their cheeseburger and fries.
Just an absolutely super hiking day!
One lighted candle can make millions of candles lighted
without losing its light.
Sunday—July 6, 2014
Location—Bear River near Sugarloaf (Idaho)
Another night of much needed rest at Valley Hi, the fine little mom-n-pop motel in Cokeville managed by Adam and Torie. Thanks, dear friends, for your help, your kindness!
A stop back over to Flying J Truck Stop before heading on north. It’s thirty miles to Montpelier with no resupply in between. So, I’ll need a few provisions to get me through tonight and tomorrow morning. First order, though, coffee and a good breakfast. The coffee at Flying J, it’s okay, gotta be for the truckers. The restaurant is shut down, though, so breakfast is the typical deli deal, a scrambled egg, sausage patty and cheese, all jammed together in a cardboard biscuit. They’re okay, too, but I like my eggs fried, not scrambled. Anyway, a tasty (and expensive) sweet roll with my coffee helps a bunch. I’m good!
Thirteen bucks later, I end up with a poor excuse for a meat, cheese, and green chili-pepper burrito, some snacks, and a small bag of M&Ms. With this I’ll have to make do. Guess you can tell, Flying J/Circle K , not my favorite place.
I’m back on US-30 headed north by eight-thirty. Just outside Cokeville, a point of interest, Smith’s Fork. It’s a good sized stream, nearly doubles the Bear at their confluence. It’s named for Pegleg Smith, “…one of the legends of the Oregon Trail.” according to Gregory Franzwa. Pegleg was a mountain man, like Bridger and Jed Smith. Again, quoting Franzwa, “…he worked quietly and efficiently, but failed to gain the great fame of the other Smith, Jed. In the late 1820s he was forced to amputate his own leg, sealing up the arteries with a red hot bullet mold.”
By noon I’ve reached the Wyoming/Idaho border. Four states in my rearview now, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Wyoming. Two states remain, Idaho and Oregon. I take a look at the monument, then get some shots and a video.
Just across the highway, still in Wyoming, a fair sized fireworks store. I head over, hoping for a pop machine. I’m greeted by D. Reid, owner of the place for the past thirty-some years. He’s got pop and candy in a little frig. I hit it for both.
D. Reid isn’t busy at the moment, so we sit at his bar and chat. A very neat old bar, in fact. “Came out of the saloon in Cokeville. I bought it and moved it here when they closed the old place down. It’s for sale, sorta.” says D. Reid. He’s a Trail nut too. When he learns of where I’ve been and where I’m going, I see an unmistakable look of envy. Won’t accept my money for the candy and soda, then he tells me, “Not to hurry you, but when you leave, I’ll follow you out. Want to show you something.” I tarry and we chat awhile longer, but time comes, I gotta get moving again.
D. Reid follows me out, then pointing across Bear River Valley—”See where the highway climbs the hill, and over there, the dirt road to the right, you see them?” I nod. “Look real close between, see all those faint lines on the side of the hill? Those are the Big Hill ruts.” I nod again. Big Hill was one of the most troublesome places anywhere along that the emigrants had to deal with. Not for D. Reid pointing out this historic landmark, I’d have likely walked right by without ever noticing. Thanks, D. Reid!
Entering Idaho now and nearing Big Hill, comes in another formidable river, Thomas Fork. Before bridges were built across Thomas Fork, it proved a difficult and dangerous ford. Many of the pioneers commented about both Thomas Fork and Big Hill in their diaries and journals.
Much traffic today, very heavy at times. Everybody’s in a hurry to get home from their 4th vacation. A steady stream of campers and motor homes, a pure jumbled rush of restless humanity. Sure glad my pace is slower.
Late afternoon, and in easy striking distance of Montpelier for in the morning, a lovely slough, crystal clear water, bordered by scrub oak—just too good to pass up. Over the fence and under the trees I go. Tent pitched and four bottles of (treated) water later, I’m in and down for the count.
I do believe we’re finally into summer, those lazy, hazy days. About time.
We started at six o’clock, forded Thomas Fork, and turning to the west, came to a high spur we were compelled to climb. The distance is seven miles, and we were five hours in crossing. Part of the way I rode on horseback, the rest I walked. The descent was very long and steep. All the wheels of the wagon were tied fast, and it slid along the ground. At one place the men held back with ropes and let it down slowly.
[Margaret Frink – July 1850]
Monday—July 7, 2014
Location—Montpelier, then to the home of Candy Dawes, Dingle, Idaho
Some noise during the evening, the usual trains every hour or so, and the heavy haulers, beginning of the week commercial traffic. Oh, and a dozen or so cows stop by to check me out—then to plunge in and ford the slough directly across. Glad I’d already taken water. Pitched my tent, last, without rigging the fly—and got away with it. A very pleasant night.
Back on US-30 this morning, my GPS reads 7.9 miles to the intersection in downtown Montpelier. Gentle breeze, a cool morning. Thankful to be alive. I say my daily prayer (A Path by the Side of the Road) with a noticeable lift in my voice—much energy and vitality!
The highway follows near the river a ways, then shortcuts up and over the lower ridges. From the vantage above, the lush, fertile valley of Bear River presents below. Very welcome contrast to the desert starkness I’ve been living with for so long. Fields of Alfalfa now being harvested, the geometric pattern made by the mowers and balers, pale to dark shades of green weaving and coursing the entire valley floor. Picture time for sure, and I’ve captured some great shots.
Near Wardboro, a few miles south of Montpelier, the highway crosses the old Trail. At the crossing, there’s a impressive pavilion with many informative display boards. Much detail about the Oregon Trail in Idaho, Big Hill, Pegleg Smith, Smith’s Trading Post, and the emigrants that passed this way. Lots more pictures.
I’m in downtown Montpelier by noon. I’d hoped for a good old mom-n-pop cafe along, but no luck. Also looking for a bank, could use a bit of cash. I like to pay cash for my motel room. The owners prefer cash, too. That seems to work best. So I head for the Wells Fargo down the street. I know they’ll do a debit card cash advance, which saves me the ATM fee. Not a big deal, but on my budget, a couple bucks makes a difference.
The transaction completed, and leaving now, a lady follows. Outside, she comes right up and asks if I’d mind doing an interview for the Montpelier paper—I meet Candy Dawes, kind lady. She’d overheard me talking with the bank tellers inside. I’m not much for the interview thing, as you know. I tell her I’d be happy to talk about the Trail—if we could talk about that. Short of it: I meet the newspaper editor in the morning.
I’d hoped to find an affordable room here in Montpelier, but doesn’t appear that will materialize. The one non-chain, a seedy looking place, way over my budget—and my cash don’t talk. What to do? Anyway, while I was at the motel, Candy had a bit of business to take care of. At her urging I’d agreed to lunch, her treat. There is a mom-n-pop cafe here, Ranch Hand, but it’s west of town. I wait in front of the motel no more than a couple minutes and Candy’s right here to pick me up. What I need is a meat and potatoes kind of meal, and Candy knows right where to take me. Just a great dinner at Ranch Hand. Oh, and when she finds I’ve no place to stay—with not the least hesitancy. “You’ll come stay with us tonight.” very matter of fact tone in Candy’s voice.
A grand tour of the National Oregon/California Trail Center right downtown Montpelier, then to Candy’s lovely home down in Dingle. Here I meet her grandson, Braydan, his friend, Mike, Candy’s son, Danny, and his wife, Shauna. Candy spends the afternoon preparing another grand meal. I’ve now got energy to spare!
They’ve an extra bedroom on the screened in porch, my place for the night.
An amazing day, another amazing day!
[The] film crew hustled down the rocky, sagebrush covered hillside ahead of a wagon train as it crested a ridge atop Big Hill near Montpelier…they only had one chance to shoot the re-enactment for Idaho Public Television’s Outdoor Idaho series…The documentary’s theme…”The Oregon Trail, then and now.”
“This is about the heritage of Bear Lake and the pioneers coming here on the Oregon Trail,” [Candy] Dawes said. “You want to impart that in your kids. We came here because we wanted to live the pioneer life.”
[Idaho State Journal – Drive West Re-enactment, 2009]
Tuesday—July 8, 2014
Location—US-30 near Fossil Canyon
Comfy stay on the porch at Candy’s. Coffee first thing, along with eggs with laces. Great start for another great day!
Candy runs me to the post office then drops me off at the Trail Center, where I pick up the (my) trail west.
The newspaper interview has been set for eleven at Ranch Hand. I’m there by ten-thirty. Candy arrives shortly, then comes Maria, reporter for News – Examiner, the Montpelier weekly. Before we begin, Maria’s husband, Marty, stops by for a moment. A most enjoyable time. We talk about the Trail, the rich history of the early west, the heritage now so deeply rooted in the Montpelier community. Then it’s picture time. Lots of pictures outside by the Ranch Hand “Trail Stop” sign.
Candy is a volunteer at the Montpelier Thrift Store. Before coming to Ranch Hand, she’d stopped there to get a new shirt for me. Mine is all rotten from the sun, pretty much in shreds. Candy has brought a very nice shirt for me!
Another sad time. Another farewell to yet another wonderful friend. Candy, I’ll not forget your generosity and kindness; thanks!
On the highway again. and nearing Georgetown, comes Maria once more. She stops to get some shots of me trekking along. She then again wishes me well for the remainder of my journey.
In Georgetown, and by the Country Corner Store, I meet Art and his grandsons, Trayson and Riley. Art is also from Missouri, so we chat awhile. Turning to the store, Art follows me in, then introduces me to Juanita, owner.
Oh my, a really fine menu. I order the double cheeseburger and fries. Nita cautions me about the burger. “Over a pound of meat in one of them.” she says. As soon as I see the thing, I realize no way I’ll get it down in one setting. We decide: Take the top patty off. Let it cool. Put it in another bun, then I can carry it for later. Ha, ended up doing the same with the fries—a whole bag for later. A scoop of vanilla ice cream to settle the burger and fries, more pop, and as I go to pay—”Art’s already paid for your meal. Here’s his money. I won’t take it.” She slides the money across the counter to me. “You take it.” she says. So, I pick it up, but when I go to pay, she refuses my money too. “You’re on a very special journey; I want to help—your dinner’s on me!” says Nita. Shaking my head, tears in my eyes now—what to do? I simply thank her, then ask if I might get a picture—and a hug. On my way out she hands me some Clif Bars and fruit chews. Thanks, Juanita, thanks so much! And you, too, Art, thanks!
As I trek on toward Soda Springs along US-30, I encounter much heavy commercial traffic, oversize loads, one after the other. A dangerous situation. Shortly, the highway leaves the river to climb another shortcut, up and over Georgetown Summit, elevation, 6,000+ feet.
Once over the summit and descending toward the valley—Art had told me about a spring I’d find near the valley floor, and by eight, I’m at the spring. Over the fence and behind the bushes, just the perfect spot to pitch. And it’s not twenty paces to the spring, cold, pure water.
Ah, dear friends, this journey is quickly becoming one of friends (rather than one of miles), as I have been befriended so.
And could I have one wish this year, this only would it be:
I’d like to be the sort of friend that you have been to me.
[Edgar A. Guest]
Wednesday—July 9, 2014
Flat ground, and no lumps (say rocks) for a change, just a cushion of soft grass. A quiet night, no wind and hardly any traffic on the highway. Plenty of skeeters, but they were out and I was in. Awoke from a bit of a chill before dawn, covered up with my down bag, solved that.
Another delightful cloud-free day, just the least breeze. The sun warms everything immediately. May not need my wind breaker again this trek.
I’m on the road before nine. Less than eight miles to Soda Springs, so should make it in by noon. More heavy (wide load) traffic, plus lots of “pots” flying by—livestock trailers. US-30 is a very busy highway, but I’ve been fortunate in having wide, fully paved shoulders.
Save for Big Hill, the Trail has either been under the highway or very close by since I entered Idaho. Not much evidence of ruts, though, what with the barley and alfalfa fields. The sod here has pretty much been busted, the old ruts plowed under years ago. Bear River Valley, four miles wide in many places, is amazingly fertile. And with abundant water from Bear River for irrigation, everything’s green.
As you look at my photo albums you’ll see more than a few pictures of monuments, markers, kiosks, and other posted details and facts about the Trail. Just hope, as you take enjoyment in viewing the many landscape shots, that you aren’t annoyed by those that are purely informational in nature. There is a reason, actually a couple. First, parents use my website for homeschooling purposes. Also, my grand niece, Grace, grand nephew, Isaac, and Dwinda’s great grandson, Blaine, can learn much about our early history by reading them. So, there they are!
Quarter to twelve I’m in Soda Springs. Thankful for this short day. With no shade, little breeze, the Tarmac really started cooking around eleven. Trail Motel, how’s that for a place to stop? Andy’s the owner. Cash is king here—great Hiker Trash deal!
Less than eight miles today, but my energy is down. Can use the rest. I’ll see the springs tomorrow.
Travelled about 22 miles along the bank of the Bear River and are encamped at Soda Springs. This is indeed a curiosity. The water tastes like soda water, especially artificially prepared. The water is bubbling and foaming like boiling water.”
[Sarah White Smith, July 24, 1838]
Thursday—July 10, 2014
Location—US-30 west of (on) Hudspeth Cutoff, then on to Lava Hot Springs
Rain had been forecast for yesterday afternoon, 30% chance. Late evening a fair storm passed through, bringing the least wind, yet was there 20 minutes of steady rain. Happy to have been in and out of it. Dry me, dry gear!
Got on the internet last night and studied Soda Springs, Trail related topics. Three places I want to see: Father De Smet’s Memorial, Geyser Park, and the Trail ruts that cross the Oregon Trail Golf Course.
But first things first. Hey, to my delight, do I discover a fine little mom-n-pop cafe right in the old downtown. Can’t pass this up. In I go! Kind greetings by all. Coffee’s in front of me soon as I sit. Full breakfast, including eggs with laces. Oh yes, this is a hoot—here comes the cook! I explain eggs with laces. “That’s easy.” she says. It is—and they’re perfect.
I’m soon participating in the conversation—locals at the table across. The usual questions. And as I give the short version of this odyssey, come the typical expressions of doubt and disbelief. I then mention the amazing kindness that’s been filling my cup to overflowing every day—that I’d been befriended recently by Art and Nita. Ha, they all know Art and Juanita!
I manage to get through less than half what’s on my plate(s). What a meal. I’m full. Waitress brings a to-go-box, and now it’s full. And when I go to pay, “You don’t owe anything, your breakfast’s taken care of.” Aw, here’s the blubbering old man again; I try to control my feelings, my emotions—but I simply can’t.
Geyser Park is a quite remarkable place. And Father De Smet’s Memorial, just a special spot.
I’ve been able to find the post office, and it’s open! My old tattered shirt, want to keep it. It’s been with me since Lewis and Clark! Time to retire it and mail it home, along with another spoon to add to my flatware collection. It’s ten-thirty before I’m finally headed out of Soda Springs.
The Oregon Trail Golf Course is on US-30 just west of Soda Springs. I’m sure glad I take time to visit. The pro shop is open, and Michael, Oregon Trail Pro, is in. When I explain what I’m about, and that I’d like to walk the old ruts, not a moment’s hesitation in giving me permission. He marks one of their scorecards, where the old Trail ruts can be seen, and walked. He then explains the layout, hands me the card, and I’m off to see where the Oregon Trail wagon trains crossed the Oregon Trail Golf Course. Oh, and my goodness, was Gregory Franzwa ever right: “This will be the most delightful walk of the Oregon Trail experience, so don’t miss it.”
Another historic Trail landmark along my trek today, Soda Point, known during the emigrant era as Sheep Rock. Actually, it’s not the least bit impressive. What it amounts to is, it’s simply the end of the continuous, uninterrupted ridge that has contained the Bear River for so long and for such a great distance. For here, just past Sheep Rock the Bear River turns abruptly south toward the Great Salt Lake, while the Trail turns north, leaving the Bear River and its beautiful valley behind.
At this juncture the Trail strikes out for the Portneuf River and Fort Hall. Also, from this very place, does the Hudspeth Cutoff head west toward present day Pocatello, bypassing Fort Hall. This is the route nearly all the “49ers” took—and it’s the route I’ll be following.
Don’t recall if I mentioned this or not: Planning for this odyssey, I studied, then deliberated long, over the route I should follow. Ultimately, I settled on the 1845 Trail, that set of black and white 8.5×11 maps painstakingly created in the mid 1980s by Gregory Franzwa. Following the lined Trail on each of his maps (I recall there were around 150 of them), I carefully transposed that 1845 Trail to my DeLorme 5.0 software. It was a time consuming and arduous process. Then, with the Trail finally laid out all the way from Independence to Oregon City, I went back and created my trek route—following the old Trail as closely as possible.
And why bore you with all of this now? Well, here at Sheep Rock, my route deviates significantly from the 1845 Trail. And the reason? Well I tried with all diligence to find a trek route that would have me pass through Fort Hall, then to continue on to the Snake River, but there just was none. There are roads that closely follow the old Trail toward Fort Hall, but ultimately I would have had to turn around and return to Lava Hot Springs. Franzwa stated as much: “One could go on to…the point where the Oregon Trail comes to the Portneuf River, but only in a boat. The emigrants arrived just a few yards down from the dam, and today the water covers the trail for a good many miles. One could also collect some buckshot souvenirs, as the area is posted…” And so, onward I trek, o’er the Hudspeth Cutoff!
Leaving the Bear River Valley, and just before I start climbing toward Fish Creek Summit, this van slows then turns onto the side road just up. Oh my, it’s Art, with two of his grand kids. Today they’re Ryley and David. I need water. Art sends David to fetch me water. Turns out, Art’s over this way on a job—which is right down the very road on which he’s just turned. Amazing coincidence (and timing) eh!
It’s a long, steady pull to the top of Fish Creek Summit. Then it’s down, down, and down some more, to the Portneuf River and the little oasis that is Lava Hot Springs. West of the village, and right on the Portneuf, the little mom-n-pop motel Art had told me about—Lava Ranch, run by Marie. When I mention to Marie that we’ve a very kind mutual friend (then show her Art’s card), best Hiker Trash room deal yet—free! Oh my, thanks, Art. Thanks, Marie!
Coincidence is the word we use when we can’t see the levers and the pulleys.
Friday—July 11, 2014
Location—McCammon, then on to Inkom
Good fishing on the Portneuf, I hear, especially by Lava Hot Springs. Long before the modern day touristy attraction, fishing was the draw, and Lava Ranch Inn Motel and Camp was the place to stay—and to fish (it’s right on the river). So, where I stayed last, an old fishing camp. Oh, and doesn’t this old fisherman truly love these quaint old places; thanks, Marie, for your generosity and kindness, for a fine stay—and for the memories!
From Lava Hot Springs, it’s around 30 miles to Pocatello. A third of the way is the little village of McCammon, and another third, Inkom. I like the twenty-plus-mile days where a split can be worked in. And that’s the plan for today. Hike awhile, then stop for lunch ten miles out at the mom-n-pop, the Little Rock Cafe in McCammon. And at twenty miles out, supper at the Sinclair Deli in Inkom—before pitching for the night a bit further west.
So, along the Hudspeth Cutoff, and down the Portneuf I go. Plan’s working great. I’m in McCammon before one. Busy place, the Little Rock. I’m no sooner in, looking for a place to sit, than this fellow approaches. “Passed you out there on the highway. What are you doing; where you headed?” Kind (and curious) fellow Dave. He gets the short version as I find a table and drop my pack. As I hand him my card, then sit, Dave offers to buy my lunch. “What an interesting story; order whatever you want, I’ll pay for your lunch.” says Dave.
Well folks, you’d think I’d have become the least jaded by now—this kindness and generosity so frequently extended, but I haven’t, nor will I ever. There are things you can easily get used to, things you can take for granted—but human kindness isn’t one of them. I order the special, fish sandwich and fries, plus a cup of soup. Thanks so much, Dave! Oh my, and the waitress won’t let me pay for the ice cream I order later, nor will she accept my tip. An amazing visit to McCammon, and the Little Rock Cafe!
I’m off US-30 now as I trek from McCammon to Inkom. It’s an old state road with no shoulder. But there’s very little traffic, so I walk the traffic side of the white line, stepping to the gravel, time-to-time, when vehicles approach.
This little valley, the Portneuf, supports some agricultural activity, smaller fields, some cattle. An interesting volcanic shelf of pitch black lava rock occupies a good bit of the valley floor. In the tight canyon sections there’s hardly room for the river, the railroad, and this old highway. And at Inkom I pick up the interstate. It’ll be interesting to see how all these squeeze along tomorrow.
By six I’m at the Sinclair (say deli) in Inkom. Hey, a hot, fresh batch of fried chicken just out. Hot chicken, yes, some tater tots, and bottomless fountain Sprite, all polished off with a couple more scoops of ice cream—six bucks, the works. My goodness folks, how ‘bout when a plan comes together!
I’m watered-up, and pack up, with an hour of daylight remaining. Plenty of time to get on down the valley and back in the country. And here’s a secluded flat spot in the roadside brush; that’ll work. I’m in…
Stampeding 49’ers would try anything to save miles and time in their rush for California gold: The regular Oregon and California trails looped north of here to Fort Hall, but on July 19, 1849 Benoni M. Hudspeth led a party west from Soda Springs through rough country hoping for a more direct route through a gap 1.4 miles south of here. This immediately became the main road…
[Idaho Historical Society]
Saturday—July 12, 2014
Trains grinding below, semis jake-braking above, no problem, used to both. I rested and slept well. Still needed my down bag early morning, though.
Just as I figured, tight squeeze, the river, the railroad, the interstate, the lava rock shelf, and this old highway. Yet, folks have found room here in the valley for their (gentlemen’s) horse ranches. Some really magnificent horses!
My GPS indicates eight miles to my waypoint set in downtown Pocatello. I’m out and trekking before nine, so I should hit Pocatello around noon. And noon it is as I enter the Pocatello Visitor Center. Gotta shoot my mouth off to Frances, center volunteer, about my Oregon Trail Trek. She shows genuine interest, then asks my age. “Got you by two years.” smiles Frances. “Did a transcontinental bicycle trip from St. Augustine to San Francisco when I was 66.” even bigger smile. Now I’m showing genuine interest. Frances confirms what others have told me, the Thunderbird Motel, across from the Idaho State University, probably my best bet for a reasonably priced room. “About a mile on in, this side.” she says.
I’m soon at the Thunderbird. Kind greetings from Kay, plus kindness to this tired old trekker—a fine Hiker Trash deal.
In my room now, relaxing, my feet up, I do an internet search for Oregon Trail, Pocatello. I had vaguely remembered there was an important historical Trail landmark here. Well, it’s a replica, not the real thing, and not in the right place. But it’s full-size—an accurate reproduction of old Fort Hall.
Dang, I passed near it on the way in, not far from the Visitor Center. Instead of yakking to Frances about my journey, I should have been asking about Trail related landmarks here in Pocatello. And double dang, it’s now after five, the fort closes at six and it isn’t open on Sunday (tomorrow’s Sunday). So, so much for Fort Hall. Sorry folks, no pictures, no videos, no nothing—for Fort Hall.
And so, being unable to hike the old Trail of 1845 up to Fort Hall (detouring instead o’er the Hudspeth Cutoff of 1849), not seeing the old fort site, and now also missing the replica Fort—really bad planning; a true bummer.
Why a Replica of Old Fort Hall
Pocatello and Southeast Idaho have a story to tell. It is a story of one of the most thrilling periods of American history, when a young nation full of adventure and wanting new lands began the trek Westward, first in trickles, then in swarms, growing into the greatest [voluntary] migration that any nation had known. A story of the hardships and heroism, the sadness and the happiness, the anguish and success, the weak and the strong, a story of the will and determination to overcome all obstacles and conquer a vast wilderness. It is a story of the days of the Old Oregon Trail.
The major factor in determining that the Oregon Trail came through this territory and also the main reason for maintaining it from its start to its crest and on to its ebb, was the small outpost on the banks of the Snake River, Fort Hall. Built in 1834 as a trading post by Nathaniel, Wyeth, it was to prove to be of benefit [for the] expansion of the nation. Allowed to wither and decay, with the last of its timbers hauled away in 1863 to help build a stage station, it is now but a memory. But this memory should be prodded anew into life and its story told. Each individual, whether his or her lot, owes homage or respect to an ancestor or forbearer. People feel a bondage that ties them to ancestry. Collectively, groups who feel that they are proud of the heritage that has been given to them, strive to show their appreciation. So it is up to us, who are reaping the benefits of some of the most dedicated, sincere and hardworking people who pioneered the Northwest, to retell their story and provide a monument to their memory.
[Idaho Historical Society]
Sunday—July 13, 2014
Location—Sundance Road near Exit 44 I-86, then on to American Falls
Been lucking out lately—rooms have had tubs, not just shower stalls. A good hot soaking, what a benefit when trying to rejuvenate my tired, creaking old bones, especially after a long, hot day on the Tarmac (say grinder). Get old someday. Yeah, go ahead, do that. Then you’ll understand! Thanks, Kay, a fine night’s stay at the Thunderbird. Oh, and the tub of hot water got my worn-beyond-tolerance jitney working just fine again!
Eight-thirty and I’m pack shouldered and out the door. Five blocks up, time for breakfast. Elmer’s; couldn’t find a better mom-n-pop cafe. Even the name’s right. Busy place. These places are always busy. Folks know! Coffee’s right in front of me, and my order goes right in—the usual, including eggs up with laces. Waitress jots it down, doesn’t blink. Comes my breakfast right away. It’s perfect, including the eggs!
Another glorious, cloud-free day coming at me. I’ll sure take it. Gonna be a hot one though, temperatures up in the high 90s, but that’s fine too. Many, many blessings showered on this old man. That I’m still able to tolerate the heat, that’s sure one of them. Just have to stay hydrated. I almost never drink enough water. Not good. But my muscles never cramp. They just keep my legs and arms doing their thing. Oh my yes, a blessing!
Out of Pocatello, I cross the Portneuf River for the final time—to enter the Snake River Valley. I’m also nearing the end of the Hudspeth Cutoff as it closes on the path of Franzwa’s 1845 Oregon Trail route coming down from Fort Hall.
For a fair time today, the road I’m trekking is on the Fort Hall (Shoshone and Bannock) Indian Reservation. In fact, much of the Trail, leading to and departing Fort Hall (then to become submerged beneath the waters of American Falls Reservoir) is on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. The Fort Hall Tribes have never been all that keen concerning the Trail. Understandable enough if you’ve studied the history. Their part, the way it all finally played out—not so great an ending. Also understandable, the reason why the replica of Fort Hall doesn’t stand on Reservation land! Ah, and enough about Fort Hall.
Another split today. Ten miles out at the Arbon Crossing exit (I’m trekking the frontage road right next) there’s a Sinclair Station, complete with deli. More fried chicken and tater tots, plus my gotta-have fountain Sprite (all I can drink for a quarter). They’ve a picnic bench outside. And hey, what’s this, it’s in the shade! Dave (who’s been trying to hitch a ride out of here for the last two days) invites me to join him at the table. He’s trying to get to Twin Falls. Has a huge backpack. Actually, he has two. Keeps his DVD player in the smaller one. “I really like watching a movie, especially if I’m stuck under an overpass somewhere.” Big happy-face, Dave’s face! I sit awhile with Dave, as I work on downing my chicken and tots. One more trip back in to hit the fountain for another pint of Sprite, then to fill my water bottles, and I’m good to go. As I shoulder my pack, fellow comes from the pumps, on his way to pay. “You wouldn’t be going to Twin Falls by any chance?” asks Dave. All he gets is a negative nod. “Sure hope you get a ride to Twin Falls someday, Dave.” I give him a positive nod, harness up my sticks—and go.
I’d planned on pulling up short of American Falls, somewhere along this frontage road. But as I get closer in, not a stealth spot to be found anywhere, just houses and potato fields. It’s still over an hour till sunset, and my GPS waypoint set for American Falls reads 2.9 miles. The road goes ever on and on, so I go on—past more potato patches (and folks mowing their yards), headed for American Falls.
Ah, and just before sunset, at the east exit to American Falls, to my delight I find the dilapidated old Hillview Motel. Hiker Trash cash talks loud and clear here. I’m in—and what do you know; my room’s equipped with a tub!
The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow it if I can…”
[J. R. R. Tolkien]
Monday—July 14, 2014
Location—Dry Hollow south of Massacre Rocks State Park
My stay last, not the neatest or cleanest ever, but the bed was comfortable and the place was quiet.
There’s a mom-n-pop cafe downtown, and I head right there. Great coffee; a fine breakfast. Folks next booth over, they greet me. They’re locals. I ask them right away about services on up the road, next few days. Lady looks at my maps (a bunch of them). Let me see the next one, the next one, the next one. “From American Falls to Declo, there’s nothing along your route or the interstate. There’s a gas station in Declo, that’s it between here and Burley.” says the lady, husband nods. I add up the miles, over sixty—three days, two nights, looks of it. I sit and ponder, and down more coffee. Folks come and go. When I ask the waitress for my check, “Your breakfast is paid for.” she says. Oh my, thanks, kind souls!
A trip to Family Dollar is in order, food for three days. A heavy pack and a heavy heart as I depart American Falls.
Trail landmarks this day will be American Falls, Eagle Rock, Massacre Rocks (five different skirmishes with the Shoshone), Devil’s Gate, and Register Rock.
A dam has been built right across the top of American Falls. So, other than concrete, steel, and huge transmission lines, not much to see anymore at American Falls. I do visit the park on the river below. A few huge boulders to photograph, that’s about it.
My route today, and for the better part of my hike on up to Burley, follows frontage/service roads beside I-86. Some fine views of Snake River by Eagle Rock. At the end of Eagle Rock Road, a dead end, I climb the fence, go to the interstate, and hike the westbound emergency lane a short distance to the rest area. From the rest area, there’s a paved path that leads to Massacre Rocks State Park. A fine interpretive center here where I learn about this tragic part of Trail history. The lady at the visitor center points out Devil’s Gate. I can see it through the window and compare the present day gate to the one pictured on the wall right next the window, when it was only wide enough for a single wagon to pass. I-86 goes through the gate today!
It’s late afternoon, dodging an angry thunderstorm, I arrive Register Rock. a very fine little glen, complete with huge boulders. The main “register” has been protected behind a chain link fence, under a fine pavilion. Some very old pioneer dates and names.
Late evening, passing an old house right next the road, (and down to my last few ounces of water), I turn in. Kind folks greet me and give me water for the night.
On down, past Dry Hollow (appropriately named) some tall sagebrush. This is home.
A long, hard and tiring day rationing water. The heavy pack, hard to lug the additional weight with my bum shoulder. And early afternoon the wind finally caught me again. Oh yes, straight out of the west, 20-per, gusting to 35. Just a tough go.
The Oregon Trail here essentially is in the middle of the interstate. The emigrants for the most part followed right where highway 30 was and then when the interstate went through the interstate just simply took out more of the Devil’s Gate. The Devil’s Gate or the Gate of Death is still there. It’s just slightly larger than it was during the Oregon Trail era. When the Oregon Trail was going that gap through the rock was only wide enough for one wagon to go through. Even though no attacks of emigrants happened there to the emigrant’s point of view whenever they had to go through a very narrow gap of rocks or through trees or a canyon they were always concerned about being attacked. The actual Indian skirmishes that happened in 1862 happened further east of what people termed the Massacre Rocks even though that name never came about until much later.
The attacks that took place on August 9th and 10th of 1862 occurred along the trail east of the rocks. They claimed the lives of ten emigrants and involved a total of four different wagon trains.
[Kevin Lynott, Ranger, Massacre Rocks State Park]
Tuesday—July 15, 2014
Location—Raft River at Heglar Canyon, then on to near Declo
I enjoyed a long, contented-sleep night, a much needed rest.
I’m back on the road at 8:45 with an urgency to keep at it today, as I want to be in easy striking distance of Burley by this evening—for the trek on in tomorrow, a 24 should do it.
I’m short on water again. Been sipping on what the fellows gave me last evening, but I’m down to ten ounces again. Something will turn up, I trust, an irrigation ditch, a passers-by will stop, something. And what does materialize—no way to have ever guessed. I’ve a climb just ahead, up and over rather than around. Nearing the top, I can see Old Glory waving, and cresting the hill there’s a building with vehicles parked around, including eighteen-wheelers. Hey, it’s an interstate rest area! And the frontage road goes right behind, the fence long ago torn down. I just walk right over. It’s no further than 50 yards. Outside, pop machines. Inside, running water! Well now, never figured on a Sprite fix, but looks like it’s time. I linger, down two, make a couple phone calls, then top off for the road ahead. Is this not amazing!
From the ridge, the road descends back to the valley, the Raft River Valley. Here, I turn to follow the valley south to the Oregon Trail crossing. Nearby is a very historic junction, a turning point—where the 49ers (who reached the end of the Hudspeth Cutoff here) left the main trail to head southwest toward the gold fields of California.
Nearing the Raft River crossing, this pickup stops. I meet Jose. He works at Hegler Creek Farms just up the road and he invites me to stop in. It’s a major operation with a fine business office. Jose sees me coming, opens the door, and welcomes me in. Here I meet Mark, one of the owners, his son, Josh, and secretary, Kim. Mark invites me to sit as Josh goes to the freezer, then the microwave, to prepare a hot meal for me. Oh my, and their refrigerator is filled with Gatorade! Lots of questions; all show genuine interest in my Oregon Trail trek. They’re well up to speed concerning the old Trail (it runs a fair distance across their land). They know where the Trail passed, and have located emigrant graves, one, that of a woman who was wounded but survived a skirmish with the Shoshone, but later died from her injuries here, on what is now Hegler Creek Farms. As I prepare to depart, Mark opens the freezer (hey, ice cream snacks) and urges me to help myself. Thanks Mark, Josh, Kim, and thanks, especially to you Jose, for inviting me to stop by—a grand time.
Just past the river, which is bone dry, I flush a fine covey of quail, the first I’ve seen since way back in Nebraska.
Traffic on this road is very light, yet I’m befriended by a number of motorists who stop to check on me. One of them, Dan, shows obvious concern. He offers me a ride, then gives me water. I assure him I’ll be okay.
Late afternoon, I pass a yard where a young fellow is working on his ATV. I pull up and cross over. Asking for water, I meet Levi. He invites me into his place, offers to prepare food for me. I thank him kindly and settle for a water top-off.
Late evening now, I’m looking for a place in the sagebrush to pitch for the night. Yet another vehicle slows and stops. I could sure use some extra water. Just can’t carry enough. I meet Victor. Victor has no water. “I work at the farm. I’ll go get some water for you.” Before I can say another word, he’s off to the farm to get water for me. Don’t know how far away the farm is, but Victor is gone a good 45-minutes. When he returns his passenger-side seat is filled with bottles of water. I take two. With the full bottle on my hip belt, I’ve now three, plenty for the night. Thanks, Victor!
Another three miles, still no decent place along, and the desert both sides is posted. I finally conceal myself in the sagebrush on the road ROW.
I am very, very tired. Aw, and the wind. The wind came up first thing this morning, out of the west, sure! Fifteen per to start with, then 20. Then, by evening, 30, gusting to over 40. Just a grueling, grind-it-out day with the ruthless wind. Pretty sure I got the 24 done.
The river is named after a crossing of the Oregon Trail where pioneers built rafts out of whatever was available to aid in crossing the river. The river is presently dry for much of the year.
The Oregon Trail crossed the Raft River approximately 2 miles (3 km) south of Interstate 86. At the top of the bluff above Raft River the “Parting of the Ways” took place. The Oregon Trail continued west and the California Trail headed south. Graves of those who died from being mortally wounded at Massacre Rocks can be found in the same area along the river. The Clark Massacre of 1851 took place near the Raft River itself.
The Raft River also was a turning point for the Emigrants. They would see the Raft as a separating place.
Wednesday—July 16, 2014
The morning dawns cool, just the whisper of a breeze out of the east.
A relatively short day with a perfect split, seven miles to Declo and eight to Burley, a short 15 total. Burley by a bit after noon, okay!
I’ve water to spare this morning; thanks again, Victor!
By nine I’m in Declo. A Sinclair Station with deli, complete with booths and tables. This’ll work. Two breakfast sandwiches, and an iced down fountain drink. A fine stop!
Between Declo and Burley the Snake River comes back over to the highway. Beautiful waterfront homes all along. Dangerous, difficult going, though. Narrow road, heavy traffic, and no shoulder. Just shy of Burley this vehicle slows then pulls off ahead and stops. Lady gets out, iced down jug of water in one hand, kraft paper bag in the other. She crosses the busy highway to greet me. “I’ve food and water for you.” Sweet lady, Mary Ann. Can’t pass up the PBJ, and we top-off my water. “My husband stopped and offered you a ride yesterday. He became concerned for you.” says Mary Ann. I told her that I was offered rides by many kind Idaho folks yesterday, but that one gentleman expressed particular concern. “Fellow had a water jug just like yours; that was your husband, Dan, wasn’t it?” big smile from Mary Ann. “Yes, that was Dan. He told me about you and showed me your card. I was born and raised here [the little village of Unity] and have always been interested in the pioneers. The old trail was right over there.” Mary Ann points to the green irrigated field.
Folks, isn’t this just such a wonderful testimony to the kindness, the human kindness that exists all around us? Busy people, busy lives, yet do they have time—to care! Thanks, Mary Ann and Dan—just two of so many caring, God fearing people that touch our lives each and every day. Ears to hear; eyes to see—and an open heart to receive…
Short time I’m in Burley. A stop at the post office downtown, the mom-n-pop cafe next block up, then to the little motel on Main, and this day’s trek is done.
The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.
[Proverbs 20:12 KJV]
Thursday—July 17, 2014
Don’t know if it’s the chronic suffering caused by the dislocate shoulder, the seemingly countless long, lonely days on the road, the ruthless, haunting wind, or the ever-increasing heat—or perhaps, all four. However, what I do know, is: While on the long trail in the past, maintaining a positive, upbeat, and lighthearted disposition has been the least challenge. I simply love trekking the trails and byways. It’s become a way of life. It’s the wanderlust born deep down in me. But for some reason, this journey has proven to be both physically and mentally challenging, more-so than any other lengthy odyssey, ever.
For sure, I’ve ended more and more days recently, mentally weary and bone-tired physically. So, decision is to just back off a bit, slow down, and not make a chore out of what has, and what should remain, pure joy.
I’ll spend this day resting here in Burley, sort my bounce box, write journal entries, do needed correspondence—and just keep my feet up and rest.
A life akin to the mist on the wind,
This, the wanderlust’s way.
He’ll roam about to his heart’s delight,
A calling he must obey.
[N. Nomad – Mist on the Wind – 5/98]
Friday—July 18, 2014
Location—Milner Ruts Historic Recreation Area, then on to Murtaugh
I’m up early (six is early for me). I head right back to Charlie’s where I had a fine supper last. And a fine breakfast this morning, biscuits and gravy with two eggs up, laces and all right on top. And more coffee.
Returning to the motel this pickup pulls to the curb and stops. Oh my, it’s Josh from Hegler Creek Farms, three hiking days back. He’s glad to see me again and wishes me well for the remainder of my journey.
Burley, a fine trail town, with a mom-n-pop motel and cafe, and the post office is no more than ten minutes away. Another day’s stay just to rest was a smart idea. Today, I’m ready to go again.
Well, I’ve two sevens behind me now, one to go. It’s 2100 miles from Independence to Oregon City, and fourteen hundred (two-thirds) of it is now done—seven hundred remain.
I’ve been looking forward to hiking a few miles in the old Trail ruts in Milner, but when I get to where the Trail should cross the gravel road, all I see is a field of barley ready for harvest. I was expecting over three miles of ruts, but they’re not here. The Milner Historic Site, which I passed nearly two miles back, has a nice pavilion with interpretive signs. And there’s a single track trail leading from it. The walking trail apparently follows a rut, but I couldn’t tell. I’ve hiked a couple hours out of my way just to come to Milner. A disappointment.
Back down to US-30, I’m faced with narrow pavement, no shoulder, plus steady, heavy commercial traffic (eighteen wheelers).
By six-thirty, I’m at the little grocery store in Murtaugh. I figured they’d be closed, but hey, they’re open till eight. Kind cashier, Mary, gives me a large styro cup filled with ice—to cool down my liter of Sprite. Joe and Lucky, fellows working the scales in Milner gave me some water earlier, but I’d downed all but an ounce or two of that hours ago. Another very hot day on the Tarmac, and I’m quite dehydrated. So yes, a full liter of Sprite!
I’d planned to find water then stealth camp a few miles east of Murtaugh, but had no luck with either. The Mormon Church is right next the store , and I ask Mary if she knows and might contact one of the church elders to see if I might get permission to pitch for the night. Two fellows standing next the checkout counter. “Chancey!” says Mary, “Would you call your brother and see if Sunny can camp for the night behind the church?” Well, Chancey is Elder Perkins, and the Bishop is also a Perkins. Yup, Chancey’s brother is the Bishop.
I pitch behind the Murtaugh Mormon Church…
Across this sagebrush flat, tucked close to the placid waters of the Snake River, where two-track trails weave, are the last visible signs of a distinctly American saga.
No doubt the pioneers drew water at this site, stayed the night, listened to a fiddle or jew’s harp by campfire light…
Saturday—July 19, 2014
Location—Hansen, then on to Twin Falls
A manicured lawn under the trees behind the church. A very quiet, peaceful spot to spend the night. I slept well. Thanks Mary, Elder Perkins, Bishop Perkins!
Another fine day in the making. I’m on the road toward Kimberly at sunrise. The days have been hot and very hazy recently. Here comes another one, looks of it.
A short, perfect split day. Only twenty to reach Twin Falls, with the little village (and another fine mom-n-pop cafe) about half-way, Kimberly. I’m there, mug of coffee and full breakfast setting before me by ten.
A bit wider shoulders on US-30 now and not as heavy traffic. I’m in Twin Falls by two, an old motel right near downtown.
Three historic sites along today, but out of the way, the Striker stage stop, Shoshone and Twin Falls. The old stop is six miles out of my way to the south, the falls, five miles to the north. I would like to have seen the falls, but I’m told that with the Snake being almost totally diverted for irrigation this time of year, little water is left to go over the falls. Emigrants commented in their journals and diaries that the mighty falls of the Snake could be heard roaring a good three miles away.
A fine burger and fries at the sports bar across, and another liter of sprite from the jiffy a block down, and I’m back to my room for the day. A full tub of hot water, soothing relief for my tired, old bones.
Another hiking segment just ahead of me, over 100 miles, from Salmon Falls, through Three Island Crossing, to near Boise. With the experience I’ve had with the long hiking segments behind, I’m leery of this one just ahead. And I’ve been told it’s very rugged country. So, I spend a good bit of time on the phone with Jerry, Western Idaho Oregon Trail representative. He’s prepared a Backcountry Byway Guide for the segment west of Three Island Crossing. Much needed and helpful Trail information; thanks, Jerry.
After leaving the Salmon Falls, we traveled down near the River, our path frequently leading us along the sides of almost perpendicular bluffs. Twenty-seven miles below the Salmon Falls we came to the crossing [Three Island] where the companies which preceded us had passed over to the North side, which is much the nearer and best way, but we, having attempted the crossing and finding it too deep, we’re obliged to continue down on the South. This is, perhaps, the most rugged, desert and dreary country, between the Western borders of the United States and the shores of the Pacific. It is nothing less than wild, rocky barren wilderness, of wrecked and ruined Nature, a vast field of volcanic desolation.
[Overton Johnson and William H. Winter – Applegate Party 1843]
Sunday—July 20, 2014
Location—Filer, then on to Buhl
Now that I’ve my maps for this next section (from my bounce box in Burley) there’s been the need to get details fine tuned. Starting tomorrow afternoon I’ll leave the highway (and civilization, pretty much) for the next seven days as I work my way along the old Trail ruts through another no-man’s land—described by Gregory Franzwa as the North Trail Hiking Segment. It runs from near Salmon Falls to Bonneville Point south of Boise, a distance of around 100 miles. So, I was on the phone with Jerry, Western Idaho OCTA Trail Coordinator, for a half-hour last evening learning about the Hiking Segment, what to expect, where I might find water, lots of other details. Very late finishing my daily journal entry, and getting to bed.
I stayed, last, on the east side of Twin Falls, so it takes me well over an hour to get on through town this morning—much of which is spent at the neatest old bar and grill downtown getting past a huge four-egg and cheese omelet.
The day starts out overcast and stays that way, offering a much cooler go at it. I reach the little village of Filer in good order around noon, a bit shy of halfway for this hiking day. Not near the heat, especially bouncing back up at me from the asphalt, but I’m still getting dehydrated, so I stop at the cafe in Filer for a fountain fix.
The cloud cover stays through the afternoon, and I arrive Buel thankful for it. Another fine little mom-n-pop motel in Buel (with tub). And the drive-in is right across the street. Need the room and the light to finish details on my hike for the next week. I’m on the phone with Jerry again, for nearly an hour. A short, not so tiring day, but no lack of things to do.
Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune.
Monday—July 21, 2014
Location—Salmon Falls – Snake River, then on to the end of Bell Rapids Road
Every time I’m sure I’ve found the finest of the fine trail towns I’ve got to hit reset. Buhl is it for sure now!
Steve and Patti at Siesta Motel, friendly and most kind. Steve takes me to the copy place downtown to have a copy of Jerry’s Backcountry Byway Guide made—then insists on paying for it. And the post office and library are right downtown.
I’m figuring two nights camped in the sagebrush between Buhl and Glenn’s Ferry, so a stop by Don’s Fairway is in order. Lunch meat, burger buns, cheese, and some hard candy (forget anything with chocolate, even M&Ms, it’d be dripping out the bottom of my pack).
A fine mom-n-pop cafe on the west end for breakfast and I’m heading north toward Salmon Falls.
Not far along, these old buildings catch my eye, including a sod cabin. I venture over, to meet Luke. “Go around back.” says Luke, “The original homestead cabin is still standing. So far we’ve managed to save what’s left of it.” Some interesting photos!
In the afternoon I meet Mariah (not the wind). A car stops across and a young lady jumps out and crosses the busy highway smiling and waving to me. I don’t recognize her and am sure I don’t know her. Closer approaching, she greets me, “I’m Mariah, you need a ride?” Then, just a short time later, this old car pulls to the shoulder just ahead. It’s George and Mary from Texas. They’re driving a gorgeous ‘32 Model A with a 289 “transplant.”
Afternoon now, I make the turn at Snake River, from US-30 onto Bell Rapids Rd. In short order begins the climb up to the “Tablelands.” Also, in short order, pretty much everything to do with civilization ends. As I continue climbing, nothing above but the stark, brown table, and the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument.
I should have taken on water way down below. And I should have known there’d be no more dwellings after the power poles disappeared. There’s been only one vehicle pass in the last 40 minutes, and in less than ten minutes that same vehicle passes again, headed back down.
I become anxious concerning my lack of adequate water. Another long while, a pickup finally comes off the table. As it passes, I hold up my water bottle and point to it. The truck slows, then stops. I meet Robin. She works up on top and is headed home for the day. Robin has water and provides me with plenty. I tell her about my journey. Come to find, there are a few scattered ranches up above, with people living there. One, Paul, is a friend of Robin’s. She gives him a call and relays my story to him. A few minutes later, “Paul is home. You’re welcome to pitch in his yard. He has water. He also has a spare bedroom and what’s left of a barbeque chicken.” questioning expression from Robin. “Tell Paul I accept his hospitality!” my reply before she can ask further. A good, firm “energy” hug from Robin, and on down the mountain she goes. And I was just hoping for a little water!
Ten minutes, and as I continue to climb, comes another pickup cruising off the table. It’s Paul. He’s headed to town for a few things. He gives me directions. Hey, right on my planned route. “I’ll probably be back before you reach my place.” and on down the mountain goes Paul.
Just above is the Upper Salmon Falls/Oregon Trail Overlook. It’s little more than a turnout, but has descriptive signs and a fine trail to a point where ruts made by thousands of ascending wagons can be seen. I hike the trail a short distance and take some pictures.
In awhile I’m on the flats, the Tablelands, and again comes Paul, back from the store. He slows only long enough to greet me. “Got Gatorade!” big grin from Paul, as he continues on.
I’ve less than a mile now to his place. The power poles have returned, up from another direction, apparently. In moments, down the road comes Paul and his dogs to welcome me.
Evening now, my room set, time for a soothing shower, supper, then much discussion about the Tablelands, the Trail, and how I’ll be crossing the vastness—to reach Three Island Crossing and Glenns Ferry.
Way out west, they got a name
For rain and wind and fire
The rain is Tess, the fire’s Joe and
They call the wind Maria[h]
[Alan J. Lerner]
Tuesday—July 22, 2014
Location—North Trail Hiking Segment near Pilgrim Stage Station, then on to Three Island Crossing/Glenns Ferry
A totally peaceful and quiet night’s sleep at Paul’s. Ah, and another odds-don’t-cut-it coincidence, eh folks—that Paul’s friend Robin came by just when she did yesterday evening. I waved my near-empty water bottle—and she stopped! Sure, just happenstance, right!
I’m up at five to work maps (including the hand-drawn one Paul made), plus data for my hike into no-man’s land today. A bit west of Paul’s, civilization (roads and power) end. Paul had urged me to trek west from his place, from there to follow the gravel roads marked on his hand-drawn map, rather than trying to pick my way across (and through) the maze of two-tracks shown on mine. He made a number of good points for me to consider—not the least of which—absence of water (folks, this is still desert). Jerry had told me about one fairly reliable spring located down a fair distance off the Tablelands. He’d mentioned reading emigrant diary and journal entries about stock so weak, that when they got down to the spring to drink, many died because they lacked the strength to climb back up. “The sure way to get from here to Glenns Ferry, and the way you should go is the gravel roads west from my place.” serious and concerned look on Paul’s face.
And so, decision time this morning—head north and take my chances, or go west on the gravel. Really not all that difficult a decision. Paul has been up in the maze of two-tracks, and he knows. I’ll heed your advice, Paul—head west from your place!
He’d told me that Robin drives a truck for Simplot Agri. They’re located right next his place. “All the truck drivers use the gravel road that goes west from here.” Over coffee this morning we review the maps one more time. What a great benefit; thanks, Paul, for taking me in, for providing me food and rest, and for sending me off in the right direction!
I can see the route Paul marked up, those roads on my map. A bit questionable on the extreme west end, but I think I’ve got it. There’s one more farm a couple of miles the other side of Paul’s, and that’s it. No power lines, no underground phone cables, no more buildings or fences, just open range/desert (and a hundred or more wind turbines).
On a rise, and reaching the high point, a panoramic view first seen by the pioneers, and now by me. The unsightly turbines standing the ridges around, the only evidence, the only difference from 150+ years ago—and now.
Early afternoon I hear this truck approaching from behind, it slows and stops. Hey, it’s Robin, making her run for the day. And she’s kindly thought to bring me water. Paul drove out with some Gatorade after I got started this morning, but that’s all but gone. It’s really starting to cook up here. The bit of breeze (out of the east—what!) is hot as a blast furnace.
Late afternoon now, Robin stops again on her way back with ice for me. What a treat!
Just before some farm houses in a large grove of trees (that I’ve been able to see on the horizon since early morning), my day started unraveling. Back a short distance, the gravel road crossed the Trail, somewhere around Deer Gulch. I could see a couple carsonite posts (I think they were Trail markers) way out. The Trail was closing on the road, so I should have seen posts closer in, especially at the road crossing. But there were none, and, although I had a waypoint set at the crossing, I could not find the Trail. I wanted to pick it up at that point and hike it on over to Three Island Crossing. But, as I said, the day was coming apart.
From then on things got worse. The road I’d looked to follow—guess I missed it. The gravel turned to pavement, and the road turned north. I needed to go west and descend off the Tablelands.
So, two hours ago I was within three miles of where I wanted to end up. Now I’m nearly five miles distant and the paved road still hasn’t turned to descend. Ah, but considering the situation experienced at the crossing—where would I be now had I tried following my route?
I finally arrive Glenns Ferry at eight, forlorn and totally exhausted after an eleven-hour day, after trekking not a single foot of old Trail ruts.
The vantage above Three Island Crossing, such a special place. It inspired so many who looked down at the wagon trains crossing the mighty Snake River, to write, to paint, to photograph that remarkable and memorable sight. But alas, it’s there and I’m…
I’m able to get a room in the little mom-n-pop motel across town, and close out this long, arduous, and disappointing day.
Some days are diamonds some days are stones.
Wednesday–July 23, 2014
Trekked in excess of 25 miles yesterday, no doubt. I cannot recall being so totally exhausted, not since my dirt bike racing days decades ago. Dehydration, the intense heat (and a bad attitude) loaded up on me long before reaching Glenns Ferry. Kind lady, barkeep at the pub downtown kept bringing me iced down glasses of water and Sprite. “Where are you going; what are you doing?” she finally asked. When I inquired as to where I might find a room for the night, big frown, “An equestrian function going on, the town’s full.” another frown. “I’ll make some calls, see what I can find.” kind of a smile now. I keep downing the water and Spite. In awhile, “You’re in luck. Lady at the motel on the hill is saving a room for you!” big smile now.
A burger and fries at the cafe next, then I headed up the hill–in the twilight. Kind inkeep, Lynn, took me in, Hiker Trash deal, sure–for two nights. Ever been so tired you couldn’t sleep? Regular aspirin works like a sedative for me. Took four to finally knock me out.
Only thing today, a much needed day of rest–Lynn’s son, Mike, is coming for me at noon, to drive me around and up to the Three Island Crossing Overlook. This good fortune makes up for much of the bad luck of yesterday.
Looking down on Three Island Crossing, everything I expected, and more. Thanks, Lynn; thanks, Mike. Made yesterday and today for me!
Jerry had told me about the great folks at the Fudge Factory downtown, Eric and Becky, trail devotees. I stop by to meet them–and am treated to lunch; thanks, Eric!
I nap on and off the rest of the day. I can feel my strength slowly returning. Should be good to go again tomorrow.
We crawsed Snake Rive[r].First we drove over a part of the river one hundred yards wide on to a island, the[n] over a northern branch 75 yards wide on a second island; then we tide a string of waggons together by a chane in the ring of the lead cattles yoak & made fast to the waggon of all a horse & before & him led. We carried as many a[s] fifteen waggons at one time. We had to go up stream. The water was ten inches up the waggeo[n] beds in the deepe plaices. It was 900 hundred yards acraws.
[William T. Newby, September 11, 1843]
Thursday—July 24, 2014
Location—Teapot Dome, then on to SR-20, Immigrant Road
Friendly folks at the mom-n-pop (truly a mom-n-pop), Rich and Lynn, owners and managers, and I met their children, Kim and Mike. A comfortable and relaxing stay, thanks to all.
Out of Glenns Ferry, I’ll be trekking the next number of days along a route known as the Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway. According to Jerry Eichhorst, author of the Backcountry Guide, “The main Oregon Trail from Three Island Crossing to Boise was the primary route utilized by the emigrants for the first 10 years of the trail…Thousands of emigrants crossed southwestern Idaho between 1843 and 1870 on their way to the Willamette River Valley in Oregon.” Well, I’m an emigrant, too, headed for the Willamette; I just fell behind a little.
I’ve not had to struggle with the wind the past number of days, but today, as I begin the steady climb up and out of the Snake River Valley, it’s back, with a vengeance. Just a gentle, variable breeze to begin with, then here it comes, steady out of the northwest at ten per. By ten it’s twenty per. And the remainder of the day it’s 25, gusting to 40. I’m up on the tablelands (mesa?) again now. Nothing up here taller than me—and the wind turbines. I’ve never seen so many of these contraptions anywhere before. They’re everywhere you look, 360, to the horizon, every one of them cranking, making their mournful growling and groaning noises. The wind, whipping as it is, has picked up the powdery desert dust and is hurling it, creating a eerie haze. Sure easy enough to understand why no one wants to live in this desolation.
The Trail stays this high ground to be closer to water. What little there is doesn’t flow far from its source before it totally dries up. So, every now and then there appears an oasis. They are magnificent and wonderful places to see. Trees, and green grass, and people!
One such place is Bennett Creek, home of Nick, Betty Ann, and their children, Haley and Josey. They’re home, and I’m invited in. Just a delightful time, we sit at their dining room table talking trail history, enjoying each other’s company.
Near Hot Springs (springs are gone) the North Alternate Oregon Trail rejoined the main trail. The emigrants crossed the Snake River at a number of different places, one of the furthest upstream crossings was near Hagerman. Water and grass for their stock was more plentiful north of the Snake—and so for the earlier crossing, the North Alternate.
One of the historical features along the trail today is a peak the emigrants named Tea Pot Dome. Picture time, as it does somewhat resemble a tea pot. And I’m trekking Tea Pot Dome Road.
I was given water by Nick and Betty Ann, but that’s nearly gone by the time I reach SR-20. Luckily, at the corner of Tea Pot Dome Road and SR-20 there are houses, and going to one, I’m given enough water for the night.
The wind has been relentless, and it’s really wore me down. By the time I’ve made the long, steady climb up SR-20 the sun is setting and I’m ready to call it a day. My camp is in a black-rock field near the beginning of Immigrant Road. A beautiful sunset.
We had a squally time ascending the bluffs [up from the Snake], which are severaly hundred feet high. We passed from a hill to the side of a bluff, upon a high narrow ridge of just sufficient width upon the top for the wagon road…Just as the wagons were upon this gale of wind…struck us, and blew with such violence directly across the track that it seemed as if the wagons, teams and all would be blown away.
[James Field, 1845]
Friday—July 25, 2014
Location—North Trail Hiking Segment by The Roost, then on beyond Mayfield, Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway
The wind tugged at my tent fly, flapping it the entire night. Early morning turned very cool; happy for my down bag.
Another oasis today, Canyon Creek, location of Canyon Creek Station. If you would close your eyes and imagine the perfect desert oasis, the image formed in your mind would appear as Canyon Creek.
Jerry had told me about Canyon Creek and the folks who live here. As the road reaches the canyon edge, revealing the lush, green, protected cove below, I simply stop and gape in awe. I can see their homes from above and hasten down to cross the bridge and meet them. Stan is not home, but I meet his daughter, Anita. She comes down her drive to greet me, “Are you Sunny?” She invites me to her covered patio where we share the most pleasant time.
Anita has a beautiful new home where she delights in gardening. Not exaggerating—pictured, the grounds around could easily appear on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens. In this beautiful setting I rest while Anita prepares breakfast for me. Before departing I recite How the West was Won. Just a delightful time at Oasis Canyon Creek!
Late afternoon now, the water provided by Anita all but gone, two fellows appear from nowhere in a pickup and hand me cold water.
Evening now—it’s been an incredibly hot day in the desert as I reach the ghost town of Mayfield, another stage stop during the trail era. One inhabited dwelling yet exists, an old trailer. The yard is fenced, the barbwire gate padlocked with chain, no trespassing signs all along the front, the biggest reading “VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED.” I’m thirsty. I don’t care. I wrestle the wire loop off the post and get the gate open enough to squeeze through. On the old rickety porch now, I hear classical music coming from inside the trailer. With considerable hesitancy, I knock. There’s stirring inside, but the door remains closed. Momentarily (what seems an eternity) comes a woman’s shrill voice from the side window. “What do you want?” I simply reply, “Water!” a long pause, “See the sprinkler going? Go get your water, then put the sprinkler back just like it was.” her reply. I thank her, get water—and hurry back to the road as quickly as I can, thankful not to be arrested and prosecuted.
I hike a steady climb till sunset, then search and search for a small piece of ground not totally lumped up with cow-stomped, dry desert mud. I’ve seen five vehicles (both directions) all day, including the pickup from nowhere. I’m bone-weary tired. This desert heat is sapping. Nearly 100 miles of gravel roads are taking their toll on my poor old doggies.
I finally give up and pitch on the lumps. Ah, and sounds like I’ve problems? Seems the desert heat also affected the emigrants. Would hate to have been this poor guy:
…layed by this morning one company moved on except one family the woman got mad and would not budge nor let the children he had his cattle hitched on for 3 hours and coaxing her to go but she would not stur I told my husband the circumstance and him and Adam Polk and Mr Kimble went and took each one a young one and crammed them in the wagon and her husband drove off and left her siting she got up took the back track travled out of sight cut a cross overtook her husband meantime he sent his boy back to camp after a horse that he had left and when she came up her husband says did you meet John yes was the reply and I picked up a stone and nocked out his brains her husband went back to asertain the truth and while he was gone she set one of his waggons on fire which was loaded with store goods the cover burnt off and some valueable artickles he saw the flame and came runing and put it out and then mustered spunk enough to give her a good floging…
[Elizabeth Dixon Smith, September 1847]
Note: John, was not hurt.
Saturday—July 26, 2014
Location—Past the Roost on the Main Oregon Trail Back Country Byway, then on to Boise
No, I didn’t hike 46.1 miles today, nor did I take a ride (no one out here to give me a ride). To put this very long section of desert in my rearview I’ve hiked a number of very long-hour days, and have covered some miles. I haven’t kept daily track (just went by the itinerary clicks) but there have been a number in excess of 25. Times (as I’m well toward another itinerary location), I’ll get to take two clicks, and that’s how the 46.1 came about today.
A memorable sunrise this morning. One thing the desert’s got going for it—spectacular sunrises and sunsets. I’m pack up and hauling well before seven as I’m determined to reach Boise today. Lots more ups and downs while the road weaves its way. The old trail is often right next the road, the ruts and swales easy to spot. The BLM has done a fine job of marking the trail with their Oregon Trail concrete posts.
Wildlife? Not much to be found out here. I’ve seen one deer, a few jackrabbits, and two covey of quail; that’s about it.
At Blacks Creek the road changes name, from Mayfield Road to Blacks Creek Road, and turns to pavement. What a blessing not having to churn the gravel for a change. The asphalt is short-lived, though, for as I turn to climb to Bonneville Point, the road goes back to gravel.
And Bonneville point? A very historic place, a spectacular overlook down and into the lush and fertile Boise River Valley. It was, in May, 1833, that the B. L. E. Bonneville party first sighted the river from here: “Les bois, les bois, voyes les bois!” The woods, the woods, see the woods!
From Bonneville Point the old trail makes a steady drop to the valley floor. Here, I get to hike the ruts the entire way. Well, actually, they’re 4WD ruts grooved over top the old wagon ruts!
By one I’m in Boise and looking for a place to stay as I trek toward downtown and the Idaho Capitol. First stop, McDonald’s, right on the corner! Along US-20 now, and all the way downtown, there’s not a single motel. What is this? I continue on to the Capitol, take pictures. On State, a fellow tells me I’ve got to go clear out to 28th to find a reasonably priced room. So, it’s out to 28th, to State Motel, one of the most run-down, overpriced places I’ve ever stayed (and that’s saying something). No tub, no WiFi, no ice, broke TV, broke AC. But no lack of one amenity—flies? My room is full of flies. If flies were marketable, this place would be worth a fortune…
Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to let, fifty cents
No phone, no pool, no pets
I ain’t got no cigarettes
[Roger Miller – King of the Road]
Sunday—July 27, 2014
Location—US-20/26 West of Boise, then on to near Caldwell, Milepost 30
Like I mentioned, no bathtub, no WiFi, no ice, AC busted, TV busted. However, there was no lack of flies—or outside racket all night. Went to sleep with the flies; wake up with the flies. Manager comes around at ten-thirty. Tell him, “I’m going; don’t need no reminder to leave.”
It’s a fair distance back down to Main Street (US-20/26). Along Main now, I’m hoping for a cafe, some breakfast and coffee—and a decent motel with a reasonably priced room. I want to rest one more day. Out of luck on both. But hey, want an instant title loan? Places all along. Ditto for (No Credit, No Problem!) car lots. Three miles, three motels. One, I’d rate it a three-and-one-half star at best, 145 bucks. The next, I try Hiker Trash cash, no deal—way overpriced. And the third? Sign reads, “$40.00 plus tax, single occupancy.” Hey, finally, this is my place—to rest another day, soak my weary old bones, and heal my badly bruised feet. Aw, but their lot is totally parked full, the “No Vacancy” sign brightly lit. They’re rented up—by the week. So, Westward-Ho! And on I go, toward Oregon City.
Anyway, leaving Boise turns to be pretty much the same as coming into Boise. Guess I might have known, should have expected in-the-clouds room prices. Boise is not only a college town (Idaho State), it’s also a government town (Idaho State Capital). Oh, and after passing all the five-star hotels downtown yesterday (didn’t check their rates—heart’s not strong enough for that shocker) I did pass by the Capitol for some pictures.
Another McDonald’s saves my day again today. There were two directly on my route yesterday. Guess, if I’d just accept McDonald’s as my mom-n-pop cafe from now on, everything would be fine!
The Oregon Trail is right beside US-20/26 for a fair distance this hiking day since both follow the Boise River. This is a remarkably beautiful valley, lush with trees, pastures and fields, all so shockingly green. Above the valley, more what I’m used to seeing—stark, brown desert. Glad to be here, in this fertile valley for a spell. Bet the emigrants were, too!
Another McDonalds way out absolutely makes my day. Fortunate for the inexpensive and nourishing food—and the great WiFi. Yup, I really “need” very little anymore. It no longer take much to keep this old trekker happy. And I’m just as happy to save the room cost. My little dink tent serves me just fine. I pitch for the night (after taking water from the faucet in front of a closed C-Store) in an old farm-tractor graveyard—check these pics out!
I’m just beyond Milepost 30, US-20/26. I’ll be trekking US-20 on into Oregon, so that means I’ve only 30 miles of Idaho remaining. Another state soon in my rearview.
Hard to believe this trek is three-fourths done. Feels like I’m way over three-fourths done!
A man there was, though some did count him mad.
The more he cast away the more he had.
Monday—July 28, 2014
Stealth camped in many and varied places over the years, but never in a tractor junkyard. Old rusty farm tractors from long ago, when Massey was Massey, Harris was Harris, and Ferguson was Ferguson—before there was Massey Harris, and long before Massey Ferguson. Quarter of a mile of these old relics all jumbled together, even an old steam engine. No problem with my grey tent blending in with the uniform rust brown.
A quiet night till just before dawn, then a steady grind of commuters bound for Boise. Gets me up and I get going. The highway is still tracking near the trail as both are by the River. At the I-84 interchange in Caldwell, a Denny’s. I splurge; great breakfast and lots of coffee. And there’s a mom-n-pop motel, the I-84 Motel. I get their last room with a tub.
…there’s a hand that stretches downward,
Makes my feet to walk again.
Tho my journey may be rugged,
He’ll be with me ‘til the end.”
[D. Sue Jones Horton]
Tuesday—July 29, 2014
Location—Parma- Old Fort Boise
Cranked the air and it cycled off and on all night. Up till now, the nights have cooled down nicely. When pitched in the boonies (sagebrush) that’s been of great benefit. Looks of it now, though, the desert heat is going to notch it up another click.
There’s a breeze this morning as I set out on another day’s adventure, but it’s already turning quite hot. This day’s gonna cook, I can just tell.
I’m out and hiking a frontage road (by I-84) that ends before the next exit. I’ve got to cross the interstate, but that’s another exit up, less than a mile. A couple of options: I can take to the grid, next road east, next road north, then next road back west to cross, or—I can jump the fence and hoof it on up the interstate to the next exit. Well yeah, over the fence; here we go! The shortcut works great and I’m past the interstate and back on US-20/26 again in no time, headed for Oregon. Ah, and the mileposts keep clicking by, 21, 20, 19, 18…I’ll be in Oregon tomorrow!
A nice split again today, the little village of Notus, about halfway. Need to stop at the post office, so I’m cruising along at three-per in order to get there before they close for lunch. Hey, how’s this, I’m in by quarter-to-twelve! Yup, the post office is closed; lunch here is from eleven to twelve. That’s fine, Mexican Restaurant, last corner back. Time for lunch—then the post office. Hey, they’re open now, during (most people’s) lunch.
Back on the highway to Parma now the asphalt is really beginning to cook. Haven’t made four miles and I’m already becoming dehydrated. Humidity is high here in the Boise River Valley; my shirt and shorts are soaked with sweat. And the traffic, much commercial traffic, with the heavy air holding the choking exhaust fumes down. Hard to breathe, the diesel fumes, especially. But considering the circumstances, as for the pioneers, probably no worse for me breathing these fumes, than for the emigrants plodding all day behind their laboring oxen!
By the time I reach Parma I’ve pretty much had it. The stifling heat, it’s done a job on me today. I do cut over to Fort Boise, the replica. The original fort wasn’t here, but back near Boise, built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1834 as competition for nearby Fort Hall. It soon became an important supply post along the Oregon Trail but was abandoned in 1854 after severe flooding and increased skirmishes with the Indians. I take a couple pictures, but can’t get in; the place is closed.
On into Parma, and right near the drive-in, the fine little mom-n-pop Parma Motel. Kind and caring folks, and the best Hiker Trash deal since way east of Boise. A fine room. WiFi, Ice cold air. And I’m given a full bag of ice. A blessing to be in this night…
…when men, women, and children walked every day for up to five months and 2,000 miles next to plodding and malodorous oxen.
Wednesday—July 30, 2014
Location—Lytle Blvd. – Captain Keeney Pass, Oregon
Another fine stay, Parma Motel, kind folks, a really nice room. Used up most of the bag of ice.
A cool morning, gentle breeze, overcast—thank you, Lord!
Late morning I make the final crossing of the Snake River, to enter Oregon. Five states behind me now, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho. One more to go—Oregon.
Little has been written, at least that I can find, journals, diary entries, about this crossing. Apparently it didn’t present near the difficulty as did the crossings upstream, those near Salmon Falls, Two Island and Three Island. More high plains desert ahead, all the way to Farewell Bend, where the trail finally leaves the Snake River to strike out for the mighty Columbia.
I continue to see grain (wheat) scattered all along the road shoulder. This has gone on for miles, last two days, not a bushel or two, gotta add up to tons of it. What is this?
By noon I’m in the village of Nyssa. On the main drag, one of the first store fronts along, Nyssa Chamber of Commerce. A lady is busy sweeping the entrance. I stop, to meet Sharlene, chamber Secretary. I ask her about Thundereggs. The Nyssa welcome sign I passed coming into town read, “Nyssa – Thunderegg Capital of the World.” I also ask about a nearby place for lunch. Sharlene gives me directions, then joins me. Thundereggs, a fascinating story. And my story, seems, is fascinating too. Sharlene conducts a short interview for an article about the Oregon Trail for the next issue of About Town. An enjoyable time; thanks, Sharlene! Oh, and a great burger smothered with homemade chili; umm-umm!
Remember my method for judging a town? For a cash advance using my debit card, Sharlene sends me to their Umqua Bank. Cash advance at Umqua? No problem. Nyssa—a fine little trail town!
Round about, I’m headed out, down, and back, for Lytle Boulevard. Here, the trail comes up from the Snake River. Another high and dry section ahead, and the sky has now cleared, bringing another blast-furnace afternoon. I’m totally soaked with sweat again. I need water. Last power pole, last house, I head up the drive for water. A knock on the door, comes this kind fellow, Kevin. Right on his porch, delicious cold water from his outside faucet. I’m invited to sit. I soon find that Kevin holds much interest in the trail, so, I sit and we talk. Soon comes his daughter, Krista, to join us. More enjoyable conversation. Krista wants a picture, her father and me. “Great, this’ll be on FaceBook; everyone in Vale will know you’re coming!” exclaims Krista.
I’m climbing, northwest now, toward Captain Keeney Pass. The road follows right by the trail. Here along Lytle are some of the most well preserved ruts and swales that I’ve seen yet. The climb continues, open range here, but no wind turbines! For sure, though, I’m crossing more pure high plains desert. Everything is brown, all vegetation appears dead.
Mid afternoon, this car slows, then stops. Two young Hispanics. “You need something to drink, mister?” Driver doesn’t wait for my reply—hands me a cold can of Sierra Mist. “Dang, thanks fellows!”
An hour later, another car pulls over and stops. I meet Tess. She gives me a cold 20 ounce bottle of Sprite!
It’s been a long, steady five-mile climb up to Keeney Pass. The effort well worth it, for at the pass, a grand BLM Historic Site. More remarkable swales and ruts, and informative, inspiring signs about the emigrants and the trail.
Over the pass and heading down the other side toward Vale, another vehicle slows then stops right across. “You hungry, thirsty, like some supper?” Oh my, it’s Kevin and Krista. They bring me water—and supper. We sit the truck tailgate enjoying the evening, as I polish off the chicken, vegetables, and bread prepared by Krista.
This is it for me today. A (flat) dirt pull off right up. Nice tall sagebrush to hide behind.
They linger as I pitch camp, and are fascinated by my simple, lightweight setup.
Thanks to all today, for your caring and kindness!
According to legend, Thundereggs were so named by Indians of Central Oregon. The natives of this region are said to have believed these strange, agate-filled stones were missiles thrown by angry, fighting “Thunder Spirits” of “Gods” who dwelt on Mount Jefferson and nearby Mount Hood, two of several snow-capped peaks high in the Cascade Range. The Indians thought, when thunderstorms occurred, these rival, jealous gods hurled large numbers of the round-shaped rocks at each other in furious anger.
[Nyssa Chamber of Commerce]
Thursday—July 31, 2014
I really enjoyed the final hour of the day, last. Seeing Kevin and Krista again, getting to visit awhile longer, and the delicious meal prepared for me by Krista—a most enjoyable and memorable time.
A few vehicles both directions early this morning, but the sun shining in finally gets me out of my tent and moving.
It’s a little over three miles to Vale, my destination today, all downhill. A short trail day.
Just before crossing the Malheur River, I turn on a gravel road for a short distance to the grave of emigrant John D. Henderson. He died of black measles and was buried here in August, 1852. Every day there are graves to pass, most are unknown, a good number, infants. A very sad and sobering reality of the trail. Makes for and adds a definite melancholy aspect to this trek.
Early morning I’m in Vale, another thriving little village in Eastern Oregon. There’s a BLM district field office here. Jerry had told me about it, that I should stop and meet his friends. So, I head to the BLM office first thing. I was told to ask for Jennifer. She immediately comes to greet me. I’m soon also introduced to Cheryl. Both are resident archaeologists here at Vale BLM. Josh, outdoor recreation planner, also stops by a moment. They bring me much energy, their interest and child-like excitement as I answer their questions and relate the pure joy I’m experiencing while trekking this venerable Oregon Trail. Jennifer, Cheryl, and I spend at least an hour in wonderful conversation. Both are touched by my recitation of “How the West was Won.” An absolutely grand time.
I’m able to find an affordable room at the Oregon Trail Inn, a lovingly maintained, 150-year-old home turned B&B. Bob and Stephanie, owners/innkeeps, greet me and make me feel at home. Ah, and I’ve decided to take a full day off here in Vale, a much-needed time for rest from the toil of the trail.
In the afternoon come Gail and Muriel, Oregon/California Trail Association members from here in Oregon. They’d been to the BLM office and while there we’re told to come see me. They relate exciting and interesting stories about the trail and their ongoing effort to preserve and maintain it—then spend considerable time reviewing my maps, my chosen route into Pendleton. I take great pleasure in reciting “How the West was Won” for them.
In the evening I’m back downtown for a delicious breaded steak sandwich at the Chevron deli.
Tomorrow morning I’ll return to the BLM office, as I’ve been invited to spend more time with my new friends there. This has been one amazing and remarkable day!
I look back upon the long, dangerous and precarious emigrant road with a degree of romance and pleasure; but to others it is the graveyard of their [loved ones and] friends.
[Loren Hastings, 1847]
Friday—August 1, 2014
Very, very unusual, two zero days in a row. When into a trek of this nature, seldom do I take even a single day away from the trail, let alone two. But this time of rest is welcome and of great benefit, as this journey is wearing on. Likewise, and as for the emigrants—all along this trail did they question—why? Especially here by the Snake River, across the long barren, Godforsaken sections, did they search their souls for the answer. The Oregon Trail was, in harsh reality, a “Trail of Death.” Through this rugged section even the brave and strong succumbed. Just ahead will I pass a mass grave (and pause to pay my respects). Yes, and for sure, this Oregon Trail trek is joy-filled, yet at the same time is it proving a very sad and melancholy journey.
This day off is also being taken that I might return once more to visit dear new friends here at BLM, Vale. Mid-morning I head right there. Jennifer greets me right away, just as before. This is taking time away from her busy day, but she sits the conference table with me (once more) as if there were nothing more important. In just moments come two other BLM staff members, Larry, Public Affairs Officer, and Luanne, GIS volunteer. Many questions; but mainly am I permitted to just ramble on about my Oregon Trail trek. Outside (at least an hour later), picture time. Also a video-taped interview with Larry. Another happy and energy-filled time with these dear new friends!
Back to the Oregon Trail B&B, feet-up time, time to just kick back, relax, and rest.
The Oregon Trail is this nation’s longest graveyard. Over a 25 year span, up to 65,000 deaths occurred along the western overland emigrant trails. If evenly spaced along the length of the Oregon Trail, there would be a grave every 50 yards from Missouri to Oregon City.
[Clackamas Heritage Partners]
Saturday—August 2, 2014
Location—Old Oregon Trail Road below Tub Mountain, then on to near Farewell Bend, Snake River
Vale, another mighty fine little trail town. A wonderful time spent with many new friends, plus a really good cafe.
I’m well rested and ready for the remainder of this final stretch of desert terrain. Hopefully, by the end of tomorrow I’ll be pretty much through this desolation (at least trekking right in it) as I near the foothills of the Blue Mountains.
The forecast is for another 100-degree day. This morning, though, and as I’m trekking north out of Vale, the blast of heat is being held back by a shroud of haze, wildfires the cause. And there’s the least bit of breeze, not cool, but not blast furnace hot either. The smoke/haze will likely not burn off by afternoon. So, hopefully, I won’t be dealt another unmerciful day in the scorching desert sun.
The trail leaves the highway north of Vale, and so do I. 5th Avenue East, to Old Oregon Trail/Hill Road. I’ll follow it, and the trail (which is the road) most the rest of this day.
Jennifer, a dear new friend at BLM Vale, has organized an Oregon Trail (swales and ruts) outing, and several people will be coming through here with her sometime today. They catch up with me at Alkali (Sulphur) Spring. They’re an impressive motor caravan. I’d guess 20 people or more, including Jerry Eichhorst and his mother. What an absolute joy finally getting to meet Jerry. He helped guide my path the past number of days. His guide, Main Oregon Trail Back Country Byway, an absolute Godsend, which aided in finding my way—no way to ever thank or repay him.
Before bidding farewell to these many new friends, Jennifer gathers them around (as I chug another water, plus Gatorade) and I’m given the opportunity to speak a moment. I begin by telling how “captor time” has created a barrier between us and the emigrants of 150+ years ago, how we’ve been separated from them, and about how I’ve managed to break down that barrier the least and trek the trail with them. Ah, and now with time on my side, how, every day, every week, every month that I’m out here (in the shadow of their presence) how I’ve gained anew, the utmost and deepest respect for those pioneers. Finally, to prove my point, I recite (in a total hush) the ditty, “How the West was Won.”
Then it’s that dreaded time once more; goodbye time. So long Jennifer, goodbye my friends! And the caravan moves on. And as the dust settles, I am once again—alone.
The past number of days I’ve kicked up numerous covey of quail, so many birds in some (with many young) that, as I try recovering from the shock, I’m unable to count. And today, as I’m trekking along, the rhythmic tapping of my hiking sticks, in that blinders-on zone, another abrupt and shocking jolt. My-oh-my, my poor old heart; I can’t believe it could possibly still hammer my chest this hard! For, this rise of birds before me now, not quail, but big birds, chukar partridge. There are five, maybe eight, no way to count, as their sound barrier explosion overwhelms me. I’ve mentioned in previous journal entries what a great quail hunter my father was. As a youngster, I often went along and hunted with him. Every covey rise, as we (and Mike, dad’s pointer) crept forward, I’d keep telling myself I’m ready. But, invariably, dad would already have a cross-over double of birds down before I could quit shaking, then lift up my gun to my shoulder. Certainly, dad would have made great sport and would have been a match for these chukar. Me? No worry, ever, on the part of these magnificent, flying wonders!
At upper spring (Alkali/Sulphur) water has been placed for me, also by the cattle guard further on. Thanks, friends; what a blessing!
Near the corrals/loading pens, and in the ungraded dirt road (the Oregon Trail), as I pass along, in the track right before me, where countless vehicles have passed (continually running over it) a cast-off ox shoe! What a fitting and grand reward; for have I not paid my dues? I’d hoped to find one of these silent reminders of the thousands of covered wagons (pulled by teams of oxen) that passed before me over 150 years ago, but in reality, I held little hope. Yet, here it lies! Yes, I pick it up, and I shall keep and treasure it, forever. Ah, and no more must this proud remnant, a reminder of that glorious and mysterious era, suffer the embarrassment and disrespect brought by countless rubber tires hammering it around, no more!
As I proceed, nearing Love Reservoir, the road abruptly veers to the southeast, and as appears obvious, will pass to the south of the reservoir. The Oregon Trail (and my chosen route) passes Love Reservoir to the north. I know I didn’t miss a turnoff; there wasn’t the least trace of a trail going northeast. I check my next waypoint. Yup, way off to my left—north. Okay, your fine day is beginning to unravel; what to do, old man?
Well, right here and now I decide that this day is not going to turn out a rerun of that fateful day when I made a wrong turn into Glenns Ferry—and kept on going. My decision? Bushwhack time, a gnarly bushwhack, through taller-than-head-high brush and weeds, west and north side of the lake impoundment (no two-track, no road, no nothing to follow here). Reaching the upper bank of the dam (and my waypoint) a well-used two-track. Ah, and it’s weaving right toward my next set of coordinates, the right distance and direction to Lockett Road. I cross a ranchers field and a well-watered creek, on a beeline. In a short while I arrive a turnoff to an Oregon Trail interpretive site. I climb the short rise from the road to stop and just gaze. Magnificent ruts, and a grand view down toward the Snake, I-30, and Farewell Bend, no more than three miles distant.
And so, I now know there was no way to follow the Oregon Trail around Love Reservoir, save the bushwhack. Right decision, the bushwhack, sure glad I made it!
I’m really tired, also emotionally drained. Old age twists you around many different ways. So, this is it for me today; I pitch right in the swale below the beautifully narrated interpretive sign. Hard wind. Beat on my tent all night. Tried to rain. Desert wouldn’t let it.
Below is a comment by Franzwa about this last section of trail today.
One can escape the desert by turning right on Moores Hollow Road, some eight or nine miles from the highway, and lurch about six miles east to I-84. Or one can continue on north, but the road goes from bad to worse, finally petering out entirely, leaving your bones to bleach in the desert.
[Gregory Franzwa – The Oregon Trail Revisited]
Sunday—August 3, 2014
Location—Huntington, then on to Burnt River by old U-30, Exit 327, I-84 (Durkee)
The wind is still whipping this morning, out of the north at 25 per. A troublesome time striking camp.
Down, and down some more, the gravel road descends to the interstate exit at Farewell Bend. From a vantage, rounding yet another desert-burnt-brown hill, comes in view Farewell Bend. Just a spectacular panorama, the fertile, green, Snake River Gorge, and the wide, arching bend. I get a remarkable picture (including the power lines, of course).
At the exit, an old abandoned truck stop and motel. Manmade desolation, here. The desert is slowly taking the place back, but as is apparent, the process is incredibly slow. A depressing place to pass, especially after the grand vantage that is Farewell Bend from the hillside above.
I do visit the park, but only long enough to replenish my water. Then it’s back to trek once more with my old friend, US-30. Leaving the park, I’ve a hard, steady climb up from the Snake, as I ascend to the Burnt River Divide. All along the highway, and looking back, many remarkable, parallel swales. How the oxen, the heavily laden wagons they pulled, and indeed, the emigrants—I simply can’t imagine how they were able to endure these arduous climbs. More remarkable views back toward Farewell Bend.
Over the divide and heading down toward Huntington, I pass the site of (conclusion of) the Van Ornum Massacre. Here ended a running fight with Indians that had been going on since way back on the upper Snake River. The emigrants lost the battle. Here is their final resting place.
I was told to look for another Meeker Marker in Huntington. But somehow I miss it, perhaps because just across the street from the park I see the mom-n-pop cafe. Great breakfast, but the wrong information on the I-84 exits ahead—which later causes great apprehension and difficulty.
From Huntington I’m steadily climbing up Burnt River Canyon. Next stop, Weatherby Rest Area. Three Sierra Mists later, I top off my water and continue north. The trail’s been along the interstate, but goes off to follow a precipitous route, the canyons of Sisley and Swayze Creeks. Gale and Muriel, OCTA folks who came to visit me in Vale, told me about the pristine ruts along this section, with ox shoes lying in the trail. But I have no coordinates set for any of it, so I stay the interstate. In a few miles, the trail returns to I-84 and runs next the highway into Durkee.
Gold Hill—a train tunnel, and the interstate, both dynamited through/out of the hillside. The trail goes the horseshoe around to the north, then west, then south, through the canyon and back. I stay I-84, the eastbound emergency lane, as I continue trekking west.
I’m on and off I-84 for the remainder of this day. Exit 330, I thought, was the Durkee exit—Wrong. Durkee is at Exit 327, another three miles on up. I’d been told there was a convenience store/gas station at the Durkee exit. It’s well after dark when I arrive. No convenience store. No gas station. Pitch black. There’s nothing in Durkee, even in the village, down off the interstate. I take water from a faucet, side of the old Durkee Town Hall, then pitch in the hall yard—at 10:30. A handful of Fritos for supper. What a grueling push, well over a 25-mile day, seven or so into Huntington, plus the 21 on up to Durkee. No wonder I’m exhausted, and hungry. Should have at least carried some energy bars, duh! Oh well, as mother often told me, “Son, if you’re gonna be dumb you gotta be tough!”
In October 1860 the Van Ornum party, survivors of the Utter disaster, reached Farewell Bend. Here they again encountered Indians…soldiers discovered the mutilated bodies of Alexis and Abigail Van Ornum, their son, Mark…and the two surviving Utter boys. The 3 Van Ornum girls and the youngest brother were taken captive.
[Baker County Historical Society]
Monday—August 4, 2014
I was dead tired by the time I finally pitched my tent and climbed in, last. Might there have been any noise or commotion during the night, I didn’t hear.
Daylight now. Oh my, I can be easily seen from the old highway. A few cars pass, but none pay me heed. Time to pack up and get going, before a visit from the local sheriff.
A cool morning compared to previous mornings, the smoke/haze cutting the sun’s glare considerably. Indeed, a blessing.
I’d cameled-up on water at the old hall spigot in hopes that somehow water would help restore my energy. Ha, that’s funny. It’s been 24 hours since I’ve had food. I’ve walked close to 30 miles since—and a few ounces of water’s supposed to fix everything?
Three miles into this day and I’m beginning to stagger around. There’s a ranch house, the last it appears, just ahead (power lines quit). Reluctantly, I turn up the driveway. A rancher and a couple of hands are busy loading his truck. The fellow sees me and turns, “What can I do for you?” his greeting. I tell him I’m hiking the Oregon Trail, that I thought there was a store in Durkee—and that I’m out of food, weak, and hungry. “That store in Durkee’s been closed for over two years now.” big shrug. “I’ll get you fixed up.” his final words as he instructs his hands, turns, then goes to the house. In five minutes or so he returns and resumes his loading. No more than a couple minutes later, a young lad, his son, Stran, comes to greet me. His father had apparently told him about my adventure. He comments with astonishment, then asks a number of questions. Shortly comes his sister, Kylie, with a large Ziploc filled with ham and cheese sandwiches she’s made for me, plus a beautifully polished red delicious apple! What wonderful help. I’ll have energy to make it on into Baker City now; thank you, folks, thank you!
Old highway 30 has come out from under I-84, and I’m able to hike it this full day, all the way into Baker City. A stop along the way at (ghost town) Pleasant Valley. Here, an elderly lady in a leaning-sideways old trailer, Jeanette—she gives me water. Such a depressing place. No more than five vehicles pass me the entire day. Pleasant Valley must certainly have been a pleasant place—before the interstate.
And the dry desert desolation continues, just that I-84 is out here in it now, too! I’ve passed probably ten or more exits these last two days—nothing at any of them, no services of any kind, nothing.
By five I’ve hammered out another near-25. My back, knees, and feet are weak and wore down. Three motels here in Baker City. One, the Oregon Trail Motel. Hey, hey! But as if I’d been dog-sledding the Iditarod, the lady innkeep could care less. A much nicer place (with kind folks and a reasonably priced room) across the street. Ah, and a fine little cafe right next. A hot meal, then to my room. I’m in, and in the soothing hot bathtub as soon as it’s filled.
Folks tell me the desert is behind me now—they tell me it’s behind me.
I had to live in the desert before I could understand the full value of grass in a green ditch.
Tuesday—August 5, 2014
After soaking my bones in the tub last evening, and as I prepared to retire, came a ring on my room phone. It was inkeep, Marilyn. “You’ll be staying with us another night. A young man just came in and paid for your room.” obvious glee in her voice. Amazing, is this not amazing! I know the fellow, a police officer I’d met before going to supper. I know it was him. Thanks, young man, thank you!
So, here I stay another day, a day of much needed rest. To have returned to the road today—would have been a tough go, and for sure, not the least joy in it. A blessing, a true blessing—to simply rest and let my weary body recover.
First thing this morning, to the motel lobby for coffee and continental breakfast. Just a grand selection of cereals, fruit, waffles, confections, and more. I lounge the longest time, enjoying more coffee. When camped out, no morning coffee—probably my one big sacrifice. Ah yes, I sure enjoy my morning coffee!
Next, a late-morning walk to the post office not five blocks away, to send home my Oregon Trail ox shoe—and another fine coil of 1860’s Transcontinental Telegraph wire. Been carrying these things along for three days now; they’re sure enough heavy. I’m glad to get them on their way. Another pound, even less (in addition to my meager pack belongings) quickly becomes a burden on my back, knees, and feet.
From the post office, again no more than four blocks distant, the downtown copy, printing, and fax store. I began this odyssey with 250 personal cards in my bounce box. Yet now I’m nearly out. When the kind young lady hears my story and sees the beautiful Odyssey 2014 card, she prints up forty for me, her compliments! “What you’re accomplishing, quite remarkable—I want to help!” a joy-filled smile, then a full-of-energy hug for the old hiker!
Mid-afternoon, another trip to the cafe for a delicious fried chicken dinner. My strength and energy are returning; they’re returning!
Evening, another good tub soaking. Then to buff away the dried and toughened areas (with a nail emery) off my poor, abused doggies.
Ah, and now I’m set to pondering, “My favorite Hiker Trash trail town, perhaps I should rethink—again?” And the miles continue passing by, while the human kindness keeps flowing in. On the receiving end again—and again…
A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.
Wednesday—August 6, 2014
Location—I-84, Coffee Lane, short of Charles Green Road
It was fun listening to Marilyn reminisce about the filming of Paint Your Wagon. For the production of that 1969 musical, much of the filming was done near Baker City. It starred Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, and Jean Seberg. Marilyn lived here at the time (still does) and got to meet and know most of the cast and crew. Interesting, one of the arrangements from this musical that became very popular—”They Call the Wind Maria.”
The extra day of rest here was of great benefit. And the biscuits and gravy continental breakfast provided by the motel gets me energized for this day. On my way out I stop at the corner jiffy for enough food for today and tomorrow morning as I’ll end up pitching somewhere short of North Powder tonight.
First thing this hiking day, one of the finest of all the trail related centers anywhere along, The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, a BLM facility just north. I’ve a climb to reach it as it sits atop Flagstaff Hill, near Lone Tree, one of the landmarks document by the emigrants.
On arriving, I’m greeted by center staff and then given the pleasure of spending time with Jeremy, a young man with BLM who’s well versed on the trail ruts as they exist today. Jack, a direct descendent of an emigrant pioneer, spends much time with me, explaining features of the remarkable lifelike exhibit. I was aware of the fine reputation the center has attained, the many plaudits it’s received, so I’d been looking forward with great anticipation to seeing for myself —and I’m certainly not disappointed.
Afternoon, I’m back to making my zig-zag way, the gravel road grid beside I-84 and the trail, the roads crossing the trail at frequent intervals.
Late evening, and nearly out of water, I stop at a house right next the road. A knock at the door brings Jim. While I’m cameling up and filling my water bottles, Jim tells me about his great grandfather, an emigrant who went first to Oregon, then when gold was discovered near Baker City, returned to this valley where he settled, and where the pioneer’s descendents (Jim and his children) remain to this day.
I cross over the interstate just at sunset, take a side road a short distance, there pitch in the concealment provided by two large stacks of hay bales.
This [National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center] is one of the most stunning visitor centers in the United States…The skill of the exhibit designers is unmatched..
[Gregory Franzwa, The Oregon Trail Revisited]
Thursday—August 7, 2014
Location—Charles Green Road east of Magpie Peak, then on to North Powder
Freshly baled alfalfa has such a pleasant fragrance, a different aroma than all the other grasses grown and harvested for hay. I enjoyed that freshness all night, last, as I had pitched behind a barn-sized stack of the large bales. Had to get in my sleeping bag, though, as it cooled down that much.
I’m now in the upper Powder River Valley. The river is diminutive here, compared to its size and volume where I crossed it back in Baker City, but it is still providing the water needed to adequately irrigate the fields, which cover vast areas, as North Powder River Valley is still very wide and expansive. Just a lovely garden spot in the otherwise barren land, as the lower hills around are still wearing a cloak of brown. But the distant mountains, the Blue Mountains, are forested. I can hardly wait to climb and be among them. I have grown weary of the desert.
There are service and frontage roads (and roads, otherwise) that track near I-84 (and the trail), so I need not take directly to the interstate today. It is quite amazing how the pioneers, and those before them, we’re always able to find the best route, none being engineers. It’s almost as if the freeway designers simply said, “Follow the path of the old Oregon Trail!”
By noon I’m in the little village of North Powder. I’ve hiked only 12 miles, but entering town, a small motel and a dandy mom-n-pop cafe first thing. The heat of the day is beginning to crank; I think this is it.
I head for the motel office where I meet owners, Suzie and Mike. “I’ve just the room for you, it’s small, like a cabin, with an old wrought iron bed, but it has a large bath with a tub; you’ll like it!” exclaims Suzie. It is perfect, and sure a Hiker Trash bargain. Yup, this is it for today!
Mike, another emigrant descendent. His great grandfather, one of the first settlers to inhabit this beautiful Powder River.
And to this day do the brave there stay,
Born new from the pioneer age.
A dream fulfilled, as God had willed,
Past the land of the purple sage.
Friday—August 8, 2014
Location—Foothills Road – Ladd Marsh Game Management Area, then on to LaGrande
Well now, here we go again—the best trail town. I really think that North Powder might be it. A small, hometown sort of village, with kind, friendly folks. The motel, definitely mom-n-pop, Mike and Suzie owners, innkeeps. Half a block away, the cafe. Also definitely mom-n-pop, Victoria the waitress, her son, Guy, the cook. The Oregon Trail goes slap through town on the “main drag.” And the post office is right there, directly on the trail. Two blocks, the furthest to anything. Yup, just a mighty fine trail town!
Full breakfast at the cafe, three egg and cheese omelet, with a heap of taters, and sourdough toast, and lots of really tasty coffee. I’ll have plenty of energy today!
And I’ll need it. It’s a twenty-four to LaGrande, and I want to get there early evening. I’m pack up and hauling at seven, so I’ve a good shot at it.
Out of North Powder I’m hiking frontage/service roads right beside I-84. And the trail’s right here, too. But there are no ruts or swales to be seen. Alfalfa and barley now flourish where the bare, dusty trail used to be.
Where the frontage road swaps sides with the interstate, (I go up and over), presents an awe inspiring view of the Blue Mountain crest. With the sun at just the right angle now, the snow covered slopes are clearly visible. I know I’ve got to hike through the Blues, a frightening thought. I can only imagine the thoughts that ran through the emigrant’s minds when they saw these rugged snow-caps.
I’ve been into a gentle climb since North Powder, and now, as the valley is slowly being pinched off by the closing ridges each side, the climb becomes noticeably steeper. I turn and look back (because I need to catch my breath) for a final breathtaking view of the lush green valley of the Powder.
A bit further on the service/frontage road quits. No other choice now—take to I-84. I always hike against traffic so I can watch what’s coming at me. So, on I-84 I’m trekking west in the eastbound emergency lane. Not long comes the Oregon Highway Patrol and pulls to the shoulder, his lights flashing. I stop well off the shoulder, and wait. The officer exits his patrol car and puts on his hat. Hey, he’s smiling, big-time. “Are you okay?” his greeting. And I meet Officer Webb. I give him my short version about trekking the Oregon Trail, then let him know—that I know I’m not supposed to be walking the interstate, “There’s just no other way through here. I-84 has buried US-30; there’s no other way.” I wait for his reply. “Dispatch got a report; I had to come check. Do you need some water?” Oh my, what a relief! He fills my water bottle from a gallon jug, wishes me well, then returns to his patrol car, turns of his flashing lights—and is gone!
This climb I’m now into is taking me up the southern rim of the Grande Ronde (the large round). After the climb, the highway levels for awhile, then abruptly descends Ladd Canyon. On leaving the canyon, another spectacular view, down and into the Grande Ronde. Picture time once more. Here is an interstate rest area. I head in to rest awhile and hit their pop machine.
Late afternoon I arrive LaGrande, just as planned. On US-30 now (it came out from under I-84 awhile back) and heading into LaGrande, a fine little motel with a cafe right next. This is it!
A cool day. Of course, some wind. But not like for the past number of weeks. The tank-stoking breakfast at North Powder provided me good energy this entire day. Ah, and it has been a really fine hiking day!
Its sheltered situation enbosemed in mountains [Grande Ronde], renders it good pasturing ground in the winter time, when the elk come down to it in great numbers, driven out of the mountains by the snow. The Indians then resort to it to hunt. They likewise come to it in the summer to dig the camas root, of which it produces immense quantities. When this plant is in blossom, the whole valley is tinted by its blue flowers, and looks like the ocean when overcast by a cloud.
Saturday—August 9, 2014
Location—Past Railroad Canyon (on I-84), then on to Emigrant Springs State Park
I’m at 1800 miles now, 300 remain to complete Odyssey 2014, this Oregon National Historic Trail. I’m reaching the end. I think two more weeks give or take, that should do it.
Another tank-stoking breakfast; I stick with what works—a three egg, three cheese omelet, potatoes, plus sourdough toast. It certainly worked yesterday, a long day. Hopefully, it’ll boost me along again today, because it’s also gonna be a long one. I want to reach Pendleton tomorrow. Pendleton remains 54 miles distant. If I can hike-down a near-thirty today, then tomorrow will be all downhill, literally.
I’m out and moving a little before seven. Business I-84 takes me right back to the interstate west of town. Uphill, uphill, and more uphill, all day, as I’m now entering the Blue Mountains. Evening, I finally claim Blue Mountain Summit.
Here, I take a much-needed break and call Keith who lives in Pendleton. Gail and Muriel had both urged me to give him a call when nearing Pendleton. “Keith knows the trail. He’ll help you get through to Oregon City,” said Gail. I reach him right away. And yes, Keith says he’ll be glad to spend time with me and review my maps.
Over Blue Mountain Summit, its downhill to Emigrant Springs State Park. Late evening now, and in the park, plans are to water-up, then hike another mile or two before pitching for the night beneath the majestic and towering Ponderosa.
But plans change when I chance to meet Richard, park ranger. A brief exchange (he’s parked in the middle of the road, blocking traffic). I hand him my card as he drives away. While taking water from a nearby fountain, comes Richard again (he’s off the road this time). “Would you like to stay here in the park tonight?” he asks. “Sure!” I say, “But my funds are in bad shape. I can’t afford the seventeen-bucks.” I tell him. “Don’t worry about the fee; the park will put you up.” his friendly reply. Of course, I accept! “The toilet and showers are right over there [he points], and there’s a place for you nearby. Plenty of hot water; no quarters needed.” broad smile on Richard’s face now. He shows me the site—right next the bathhouse. I tell him I’d sure like a hot shower, but I’ve neither soap nor towel. Not five minutes, as I’m finishing setting camp, comes Ranger Richard again—with towels and soap for me! Oh, and does the hot water sooth my tired, aching body! Back to my campsite, soon comes (volunteer) Ranger Bob. A hard-pumping handshake as he tells me, “Richard said there’s a fellow camped here that’s hiking the Oregon Trail. Got my attention. But what really got me wanting to meet you was when he told me you were 75!” We sit the picnic bench next my dink tent. Lots of questions about my lightweight gear. A truly fun time. Thanks Ranger(s) Richard and Bob. Your kindness has topped off a mighty fine day!
Likely, some of you will criticize me (and rightly so) for passing by no less than two interpretive sites today, plus a number of well-defined ruts. But all were off my chosen route. I probably should have taken the time, done the extra miles, and went—but I have become long weary—and trail worn…
The mountains were first called the Blue Mountains in 1811 by David Thompson on his trek to Astoria. This was the first close-up view of the forest that most of the emigrants had ever seen. During the long journey from Missouri, there had not been any forests that they had to travel through…Many entered…with a great amount of fear and awe. In the mid 1800’s these forests were dense growths of timber filled with many wild animals. Bears, mountain lions, and wolves were not uncommon in this region.
[Keith F. May – Finding the Trail in Oregon]
Note: Yes, that Keith!
Monday—August 11, 2014
This, a much needed day off, one of rest. The past three days, nearly 80 miles. I dearly wanted to get to Pendleton. Don’t know why. Pendleton was just fixed in my mind I guess—bringing me to a point in this very long journey where I’d feel confident in my quest to finish.
There are things to do today, though. My bounce box is waiting at the post office. And I’ve a meeting scheduled with Keith. You’ll recall he’d offered to spend time reviewing my trek route, the final maps to get me from here to Oregon City.
On my way downtown to the post office, which doesn’t open till nine (it now being eight-thirty), the plan is to look for a mom-n-pop cafe. Ah, and what better place than Main Street Diner. Breakfast time—in I go!
As I enter the diner, background music is playing, 50’s era music. Stepping into Main Street Diner, I find, is stepping back in time. We all remember our formative years, those carefree times. For me, they were the 50’s. I became a teenager in 1951. First motorcycle, first car, first date, first (and last) cigarette. Oh my, I sure remember those years! Here on the walls at Main Street, old photos, posters, 45 records, and other 50’s memorabilia. James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Joe DiMaggio, B. B. King, Audrey Hepburn, Elvis, Lucille Ball, Big Bopper, Buddy Holley, Johnny Cash. Oh, and for sure, Betty Boop—all from the 50’s era. What memories; oh my, the memories! I linger the longest time (great coffee, too).
At the post office now, I hit the jackpot, my bounce box, new shoes from Oboz, new shorts from Travel Country Outdoors, GNC Men’s Sports Meds from Dwinda, camera card from CyWiz, plus cards and letters. I stagger out, my arm’s full!
Back in my motel room I spend time with all the mail. In my bounce box, maps for the remainder of this odyssey. A call to Keith, “Come on down.” So back downtown I go, to MaySon’s Old Fashioned General Store—and another step back. Keith drops everything and sits the longest time with me, like he had nothing else to do. I consent to an interview (to talk about the trail). Keith calls a friend, Kathy, Senior Reporter with the Pendleton East Oregonian. Much pleasant conversation; just a great time. Thanks Keith, thanks Kathy!
The remainder of the day is spent relaxing in my room, feet up.
Gotta rethink this “favorite trail town” thing again. What a dilemma. Pendleton is a super fine Hiker Trash trail town!
After experiencing so many hardships, you doubtless will think I regret taking this long and tiresome trip, and would rather go back than proceed to the end of my journey. But, no, I have a great desire to see Oregon, and besides, there are many things we meet with…to compensate us for the hardships and mishaps we encounter. People who do come must not be worried or frightened at trifles; they must put up with storm and cloud as well as calm and sunshine; wade through rivers, climb steep hills, often go hungry, keep cool and good natured always, and possess courage and ingenuity equal to any emergency, and they will be able to endure until the end…
[Elizabeth Wood, 1857]
Tuesday—August 12, 2014
After meeting with Keith yesterday, and by the time I finally returned to my room, it was afternoon. And the things yet to get done—no way to be ready to go back on the trail today.
It’s extremely difficult to continually devote 12 to 14-hours a day, each and every day, to the trail, not without sacrificing time that should be devoted to other critical needs. It’s nearly impossible. In the urgency to move on (as was indeed the case with the emigrants), dealing with the multitude of daily tasks and duties requires intense dedication and commitment—and that intensity has got to be sustained. And why the urgency you might ask? Well, the emigrants could never have traveled the 2,000 miles from Independence to Oregon City in one season, they wouldn’t have made it, not without their continued, intense focus, the urgency to move on. Ah, and neither will I!
So, this additional day off, very unusual, and certainly not in keeping with the needed commitment. Anyway, today I’m trying to get caught up, then to concentrate my focus on the singular task of completing this remarkable and amazing journey…
Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.
Wednesday—August 13, 2014
Location—Rieth Road near Cold Springs Dam, then on to Echo
Very comfortable stay, three nights in Pendleton—not anywhere near my style. And the burger at Rainbow yesterday evening, excellent. So I’m right back in there for breakfast this morning.
On my way west (out of town) I pass the Pendleton Rodeo Arena. What a huge facility. Pure class, and impeccable, one of the cleanest, fanciest arenas I’ve ever seen. Lots of pictures; just great things to see.
Kathy, from the East Oregonian, calls, then comes out and intercepts me for more pictures—and she’ll be back again this afternoon. A big deal, seems.
On Rieth Road now, I stop and call Sarah, librarian, Tillamook County Library. I think I mentioned she was interested in having me present a program once this trek is completed. And we’re now set—Wednesday, August 28th. She’ll come for me when I finish at Oregon City, put me up the needed days, then take me to Portland to catch Amtrak! Looking forward to that time with much anticipation.
Trekking along Rieth Road now, descending the Umatilla River, I pass no less than two very large sawmills. Somewhere around here there must be a forest—with trees! Huge stacks of logs. They look to be pine.
Late afternoon I pass Corral Springs, an emigrant nooning and camp spot right by the grand Umatilla. And there are ruts. Past the spring, a fine set of ruts ascending the hill next the Umatilla.
Evening, I’m in the little village of Echo (named for the founder’s young daughter), where I head right in to H&C Cafe, a mom-n-pop for sure. The H and C stand for Harsh and Patty, owners—cook and waitress, respectively. They’ve run the place nearly 25 years. excellent homemade soup. Not a bad burger and fries either. A very enjoyable time spent with these kind folks.
The Umatilla River runs right through town. There’s the old Oregon Trail crossing right next the modern day bridge. I pitch under the bridge. Late evening, thunder and lightning, then comes the wind and rain. Glad to be out of it. The rain continues into the night.
Traveled twenty miles and came into camp after dark on the Umatilla [Corral Springs]. Numbers were camped around us. No feed for our poor stock…
[Amelia King Knight, 1853]
Thursday—August 14, 2014
I stayed dry under the Umatilla River Bridge. Everything around is wet this morning, except me and my gear!
Out from under the bridge and headed back down to Harsh and Patty’s place, comes this pickup right to me. Fellow stops, downs the passenger window and hands me a paper. “Look at this!” much excitement in his voice. “Front page, and above the fold. Take it, I’ve more at the office.” With that and a wish for my continued success, up goes the window, and he’s gone. I’m standing right in the middle of the street, but no problem, no traffic. I read the article. What an absolutely fine piece about the Oregon Trail, and yours truly. Oh my, and a really good picture of this old hiker, pack on, trekking down the road. Not much daily news in Pendleton, I guess—for an old hiker to make front and (almost) center. Thanks, Kathy, for taking such interest, and for making me famous!
Back to the H&C Cafe, it’s not near eight yet, but Patty unlocks the door and lets me in. I’m no sooner seated than a brimming hot cup of coffee is placed in front of me. When I mention to Harsh that I’ll be out four days without resupply, he goes to the kitchen and puts food together for me! Thanks so much Harsh and Patty; your kindness shan’t be forgotten!
Out of town now, I’m hiking along Oregon Trail Road—again! Sets me to wondering just how many Oregon Trail Road(s) there are between Missouri and Oregon!
Today, the 14th, is my Grand Niece’s birthday (there are two, Kim and Becky). On my way down Whitehouse to see the ruts there, I stop and give my sister, Salle Anne, a call. Hey, I luck out and get to talk to Becky.
If I can trek four consecutive 23’s, I’ll reach Wasco Sunday. Supposedly, there are services in Wasco. Four 23’s, not a big deal, but I’ve got to keep my pack shouldered and keep moving along. This first one will be the hardest. Four days of food adds considerable weight to my pack. My back, and my legs can sure feel it. Steady as she goes; you’ll get there old man!
Late afternoon this car turns, comes back and stops. I meet Isaac, his wife and their four kids, Kendahl, Lillian, Matthew, and Naomi. Isaac knows much about the Oregon Trail, where it’s located, and how to follow it. He tells me about a shortcut that will save me a number of miles. Hey, got my attention; great benefit. Thanks for stopping, Isaac!
All along today, folks stop, or honk and wave. One lady has me autograph her copy of the paper. All wish me well. What amazing energy, and it just keeps on coming!
I can’t hike the trail in the Navy Bombing Range. It runs there for miles. But I’ll get to see an amazing extent of ruts tomorrow, especially along the southern range boundary. Not shorted on them today, though. Just gotta know what to look for.
Evening now, Chris, another local who’d seen the East Oregonian article, stops, shakes my hand, then offers to put me up for the night—and feed me! Ah, and of course, I accept his most-kind offer.
At Chris’ lovely home, and late evening, I find that Chris is a direct descendant of an emigrant, his great grandfather, who came over from Prussia. He traveled all the way to the Willamette Valley originally, but then returned to settle in this more eastern part of Oregon. “Too wet out there to suit him.” said Chris.
Oh my, what an enjoyable evening!
Hard rain most of the night. Blessed again to be out of it!
In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.
Friday— August 15, 2014
Location—End of Boardman Hiking Segment – Squaw Butte, then on to Cecil
I’m up at six-thirty. Chris has breakfast already prepared for me—ham and eggs. And this morning I get to meet Natalie, his daughter.
Chris gets me loaded, then drives me back to the shortcut that Isaac told me about—and I’m hiking at 7:30. Cool morning, the least breeze. Thanks so much, Chris, for your kindness and generosity!
A couple of trail landmarks today—Well Spring and Pioneer Cemetery. I pass them alone, as I’m out here nearly alone—only two vehicles pass me the entire day. And I’m trekking gravel—the entire day. It’s really hard on my feet.
A farm, one of the few along; I stop in the afternoon for water.
Descending from the high tableland, and late evening, I reach Cecil. There’s no one around at the main house, Kreb’s Ranch, but I’m able to get water from help there. I then find a secluded spot behind their equipment shed and pitch for the night.
43 miles remain to reach Wasco.
We found a great hole of water 12 or 15 feet across [Well Spring] had to water a hundred and fifty head of cattle with pails had to stand out all night in the rain to keep the cattle from drowning each other after water in the hole.
[Elizabeth Dixon Smith]
Saturday—August 16, 2014
Location—Rock Creek below Diamond Butte
A quiet, peaceful night in the little crossroads village of Cecil. After getting water, and moving off, no one knew I was still around—under the tree next the machinery shed. I’ve camp struck this morning and ready to go. I do need water, though. There’s a faucet by the shed but I don’t know if that water’s potable. No problem, one of my Aquamira water purification tablets solves that. I’m pack up and moving by six-thirty.
I want to get in a 23 today. Should prove easy enough, but there’ll be plenty of climbing, plus gravel to deal with. The climb begins first thing as I head back up toward the tablelands. There, the ubiquitous wind turbines. As I climb, there are lots of ruts and swales on the slopes along. Again, just gotta know what to look for. And it’s nothing short of amazing where the emigrants managed to take their wagons—new respect, daily, for those folks.
This day is turning to be a hot one. Afternoon, comes pitch black asphalt. A very troubling problem; the heat is cooking the bottoms of my feet. More folks stop, offer me water, and wish me well. They’d all seen the East Oregonian article. Great energy from their well-wishes.
Afternoon now, D.J. and son, Sage, stop. His sister had seen the article—in Portland! He invites me to their place at Rock Creek. Hammering the asphalt, I arrive a bit after five. D.J.’s got the grill going, chicken, potatoes, beef, corn on the cob. What a meal. Before, during, and after, I drain their supply of lime pop. More kindness and generosity extended this come-lately emigrant. It truly is amazing!
Just a remarkable oasis. I pitch in their yard right next the spring house, Cedar Spring. It’s the same spring mentioned by the emigrants. It still flows, offering water for J.R.’s home and ranch.
One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind.
Sunday—August 17, 2014
Location—Wasco, then on to Locust Grove
Very cool night in J.R.’s yard. Rock Creek, neat little place. When I asked J.R. yesterday if his place was in Rock Creek. He told me his place WAS Rock Creek! “The old schoolhouse is still standing down the road, but not much else left of Rock Creek.” His ranch still draws the Oregon Trail re-enactment folks, though. During supper, last, J.R. brought out pictures of his pasture, parked full with vehicles, folks that participated during one of the events. The McDonald Ferry and John Day River Crossing are the attractions, just down the dead end road from Rock Creek.
Needed my sleeping bag again last night. Slept straight through and didn’t wake till five-thirty this morning. I manage to get back on the road a bit after six.
It’s a shade over six miles to the John Day River crossing at McDonald Ferry. On the way, a fellow stops. When I tell him I’m hiking the Oregon Trail, he asks how I’m going to get across the John Day. Puzzled look on his face when I tell him Shank’s Mare. Have to explain to him that I’m fording the John Day—on foot. Apparently, he called the sheriff, because not ten minutes, sheriff pulls up and stops. “Got a call at dispatch about a hiker headed for the river, so had to come out and check.” I meet Deputy Wilson. I give him the abbreviated version of my long story—and one of my cards. We chat, he tells me about the crossing, wishes me well, and is soon gone.
At the crossing now, a little nervous and tentative, I manage to keep my wits, and prepare to cross. Off come shoes and socks. Liners come out of the shoes and the shoes go back on. I’ll risk losing my camera should I end up going in, but my cell phone, GPS, maps, they get zipped up in my map’s Ziploc bag.
Pack up, one stick shortened, looped over the other, I dig into the moss-covered rocks, and head in. Deputy Wilson had told me the river was down, and I should have no problem, but to take particular care with footing as the rocks were slick as ice. So, here we go, one deliberate step at a time. I start the video rolling. Moving across, and following the vehicle tracks best I can, the water deepens, but only slightly, never reaching my knees. Fifty yards, looks of it. I make the crossing easily, not one wrong step. Thank you, Lord! Ah, and some really good video; hope you enjoy watching as much as I’ve enjoyed taking them!
Up from the John Day, a long, steep climb out of the canyon. Ruts are clearly evident both canyon walls. And walls they are. No way could I ever see taking wagons through here, down or up, but they did—thousands of them!
More wildlife now, deer, pronghorn, and many quail, over twenty quail in one covey alone.
Once reaching the tablelands, hundreds more wind turbines growling and moaning, I’ve a long, steady trek across. The sky remains very hazy, the distant horizon not distant at all. I think I spot the conical base of Mt. Hood, but not sure.
At five, I’m in Wasco. To my dismay, the sidewalks are all rolled up, everything’s closed. The cafe is actually a bar and grille—closed. The gas station is more a co-op store, with the usual business hours during the week—closed. There’s one pop machine next the post office (closed of course). It’s broke. A couple of kids pass on bikes, show me the park where I can take water. I camel up, fill my bottle, then hastily put Wasco in my rearview as I continue on to Locust Grove. Here, I pitch under a stand of longleaf pine; a bed of needles, very soft and comfy. For supper I dine on the moldy remains of the bread taken from Echo, and a package of jerky sent by Dwinda, her care package. I try working journal entries, but quickly enter the kingdom of nod, feeling sorry for myself. I’ll make The Dalles tomorrow, sure. There’ll be a McDonald’s there, my old trusted standby.
Road lay through a deep, narrow valley, but very barren. At noon camped by a small spring coming out of the valley [Cedar Spring]. From here pass over high bluffs and descend a very steep hill to John Day’s river a very rapid stream. No wood here except a few very small willows. All the country from the indian agency to this place is about barren and desolate as any we have passed over and we have seen nothing that could be fairly called wood since we left the Umatilla.
[Cecilia Adams and Parthenia Blank, twin sisters, 1852]
Monday—August 18, 2014
Location—Celilo Park at Columbia River, then on to The Dalles
Another cool morning, no wind, so the haze remains. Guess I’ll not see Mt. Hood till I’m rounding it on the Barlow Road—a disappointment. I could faintly spot Mt. Adams two days ago, dancing the shroud, and should then have seen Hood, too.
Today’s trek is entirely a descent, down and more down, into the grand Columbia River Gorge. The highway continues dropping, steep and steady.
Mid-morning, rounding a bend in the side canyon, appears the river below. I knew I’d feel tinges of emotion once here, but not to the extent that totally overwhelms me now. For, looking down, I can see the old highway, and the shoulders there—where I trekked west on the L&C National Historic Trail in 2004—then again east, during my return in 2006. Eight years, ten years ago respectively now. For sure, I never dreamed at the time I’d be standing up here some day, once again gazing in awe across the majestic Columbia, near the end of another grand adventure. But here I stand—what a profound blessing!
In the gorge now, and in only a short distance, I take to the interstate, the eastbound emergency lane of I-84. For the next ten miles, on down to The Dalles, there are no frontage or service roads. The old highway, also US-30, both are buried under I-84. The interstate goes through the narrow space, the trains too, but that’s it. And the traffic is crushing. I count an average of ten eighteen-wheelers a minute. For the four hours I’m on I-84, that figures to 2,400. By the time I arrive The Dalles, the clamor and racket have completely wore me down.
McDonald’s is right at the exit. So, too, a hotel and suites establishment, the Shilo, where a military discount, plus my masterful Yogi skill, get me in.
Here at The Dalles the emigrants had to choose risking the rapids of the Columbia or taking to the treacherous hills along the Barlow Road. I head up and out of the gorge tomorrow as I climb toward Mt. Hood and the Barlow Road.
Columbia’s stream we had in view;
It seemed only an avenue-
Through which at last we hoped to gain,
The Promised Land, the long sought plain.
[Abraham Miller, Jr., 1849 – Near The Dalles]
Tuesday—August 19, 2014
Shilo Inn and Suites at The Dalles, the most ritzy place I’ve stayed so far. Kind manager took me in for less than half the going rate, and fed me a fine full breakfast this morning. A plush room; definitely comfy. And in my bath, a bar of real soap and enough shampoo to actually suds-up. Yup, a happy camper for sure, especially after making a full pass at the (right next door) McDonald’s! Moldy bread and jerky work, but burgers and fries—just a better deal all around.
I use up my full stay—till eleven—this morning, getting caught up on journal entries and correspondence. Feeling much better about life now; ready to give it another go.
I’ve a major pull up and out of the Columbia River Gorge, and the climb begins first thing. A short way up, and looking south, I see Mt. Hood front and center. Comes now a slight shudder, knowing I’ve got to go almost clear around. It looks so close, yet I know that getting up and over Barlow Pass and down to Oregon City is going to take a full five more days.
I’m headed south, almost due south now. Strange, the wind; it’s out of the north (as usual) pushing me from behind. Not used to having my pack shoved around and my hair in my face. Less than two hours, though, and the wind figures out what’s going on. It becomes nearly calm as it slowly switches to the west, southwest, then south. The remainder of the day—yup coming right at me, 25 per out of the south.
The trail has turned south also, to climb back out of the gorge toward the Barlow Road. Those emigrants that didn’t take to the river at The Dalles had to climb up and around Mount Hood. The historical sites in The Dalles, I’ve passed them by, as they were visited during my other (two) previous treks through the gorge.
Today, in Dufur, I break 2,000 miles. That leaves a little over a hundred to go. I figure five twentys should get me on in to Oregon City sometime this coming Sunday.
Climbing back up to the wheat stubble tableland, this vehicle stops. I’m offered a ride on in to Dufur, by Wendy. When I explain what’s going on, give her my card, she invites me to stop by her place. “Main Street, look for all the sunflowers, can’t miss it.” says Wendy. The wind continues, but the day remains pleasant. I reach Dufur by four-thirty. Here is located the Mt. Hood District Forest Service office, where I’m given a map to direct me along/near the Barlow Road.
Great meal—chicken marsala, rice pilaf, and a fine salad at the Dufur General Store. Drained their fountain, then topped it all off with a bowl of vanilla ice cream.
There’s time before dark, so I pay Wendy (and her husband, Steve) a visit before returning to the highway. Camp is next a culvert.
Tomorrow I’m headed for Tygh Valley. Ah, and the forecast calls for mild, cooler weather the next few days. Much better attitude now, what with a full tummy and the good weather coming!
When life is viewed as good, a bad day is easily absorbed.
Wednesday—August 20, 2014
Location—Wamic, then on to FSR 48, Mt. Hood National Forest
The culvert campsite worked fine. I pitched on the east side of the road with my tent door facing east. Sun woke me first thing. A bit of condensation on my tent fly. That’s sure unusual!
A nice split today, the little village of Tygh Valley, a bit over halfway.
First thing this morning comes the steady climb to Tygh Ridge, then a few miles to cross. Grand views of both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, crowned in their wispy white cloud veils. More wheat stubble both sides along before it’s down again, and down some more. Five miles of six per-cent grade later I’m in the Tygh Valley, then the little village of Tygh Valley. Here’s a fine little mom-n-pop cafe, Molly B’s. And hey, it’s open! Mighty fine cheeseburger and fries. And the kind waitress keeps refilling my 7-Up. Then it’s ice cream time!
The emigrants passed through Tygh Valley. Just amazing where they took their wagons. Check out the photos and videos for this one—their bail-off into the Tygh Valley.
Evening, I reach Wamic. A fine general store, plus an ice cream shop. At the store, I pick up enough provisions for two days. Tomorrow I’ve the climb into the Cascades, up to Barlow Pass. So, I’ve got that calorie burner coming up. And it’s 33 miles from Wamic to Government Camp, my next possible resupply.
Out of Wamic I hike a few more miles to the Mt. Hood National Forest boundary. Here I pitch in the pine. The wind has been my companion again. But in the pine its song now brings a few soothing and relaxing moments before I’m lulled to sleep.
I’ll reach the other side of Mt. Hood tomorrow. Then it’s downhill to the Willamette Valley and Oregon City.
Hood, immense yet withdrawn, breeding clouds about her head; going northward, the distant Adams…
[Ursala K. LeGuin, The Lathe of Heaven]
Location—Near Immigrant Spring, then on to Barlow Pass
Camped, last, under the pine just inside the boundary of Mount Hood National Forest. Cattle guards quarter-mile either side—bangety-bang, bangety-bang, but the racket ended after dark-thirty. So, not a problem.
Then this morning, five o’clock sharp—bangety-bang, bangety-bang. What better alarm clock? And hey, this cattle guard I cross (one of the bangety-bangs) just might well be the last this journey. For sure, there’ve been hundreds, all negotiated without incident; thank you, dear Lord, thank you!
The climb starts first thing, the ascent up and around Mt. Hood toward Barlow Pass. Barlow Road (and Pass) were named for Sam Barlow, who with others, built the road in 1845-’46. Until that time, the only way the emigrants could reach the Willamette Valley was to raft their wagons and belongings down the treacherous Columbia River. The Barlow Road was, itself, treacherous, but certainly proved a better and less expensive way.
I’m hiking FSR-48 now, and as the climb continues, just an incomparable forest of pine. Towering sentinels, their crowns touching the sky. And the wind in them, such a relaxing, comforting sound—as from the bosom of Ma Nature, her lullaby. There’s virtually no traffic, so I’ve the road pretty much to myself.
Mt. Hood, I’m headed directly for it. It looms cold and forbidding, taking over and commanding the entire horizon. Oh, and as to how a road around this hulk of rock could have ever been constructed, using no more than basic hand tools—shovels, picks, crosscut saws (and no doubt tons of dynamite), just incredible. Passing here, one can’t help but gain the utmost respect for Barlow and his crew, their “surveying/engineering” was nothing short of amazing. The Cascade Mountain Range is formidable, it’s remote, and it’s incredibly rugged.
All along, many still shots, also some dramatic video footage. Ah, and such good fortune to be blessed with this fine weather. Guess you could say I’ve paid my dues.
Late evening I reach the end of FSR-48. Here it connects with SR-35, a 25-mile day so far. Yet, I want to reach Barlow Pass, another couple miles, so I continue on.
Standing in Barlow Pass now, the crossing here, I also intersect the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This time, though, instead of trekking down to/through the pass and back up (as on the PCNST), it’s up then back down (on this ONHT).
Over the pass a short distance I pull off to pitch in the tall pine.
The construction of the Barlow Road contributed more towards the prosperity of the Willamette Valley and the future State of Oregon, than any other achievement prior to the building of the railways in 1870.
[Matthew Deady, Oregon’s first federal judge]
Friday–August 22, 2014
Location–Government Camp, then on to Alder Creek
A very cold night at 4,000+ feet, camped below Barlow Pass. I did manage to get under the pine, but they did a poor job of holding the warmth of the day. Probably dropped into the low 40s. Put on all my clothes, which isn’t saying much–wind jacket and pants over my “work uniform” (shorts and white dress shirt). Rigged the tent fly and closed myself up tight. I stayed warm and slept comfortably.
All clothing stays on this morning. Hood up, hands in my pockets, down the mountain I go. In a short while I pass the entrance to Timberline Lodge.
Ah, and the lights finally come on! Hard as I tried I couldn’t remember anything about Barlow Pass (from Odyssey 2008, Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail). Now I know why. I’d passed there in the dark and stopped only long enough to tell Gordon that Mercury and I were hiking on the additional five miles to Timberline Lodge. Following is a copy and paste, my journal entry for that remarkable and memorable day on the PCT:
Sunday–August 17, 2008
Olallie Lake Campground was jammed, what with the great weather we’ve had, plus this being summer vacation time–in full bloom. We did manage to squeeze in. Had camp set, fire built, and supper cooking nicely on my old two-burner Coleman when, at a distance, we could hear thunder. We hastened to get through with supper and load everything back in the van as the thunder intensified and drew nearer.
I no sooner had my tent pitched for the night than the rain came. After all the thunder and commotion it lasted only 20 minutes, what little there was of it.
No one is stirring; it’s still dark in the campground as Gordon gets us out as quietly as possible this morning. It’s a short but bumpy ride back to the trail. With a thirty staring at me, and with the expectation of more gnarly tread, as was the case coming in yesterday, the need is to get haulin’. I’ve my pack up and am hiking right at six.
To my surprise, the trail is most-near interstate, smooth and wide, the least variation in elevation. I’m moving along nicely and really covering the ground when the smell of smoke comes drifting the breeze again. In no time visibility is down to less than five miles, then two. The lightning of last evening has apparently started more fires. I hope and pray they’re not burning across the trail. I’m unable to reach Gordon, to find out about this one. Choppers have been passing over since mid-morning. The smoke persists and remains heavy until early afternoon, then finally dissipates and clears out. Flags have been flying at half mast recently for firefighters lost in a helicopter crash. This has been a very bad fire season.
Early this morning I entered the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Through here the trail is remarkably well maintained. By noon I’ve had to climb over only four blowdowns. Here on the reservation, the trail crosses a number of logging roads. Just past one I meet an Indian woman and her child out picking huckleberries. The low bushes are full and so is her basket and gallon can.
I reach Warm Springs River by twelve, over 20 miles in six hours. By three I’m at Highway 42 where Gordon is waiting. I’ve hiked thirty miles now in only nine hours.
Ever since the beginning of my backpacking “career” I’ve always wondered what my personal best day might turn out to be mileage-wise. Never dreamed, in my wildest dreams, that it’d be such an astounding and amazing number, or that I’d accomplish it on the PCT in Oregon with a backpack on at near age 70. Sure had no thought of going for my personal best when beginning my hike this morning. But now, finished up by three, I know this is the time to go for it. I’ll hike on for who knows how many more miles. This will be the day, my longest-mile day, ever.
Just after setting out this morning I started seeing familiar footprints in the rain-settled trail–Mercury‘s. I was thinking then, “I’ll probably catch him around noon, like on Friday.” But noon came and went, and no Mercury, his footprints still right there ahead, marking the trail. When I reached Gordon at three, he told me that Mercury had made the same decision that I’d reached–to go for it! I finally catch him late afternoon, by a blowdown beside the trail, slouched down against his pack, appearing exhausted. “I think I’ve got well over forty in now.” he says, sounding dejected. “You can do better.” I reply. “Come on, get up, lets go.” I move out. Mercury‘s up, pack shouldered, and he’s right behind.
I’ve hiked into the high 40s on a number of occasions, all roadwalks. Not a fifty in the bunch, though, and today I want to break 50. From Olallie Road to Highway 35 near Barlow Pass/Government Camp, where Gordon can meet us again, it’s 49.1 miles, a scant nine-tenths short of 50–not good. Past Barlow, the next place Gordon can get in is up at Timberline Lodge, another five miles distant–and nearly 2,000 feet up Mount Hood.
I give Mercury the news, “We’re hikin’ it on up to Timberline. I think we can make it in before midnight.” Mercury gives me a nod. In a short while we pass Gordon again. He’s come around to Barlow Pass. Looking anxious, he expresses concern that I might be jeopardizing my hike. I calm him and we move on through.
Pitch black now, lights on, we’re movin’–when the little flashlight Gordon loaned me blows a bulb. My little Photon is really dim, having been used almost every evening (and morning) since Campo, to set and break camp. Nothing else to do but stumble along behind Mercury. At half-past-eleven we see Gordon flashing his lights from the Timberline Lodge parking lot. And by twenty-to-midnight, we’re in.
Ah, and so folks, the old Nimblewill Nomad has hiked this day from Olallie Lake to Timberline Lodge, a distance along the Pacific Crest Trail of 54.1 miles. What an absolutely amazing accomplishment (Remember what Walt Whitman said–“If you done it, it ain’t bragging”!). As I think of such a distance, write down that number and look at it, it’s simply astounding, like a dream–a dream that’s come true.
Thanks, Mercury, for sucking it up, for coming along, for your help, and for being part of one of the most thrilling times in my life–thanks!
And thank you, Lord, for this remarkable day, for my good health and strength, for the determination and resolve, and for the tenacity you’ve instilled in me–thank you!
The Hood to Coast Run, an annual “happening.” It’s a relay roadrun from Timberline Lodge to Seaside on the Oregon Coast, a distance of some 197 miles. This year there are 1000 teams entered, over 14,000 participants. And as I reach the highway entrance to Timberline Lodge, here they come! Don’t know if all 14,000 pass me today, but danged if the shoulder isn’t choked with them.
The traffic is crushing on US-26, bumper-to-bumper, all four lanes. What is happening–the runners are going with the traffic (across from me), and traffic their side is crowding the centerline. This is causing the traffic my side to crowd the white line right next to me. Many are crossing the white line. Scary, really scary. The danger is great, and mounting. Decision time–cross the highway and walk with the runners. Here, I stay the emergency lane edge, permitting runners to pass on my left. This goes on the entire day. Oh, for the other side of the mountain again and the solitude of FSR-48!
Runners are still passing me late evening as I reach Alder Creek, my itinerary click for this day. Hey, a fine cafe just the other side. Meatball burger and taters–and a full pass at their fountain. Pitched under the pine just up the road. Not so cold at 1,300 feet elevation.
Glory be, what a day!
If there is one thing I have learned, particularly in my life as an athlete, it is that our limits may not be where we think they are. And, even when we think we’ve finally reached them, the next time we go there exploring we often find that they’ve moved again.
[Chrissie Wellington, A Life Without Limits]
Saturday–August 23, 2014
Permit me, if you will, to linger the least, to reminisce a bit more–Odyssey 2008, Day 108: In my excitement and zeal, my journal entry for that day on the PCT, it being my personal best day ever, I dearly regret failing to mention a couple of things. First, concerning Mercury. That fateful day in 2008 also turned to be Mercury’s personal best (longest-mile) day ever. He’d camped four miles on up the trail from Olallie the night before. At Barlow Pass, Mercury had trekked 45 miles. So, on reaching Timberline Lodge, Mercury also logged a 50-mile day! And secondly, and as to Gordon, the kind and patient gentleman (say trail angel supreme), Gordon never failed to be there for me, to selflessly support this old intrepid these many, many years. I regret that I failed to express my deepest heartfelt thanks and appreciation. Gordon, I know, and might it have been possible–you’d have been right out here with me this journey, too. Sure miss you, your ever uplifting encouragement and support–see you soon, dear friend!
Okay, and no I didn’t hike 34.2 miles yesterday. When I cleared Barlow Pass, then hiked on down the other side, Government Camp was less than nine miles distant. As for the Immigrant Springs itinerary click, and over the previous number of days, I’d picked up additional miles, which put me within a short distance from there. So, for yesterday, I’d say the high twenties, somewhere in that range, that’s the distance hiked.
Nestled (camped) close to an old hemlock, last. A few of its gnarly old roots poking up, and poking me. A bit more air in my Therm-a-Rest solved that problem. Not so cold a night; my tent fly flipped back.
Another split today, the city of Sandy, some nine miles on. I’m in before breakfast shuts down at the local mom-n-pop. Three-egg bacon and cheese omelet, a pound of hash browns, a biscuit and gravy (plus near a gallon of coffee), and my tank’s topped-off for this day.
Right across from the cafe, a really first-class museum, featuring the Oregon Trail. I linger the longest time–especially am I taken by a display featuring the Shelley Wagon Train, it’s passage down the treacherous Laurel Hill on Barlow Road. Make sure and check out the video taken in the museum.
The afternoon is spent dodging traffic along heavily used state roads–with no shoulders. That gauntlet run, I’m grateful and relieved to have it behind me. The Lord’s watchful angels placed both my shoulders, such a blessing!
Afternoon, I’ve descended to the upper Willamette Valley, here to follow the meandering Clackamas River. Folks are floating the river, hundreds of rafts, tubes, and other flotation devices. I can hear their boisterous party-like revelry a mile away, which continues unto evening.
Here in the upper valley, the emigrants were nearing the end of their long and difficult journey. Perhaps such joyful revelry, which I’ve heard here today, might have been heard throughout the line of wagons back then, too!
Late evening I reach Carver, here to cross the Clackamas River. Supper is at the local bar and grill. Then to stealth behind the pine in an overflow parking lot up the hill.
The direction of travel [on Barlow Road] was effectively one-way until 1861, when a better road was blasted through Laurel Hill. Despite the expense and difficulties of passage, the road was very popular, with more than a thousand immigrants and 145 wagons recorded in the first year of operation. Approximately three-quarters of the pioneers entering the Willamette Valley traveled the Barlow Road…
[Jamie Jensen, Church History: Clackamas County, Oregon]
Sunday—August 24, 2014
Location—End of Trail Interpretive Center, Oregon City
That I slept and rested well last night, a surprise. The final couple of days on the trail, always unsettling. A thousand disjointed thoughts, driven by a flurry of shorted out emotional circuits. A bittersweet time. Thankful for the success; sad and forlorn about the ending. Just a very mixed bag of tumbling thoughts and feelings to confront and deal with.
Didn’t realize until this morning that my tent could be plainly seen from the fellow’s back door, the owner of the lot where I’d pitched. It’s six now, well beyond first light. No one is stirring that I can tell. I hasten to break camp and get back on the road—and manage without being detected. Much relieved!
The route I’ve chosen, my entrance into Oregon City, follows closely the old trail, but where the emigrants forded the Clackamas River, and the bridge location where I must cross—widely separated. A bit more climbing, then the final downhill as I enter the residential outskirts of Oregon City. Older homes first, then housing and apartment complexes. I stop at the first convenience store for my morning coffee fix.
Another very fine hiking day, as have been the last number of days. Certainly, I’ve not taken them the least for granted, but am most grateful.
A bit before ten, and entering city proper, above the trees I see the arched wagon-bow metalwork that marks the End of Trail Interpretive Center. Turning on Washington, I’ve only a short block or two before coming to the end of this amazing journey. Giddy elation coupled with a sinking letdown, those are my jumbled feelings as I turn to enter the parking area, then stand limp-kneed before the huge wagon-framed structure.
A few pictures, a short video, then arrives Sarah from Tillamook. She has come to fetch me and take me back to Tillamook, where I’ll be presenting a program at their county library this coming Wednesday.
To greet and welcome me to the center, and as I climb the steps, I meet Bob and Gail. A short guided tour, the theatre presentation, and I reach my emotional saturation point, overwhelmed, totally drained. Kind folks at the center give me a memento from their gift shop. Another very intense and electrifying time.
More farewells, then Sarah loads me, my pack, and we head out. First to the overlook, Willamette Falls, where I take a couple of pictures, and finally a stop by McDonald’s—and we’re on our way to Tillamook.
It’s the people, the places, the pain and the trials.
It’s the joy and the blessings that come with the miles.
It’s a calling gone out to a fortunate few,
To wander the fringes of God’s hazy blue.
Odyssey 2014, Oregon National Historic Trail
This is Wednesday. Three days have passed since the ending of Odyssey 2014, my trek o’er the Oregon National Historic Trail. I’m leaning back now, reclined against the pillows here on my bed at Ashley Inn, Tillamook—just biding my time, cooling my heels. A most beneficial time, really, a few days alone, to adjust back to the clamor and confusion of “The Real World.” A time—better no one be around me.
All long-distance hikers experience this agonizing time immediately following a long, protracted trek. My many friends, those of the long-distance backpacking clan, none to my knowledge have ever managed to escape this physical, mental, and emotional after-trek letdown. So, here I sit, awaiting this evening, time to give my presentation here in Tillamook—and it’s good!
Ah, and Odyssey 2014? Well, it began as a trek o’er the venerable old Oregon Trail, much the purpose to GO as were the selected trails, all previous long treks. But from the beginning, and in contrast, this odyssey has become framed, not by the physical trail itself, but by the outpouring of human kindness daily showered upon this tired old intrepid all along the trail. Blessings totally unexpected. A profound and continual outpouring of generosity, encouragement, and support never before experienced. And I have been the fortunate recipient, the vessel if you will, for all this beneficence. My faith in the goodness of humankind is now solid and firm, unwavering.
Before beginning this year’s journey, I’d become downtrodden and dejected, the cause being the awful-wrong direction our country has taken, and continues to take. A feeling of total frustration daily overpowered my thoughts—knowing there was not one thing I could possibly do about it. Then, one day, a dear friend, a most intuitive and observant friend, told me, “Just remember, there more good people among us than bad.” Such a simple thought, yet one that finely brought me relief and contentment.
Might you read my journal entries. See if you can find even one day, in the 118 days of this remarkable journey, that I was not touched by an act of human kindness. It is simply amazing; I have been so blessed.
And finally, you’ve read my thoughts concerning giving and receiving. So, dear friends, I have daily been uplifted in mind and spirit—by your giving, your kindness. To you, all of you, do I owe the success of Odyssey 2014; thanks!
The Last Summer of Rose