In 1999 – my goodness, that's already 20 years ago – my wife Elaine and I made our one and only automobile trip across the United States. We started from our home in suburban Boston, Massachusetts. Our destinations were to visit our friend Sally in Portland, Oregon and our friends Dave and Barbara in suburban Seattle, Washington. In prior years, on several occasions, we had flown to visit them but we had never made the trip by auto. We planned on sight-seeing as we travelled, so we budgeted four weeks spread between July and August to accomplish our travel.
Many years prior to our trip, a wise, old friend had told us, "You can't see everything. Specialize when you go sightseeing." For him, that meant visit every cathedral his wife and he could visit. For my wife and me, it means visit as many history museums and historical sites as we could. Naturally, that doesn't exclude visiting other places that catch our interest.
Because Sally lived in Portland, Oregon, Elaine, and I decided that we would follow the historic Oregon Trail as best we could to Sally's home. We took our trusty camera and set out. We supplemented our photographs with – what else but – postcards and ephemera.
The Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon was approximately 2,200 miles long. Migrants on the Oregon Trail averaged about 15 miles per day and were on the trail from four to six months.
Permit me to share some of our souvenir postcards, photos, and ephemera with you.
• We thought the Oregon Trail started at Saint Louis, therefore we set the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Gateway Archas the first destination on our trip. There we learned more about the travails of the immigrants and of the great variety of trails that went westward. We took a ride to the top of the Arch.
The museum at Gateway Park was large and fascinating. Elaine and I frequent National Parks and were impressed to learn that this was the busiest National Park in the country.
• Independence, Missouri was the jumping off spot for the California Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, and the Oregon Trail. Of particular interest to us was the National Frontier Trails Center sponsored by the city of Independence, Missourib .
There is so much history in Independence that we could have stayed there for a lifetime. We chose to continue our trip. We were anxious to be on the Oregon Trail.
• Many famous trails passed through Kansas. The Oregon Trail only passes through the northeast corner of the state. In Marysville, Kansas the Oregon Trail crosses the Pony Express Route. We purchased only one postcard during our short time in Kansas but we did photograph a Pony Express Statue. There are several such statues along the Pony Express route.
• While in Kansas, we photographed our first traffic sign delineating the Oregon Trail Auto Tour Route. There weren't as many such signs as we would have liked, but we did get where we were going. We enjoyed our short time in Kansas.
• This Historic Trails through Kansas postcard shows the numerous trails, including our Oregon Trail and the famous, short-lived Pony Express Route. Both passed through the northeast corner of the state. We were soon in Nebraska where we learned more about the Oregon Trail and a lot about James Butler Hickok, aka Wild Bill Hickok.
• For us while in Nebraska, the geographical features of Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff overwhelmed the interesting historical features of Buffalo Bill, Fort Kearny, and Fort Cody. Though Chimney Rock is a National Historic Site it is maintain by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Chimney Rock served as a landmark for the Mormon Trail and the California Trail as well as the Oregon Trail. The rock rises 288 feet above its surrounding terrain, somewhat less than its height in the days of the Western Migration. Today, it is a landmark for motorists travelling U. S. Route 26 and Nebraska Highway 92
• In Nebraska, we were able to drive to the top of Scotts Bluff (no apostrophe in name) but we could have stopped part way up and a ranger operated van would have taken us the rest of the way. The two Conestoga wagons on the postcard are on display there to represent Mitchell Pass, the favored pass to Oregon and to add perspective to the site. The wagons illustrated looked so very small from the top of the bluff. A Nebraska Highway passes through Mitchell Pass
• While in Wyoming, we bought a postcard showing Ruts on the Oregon Trail. We couldn't believe that such significant ruts could have withstood the weather of a whole century plus that has passed since they were scoured by wagon trains. When we saw the ruts with our own eyes we were impressed. If I had paid attention to my geology instructor, I would be able to tell you what type of stone allowed the ruts to form.
• We gained a degree of familiarity with the Mormon Trail. It sometimes converged and sometimes ran parallel to the Oregon Trail until it broke off and headed for its destination, Salt Lake City.
This postcard was one of a strip of three or four. The image represents the era 1856-1860 when Mormon Pioneer families hauled their belongings on handcards to Salt Lake City. The Mormon migration was not "a walk in the park" as this card might lead you to believe. The Mormons endured the same hardships as any other group of migrants during the westward migration. A portion of the Mormon Trail coincided with the Oregon Trail.Because of our interest in genealogy and family history, we wandered from the Oregon Trail to visit Salt Lake City and the Church of Latter Day Saints' Genealogy and Family History Library there.
• At every Oregon Trail historic stop along the way, guides explained the history of the entire Oregon Trail. We recognized that was a necessity of each location. By the time we reached Idaho, we were tired of hearing the entire story. We were more interested in the significant sites of the state.
The Snake River, its gorge, and its Perrine Bridge fascinated us. From a lookout point, I could see the steepness of the gorge on the other side of the river. I saw automobiles driving what appeared to be a narrow road down the side of the gorge to a well patronized beach. My significant thought was "I hope my wife doesn't ask me to drive that road." I lucked out. She didn't ask. I didn't volunteer.
• By now we were getting tired of being on the road. On our last day west, we unwisely travelled over 500 miles. Normally, we limited our driving to 300 to 350 miles per day, except the first days of our trip. We paralleled the beautiful Columbia River and ended up exhausted in Portland. We should have stayed another night on the road. Should have. Could have. Would have. Didn't. My error.
In Oregon, we visited our friend Sally in Portland. She guided us on a tour of her beloved city and we reminisced about the ten years when we were next door neighbors. Our children and hers were playmates throughout those years. I was impressed with the public transportation system of the city. Before we started the last leg of our trip, visiting Dave and Barbara, Sally took us to a commercial site named "End of the Oregon Trail." That sounds like a fitting location to conclude this article.