Oregon Trail Ruts

“Going back to 1848…”

Well… survived the holiday, did you? Congratulations. Whether you celebrated by putting up with relatives and Christmas present guts scattered throughout the house or you did not celebrate and dealt with everything being closed all day, ’tis quite a feat every year.

It always makes me happy when a piece of history is preserved for generations to appreciate and not simply plowed over to make a new building or parking ramp.

One piece of history that I was really looking forward to seeing is the OREGON TRAIL RUTS- Guernsey, WY.

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The best way to find this is to look up “Oregon Trail Ruts Viewing Area” on Google Maps, as I am having a devil of a time trying to pin down any sort of address for it.

In case you slept through every single American History class ever and have never played The Oregon Trail computer game, here’s a very brief history: between Lewis and Clark’s exploration, fur trappers, and trading companies, many routes were discovered between the Missouri River and Oregon. The 1840s also saw thousands of wagons full of families pack up and head out for the several month journey west in hopes of finding new fortune and life. The route considered to be the most passable was the Oregon Trail. Though there were other routes, the Oregon Trail is today the most notorious. Once the transcontinental railroad started, the trail journeys became a lot less popular (can you blame them?). To this day, sections of the original route still bear the scars of wagon wheel ruts, and the modern audience can get a fuller grasp of how dangerous even this popular trail was for travelers.

Once you park, there are some steps and an uphill-ish path to climb (plus the bonus off-path exploration that is always fun!), but it is a short walk to the main set of ruts.

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The path has no guardrails or warning signs, so you can actually go down into the trail itself. There is something breathtaking about standing on the actual tracks made by the wagon wheels almost 200 years ago. It was also very daunting. I loved the computer game; it was fun to experiment with being a banker versus a farmer, hunting, navigating the rapids of the Dalles, and resting for days hoping your food supply would not run out… or that no one in your party would die of a broken leg or dysentery.

Dysentery, by the way, is horrible diarrhea due to infected intestines. Fun fact, huh? Hope you weren’t eating lunch just now…

For those of you, like me, with countless hours of playing the game in your past… the game makes it seem so easy! Your 8-bit wagon trotting in a straight line on the screen… lies, all of it! Look at that terrain. Granted, people have been walking on it and the elements have changed things over the years, but if anything, it is easier now than it would have been then. This trail has bumps, lumps, dips, hills, and vales the likes of which a modern car would fall apart in a heap of despair over. Now imagine going over it in a wooden wagon with no shocks, pulled by some oxen or mules.

No AC or radio back then, either, might I remind you. This kind of terrain makes one grateful for the invention of that nuisance we know as a seatbelt.

The paved viewing path circles back around to the parking lot. If you continue along it, you will see another, smaller set of ruts.

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Look how deep those wheels carved into the rock, and how the years have weathered away all other traces of the trail beyond that.

After circling the path once, I decided to go up one more time. This time, I came upon a couple walking in from the beyond the ruts off the path. The man told me there were more ruts beyond.

That’s all the excuse I need to go off-roading! Hell, I hardly needed that. I thanked him and scampered off into the brush.

That’s another element of fun here: scavenger hunting through mountains and rocks.

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Plenty of cacti, pokey grass, and very possibly snakes around. It turns out this CAN be done in flip-flops, leggings, and a skirt, but sturdy shoes and long pants are recommended.

Sure enough, after some exploration, I found a couple more.

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Months of traveling on this terrain… and here I find weeks driving a car draining.

If you have any appreciation for history whatsoever, you will appreciate it more after visiting this site. If you have a lot of appreciation for it, you might come dangerously close to peeing your pants.

… or leggings.

Until next time, dahlings…

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