Tag Archive | Oregon Trail

Yellowstone Road Trip 2017: Baker City

Day 1, Monday, July 24, 2017

I headed down to Portland the day before we departed on our road trip, and spent Sunday evening sorting out last minute packing details and spending time with my nieces and nephew.

Monday morning, we were up and at ’em.  The first order of business, after showers and breakfast, was to “Tetris” the minivan.  Six people in a minivan, with all our stuff and camping gear is a tight squeeze!  It took some doing, and a healthy bit of discarding to get everything in the van!  We got on the road a little later than anticipated, but at 9 am, we pulled out of the driveway and soon we were traveling on Interstate 84 along The Columbia River Gorge.  Lunch was ham sandwiches, cucumbers, tomatoes and Doritos at the Boardman Rest Area, and it was windy, so we had to make sure to hold our stuff down!

After piling back into the car, we made good time, and our next stop was in Baker City, Oregon, at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.  The site is part of the National Parks System, operated by the Bureau of Land Management, so my annual pass served as our admission fee.

The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center Sign


Heading into the Center

The center has an outdoor exhibit with several covered wagons, some original to the Oregon Trail time period, and some replicas.  The kids were able to climb into the wagons and see what it would be like to ride in a covered wagon.  They had fun, and seeing the different wagons was pretty neat.

Covered Wagons – the one in front is an original


The inside of a covered wagon – could you fit your whole life in there?

Inside the Center, we had time to look through the exhibits, which covered the experience of the pioneers traveling the trail, the items they brought with them, and the reasons why families made the decision to travel West to the Oregon Territory.  The Center also had an exhibit on gold mining, as many pioneers came west to try their luck at gold mining in the region.  Outside, visitors can view the historic Flagstaff Gold Mine Stamp Mill.

The Stamp Mill at the Interpretive Center

I decided to do the Junior Ranger Program which included finding the answers to questions throughout the center’s exhibits.  Some of them were hard – I think I forgot all that stuff I studied in school!  I did manage to complete my book before it was time to go, and I got my first Junior Ranger Badge!  Yes, I really am a nerd, in case you didn’t already know that.  My nieces and nephew didn’t want to finish theirs, but I think they were totally jealous when they saw my badge…

Pioneers on the Oregon Trail

As we were talking to the Ranger, we learned that the freeway was closed further down the road due to a chemical spill.  Would we be able to get to the campground before nightfall?  Luckily, we got word right as we were wrapping up that the road had reopened.  Yay!  We piled back into the van after taking a short trail back to stretch our legs once home and get one last view of the covered wagons.

The landscape from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

A little less than an hour more of driving, and finally we got to our destination for the night – Farewell Bend State Recreation Area, which is right along the Oregon/Idaho border, along the Snake River.  We got our tents set up – it was still windy but it was hot!!  We had a huge field almost entirely to ourselves – and the restroom was just right across the field.  We had dinner and went for a walk to explore the riverbank.

The Snake River

The Park is another Oregon Trail site, because after following the Snake River for 330 miles, Oregon Trail pioneers rested above the bend in the river here.  It was here that they said farewell to the Snake River and continued their journey. Nearby is the location where the Snake River Shoshone Indians battled with pioneer travelers in 1860.

There were several people fishing from the boat launch dock, a few feet away from a several dead fish rotting along the banks of the river.  I am pretty sure that even if I had a fishing pole, I wouldn’t want to fish so close to dead fish – YUCK! I’ll spare you the photos of that – here’s a cute bunny instead…

A bunny at our campsite

The sunset was spectacular that evening, and it was too windy to have a fire, so as is the case with camping, we turned in when the darkness hit.  I lay on top of my sleeping bag in the heat of the evening, pondering life before falling asleep to the sound of the breeze…

The view from my tent – Farewell Bend State Recreation Area


The sunset at Farewell Bend


Distance for the Day: 5 hours, 37 minutes; 355 miles
National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center: $8.00 adults, $4.50 seniors, free for youth ages 15 and under.  A free carload with a National Parks Pass.
Farewell Bend State Recreation Area: $18 for a tent site


The Rest of the Way to Boise!

After a relaxing sleep in Pendleton, Oregon, Jon and I got up so we could continue on our way to Boise.  Our hotel for the night, the Red Lion, didn’t include breakfast, so we headed downtown to find some quick and easy breakfast before getting on our way again.  But quick and easy it was not.  First of all, it was about 9:40 am when we got downtown, and we could only find one place open!  The coffee shop/cafe didn’t open until 10.  What?!  So we settled on the only open restaurant we could find – which seemed to have not seen a tourist since last year’s Pendleton Roundup.

The View Behind our Hotel in Pendleton, Oregon

The View Behind our Hotel in Pendleton, Oregon

We ordered breakfast – the 2 egg breakfast for Jon and a ham and egg bagel breakfast sandwich for me, and then we waited while they hatched the chickens to lay the eggs to collect the eggs to scramble them up.  It was the longest short-order cooking I have ever experienced!  And no, they weren’t busy.  There were a couple other tables in the place that already had their food, and while we were waiting one elderly lady came in to order her daily cup of tea…

After making our way ALL the way through the Pendleton Real Estate listing magazine (I swear – 10 more minutes and I might have made an offer on a second home just out of sheer boredom!), we finally got our breakfast, scarfed it down and got on the road.  Our route took us through miles of fairly desolate grazing lands filled with scrub brush and tumbleweeds.  Then we headed up into the Blue Mountains.

An Interesting Hotel in Pendleton, Oregon!

An Interesting Hotel in Pendleton, Oregon!

The Blue Mountains were the last large mountain range that the pioneers had to traverse before reaching their final destinations near what is now Walla Walla, Washington or the Willamette Valley, Oregon.  For many pioneers, who had been on the trail for months, reaching the west side of the pass was a welcome sight.  I-84 in many places follows the same route as US Route 30 and US Route 30S, which largely were built on the Oregon Trail.  The highest point on the highway is 4,193 feet, reminding us that this could be a completely different drive in the winter!

It was neat to see the beautiful mountains approaching in the distance; they really do look blue!  I know it has something to do with the atmosphere scattering blue light, but we still enjoyed pondering whether it was the type of trees or grasses on the mountains.

We made a pit-stop in Baker City, Oregon, a town of just under 10,000 residents located in the mountains.  It is named for Edward D. Baker, the only U.S. Senator killed in military combat.  He died leading a charge of U.S. Army soldiers in the battle of Ball’s Bluff, Virginia, during the Civil War.  We only stopped long enough to get gas and some snacks, but I would have loved to have more time there.  Baker City has a historic downtown with several historic buildings, many of them built between the late 1880’s and 1915.  It is also home to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, a museum of sorts offering exhibits, living history demonstrations, and four miles of interpretive trails.  There are still visible wagon ruts from the Oregon Trail on the site.  That will have to wait for another trip though…

We continued on our way and we stopped briefly at the Upper Perry Arch Bridge.  The bridge was designed by Conde B. McCullough, the first State Bridge Engineer for the State of Oregon.  The bridge was built in 1924, and restored in 2008.  It is located off the interstate, on the old U.S. 30, and crosses over the Grande Ronde River and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.  This section of U.S. 30 was bypassed in the 1960s when I-84 was constructed, but up until that time it was heavily used.  The bridge was constructed from concrete, with a total length of 312 feet and a main span of 134 feet.

The Upper Perry Arch Bridge - Built 1924 - Arch Bridge with Reinforced Concrete Deck Arch

The Upper Perry Arch Bridge – Built 1924 – Arch Bridge with Reinforced Concrete Deck Arch

It’s pretty amazing to think that this concrete bridge has been standing for 89 years, and even more amazing when you realize that this bridge now leads to a dead end.  That’s right, after the bypass, crossing over the bridge takes you to a dead end – transportation experts estimate that 10 cars per day use the bridge.  It’s a good thing that they completed the restoration by the time the economy collapsed – I’m not sure the State of Oregon could afford this kind of project now for such a little used bridge.  I found this bridge fascinating – we are capable of so many great things that we take for granted.

After a bit more time on the road, through largely agricultural areas, we finally made it to Boise and got checked into our hotel, a Residence Inn.  We had a room with a living room, separate bedroom and a kitchenette.  They even stock the room with complimentary popcorn (it doesn’t take much to make me happy)!  We were hungry, so we decided to get some sushi – considering the hot day we thought that would really hit the spot.  We hadn’t done any research, so we looked online and found Sushi Joy near downtown Boise.  Jon decided to try some low carb sushi rolls, rolled in cucumber instead of rice; he thought they were delicious (although they did seem a bit difficult to eat with chopsticks).  My dragon roll was very good too.  The service was fast and friendly too; I would certainly visit again!

We finished off our night watching some TV, something I rarely have much time for at home.  I went to bed with anticipation, because the next morning was our visit to Antiques Roadshow!

Fort Vancouver: A Step Back in Time

After my mom, my cousin and I visited the Tacoma Museum of Glass, we got back on the road and continued on our way to Portland.  We weren’t sure if we would have enough time for our second destination – Fort Vancouver, a National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington.  The traffic gods were with us, and we made it there an hour before they closed!  I had been there before, so I knew that an hour would be enough time to visit.

When we got to the Fort, we stopped by the Visitor’s Center to check out the souvenirs (I had to get a few postcards!) and of course, we needed to get a stamp for my National Parks Passport! And then, we headed over to the site of the Fort.

Fort Vancouver was founded during the winter of 1824-1825 by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  If you are close to the Canadian border, like I am, you have probably heard the radio commercials for the Canadian department store, The Bay.  Same company.  The Hudson’s Bay Company began as a fur trading venture by England into Canada.  In 1670.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Hudson’s Bay Company is the oldest commercial corporation in North America, and one of the oldest businesses in the world!  When the Hudson’s Bay Company began operations in North America, it served as the de facto government in the areas where it did business, and at one time, it was the largest landowner in the world.

Fort Vancouver was set up to protect the interests of the Hudson’s Bay Company along the Columbia River and to serve as a hub for their fur trading operations in the West.  The fort served as a collection point for the beaver hides that trappers in the West were bringing in.  The site also offered fertile soil along the river, while lying just outside of the flood plain.  The intention was for the fort to be self-sufficient, producing all of its own food and most other provisions, as goods were very expensive to ship.

Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver

The fort was built with substantial palisades; the walls were 750 feet by 450 feet, and 20 feet high.  Inside there were homes, and a school, library, chapel, pharmacy, blacksmith shop, warehouses and a manufacturing facility.  Outside the wall were more homes, an orchard, gardens, a shipyard, distillery, tannery, sawmill and a dairy.  At its height, Fort Vancouver oversaw 34 outposts and about 600 employees.

 The Chief Factor's Residence at Fort Vancouver

The Chief Factor’s Residence at Fort Vancouver

The beginning of the end of Fort Vancouver under the ownership of the Hudson’s Bay Company came in 1846.  That year, the United States and Canada signed the Oregon Treaty, which set the border between the two companies at the 49th parallel – right up near my home!  Although the treaty ensured that the Hudson’s Bay Company would be allowed to continue operations at Fort Vancouver, the treaty and the number of Americans moving into the area effectively stifled the fur trade there.  At that point, beaver trapping had continued a such a high volume for so long that beavers were nearing the point of extinction.  The Hudson’s Bay Company abandoned the fort in 1860 and moved north; the U.S. Army immediately took over the fort.

The Porch of the Chief Factor's Residence at Fort Vancouver

The Porch of the Chief Factor’s Residence at Fort Vancouver

The Army had already had barracks right next to Fort Vancouver, but they built more barracks.  During this era, the Indian Wars were happening in the West and Civil War heavies Ulysses S. Grant and Philip Sheridan were stationed there.  The Vancouver Barracks continue to house troops through World War I and World War II, and even continued to serve as home to the Army Reserve and Washington National Guard until it finally closed as an active military installation in 2011.

The Bastion in the Palisade Wall

The Bastion in the Palisade Wall

The buildings that are inside the fort now are reconstructions of the original buildings from the periodic of occupation by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Archeological digs at the site showed historians where the original buildings were and the size of the structures, so the reconstructions were built directly over the historical structures.  We had the opportunity to wander around at our leisure – some of the buildings are open and you can go inside, but others are only open during special events.

The View from the Bastion at Fort Vancouver

The View from the Bastion at Fort Vancouver

The friendly ranger explained that there are two other sites in Oregon City, Oregon, the Barclay House and the McLoughlin House, which were the homes of two employees of the Hudson Bay Company in their retirement.  We didn’t have a chance to go there on this trip, but one day I’m going to make it over there to check them out too!

Whitman Mission National Historic Site

The last day of our February Walla Walla trip was reserved for history!  The Whitman Mission National Historic Site that is – and a stamp in my National Parks Passport!  Being a life-long Washington resident, I learned about the Whitmans in school, and wrote a book report on Narcissa Whitman, but I haven’t read or studied anything about them as an adult.  So it was time to update my knowledge on this piece of history from my neck of the woods.

Marcus Whitman was born in western New York State in 1802, and decided early on that he wanted to become a minister.  However, his family was not supportive of his goal; it required seven years of schooling to become a minister.  So he became a doctor instead – that only took 16 weeks!  He never did forget his dream of becoming a minister and later did enter studies to become a minister, but was not able to finish due to an illness.  He eventually decided to become a missionary; it took him awhile to be accepted because of the same illness that ended his ministerial studies.

Narcissa Prentiss was born in Prattsburg, New York in 1808, about 25 miles from Marcus Whitman.  She also had dreams of missionary work, but could not become a missionary as an unmarried woman.  The record isn’t clear on how the two met, or whether it was a marriage of convenience for them to pursue their missionary careers, but they married on February 18, 1836.  They left for the Oregon Territory the next day – what a honeymoon!

The site is located just outside of Walla Walla, near the Walla Walla River, in what was Cayuse territory – the Cayuse call it Waiilatpu.  In 1836 Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and Henry and Eliza Spalding headed west with fur traders along what would become the Oregon Trail to set up two missions in Oregon Territory – Narcissa and Eliza were the first white women to travel overland across the United States.  The Spaldings set up their mission at Lapwai, near present-day Lewiston, Idaho, while Marcus and Narcissa continued to Waiilatpu.

Looking down at the Whitman Mission Site from the Hill

Looking down at the Whitman Mission Site from the Hill

They set up their mission and set about trying to educate and convert the Cayuse Indians to Christianity.  Although their intentions were generally good, the Whitmans saw the Indians as inferior and I have no doubt that greatly influenced their attempts to establish a good relationship.  Evidence exists that Dr. Whitman was a bit rigid in his opinions of how the Cayuse should be living – he was a bit of a ‘my way or the highway’ type of guy.  Dr. Whitman did make an attempt to learn the Cayuse language and administer to the sick or injured members of the tribe.  Narcissa set up a school and taught both Cayuse and children who were traveling through.  Narcissa had become pregnant on the trip to Waiilatpu, but unfortunately her daughter Alice Clarissa drowned in the Walla Walla River at the age of two.  Alice was the Whitmans only biological child, although they did adopt seven children whose parents died on the trail west.  Sadly, those kids would be orphaned again in a few years.

At first, things seemed to be going ok, but over time, many of the Cayuse began dying of diseases such as smallpox, to which they had no natural immunity.  Straining tensions further was the fact that more and more white people were rolling west in their wagons and setting up shop in the territory – often stopping at the Whitman Mission for days or weeks to rest for the last bit of their journey.  The Cayuse, understandably, were starting to get nervous about the larger numbers of people who were coming and claiming land.  In 1847, the Cayuse began dying in large numbers of a measles epidemic that was quickly spreading among their people.  Dr. Whitman tried to help the sick, but the Cayuse were largely unable to fight the disease.  They noticed that white people generally lived through the disease while the Indians died, and rumors began spreading that Dr. Whitman was intentionally killing the Cayuse in order to get their land and horses.  Apparently Dr. Whitman was aware of the significant decline in the relationship and was warned that his life could be in danger if he stayed, but decided not to leave.

On November 29, 1847, several Cayuse raided the mission and killed Marcus and Narcissa and 11 other men and boys.  Over 60 people, including several women and children, were held hostage for a month until representatives from the Hudson Bay Company could negotiate a ransom for their release.  There were 19 of these people who directly witnessed the raid and were able to provide significant details about what happened.  They provided a great deal of information that is useful to historians today.

At the mission there was a mission house, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop and fields where crops were grown.  All of these buildings are outlined for visitors with blocks, but the originals are long gone and the Park Service has not created replicas.  I like it better that way – I find I enjoy a site more if it hasn’t been altered.  You can also see a section of the Oregon Trail, and the wagon ruts are still clearly visible – no grass grows there.  It is pretty humbling to imagine walking most of the way across the United States, and to know you will never see family or friends again.

A Section of the Oregon Trail at the Whitman Mission Site

A Section of the Oregon Trail at the Whitman Mission Site

Marcus and Narcissa and the others killed that day are buried in a mass grave – you can visit the site up the hill a little ways from the mission site.  Later a memorial monument was placed at the stop of the hill – you can walk up to the top and get a good workout – so of course we did!  There is also a visitor’s center with a small museum and a theater with a twenty minute video about the Whitmans and the Mission.  The Visitor’s Center did a good job of simply telling the story as it is.  They didn’t try to treat the Whitmans as martyrs, and didn’t try to villainize them either; the exhibits and the film pointed out that the Whitman’s had shortcomings and certainly contributed to the decline of the relationship with the Cayuse that ultimately cost them their lives.

The Mass Grave Where the Whitmans and Eleven Other Victims of the Raid Are Buried

The Mass Grave Where the Whitmans and Eleven Other Victims of the Raid Are Buried

The Whitman Mission was well worth the visit – it is a very peaceful site today.  There were probably a half dozen other people there during our visit.  I enjoyed refreshing my memory on this couple who were integral in the history of the Oregon Trail.