Road Trip Day 7: My First Day on the Oregon Trail

Today … well, it’s been a day, hasn’t it?

I set out from Lawrence, KS, after work this morning. The short version is that I am safely in my hotel in Kearney, NE. I spent a weekend in Chicago with Tessa and three days with Marcella and Phillip and their kids, with a bonus visit from Rocky, our mutual college friend, who came for dinner and a viewing of MST3K, with good times and good conversation had by all. Since these are all people I like very much, who know me well, who are fun, and who I haven’t seen recently/enough, I guess it didn’t drain my introvert social batteries as much as I expected, because I was feeling really lonely when I got into my room and settled down to have a dinner of hummus and carrot sticks and cheese and crackers.

But 300 is on AMC. So at least there are hot guys. And I’m Gchatting with Kara.

First, a few photos from Lawrence of some of the last original prairie grass left in the state:

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(Click on the pics for a closer look)

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Kansas is quite pretty, more than you’d expect based on, say, The Wizard of Oz. It’s not even sepia anymore!

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I managed to cross the Kansas River without losing my wagon or any supplies.

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And, as it turns out, the Oregon Trail and its landmarks are such a touristy thing that I kept seeing these handy signs all the way between Lawrence and Kearney:

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The first planned stop I had was Alcove Springs, where many pioneers on the Oregon Trail stopped to camp. But on the way, along Kansas route 99, near Westmoreland, I came across Scott Spring, another popular resting spot. It was a delightful surprise.

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More prairie grass!

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Sorry, the grasses were too high and the bank too steep to get a good picture of the reservoir, so this is the best I could do.

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This is the first model wagon I saw on my trip, but it will *not* be the last.

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There are so many of these historical markers along the Trail, I couldn’t possibly stop at all of them. But they’re cool.

 

Just past Scott Springs was a hand-dug well that has become a historical site of its own.

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I admit, I was not expecting a well of this size

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After what seemed like forever, FINALLY I got to Alcove Springs. I saw a sign for it, indicating I had to turn left and go six miles.

“Sure!” I said, turning my car eagerly

…onto a dirt-and-gravel road. For the whole six miles. Six miles of grinding, rattling, and going about 20 mph because I was worried about what all that gravel would do to my car.

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Eventually

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I did not pass another car on my way to this park, and it was obviously miles from the main highway. There was no one else in the parking lot or the picnic area when I pulled in. And when I got out of my car, I was deafened by the silence.

Well, I say “silence.” True, there were no sounds of traffic, machinery, or humanity at all. But the air rang with the buzz of mosquitoes and flies, the cries of birds, and the eerie whisperings of the tall grasses and the tree leaves in the breeze. This was all made even more overpowering by the heat and sunshine.

The park was equal parts beautiful and informative.

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The one thing about summer I like over winter: more of my favorite color everywhere

 

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Here’s the thing: You’ll see a little bit of water in some of those photos, but based on a Google Images search, I didn’t get to the actual springs. Had I been with company, I would have stayed much longer to explore. There were, as you can see, lots of gorgeous wooded areas. The place was so silent and so isolated, that I could not help thinking, “Someone could pop up and murder me and no one would know…or ever know.” Unlikely? Probably. But my courage failed me. So the photos you see are all I got. Even so: pretty.

Across the dirt road was another part of the park that was breathtaking, not so much in its beauty, but its significance.

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DAR memorial to a pioneer woman who died and was buried here

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Photos really do not do this area justice. Neither do words. It was absolutely incredible–the first spot on my trip where I could really picture all the wagons and the pioneers being there. The silence and the atmosphere made it seem spooky and sacred. I don’t want to go so far as to say I thought it was haunted or anything like that, but I was definitely getting a strong sense of the history and the magnitude of the endeavor. I’m sure that will only intensify as I go along the trail.

The flies and mosquitoes at this place were ridiculous. Months ago, when I was planning this trip and still reading the Song of Ice and Fire series, I thought, “You know, I definitely wouldn’t survive Westeros, but I think I could have survived the Oregon Trail.” One day into the Trail part of my road trip, and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t survive that, either.

I mean, the provisions alone…

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Cheese, crackers, and pepperoni (my version of “salt pork”)

 

Not to mention the dust…

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Anyway, thoroughly creeped out, I decided to move along.

Next on my agenda was Rock Creek Station. I was eager to go here, because I had heard you could still see wagon ruts in the ground there. I didn’t end up staying that long, and I didn’t see actual wagon ruts, but in the photos I took, you can see the difference in terrain, and that was caused by the wagons.

(I know it seems like I was being lame today, but I’ve been awake since 4:30am and I just didn’t feel like doing too much risky exploring.)

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So far, the photos that follow are the only redeeming feature I have experienced in this otherwise really boring state.

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I told you that first wagon model wouldn’t be the last

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After lots of driving and some miscalculations in my route, I reached Kearney, NE, where I am hopefully going to fall asleep very soon, before waking up to do work before I head to Fort Kearney. Happy trails!