It’s the first stretch of nice sunny days for the season, I should be mowing the lawn, but what do I do? I take a 200+ mile detour to see ruts of the original Oregon Trail…
Ok, I admit, I’d been wanting to do this for a while now. Today was National Trails Day, which meant admission was free. BLM’s Oregon Trail Interpretive Center was topping it off with a new gate ceremony and more festivities than we could partake of, so naturally I was psyched.
I’d had the kids since the previous Friday, and my daughter was missing her mom and wanted to go home, so I obligingly dropped her off this morning, warning her of the day’s planned festivities. This was a bonus for Tanner, as he always sits in the back of my club-cab pickup with no window that opens just for him. With booster seat on, and airbag off, we set out to Baker City, Oregon (or thereabouts).
By the time we got to La Grande, we realized our early blueberry pancake breakfast was not going to last us until lunch. With a quick stop for breakfast sandwiches & the restroom, we continued on to Baker City. I planned on the trip taking up to 2.5 hours, and was making good time, so I decided to slow down and try and make the gas go as far as I could. As a side benefit, I was trying to arrive at lunch time, which ended up being an hour late.
They had just wrapped up the new gate ceremony when we arrived, so we got to drive through it. Climbing the hill we chose the middle circular parking lots which (from google earth) look like crop circles. We went inside and did a whirlwind Tanner-paced speed walk through all the exhibits. (We of course repeated this later, as he missed most of it the first time.) There were stuffed oxen, buffalo, statues, wagons, interactive exhibits, 4 or so theaters, it was TOTALLY awesome. Then we stopped by the gift shop for a trail map and a souvenir. Tanner picked a wooden whistle, whilst I got a pin and coin for geocaching loot.
We ventured over to the wagon encampment where they were jovially singing, playing, and staying in character. Realizing that lunch was to be an hour later than what was posted on the website, I decided to explore some more. I didn’t have time to go down the trail to the ruts as the sign warned us of a 1.75 mile trek without water or restrooms. Instead, we hiked a breezy quarter-mile to the Flagstaff lode mine. Here was the top of the mine, where ore would be lifted up the shaft and dumped into a cart for transport to the stamp mill. (I’ll explain later.) It was a fun experience to go inside, even if it’s only about 4 feet deep. My son said it smelt like mushrooms and wanted no part of it.
We returned to the circled wagons with time to spare, passing a rabbit on the way, so we grabbed a log in the shade of a wagon. (The only shaded seating left.) They were serving a dutch-oven, authentic camp lunch that day, by donation. When it was our turn, we got our coated metal utensils and proceeded to the pot of stew. Now I’m sure every 6 year old would just LOVE hot stew in the sunny 80+ degree heat, right? I mean, with all those vegetables and sloppy textures, who could resist? I told them, we’d just share a bowl . With authentic biscuits, cornbread, and salad, I was afraid my son would attempt the rest of the day on just a cookie for fuel. We returned to our log, and I made him try the buffalo stew. “IT’S DELICIOUS!” Though that one bowl wasn’t enough for us both, I got a pretty good idea of what to cook on my next camping trip…
Since we were at the beginning of the line, we had time to kill before activities resumed at 1, so we headed down to the truck and I read a chapter out of the book we’re working on. We had already devoured one of my 20 oz water bottles, so I drained the melt-off from my frozen jug that I brought. That hit the spot! We saw the volunteers returning to the carriage, so we joined them. Two MASSIVE draft horses towed us down to the stamp mill, where we departed.
Ok, what the heck is a stamp mill? A stamp mill works by taking raw ore & rock in the top. The ore goes down a chute where it tumbles under a huge piston/pile-driver/hammer thing. Actually, there are 5 lined up all smashing in a series. This smashes, flattens, and breaks it down into little pieces that they then filter with water to obtain “the good stuff.” The mill they had no longer functioned, but the scaled model inside worked with the touch of a button…
We then sought-out the ‘Gold Panning’ activity, which was closed. Apparently, despite what the schedule says, it was this morning while we were waiting around… Grrrr…. Trying to make the best of it, I told my son how a sluice box works, and we proceeded to splash our faces with the refreshing water. After hearing a PA announcement, we went inside to watch a Lewis & Clark video in their theater. It turned out to be a full-length film, so we left. (This is when my son did a more thorough exploration of the exhibits.)
Now it was late afternoon, we were getting hungry again, and we still hadn’t seen “The Ruts.” If we took the nice, scenic, paved, 5% or less graded trail system, we’d be 45 minutes out, and an hour climbing back up the hill, putting us back around dinner time… SO dad came up with something else. A quick glance at the map confirmed, that a quick jaunt down the road would put us at a trail with a very SHORT (albeit not paved) trail to the ruts. After walking a bit in the footsteps of pioneers long-gone, we headed into Baker City for an afternoon snack.
If you don’t already know, my kids and I live in Wallowa County, Oregon. The only fast food out here is still moving of its own free will. Since I hadn’t left the county or seen a stop light in 9 months, I told my son we could go to McDonald’s. McDonald’s is a big deal for them, it has stuff to play on. My son was obviously as bushed as I, because he slept almost all the way back to La Grande. (About 45 minutes at the fuel-sipping pace I was going.)
“Are we to La Grande yet?” my waking son inquired.
He’s refreshed and ready for the next adventure, so we go to one of the nicer parks in the area where there just so happens to be a geocache… Unfortunately, the place is packed with mobs of everything, from families enjoying playgrounds, to young ripped 20-somethings (smoking, drinking, making-out). I play with my son for a bit (in the family section), explore, hide & seek, then we embark for the bushes where we think the geocache is hidden. With no luck, and no time to be conspicuously searching and disturbing folks, we postponed it for another day and headed for “Mickey D’s” for dinner.
I zoned out on disgustingly cheap nuggets while my son played extensively with all the other kids in the play area. Fortunately for me, I was too big to play on it. I had to cut him off if we were going to make it home by bedtime. Once we got nearer to home, my son decided he wanted to go back to his mom’s house, so I let him call and arrange it. After that he had to call Grammy, Papa, & Grandpa Randy to tell them of his adventures, and other miscellaneous excitement.
I returned home to a rather hot & humid house, so I opened it up and parked myself on the porch for a nice chat with my older brother and cousin (who just graduated high school today). Now, after finally downloading all the pictures and compiling my blog post for the day, I’ll officially hit the sheets… utterly spent.