Off The Beaten Trail

As a sixth grader I spent a significant amount of time playing the computer game Oregon Trail at school [1].  In that game, one plays as a family of ordinary pioneers who are making decisions about what paths to take and what items to bring with a certain amount of money and the odds of getting ill, having one’s oxen die, being bitten by rattlesnakes, or other unpleasant but historically accurate events.  So, having been given directions for a more scenic route back from an epic trip [2] than the rather boring and mundane trip down I-84 [3], I researched what time it would take for us to return to Baker City to take that route as well as explore the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center that we missed on the loop around the Hell’s Canyon Scenic Route earlier on the trip.

To make a longish story short, it was worth the trip.  Apparently I’m not the only person who played a lot of Oregon Trail as a young person because where were a lot of young people of middle school age running around, measuring themselves against the life-size models, and taking selfies with the exhibits.  I had not realized that my fondness for the Oregon Trail game was yet another age inappropriate interest of mine, but it was an enjoyable museum trip anyway.  Soon after arriving at the museum I and my travel companions watched a gloriously cheesy early 1990’s film about the Oregon Trail that featured terrible graphics as well as videos of reenactors and voiceovers from travel diaries.  Then it was time to view the wildflowers and fauna of the area, including a lot of bumblebees, and to listen to a friendly BLM ranger pitch the adoption of wild horses and burros [4] before returning to finish the lengthy tour of the main exhibits, which included videos, dioramas, life-sized models, and the opportunity to make choices about the trip along the Oregon Trail that reminded me of the game.  After a brief stop at the gift shop where I purchased a book full of primary documents on the development of Oregon for future reading and research, it was time to explore some nearby ruts of the wagon trail before we were off.

In retrospect, I do a poor job of estimating the time it takes to get from one place to another.  After having planned to stop to eat a somewhat late lunch at the Black Bear Café in Madras, to introduce my mother to one of my favorite places connected with trips from the Redmond-Bend feast site, as it is the place I like to eat dinner at with some of my friends in the congregation after the last service on the drive home, I did not realize how long it would take to drive from Baker City.  As it happened, rather than a late lunch, it ended up being a regular dinner after having had no lunch.  That said, the drive was immensely lovely.  There were the fossil beds near John Day, the driving through the broken mesa country, the steep inclines up to various passes through various mountain ranges like the Blue Mountains or the Cascades, the drives through quaint small towns, driving alongside picturesque rivers and creeks, lakes and forests.  Despite taking a little bit longer than it would have taken to drive along the interstate, it did not take too much longer, and it was a far more beautiful drive than it would have been otherwise.

Also, there was the opportunity to allow my mother to see one of the inside references and patterns of my world.  She happened to love the Black Bear Café, from the kitschy design elements and the lovely wood carvings to the friendly service and charming décor.  I must admit that I am a creature of habit, quite quick to find myself going to the same places so long as they are full of good food and good atmosphere and friendly service.  I do not consider myself hard to place–certainly beauty and politeness should not be particularly rare in life.  And as the trip wound to a close the day turned into night, I drove into the sun as is frequently my fashion, and we made it back before it was too late in the evening, even if there had not been enough time to shop.  The long hours of driving not only allowed me to finish an audiobook and get a substantial portion into the next one, but they also allowed a great opportunity to ponder on a lovely weekend and the strangeness of life, on the caravans that we form when driving even now, on the way that Oregon was peopled by those who wanted to find a new life, to press the reset button on a game that was going badly, but yet to settle down at the same time.  Perhaps there is some hope that not only will the ruts I drive into the ground remain and be of value to those who come after me, but that I might find a settled place for myself like those intrepid pioneers who came before, seeking their own place in the sun.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

[4] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Off The Beaten Trail

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