Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Westward Expansion - The End of the Trail

Well, let's see here, I left y'all hanging, didn't ?  So sorry about that!  We arrived home late Thursday evening, and it seems like real life barrelled down on us immediately.  After being gone so long, I guess it is to be expected, but it would have been nice to decompress a little!  You can imagine the laundry that was piled up for three days on the living room floor, I won't show a photo of that one :-)

But let's step back a few days to the last couple of adventures of our Westward Expansion trip!

We left Yellowstone, and all were sad to say good-bye.  It was such a beautiful place, and we agreed we need to return to see the other half of the park that was closed and not yet open for summer visitors.  There was far too much to explore than 2 days could allow, and we spent a little time on our drive to Idaho calculating how many hours it was from home if we were to drive back someday.

Montpelier, Idaho, was our next destination.  Why, you might ask?  Well, we asked the same thing as we pulled into town!  Hahaha!  Oh my goodness, it had the feel of a near ghost town, with many abandoned buildings and empty store fronts.  Weedy lots in front of long closed motels lined the main drag, and I wondered what in the world I had gotten us into.  I almost expected to see Stephen King cross the street!  We teased and joked as the wind howled around ol' Jorge, and we realized we needed at least one One Horse Town to visit on our trip!  We were staying in a Super 8, which was actually quite nice, but it initially felt like we were the sole occupants of this largish hotel.  We later learned that the town was indeed about half the size it used to be before the long, slow decline of the past five years or so, but the train companies were working tracks nearby and eventually the motel filled up for the evening with rugged, tired, strong men who had put in a hard day's work and had another to wake up to in just a few hours.

Why were we in Montpelier?  I never answered the question sufficiently...we were there to visit the Oregon Trail Museum.  I would never have built this into our trip were it nor for having it suggested several times on a homeschooling forum I participate in.  Reading about how great it was, I figured we just had to see it.  As we drove past it, and realized it was right next to our hotel, we wondered if it was going to be worth the drive.  It didn't look all that impressive from the outside, but we were there and the hotel was booked, so we figured we had nothing to lose.  After an evening of card playing, where Dominick taught the kids how to play "Hearts", we rose the next morning and lazily made our way across the street to the museum.

When we entered the building, we were greeted by a couple of nice ladies in the gift shop, where we were told that the museum was closed and wouldn't be opening for several more days.  She invited us to view their art gallery of western art with hidden pictures in each canvas, and she visited a little more with us.  

When we explained what we were doing there, and what we had been studying, she hesitated for a moment then said,"If you are willing to pay the regular fee, I can call the Wagon Master and see if he has time to come down, open it up, and give you a demonstration."  I hadn't realized this was an experiential sort of living history museum.  When we told her we would gladly do so, but didn't want to put anyone out, she said it wouldn't hurt to try, and off she went to place a call.  Meanwhile, another couple had come in hoping to see the museum as well, and all of us were so happy when she said that if we were willing to wait a few minutes, they would go ahead and let us go through.  As it turned out, we were especially glad that the effort was made, as this was the best museum we visited on our adventure!

In comes our Wagon Master, whose name I have now forgotten, and he is fully in character and ready to take us on our long journey over the Oregon Trail:

This was such a great museum! They walk you through the entire process of pretending to get ready for the journey by buying a wagon and supplies, as they explain about what is needed to make it alive, some of the hardships experienced, and many little things we weren't aware of or hadn't thought about.  Original artifacts were out on display, along with some replicas, that we were encouraged to touch and hold:

Every boy over 12 on the wagon train was required to carry a rifle.  The trip averaged about $800 or more, which on wages of $3 a week took a very long time to raise.  Angela discovered the rifles were quite heavy back in the day!

The museum is built right over the top of the actual Oregon Trail, and artifacts were found as they dug the foundation.  The dirt right exactly below our feet was where wagons like this left deep ruts:

People often think the pioneers rode on the wagons, but they didn't.  Most often they ended up walking the majority of their time on the trail as their loads were already too heavy for the oxen.  Can you imagine walking over the Rocky Mountains?  Cooking with buffalo poop?  Sleeping under a wagon for 4-5 months? One out of every six pioneers died on the trail.  That means in all likelihood, someone in our family would not have made it to the promised land of Oregon.

To survive the trip, our family would need upwards of 800 lbs of flour, 120 lbs of coffee (Blech!!), about 800 lbs of bacon, and a couple hundred pounds of sugar.  Startling, isn't it??  They'd stock up in stores in Independence, MO or just a little further up north, find an experienced wagon master who most often instructed folks to purchase a brand new wagon in the hopes it would remain intact for the entire trip.  We all decided that instead of going to Oregon, we would have tried to capitalize on the situation by opening a shop instead to sell supplies to the pioneers...less risk, and more reward.  Olesya said she did NOT want to spend her days picking up buffalo poop to cook with!

Our wagon master stayed in character throughout, and did  wonderful job of offering loads of information as we walked through the museum.  Next it was into a wagon, rigged up on a platform to feel as if it was really moving, and while we rode there were stories piped in over speakers shared from actual diaries of local families whose relatives were on the Trail.

Having arrived at our nightfall campsite, we were met by one of the pioneer women who shared stories about cooking out of a wagon, and the true story of hitting a bear over the head with a frying pan and killing it!

Olesya loved listening to the pioneer woman!

We learned more about the wagons themselves and the oxen that pulled them:

Above is a Wagon Odometer, seriously.  They used to have children count the revolutions of the wagon wheels so they could more accurately figure out where they were and the mileage covered, but too many were killed by being run over, so a company came up with this gadget.

I had never given it any thought that oxen would need a different style of shoe.  This is for one hoof, and it comes in two parts.

Finally, we were finished with our tour, and had to leave the trail behind

We thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Oregon Trail Museum, and ultimately felt it was well worth traveling out of our way to see.  They did a very good job of bringing the experience to life with the sort of information they shared, and we though it is not a big museum, nor fancy, it was awesome and all of us talked about how much we learned even though we studied so much before hand.

After spending an afternoon geocaching and finding three caches, we holed up for the evening and readied ourselves to head out for our last full day.  We were going to Dinosaur National Monument to see the Dinosaur dig,where fossils were left embedded in the dry earth to allow visitors to see what paleontologists see when they are unearthing dinosaur fossils.  This too was way cooler than we would have expected, and a place we would not have gone out of our way to see if it weren't along our drive home.

A beautiful 2 year old facility houses the dig area to protect it.

Some of the fossils you can see on the large wall of them.  It is upright as it was pushed upward when the earth heaved. This area was originally a river bed.

Matthew and Kenny both thought it was super cool to touch real dinosaur bones left in place.  None of the boys were ever dino kids like many boys are, preferring super heroes (Josh), Kings (Kenny), and Construction Vehicles (Matt) when they were younger...well, Matt anyway.  Josh and Kenny still love those things, but Matthew has moved on :-)

And that, my friends, was the end of our trip.  Nothing more but a long drive home.  Jorge was wonderful on the trip, providing a much safer ride, no bottoming out, more space for the kids, and not a problem in the world engine-wise.  We kept saying over and over again how blessed we were to find such a bargain on Ebay that fit our needs so perfectly.  You would never have guessed it wasn't a brand new van from the kind of ride it offered, certainly not a 25+ year old van!!  God really provided for us with that, and at a price that we could afford.  Though we definitely miss the RV and wish we had it for camping this summer, Jorge made more sense, and was quickly turning into a "need" not a "want", at least for safety's sake.

Jorge, in definite need of a car wash!! Almost 4000 miles later, he earned it!

So it is back to routine, which is a good thing, too.  Angela could have stayed on the road forever :-)  She is such a road trip kid!!  She needs to find a job that involves travel some day.  Everyone else was pretty much ready to get back home, sleep in our own beds, and see our friends who were terribly missed.  This trip proved far more educational than I ever would have imagined.  Things we learned, aside from social studies topics were:

1)  We really do travel well together, and we didn't feel at all like we needed to get away from one another!  That was a nice surprise, and in fact I already miss the somewhat uninterrupted time we shared that was such a gift.

2)  We will attempt from now to on to always book with small mom and pop motels.  The ones we stayed in beat the chains by a mile.  Cleaner rooms, friendlier staff, maybe fewer amenities, but often larger rooms.

3)  We need to ditch the spare tire on the back, and give ourselves more space on the rack.  We will put the spare on the roof next time.

4)   Use the "Yelp" app to find good places to eat.  The few times we ate at real restaurants, we found the less advertised, great "hole in the wall" type places by using Yelp.

5)  Girls and boys in their own rooms works really, really one complaining to the boys to pick up all the time and the girls had our clean, comfy room with no smelly socks and wet towels strewn everywhere.

6)  We were on a very tight budget, and were reminded again that ordering water at every meal instead of a soda saves a fortune.  Well...sometimes mom cheated, but everyone was supportive of that idea :-)

7)  Don't bother with a hotel washer and dryer.  When traveling with 7 and needing to do laundry, just go find a laundromat and do it all at once.  An hour and a half and we had a weeks worth done for all of us.  Oh yea, and bring your own detergent, don't buy it there (we didn't learn that one the hard way, we anticipated it ahead of time)

8)   Using any smart phone made the trip ten times easier.  We had never used it as much for travel as we did for this trip, and it was the single best tool we had for finding out information on the fly, changing reservations and using Trip Advisor, getting maps, looking up attraction hours, etc.

9)  Give the LaJoy's a deck of cards, a game of Rummikub, and a game of Quirkle, and we are set for daaaayyys.

10)  Always, always seek out hotels or motels with elevators.  We haul too much for all of us to go up and down stairs, especially with my bum hip.

What were our favorite things to see?  Surprisingly, many voted for the Budweiser tour!  The sheer volume and statistics as we watched the bottling plant made it an unbelievable place to see.  We all really loved Yellowstone, and the Oregon Trail Museum.  Of course, Mount Rushmore was just awesome to see.  The arch was cool to see, but not a place we'd return to.  Honorable mention for better attraction was the Vaile Manson, which surprised me, but which everyone appreciated.  It seemed like the bigger hits were the places that gave you a real sense of what life was like in a different era, not where you just looked at exhibits under glass. All in all though, our travel agent (Me! Haha!) did a pretty good job by everyone's account, and the only "flop" was really the National Trails Museum in Independence...a total "not worth the drive".  Though thinking about it now, we did enjoy the Truman Presidential Library there, which we wouldn't have seen if we hadn't gone to Independence for the Trails Museum, so maybe it was still worth it!

The trip generated so much conversation, deep thinking, and desire to learn more about newly discovered people and events.  I know we are a total geek family, but I think I like it that way!  We all read a ton of books while we were driving, Matthew practiced his card tricks and grows ever better at dealing and shuffling, Angela followed in Josh's foot steps and bought a much larger teddy bear to sleep with, which melted my heart just a little to watch my big fifteen year old daughter fast asleep in the bed next to me snuggling her bear close to her cheek.  Olesya showed me today some of her really great photos, and we can't wait to work on her slide show.  Kenny is now spouting all kinds of facts recalled from the trip days later, and reminds me of how smart he is and how much he can retain if just presented the material visually and experientially.  Dominick and I?  We're TIRED!! Hahaha!  Tired, happy, and blessed beyond all measure.  I still can't believe we were able to do it, something I had long dreamed of one day doing with my then imaginary family...a long road trip to see the sights of the west.  The only thing we missed was the one thing I really wanted to see, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in DeSmet, SD.  Maybe another road trip someday!

The next couple of weeks are booked solid with testing for Kenny, some of which happened to day and I'll blog about the next couple of days, more school meetings, Matthew finishing up a marathon to get his last two subjects done by Friday for the year, church work, and shoving down the growing panic over moving on to high school homeschooling next year...which is really more like the next couple of weeks for us.

So it's the end of the trail for the trip, but the new trails stretch out before us, waiting for us to saddle up!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was beginning to think you all followed in the foot steps of the Donner Party! Glad to see you made it home safely. What a journey!

Teresa F.