During summer 2010 we followed the Oregon Trail from its origin at Courthouse Square in Independence, Missouri, to its finish in present-day Oregon City, Oregon.  Along the way we walked along ruts and swales scored by the wagons, camped near sites utilized over 150 years ago by the pioneers, visited numerous museums and interpretive centers devoted to the Oregon Trail, and gazed in wonderment at the beautiful but demanding terrain emigrants were required to navigate during their long journey west.
    Pioneers required from five to six months to complete the trail's 2,100 miles from Independence to present-day Oregon.  Both distance and travel time decreased over the years as shortcuts were discovered and bridges and ferries were constructed. In comparison, we drove 2,600 miles in three weeks while tracing the pioneers' journey.  Our trip covered more miles because significant portions of the trail are not paralleled by present-day roads. For example, in Kansas and southeastern Nebraska where wagon trains cut diagonally northwest to reach the south bank of the Platte River, today's drivers must zig and zag along county and state roads. We took fewer supplies than the pioneer families that carried 600 pounds of flour, 400 pounds of bacon, 100 pounds of sugar, 60 pounds of coffee, and 200 pounds of lard.  We also weren't burdened with heavy and bulky personal possessions such as trunks, dressers, or family heirlooms.  In addition, we didn't have the added complication of taking along and caring for children and animals.
    Not all wagon trains heading west set out from Independence, just as not all pioneers completing the journey put down roots in Oregon City.  Long wait times for crowded ferries that carried families and their gear across the Missouri caused many pioneers to cross north of Independence where delays for gaining ferry space were shorter.  Pioneers knew that an early start meant an earlier arrival in Oregon, thus giving them a better chance of locating superior land to homestead.  Following the 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in Coloma, California, pioneers, mostly gold seekers rather than families wanting to homestead, found it more convenient to cross the Missouri River at St. Joseph, Missouri. Mormons, who began traveling west in 1846, mostly crossed even further north at Council Bluffs, Iowa.
    We have taken many extended trips throughout the
United States but discovered three weeks spent following the Oregon Trail was near the top in terms of enjoyment and education.  Walking along ruts cut by wagon trains on their way to settling the West 150 years ago is an awesome experience.

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The Ultimate Road Trip:
Following the Oregon Trail