Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mass Migration through Casper, Wyoming

Casper was a quick stop along our way back east across Wyoming as we made our pilgrimage to Cheyenne for the annual Frontier Days Rodeo.  We were not aware of that Casper was such an important crossroads for some of our nation’s most important migratory “trails” for early explorers heading to the American west.  Four important trails passed through the area - The Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express.  Men, women, and children who blazed these trails did so for remarkably different reasons, yet all were determined to achieve their goals whether they were religious, financial, opportunistic, or simply carrying mail.

While in Casper, I told Betsy I wanted to visit the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center and after a slight roll of her eyes she agreed.  The museum tells the story of the hearty people that crossed these four trails and the trials, tribulations, and hardships they suffered during their quest.  While we had heard of these trails, the Pony Express was the only one we knew much about.

The Rocky Mountains stood as a formidable barrier to those travelers who wanted to claim parts of the west.  Their strong will allowed them to find passages through the mountains.  The trickle of people walking across the barren lands, mountain passes, and rivers on foot carrying all their possessions started as a trickle but grew into a flood once passable routes were established. 

Nearly 500,000 emigrants, between 1840 and 1869, traveled west though Casper on these National Historic Trails.  In some cases, their foot trails paved the way for railroads and then highways.  The end of the trail era came in 1869 when the transcontinental railroad provided a safer, faster means of travel.  The ambition and actions of these brave individuals are an important part of American history. 

This museum turned out to be one of the finest that we have been to so far and even Betsy was really glad that we saw it.  She was amazed at the quality and all that we learned.

The museum has many interactive exhibits for adults and kids.  This was our favorite.  You take a seat inside the covered wagon and get a virtual 4-D experience as you cross the North Platte River.
From inside the wagon, a movie plays and the coach rocks back and forth as the oxen lurch and you cross boulders in the river.  
The decisions of what to take and when to leave were critical.  Space was limited so careful planning of supplies was of utmost importance.  Leaving too late would mean you would have to brave the harsh winters.  If you left too early, pastures would not provide nourishment for domestic animals and mean wild game was scarce.
The Mormons used hand carts to move their goods.  This exhibit lets you pull the cart and see how hard the task really was.
If you were lucky, you traveled by stage coach.
The Pony Express was in operation for just 19 months until the telegraph made it obsolete.
It took approximately 25 riders and 150 horses 10 days to get a message from Missouri to California.
Despite freezing weather, drowning, disease, and various other maladays 94% of the pioneers arrived at their destination.

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