Riding in the ruts of the Oregon Trail
Last weekend we joined a guide and took our family for an overnight trek on the Oregon Trail organized through Historic Trails West. This experience was hands-down, the most educational and amazingly fun excursion we have done in the four years that we have been homeschooling. Three cheers for an educational field trip that even parents can enjoy!
The day of our trek we met our guide and owner of Historic Trails West, Morris Carter, at the Historic Interpretive Center in Casper Wyoming. When we saw a man with a rugged horse trailer and a cowboy hat, we knew we found our guy. After introductions we followed Morris and his crew to the start of the trek. We loaded our overnight packs into the back of the covered wagon while Morris and Greg, another driver, hitched up the horses. The horses are beautiful creatures. Don’t let their size intimidate you, they were extremely friendly and loved attention!
Heading out on the Oregon Trail:
Once the wagon was loaded and the team was hitched, we all climbed in. I could see the anticipation building while looking at my children’s faces. When the team of horses, Mike and Mark, gave that first pull it was surreal. Being right in the ruts of the actual Oregon Trail is something my family will never forget.
As you might expect, the trail is a little bumpy in spots (and a lot bumpy in others). Honestly, the bumps are a main part of the experience though. Who would ever feel like they were in the ruts of the real Oregon Trail if it was a smooth, flat ride over a well-maintained trail? Find your sense of adventure and climb on up!
Interactive History Lessons:
During the covered wagon ride on our first night, we were filled with wonder as we listened to Morris and Greg teach us about the history of the trail. The trail was originally used by fur traders and it was not until the Manifest Destiny movement in the early 1840’s that it was coined the Oregon Trail. All different types of people from missionaries to businessmen used the trail to travel West toward Oregon. The West became the land of opportunity. Travel typically consisted of 12-18 miles per day so the entire journey of over 2000 miles took approximately six months.
Of course, the six-month journey across the Oregon Trail did not happen without issue. While rolling along the trail we were told of difficult circumstances and injuries that happened to travelers and their animals. Our guides did a great job of presenting situations and asking the children to think of some possible solutions. Numerous open-ended questions were asked to promote critical thinking and a deeper understanding of this period in time. Our time in the wagon was most definitely an interactive time. Morris and Greg did a fantastic job painting a picture what life would have been like if we were on the trail in the mid 1800’s.
After riding on the trail for about 2.5 hours we rode up to our campsite for the night. The horses were unhitched and left to graze while we brought our belongings to our lodging, the tepee. Most of us had never stayed in a tepee overnight so we were very excited to trade in our usual sleeping quarters for this new experience. We were provided with thick sleeping pads as well as sleeping bags and pillows. Our tepee had plenty of room for our family of 5 to sleep in with extra room for our bags and sitting chairs.
Dinner was simmering over the fire while we were getting situated thanks to a wonderful young lady named Nevaeh. She had steaks, baked potatoes, and the most wonderful green beans ready to satisfy our appetites. Soft rolls were ready and waiting on the table. We all sat down together to enjoy conversation and the most delicious campfire dinner. A warm cobbler was also offered for dessert. My entire family finished their dinner with delight and my kids are still talking about how scrumptious the green beans were. (All the parents out there think about how often you cook dinner without hearing a single complaint. Yep, you know that means the food was A+)!
After dinner Greg and Neveah departed and Morris kept the fire going. We fully enjoyed gathering around the campfire to share stories and hear more about Morris’ experiences on the Oregon Trial. Morris and his daughters personally traveled the Oregon Trail in it’s entirety during the 150 year celebration so he has a wealth of knowledge not only about the history but he also has personal experience on traveling this route and caring for the animals and equipment necessary for the journey. Hearing about the handmade wagons we had been riding in and personal accounts of the trail made our time that much more special.
Our camp looked beautiful under the moonlit sky and it soon became apparent that it was time to turn in for the night. We all snuggled in to our sleeping bags and had a peaceful sleep. The sleeping pads were more than sufficient and we were all extremely comfortable. We woke in the morning to the sun showing the most magnificent patterns on the tepee walls.
Morning at Camp:
Well rested and excited to start our day, we dressed and headed outside. Morris had coffee cooking over the campfire and cold beverages ready as well. Breakfast consisted of roasted potatoes, bacon, and eggs. The kids enjoyed helping cook breakfast for the group. We sat around the table together one last time for fellowship and food.
Unfortunately, after breakfast it was time to pack up and head out of camp. The horses were hitched while we gathered our things and put them in the back of the wagon. Morris generously offered to take a few photos of our family before we hit the trail. There’s no electricity at camp so we aren’t all dolled up but I think we’re a pretty good looking crew none the less.
Riding back to our starting point on the Oregon Trail was humbling. Morris had our two younger children sit in the front with him and they absolutely loved it. They even got a short lesson on how to drive the horses. We are so grateful for this small glimpse into our nation’s history. Reading from a textbook is one thing but getting out on that trail made this period in time come alive for my family.
Morris from Historic Trails West was very easy going and made the entire experience effortless. I am extremely impressed that he touched on many of the aspects of the Oregon Trail that we researched and used many keywords that solidified our learning. We also learned many aspects that we hadn’t heard of before taking his tour. He was spectacular with the children and they are already asking when we can go back.
In addition to the overnight trek, Historic Trails West offers trips anywhere from 2 hours to 5 days in length. While we decided to book our trip based on our homeschooling efforts, this is an experience for everyone. Take a tour with your family or get a group together and share the fun. Visit www.historictrailswest.com for more information.
Do you have an outstanding homeschool or historical fieldtrip idea or you can share with us? Let us know in the comments!