Today began our last push through Idaho and into Oregon. It feels like we spent quite some time in Idaho, but it had more to do with how the towns lined up along the way than the actual distance covered.
We started out by driving to the outskirts of Nampa and the site of the Ward party massacre in 1854. Like so many of the stops along the trail, the storied past of this location has been turned into a few warped picnic tables and a cracked concrete marker. About the only threat to the modern traveler is the persistent swarms of mosquitos.
During the early years of the trail, life in this region centered around Fort Boise, the next major trading post encountered after Fort Hall. The original structure was demolished a long time ago, but we planned to visit a replica that was built in Parma. It looked pretty neat, but unfortunately it was closed when we arrived. The replica was not built on the original location, which is along the banks of the Snake River in a nearby nature preserve. We managed to get there by following a winding, narrow dirt lane to an odd marker that showed the original location of the fort.
After this we jumped back on the interstate and crossed (finally!) into Oregon. After following the Snake a bit longer, the highway (and the trail route) leave the river at Farewell Bend and head northwest.
Our next stop was the Flagstaff Hill Oregon Trail Interpretive Center run by the National Park Service. It had the typical array of exhibits, videos, and monuments. It also contains a well preserved section of ruts that wind around the base of the hill.
Continuing further into Oregon territory, the sagebrush hillsides began to be replaced by pine forests. At some point during this stretch, we dropped out of cell service causing our data hungry GPS to fail. We had to rely on (gasp) paper maps and driving directions to get to the next stop, the Blue Mountain Crossing. The NPS has preserved a trail segment at the top of the ridge in the Blue Mountains where wagon trains crested the hill through tall pine groves. It was a pretty peaceful place, if a bit hot and arid.
Eventually, the trail leaves the Blue Mountains and descends into the Columbia River valley down Emigrant Hill. It’s a steep grade that causes even modern traffic trouble: I-84 uses the same route and has to provide runaway truck ramps every mile. Despite steep slopes and winding roads, the view from the top is fantastic. Fields, plains, and hills stretch into the hazy distance across the entire field of view.
At the bottom of the hill, we stopped for the night at a motel in Pendleton. Tomorrow we should arrive at the end of the trail in Oregon City, if we don’t break a wagon wheel along the way…