The Oregon Trail: Hendrickson Style
Since we began our travels seven years ago, we’ve rarely taken the most direct route. Instead we tend to see what there is to see between where we are and where we are heading and then zigzag among the sights! Ah, the luxury of having all the time in the world. We have reservations for the month of May in Portland followed by June in Seattle so our detour to Minnesota from southern New Mexico was going to add a few miles. Next question was what’s to see in between?
The landscape continues to change as we head north, leaving the desert and moving into the high country. New Mexico is a really interesting state. But for me, it would take some time getting used to all the open space. I think you’d have to be pretty self-sufficient to live here. Unless your home is in one of a few cities, you definitely can’t make a quick run to the store.
We had planned to spend a couple of days in Santa Fe and the surrounding area but then I read that high elevations increase demands on the heart. Doesn’t seem to be a smart decision to dawdle here given that our whole purpose of the Minnesota detour is to get Bob a pacemaker. So we made a quick trip through the downtown, enough to make us realize we definitely want to come back to experience more of this beautiful city and check out the historic mountain pueblos as well.
Leaving Santa Fe we continued our trek north. After driving through hundreds of miles of barren land we decided to make a stop in Trinidad, Colorado, an old mining town with a lot of history. In the early 20th century the owners of the coal mines made a lot of money and the town has many huge Victorian homes reflecting that wealth. But life wasn’t quite so good for the miners and in 1914 the horrific Ludlow Massacre was the result of the conflict between the two sides. https://www.britannica.com/event/Ludlow-Massacre There are several monuments honoring the minors including the iconic canary! The last local mine closed in 2012 but an Australian company was trying to buy the mine and reopen it in 2020. Then the pandemic hit so I’m not sure where it all stands today.
Just a couple hours beyond Trinidad we came to Colorado Springs, a pretty city, made all the more beautiful with Pikes Peak hanging as a backdrop. We spent a morning driving through the Garden of the Gods.
The altitude was still high but we figured we’d not be doing a lot of walking and only spending a few hours there. We’d visited several times but it never fails to impress. We were thrilled by all the bighorn sheep that came down to greet the park visitors!
From Colorado Springs we headed east and into the flat endless plains. Throughout the plains we were nearly blown off our feet whenever we stepped out of the car. No wonder there are so many windmills!
There are currently 13 presidential museums and libraries. We have sort of seen seven of them. I say sort of because while we visited Jimmy Carter’s Museum and Library in Atlanta last November, because of Covid we weren’t able to do more than tour the grounds. We also have visted Jerry Ford’s Museum in Grand Rapids, but he is the only president to have his library and museum in two different locations. And we have not been to his library in Ann Arbor.
President Eisenhower’s Museum and Library are located in Abilene, Kansas. So that became our next destination. Again, because of Covid we could only wander through the grounds. But in this case I thought it added to the provenance. It was a cool drizzly Sunday morning in this little town that pretty much defines itself as Eisenhower’s home. Trees and bushes were just beginning to blossom and the grounds are spread out among his childhood home, his library, several monuments and his burial site. With the exception of a lone security guard we were the only ones there.
The silence enhanced reflection on the world and how it evolved during Eisenhower’s lifetime: from his earliest years in Abilene during the late 1890s (less than a decade after Abilene was known as part of the “End of the Chisolm Trail,”) continuing through his years as commander of the expeditionary forces of the allied troops during World War II, on through the years when he was president of Columbia University, and continuing through the years when he was president of the United States and finally during his years of retirement on his farm in Gettysburg. I don’t think we’ve had many presidents whose greatest has been defined outside of the presidency, a few perhaps but not many. I definitely believe Eisenhower’s was. And the fact that the statue of him has him in his military dress suggests that perhaps others believe this to be true as well! I think about all the streets and boulevards we’ve seen in Europe named after him. Ah, but I digress!
Driving on to Manhattan Kansas, we stopped long enough to drive through the campus of Kansas State University. We were pleasantly surprised by this lovely campus. The grounds are hilly and nicely landscaped and definitely have the feel of a collegiate atmosphere.
Those of you who know me and my connection to literacy will not be surprised when I say the library facade is my favorite. The books are each 25 feet tall and 9 feet wide. I thought it was a wonderful idea that they had community members and library patrons vote to decide which 22 book covers should be included! Again, Kansas City is a city I want to return to after things open up. Truly, had we not had a taste of it on our cross country odyssey I never would have considered it a destination!
We were nearing Minnesota but we still had one last place to visit. That was West Branch, Iowa, a tiny hamlet of 2,000 people that was the home of Herbert Hoover. Just like Abilene, Kansas, this is a town that totally identifies itself with its famous native son. In a much more modest fashion, but similar to Eisenhower’s complex, an area has been preserved in much the same way it was during Hoover’s time there. The graves of President Hoover and his wife are atop a hill that overlooks the town. I could remember seeing Hoover occasionally on TV when I was a child but couldn’t conjure up any memories of his wife. When I looked it up I realized that’s because she died before I was born. And he lived twenty years more, until 1964.
After more than 1700 miles we reached Rochester, Minnesota. The weather had cooperated and while we had encountered a bit of rain, we’d not had anything horrendous. But it was cold! When it began to snow just a couple of hours south of Rochester, I realized how optimistic I had been when I chose to wear sandals that morning!
Bob had his preappointments at the clinic and then his surgery to get his pacemaker. I continue to be amazed by the Mayo Clinic. This quote of Dr. William Mayo, posted on one of the clinic walls, reflects the institution’s philosophy still today!
Bob’s surgery took a bit more than two hours but throughout his operation I received updated text messages. First he had gone into surgery. Then the surgery had begun. Next the pacemaker was inserted. The wires were being attached. It was really phenomenal. About 7 hours after we had arrived we were headed back to our hotel room. And the next morning at 9 am we had a meeting with a “technologist” who charted the data received from the pacemaker. We were told that there was an app we could download on his phone that would transmit the data back to his doctors periodically. He doesn’t need to return for three months. We were good to go. One catch, he can’t lift anything heavier than 5 pounds for 4 weeks nor can he drive for 10 days. As a result you’ll notice there are fewer pictures than usual for the remainder of Oregon Trail trip. It’s difficult to drive and take pictures at the same time! But Portland here we come!
Our reservation in Portland was scheduled to begin Monday, May 3. That gave us three full days and two half days of driving. We’ve have to travel about 450 miles a day; that seemed doable. We decided to follow I 90 which is the most direct way. This interstate roughly follows the path of the Oregon Trail. We’ve traveled to Seattle more times than we can count so there weren’t a lot of stops we planned to make along the way. But when we approached Badlands National Park we couldn’t just drive on! There’s a loop through the park that starts at one exit on I 90 and then about 35 miles later we met up with I 90 again at Wall Drug and yes, we made a stop there too, for an ice cream cone!
More than 30 years ago when we first visited the Badlands our oldest son commented that he thought the landscape looked like he envisioned walking on the moon. And I think of that whenever we return. Like so many other places we’ve visited, it’s hard to imagine what the pioneers must have thought when they first came upon this unusual landscape! Even today visitors are warned to watch out for rattlesnakes and stinging insects and not to get too close to wild animals noting that bison can run as fast as 30 mph. But the views are amazing and there were plenty of places to pull off and contemplate all that we were seeing.
I 90 across Minnesota, South Dakota, and cutting up through the corner of Wyoming and then into eastern Montana is pretty flat. We found Spotify to be a welcome addition to our travels across this barren countryside, and we chose western music to complement the scenery. We half expected a group of cattle rustlers to come riding in but with the exception of a few pheasants and a couple of pronghorn antelope, we didn’t come across any other wildlife, human or otherwise!
But the rest of Montana? This was worth the wait! Just as we approached Butte, the landscape began to change. This is where we met up with the Rockies! As we first glimpsed the mountains, we found ourselves, saying, “Wow! Look there! And there!” And the fact that the Rockies are snowcapped this time of year makes them all the more beautiful.
We continued across Montana passing through Bozeman and Butte and Missoula. And the scenery only got better. Crossing into Idaho we went over the Shoshone Pass at 4,725 feet that climbs through the Coeur d’Alene Mountains, part of the Bitterroot Range. Not only was the scenery magnificent but the 80 mph speed limit allowed us to make really good time.
We had planned on stopping in Spokane but it was still early so we drove on to Kennewick, Washington, and the Columbia River. Kennewick is the largest of the tri-cities of Paseo, Richland and Kennewick. Archeologists have found evidence that Native Americans have lived in this area for thousands of years. The population increased considerably in the 1940s when people moved here to work on the Manhatten Project. Richland is the location for the Hanford Site, part of the Department of Energy and in the middle 1960s the Pacific Northwest Laboratory (also part of the Department of Energy) was constructed in Richland and is now the major source of employment. Until we drove into Kennewick, we hadn’t realized how big a city it was!
On our final section of our drive we followed the Columbia River from Kennewick all the way to Portland.
As we continued down I 90, Mt. Hood came into view directly in front of us. I find the Cascades really interesting since they have so many iconic volcanoes lined up in a row from California nearly to the Canadian border: Mt Shasta, Mt Hood, Mt Saint Helens, Mt Rainer, Mt Baker!
We started our trek less than 40 miles from the Mexican border, traveled to the midwest and are now in Portland, Oregon, where we’re approximately 300 miles from the Canadian border. It’s been a journey of nearly 4,000 miles since we left Las Cruces less than two weeks ago. We’ve had fun, and we’ve seen a lot, but I have to admit, I have no desire to get in a car for a few days!