Breezing over the Oregon Trail – Eastern Oregon

Like the emigrants before us, we continued our northward trajectory and crossed into eastern Oregon.  We wanted to stay at Baker, close to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, but due to a rally event all campgrounds were fully booked. That seems to be happening more and more often these days…

So instead, Betsy hauled us up onto Flagstaff Hill, where the center itself was located with lots of parking.

It was a steep climb to the top of the hill at 3900′

While our last post about Glenn’s Ferry, Idaho, documented the perilous three island crossing, here at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center the focus was on six themes related to westward migration and settlement: pioneer life on the Oregon Trail, mountain men and early trail travelers, Native Americans along the Oregon Trail, natural history along the trail and in Eastern Oregon, mining and early settlement, and the history of the general land office.

Thanks to the emigrants who wrote about their epic journey as it unfolded, a rich and exciting legacy of journals and letters were left behind.  From them, we learned about their struggles over grasslands and sagebrush, rivers and mountains, and through sickness and fear:

Outside the center, we followed a 4.2-mile trail that led us to historic sites and panoramic views of the Blue Mountains as we arrived at the wagon wheel ruts.  This area was a former wagon encampment, where the distinct imprint of several sets of parallel ruts are marked and preserved.  The pioneers rested here before moving on to their final destination in Oregon City. 

The Interpretive Center sits on top of the hill where emigrants set up camp on the hillsides

There was a replica of the preferred and practical mode of transport – a prairie schooner.  We learned that the emigrants mostly walked all the way, about 20 miles a day for six months alongside their wagon filled with food supplies and personal belongings.  Imagine for a moment the travelers coming down a hill and grinding the earth into a fine powder as a huge cloud of dust lingered all around.

I’m standing on a wagon trail rut

During the visit, we were reminded again about how incredibly difficult the journey must have been for folks traveling 6 months and 2,000 miles over an unknown and strange expanse of land to arrive at a place where they might have a better life.  We’ve seen actual ruts in the hard-packed dirt created by wagons that people led over the fields and hills.  Most didn’t ride on the wagons as portrayed in movies – the wagons held their supplies.

Illustration of a wagon train approaching Chimney Rock in Nebraska

When we were at Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock in Nebraska (click here for my post) we learned how the pioneers used Chimney Rock as a navigation point, staying along the Platte River so they could stop for a rest and have water for their animals.  But it was only a mid-point pause on their incredible journey to the west, with the hardest part over the mountains with nasty weather along the way a live-or-die proposition still ahead:

Whether they were Mormons establishing a new place to live in order to avoid persecution, or others hoping to find a better life in the west, they were amazing in their strength and resolve.  Standing in a silent field near the Interpretive Center and looking at those wagon wheel ruts allowed us a moment to imagine what it might have been like to make the tremendous journey.  Walking back to the RV, we were humbled to appreciate how easy we have it now.

In 1978, the U.S. Congress officially named this trail the Oregon National Historic Trail.  Although much of it has been built over through the years, around 300 miles has been preserved and in places ruts made by those pioneer, wagons can still be seen.

La Grande, Oregon

After the stopover in Baker, we continued on to La Grande, where we camped for a few days.  This was a repeat visit to an agricultural town surrounded by blue mountains.  It may even make it onto our list of possible places to settle down in the future, although the winters can be a bit cold.  We followed two hiking trails at nearby Mount Emily Recreation Area: Red Apple/Rock Garden Trail and the MERA Loop.

He’s smiling because we heard a bunch of Donkeys wailing from the Red Apple Loop

Huckleberries were in season, and I was wishing I had a basket with me!

Peering through the farmland in La Grande
There were still a few colors on MERA trail loop

We stayed at Grande Hot Spring Resort , where we had free access to dip and soak in their hot springs.  How we wished we had similar access at prior campgrounds so we could soothe our aching muscles after those strenuous hikes!

The little frog joined us
At 94º it was just right!




  1. Oh how I love that part of Oregon, in the milder months 😁. Blueberries this early? Amazing.

  2. I can see you with your camera over the frog waiting patiently for that perfect frog kick and its little wake 🙂

  3. We enjoyed our stay in that part of Oregon also. Baker was our tether point as we explored the area. Great interpretive center, the location and the way the information was presented.

    • It has most of our requirements,sa hospital, a small city, affordability and surrounded by mountains with mild summers. But the winters are bitter 😦

  4. Your tale of the pioneers along the Oregon Trail is so interesting—you really brought their story to life. As you said, their journey was incredibly difficult. I can’t imagine walking 20 miles a day for 6 months!

    We’ve been intending to go to the interpretive center but haven’t yet made it there (pathetic, I know, since Oregon is our home state). And we also want to visit La Grande, where our Arctic Fox was made! I didn’t realize that La Grande is so beautiful until seeing your photos. Staying at an RV park with hot spring pools sounds pretty perfect to me. I could use some hot springs right now…

  5. I don’t think Kevin’s cardiologist would approve of 100 pounds of bacon, but it would make for a hearty breakfast before each day’s 20 mile jaunt. Perhaps they would balance each other out?? 🙂

    I like that the interpretive center focuses on different aspects than what you saw in Idaho. Way to keep us full-time travelers interested!! And it is all fascinating and humbling stuff. We truly have it pretty easy these days, even if we do get annoyed when Google maps won’t load.

    Looks like you found some great trails – love all that green and some pretty flowers too!

  6. We too really liked La Grande, though we did not stay only, only drove through town and toured the RV manufacturers nearby. It is a really pretty area. The winters do seem to extreme for our tastes though.

  7. I’ve always wanted to visit that Interpretive Center. My students use to “travel” the Oregon Trail. We planned our supply list after much reading and research and then we set off. I would make a little snack pack for them of a dried oyster biscuit, a piece of beef jerky, and piece of dried bread (pita piece). I wrapped it in brown paper and tied it with string. They thought it was great. We read stories of others as we “traveled” west. This center the longest area of tracks. One day we’ll have to make the stop.

    We are experiencing our very own hot tub out back without even having to heat the water! We are having an extreme heat wave and the pool has been 90 in the afternoon. Today it is 111 in the shade so the pool may hit that 94 you were soaking in!!

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