One of my favorite games growing up wasn’t Mario Brothers or Monopoly, it was none other than the computer game The Oregon Trail. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, it’s a computer game in which the player takes family and friends through a fictional journey along the Oregon Trail during the pioneer era. During this time you travel to the numerous forts and locations every pioneer encountered and could buy various products and food, go on a hunting expedition in the afternoon, and decide if your group should pay to cross the river on a ferry or take the risk and ford the river. Even though I had not actually been on the Oregon Trail, it was fun to think I had. If my character died from dysentery or my wagon capsized in the water, I could always start over and give the Oregon Trail another try. The Oregon Trail only seemed to be a distant experience, one I never thought I’d actualize until a recent visit to Nebraska. Want to join me on this part of the Oregon Trail? Then see what I discovered in a couple of Nebraska’s National Parks:
The first stop finds me at Chimney Rock National Historic Site, a natural geological formation that became a symbol for a stop of those traveling along the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. Chimney Rock was the most mentioned landmark in many travelers’ and settlers’ accounts. Looking at the various photos and descriptions of those who visited this site in the 19th Century, I’m amused to find postcards along the back wall from visitors. As it turns out, Chimney Rock has attracted more than Oregon Trail pioneers, it’s also drawn visitors from the United Kingdom who admire the pioneers and a couple whose family traveled as settlers along the trail. One postcard that catches my attention is a person who imitates the Oregon Trail game by writing that today his leg is broken, but he has a certain amount of money saved for bullets. It takes me back to the computer game I used to vicariously travel the Oregon Trail.
My next stop takes me to Scotts Bluff National Monument, another landmark for travelers, settlers, and Native Americans in Nebraska. Geologically this monument has been of particular interest because it has 740 feet of continuous geologic strata that ranges from 33 to 22 million years previous to its current state. According to the National Park Service website, Scotts Bluff has exposed the most geologic history of any location in Nebraska. Looking around, I find the continuous hillsides and cliffs look similar to Badlands National Park in South Dakota because of the mix of desert landscape and greenery. As I think of the countless Oregon Trail pioneers who crossed the plains to reach these lands, I find the one way I can connect to them is their desire to start over in a new place. To my knowledge I don’t have pioneers in my ancestry since my great-grandparents and grandparents immigrated to the United States during the late 19th and early 20th century, but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the desire to head to a new destination to start a new life. Even today I find myself in search of a new direction and location to begin a new career, make new friends, and discover new possibilities.
For now my time in Nebraska has come to a close as I head back home. Visiting these two landmarks has done more for me than any computer or video game ever could. Although I still enjoy memories of the Oregon Trail game from MECC and would love to have the chance to play the original version, seeing these sites in person has brought this journey into even more perspective. Visiting these historic sites has brought to light that traveling along the trail in a covered wagon had more trials and tests than driving the well-paved roads that connect these landmarks. Experiencing it in person helps me connect even more with the pioneers who took on the trail years ago.