We started our trip at the National Frontier Trails Museum in Independence, MO, where we got our first introduction to the Oregon Trail and the other trails that started from this area. The museum itself actually set the tone for the rest of what we’d see, in that much of what we saw there was similar to what we’d see most other places: artifacts, a video, some diary entries, regionally specific displays, etc. It’s a decent place to go if you aren’t planning on driving the whole thing (like crazy people…), but it didn’t really add much to the overall trip, aside from serving as a primer on what was to come.
From here, we hopped on the trail! Wanna see what it looked like?
Cool, eh? Yeah, this was our view for the first few hours of the trip as we rounded Kansas City through the southern side of town. We probably could have skipped this section, but especially early on, we were pretty committed to following the exact route of the trail as far as we could. Unfortunately, this meant driving through Suburban Hell for longer than anyone should.
Once we were out of the KC area, though, we traveled on state and federal highways as best as possible. We were on I-70 only briefly after Independence, and then started heading north.
One of our first stops was a Cholera Cemetery near Belvue, KS. It was somewhat off the beaten path, but as disease was commonplace on the Oregon Trail (and in the game), we thought it would be interesting. There were only a few stones there, and they were kept behind a chain-link fence, but the informational display nearby was interesting. It wasn’t the most exciting thing we saw on the trail, but it was a good reminder that a lot of people ended up dying of cholera before they even made it a few hundred miles past Independence…
From here, we kept heading north into Nebraska toward a Rock Creek Station State Historical Park. It was a relatively early stop on the way to Fort Kearny for trail travelers, but wasn’t necessarily an important stop. On our first day of traveling, however, we thought it’d be nice to go somewhere else before we reached our destination for the day.
At this point, I should take this time to point out that Nebraska, apparently, doesn’t believe in gravel roads. Instead of gravel, they use dirt. And in the event of rain, that dirt turns to mud. When did it last rain? I don’t know. But it must have been a lot, because the dirt road Waze took us down to get to this particular park (which, granted, was a road you don’t have to use – it’s just the one that let us cut over from the highway we were actually on to get to where we wanted to go) was filled with mud.
Luckily, Brooke was driving, otherwise we probably would have been worse off. This is probably the most harrowing experience I’ve had in a car, mostly because we were in the middle of nowhere, and if our Subaru Forester got stuck down one of those hills, it was likely a tow truck wouldn’t be able to get down there to get us out.
Thankfully, our car is awesome, and Brooke did a great job of driving it. She dropped into low gear and took it slow down and up the hills. As you can see in the picture above, the “ruts” we dug into the road were rather squiggly, as the car was sliding back and forth constantly up and down the hills.
Ultimately, though there was mud caked in our wheel wells, we survived and made it back up to the top. Brooke and I were shaking for awhile after that…enough adventure for our first day on the trail…
Rock Creek Station doesn’t appear to get many visitors…certainly not down the crappy mud road we took to get there… Still, it was a good reprieve from the last 30 min, so we took our time to walk around and see the re-created period-specific buildings they’d erected. There were wagon ruts visible, though somewhat obscured by the tall grass. The rain was starting to come in, so we didn’t hang around too long, yet long enough to watch a video about the site and learn a bit about that era. It sounds like Rock Creek Station’s main claim to fame involves a story about “Wild Bill” Hickok and his first gunfight, which took place at the station. It looks like they do re-enactments somewhat frequently, though I hope the participants are better actors than those in the video they showed us. Still, they’ve got quite a few buildings on display that make for an interesting visit. I wish we’d had more time, but with the rain coming in, we didn’t want to get stuck in a wood building a mile from the car.
Thus, we continued onward toward Windmill State Park, where we stayed for the night. The pricing was reasonable and we’d already paid our daily fee for use of Nebraska state parks, so it seemed like a good option. That, and Windmill was relatively close to Fort Kearny, where we’d start the next day.
This was also our first attempt at car camping in the back of the Forester. We’d practiced this before leaving, though didn’t actually try sleeping in the car until then. Still, we put in some eggshell foam pads and a bunch of blankets in the back of the car, folded the seats down, and did our best to get comfortable. Unfortunately, the way the seats fold down causes a substantial “dip” between the back of the rear seats and the cargo bay, so if you’re my height, it means your hips land exactly at that dip, making it kinda uncomfortable. By the second night, I figured out a reasonable sleeping position and it got better, but that first night wasn’t great.
We also ate dinner in town at Sportsman Bar and Grill. After a day like ours, that burger was pretty spectacular! Definitely an old establishment that has seen better days, but hey, the food was good and the beer was cheap: we weren’t arguing.
More on Day Two in another post!