Lost on the way to South Pass, we found a mining camp

Wrong Trail on the Way to South PassTo this day, I still don’t know why we turned off the highway way too soon for South Pass City and ended up on a single-ish lane dirt road in the middle of central nowhere Wyoming, but we did (well, Julie did, and Rachel didn’t object). As seen in the previous post we even had a sentry cow give us that “silly humans” look, and we still kept going. Demon CowsWe even came across more cows that scared the bejeezus out of Julie, because come on—doesn’t that cow look like it has two bodies and was sent from some netherworld to warn us that we were absolutely in the wrong place? Also, we were a little more low on gas than we would have liked to have in the tank when driving in the middle of central nowhere Wyoming, and—no joke—Julie really didn’t have a clue where we were except somewhere east of where we were really headed.

And then, out of nowhere, we saw one of those amazingly well-kept historical signs that can be found all through Wyoming. A sign of civilization! BLM Sign Or, at least a sign of history, and a sign that perhaps if we were totally and completely lost, there was a chance that someone would happen by every few days. It took us approximately five seconds to switch into “oh yay, let’s go explore!” mode, and it was only until later that Julie remembered all the police dramas that she’s watched in her lifetime, including those which feature serial killers doing their business in the middle of nowhere, at which time she got a little nervous again and Rachel had to talk her down the little road. Hey, it was a nerve-wracking day, what with having just gotten (almost) stuck at the top of a big rock a few hours earlier.

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Independence Rock: We Almost Got Stuck at the Top

Independence Rock OT screen(This is the seventh in a series of posts that follows our real-life adventures in August 2011 along The Oregon Trail, Apple ][ version. We arrived here after visiting Fort Laramie. Screenshots and photos by Rachel.)

Chimney Rock may be one of the most recognizable landmarks along the Oregon Trail—it’s a 300-foot rock formation in the middle of the plains, after all—but Independence Rock was both recognizable and really meaningful to the emigrants traveling the route: if they didn’t reach Independence Rock by July 4th, they would be in danger of experiencing potentially crippling weather and limited grazing opportunities for their horses and oxen before reaching their ultimate destination. So, everyone raced to Independence Rock, and on the day we set out for it, so did we, as we had a full day planned.

Independence RockThe Independence Rock site is a nice little rest area, so we left George to hang out with the other cars and started the short walk out to the rock. If you walk the entire way around the rock, it’s just about a mile, and all along the way are the famous inscriptions of names of the travelers along the way. We didn’t walk the entire way around the rock, but we saw plenty of carvings. I must say that I was shocked at the lack of modern vandalism to the names, the rock, and the general surroundings—doesn’t say much about my faith in humanity, I know—but there’s nothing keeping a person away from the rock itself.

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Wyoming Does History Right: Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie OT screen(This is the sixth in a series of posts that follows our real-life adventures in August 2011 along The Oregon Trail, Apple ][ version. We arrived here after a brief stop at Chimney Rock. Screenshots and photos by Rachel.)

As soon as we crossed into Wyoming from Nebraska, we knew we were in a whole new world. No offense to Nebraska or any of the other states, but boy howdy does Wyoming know how to “do” history. Imagine this: roadside historical signs you can actually read from the car before reaching the spot, so you know if it’s an interesting place that you might like to stop before you’re already past it. Heck, we were so thrilled by the roadside signs that if we knew the amazing restorations and replicas we’d see the rest of the way across Wyoming, we’d probably have just an apoplectic fit right then and there at the first mile marker. Wyoming’s awesome historical sites prompted Rachel to say both then and now, “I’d kind of like to get a look at their state/county budgets, and compare to places that are less amazing.” Like I’ve said before, we’re current and former cultural heritage professionals, and nerds, so this sort of statement should not come as a surprise.

Fort Laramie buildingAnyway, we were zooming our way to Fort Laramie from Chimney Rock, so as to get to this wonderful NPS historical site before it closed at dusk. We did, and spent quite a bit of time wandering around its grounds. You, too, can see the grounds in this “virtual tour” from CyArk (that I wish were an Omeka site, but alas), but we both highly recommend stopping at Fort Laramie yourself if you’re ever in Wyoming.

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Chimney Rock: It’s Very Tall

Chimney Rock OT screen(This is the fifth in a series of posts that follows our real-life adventures in August 2011 along The Oregon Trail, Apple ][ version. We arrived here after a journey from Fort Kearny. Screenshots and photos by Rachel.)

Chimney Rock and Independence Rock (which we—and the pioneers—reach later in the trip) are perhaps the most familiar images that spring to mind when one thinks of the Oregon Trail. I mean, besides covered wagons, open plains, buffalo, and things that cause dysentery. It makes sense—both Chimney Rock and Independence Rock are really big landmarks. In fact, Chimney Rock is one of the more often-sketched landmarks that appear in the diaries and notebooks of pioneers and naturalists who made it as far as this western Nebraska rock formation—probably because it’s just so distinctive, and it was more so before 160 more years of erosion took its toll.

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Windlass Hill

Ash Hollow and Windlass Hill are not in the Apple ][ Oregon Trail game, but we stopped here nonetheless. I’m not exactly sure why we stopped at this not-in-the-game location as opposed to the hundreds of others, but I think it had to do with it being a little creepy—it was a cloudy day, we had descended into a bit of a valley, and from the road all we could see was what looked like an abandoned shack and a burnt-out wagon. I mean, who wouldn’t want to stop?

Into Ash HollowWe had just turned off Interstate 80 (big highway) and onto US Highway 26 (smaller road), and the sky was darkening. I was thinking things like “we’re going to get crappy pictures at Chimney Rock,” and not so much “this is starting to look like kind of rough terrain for wagons to go through”. But indeed it was.

According to pioneer Howard Stansbury, in An Expedition to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah (1855), “we were obliged from the steepness of the road to let the wagons down by ropes”—a significant undertaking—”but the labour of a dozen men for a few days would make the descent easy and safe.” Shoot, and here we just zoomed on through…

As we were zooming on through, we decided to stop and check out the spot, even though to our current-and-former-cultural-heritage-professional eyes the area seemed to be in a little bit of a state of disrepair. Although designated as a state historical park in 1962, and noted in William Hill’s The Oregon Trail (1986) as having a visitor center housing “a fine museum and displays covering the whole history of Ash Hollow, starting from pre-historic times and including the Oregon Trail period,” today there’s just the remnants of a fake covered wagon-looking walkway and an empty building that was probably the museum, plus two signs describing wagons and what a “windlass” is (it moves heavy weights and includes a winch). (Click on images below to embiggen)

Used to be a covered wagon. Sign #1 Sign #2

If it wasn’t so cloudy and lightning hadn’t started up while we were there, we would’ve explored a bit more. We would’ve seen the remnants of wagon ruts coming down the hill, gotten a better view of the vast site that acted as a popular campsite because of the grass for livestock and nearby plentiful water source, and probably trekked out to the grave of Rachel Pattison, whose story is sadly typical of someone traveling any of a number of overland trails in the mid-nineteenth century: she died of cholera.

We continued on toward Chimney Rock.

Photos by Rachel.

Our First Historical Park: Fort Kearny (Danger: Dinosaurs along the way!)

Fort Kearny OT screen(This is the fourth in a series of posts that follows our real-life adventures in August 2011 along The Oregon Trail, Apple ][ version. We arrived here after crossing the Kansas River and driving a few hundred miles across Nebraska. Screenshots and photos by Rachel.)

After crossing the Kansas River, we had a journey through Kansas and part of Nebraska before we’d get to the next official stop on the Oregon Trail: Fort Kearny. Nebraska CloudsWe decided to go easy on the horses (our car, George) and stay the night in one of Lincoln’s finest establishments, the Motel 6 out by the airport. But before we could stop for the night we drove for some time through the countryside. We saw some amazing clouds and sunset action—this photo (out the window, in a moving car) not doing it any justice at all—before we experienced a pretty solid downpour. Luckily, the wagon canvas was strong and we got to our stop unscathed.

We woke up the next morning bright and early—as befitting a pioneer—and headed west. Within a few miles, and therefore within a few minutes of the first weak gas station coffee of the day, we both could’ve sworn we saw a large dinosaur towering over one side of the road (the Eastbound side of I-80).

A dinosaur?!??

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Heaping Amounts of Praise for the aCar Android App

Standard icon/logo for aCarHello, fellow nerds! Apologies for the long silence, but we’ve been a little preoccupied with the relocation of NT HQ (to Washington DC, if you’re curious). That’s just about finished now, so you can once again look forward to [weekly? regular? yes, at least regular.] posts.

Today we’re going to double up on the nerdery by talking not just about travel, but also about DATA. Mmmmm, data. Specifically, data about cars, as managed by the Android application aCar. Note: We recommend clicking the images to see larger versions of the screengrabs.

“aCar is an all-in-one handy application to effectively track fuel mileage and costs, maintenance, business trips/mileages, and general expenses of your vehicle.”

Most of what we’re going to talk about is available in the free version, but it you’re a data nerd, you’ll want to upgrade to Pro, which allows you to export data to CSV. Really, you might want to go pro even if you’re not a data nerd, because aCar is a well maintained app with lots of functionality and a great UI that deserves your support. Also, widgets and automatic backup are pretty nice, too.

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Crossing the Kansas River

Kansas River Crossing(This is the third in a series of posts that follows our real-life adventures in August 2011 along The Oregon Trail, Apple ][ version. We arrived here after crossing what we thought was the Big Blue River. Screenshots and photos by Rachel.)

In the early 1840s, some upstart Canadians—the Pappan brothers (also spelled Papin and Papan)—thought it would be a good idea to set up shop along the Kansas River. Their trade? Ferrying travelers across the wide Kaw (Kansas) River.

One wagon at a time, pioneers paid a dollar to cross a couple hundred yards of rushing water so as to continue their journey. The wagons would sit on a log platform while the ferrymen propelled the ferry with a long pole; a rope slung the whole way across the river helped guide their way.

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Crossing the Big Blue River (we thought)

Big Blue River Crossing(This is the second in a series of posts that follows our real-life adventures in August 2011 along The Oregon Trail, Apple ][ version. We arrived here after the Oregon Trail trailhead. Screenshots and photos by Rachel.)

In the Apple ][ game, the Big Blue River Crossing is the third stop, 185 miles into the adventure. However, as we were meticulously (*cough*) mapping our route before the trip and checking various and sundry historical reports from the trail, we identified a “Blue River” on the map that was approximately 19 miles from Independence, heading toward Topeka (and the Kansas River Crossing), and crossed by a road called “Blue River Road”. We figured that had to be it, so we headed for it—a second stop instead of a third.

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Road Games

Before addressing the topic of this post, I (Rachel) would like to take a moment to vent: the arduous process of getting screenshots from our beloved Droid RAZRs came damned close to making me root my phone. In fact, I originally caved and forked over $4.99 for an app, but grabbed a refund almost immediately upon reading that it had to be setup with a PC every time the phone was rebooted. This process is not so useful on the road, and certainly not worth a fiver when I can theoretically capture the screen for free with the SDK (and natively with a hardware-button shortcut in a coming update). So! If any of you travel the same path, note that the adb platform tool is no longer installed by default with the SDK. If you get an ADB error when launching ddms, open the SDK Manager and install the platform tools package.

Whew!

Anyway….

Truckload of payphones

I spy with my little eye...something ancient.

There are a number of traditional road trip games designed to keep you entertained in the car without requiring the driver to interact with cards or boards or meeples, but they have their limits. I might say “I spy with my little eye…something ancient” only to have the object in question be ancient history before my road trip companion has figured it out.  I used to use the Alphabet Game when plagued with insomnia, so it’s kind of an anti-entertainment for me. Also? This is a blog by two nerds in love with their smartphones, so of course we’re going to utilize them!

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