History is geography set in motion,” said the 18th century philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder. You can see the truth behind that observation with a visit to the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming.
The Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express trails crossed Wyoming and there are thousands of landmarks, monuments, trail ruts and other markers that can be viewed across the state, but the best place to begin is the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.
The center has galleries that chart the westward migration along the trails, and it offers a 17-minute multi-media program titled Footsteps to the West.
The trails traveled by the pioneers followed paths established by Native Americans thousands of years ago. The center’s Ways of the People exhibit tells the stories of the Arapaho, Lakota, Sioux and Shoshone nations.
Trappers, traders and missionaries were among the first Euro-Americans to travel the Oregon Trail into the vast expanse known as the western frontier. Through hands-on, interactive exhibits, we were able to emulate their travel in a covered wagon, cross a virtual river, and experience the sights and sounds of a stagecoach. Feeling the jolts and bumps, we were thankful for the modern transportation of today.
Each person migrated west for different reasons. Nearly 3,000 Mormon converts made their journey pushing and pulling handcarts, bringing an entire culture and religion in a well-organized migration. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 brought a rush of more than 350,000 people seeking gold and a new life. Others came for free land in the Oregon Territory. Hundreds of graves line the trails west as many families faced terrible perils during their journey. Traveling by horse, wagon and on foot and in spite of disease, drowning and other accidents, 94 percent of the pioneers arrived at their destinations.
The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, which opened in 2002, was developed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Historic Trails Center Foundation and the City of Casper. It is located at 1501 North Popular Street and is open daily during the summer and Tuesday through Saturday from mid-October to mid-April.
Admission is free for children 15 and younger, $4 for students 16 and older, $5 for seniors 60 and older and $6 for other adults. Admission is free with federal recreation passes. RV parking is available. For information, visit www.blm.gov/wy/st/en/NHTIC.html or call (307) 261-7700
Nikki is a writer and editor for Do It Yourself RV, RV LIFE, and Camper Report. She is based on the Oregon Coast and has traveled all over the Pacific Northwest.
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