Wagon Train Trek in Nebraska
By Candyce H. Stapen
Take a covered wagon trip and time travel back to the era of pioneer journeys when America’s west stretched out as a vast, little explored land filled with promise. On an Oregon Trail Wagon Train, you experience the Nebraska grasslands, the slow pace of a westward trek plus some old-fashioned fun.
More than half-a-million people followed the Oregon Trail from 1843 to 1869 en route to the farmlands and the gold mines of California and Oregon. Although Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific by 1805, their path proved unsuitable for wagons. What came to be the Oregon Trail offered a miles-wide pass through the Rocky Mountains.
An Oregon Trail Wagon Train outing delivers 24-hours of this legendary migration. You follow the path of the actual emigrants and, in places, you can still see the ruts ground into the prairie by thousands upon thousands of wagons.
What does it feel like to travel by wagon? It’s bumpy even though the vehicles employed in your outing have extra cushioning for comfort. You can sit next to the teamster, watching how he handles the horses, ride horseback, or walk—and even try a combination of all three. Such options make the experience suitable for multi-generations, from willing kindergartners to history buff grandparents.
The journey departs from Bayard, Nebraska. Along the way, discover life on the trail. Learn why wagon wheels need greasing and how to hitch up the horses. Ranch hands serve up ribs, flapjacks, cowboy coffee and other tin-plate fare.
As you eat dinner around the campfire, listen to true tales of the settlers and their prairie schooners, find out about the importance of the Pony Express and the hazards soldiers faced when patrolling the territories. Afterward, unroll your sleeping bag and doze off beneath the stars or bunk down in the wagon or in a tent.
If there is time, explore the area. At Chimney Rock National Historic Site, hike a trail or paddle a part of the North Platte River. The hopefuls always looked for Chimney Rock. The well-known landmark signaled the western edge of the prairie and also reassured the pioneers they were headed in the right direction. Scotts Bluff National Monument rises 800-feet above the North Platte River, affording scenic views of the surrounding valley.
At Fort Robinson, part of a Nebraska state park, you can hike, fish and go on a bison viewing tour. The fort was established in 1874 as a way of controlling and limiting conflicts with the Sioux under Chief Red Cloud. In May 1877, lured by promises of peace with the U.S. government, Lakota chief Crazy Horse was imprisoned here; four months later he was killed by a soldier. A museum contains artifacts from this period.