The "pioneer spirit" is making a comeback in the travel industry this year.
Because the 150th anniversary of Oregon Trail migrations are being observed in various cities along the Trail from May through September, more travelers than ever are expected to sign up for summer wagon train trips. A number of outdoors-oriented tour operators are offering journeys along the Oregon Trail.
Stretching 2,000 miles, the Oregon Trail began in Independence, Mo., and continued through parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and Idaho, ending in Oregon City, Ore. An estimated 350,000 people, comprising what has been called the greatest peacetime migration in U.S. history, made the journey west along the Oregon Trail between 1842 and 1860.
Today, about 300 miles of the trail is still intact, defined in some places by discernible wagon train markings. In addition, 125 historic sites are now marked at various points along the Trail.
Wagon trips generally range from one to six days. The style of covered wagon used on the trips varies, as do the activities offered along the way.
"Wagon trail trips offer both fun and historical overtones, but travelers need to know precisely what to expect. They're not for everyone," said Ellen Feeney, a spokeswoman for Windansea Travel, a San Diego travel agency that operates such tours.
Trails West, a South Pass City, Wyo., company that offers wagon trail trips, has a three-day/two-night ride that covers about 70 miles of the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail and Pony Express route, according to Para Lee Cook, a spokeswoman for the company. Trips leave on Tuesday mornings from South Pass City and return there on Thursday afternoons during June, July and August.
The wagons, which seat 10, are covered with canvas and pulled by two mules. "The canvas can be rolled up like the top of a convertible," Cook said. "The driver/guide sits up front, and there's space for two adults or one adult and a child with him. The rest of the people sit on benches or blankets."
Travelers can also walk for a stretch or ride horses, if they like. The wagons don't go very fast, Cook said, so people who choose to walk can generally keep pace.
At night, travelers sleep in tepees that are 18 feet in diameter, and have room enough for six to eight people. A portable toilet is set up nearby. While air mattresses are provided, guests can bring their own sleeping blankets. "People should bring a change of clothing or two, including some warm items, since it does get cold at night, plus comfortable shoes, a hat or bonnet, toilet articles, towel or washcloth, lip balm and sun tan lotion," Cook said.
Campfires are made at night, with the driver/guides often providing entertainment in the form of cowboy-poetry readings and guitar-playing.
Sightseeing along the Trail includes visits to see American Indian petroglyphs and the old Wyoming mining town of Lewiston.
The price, including all meals, is $350 per person, $250 for children 6-12. This trip is not advised for children under 6.
Oregon Trail Wagon Train, which has been in business for 17 years, offers one- to five-night wagon train trips to and from its headquarters in Bayard, Neb. The wagons, pulled by either horses or mules, carry seven to eight passengers. Tents and sleeping blankets are provided. Passengers also can drive the wagon and ride horses.
Prices range from $150 for one overnight wagon train trip to $579 for five nights/six days. The greatest round-trip distance is about 55 miles.
Allen's Wilderness Guiding offers customized wagon treks along the Oregon Trail out of South Pass City, Wyo., in May and June. Rates depend on the size of the group. Travelers should figure on about $140 per person per night.
Wagon-train experiences are available in other parts of the West, too. For example, Wagons Ho operates one- to four-day outings year-round, from Phoenix in winter and from the Flagstaff/Grand Canyon area in summer. The price, including meals, ranges from $250 per person for the one-day trip to $750 for four days (transfers are not included).
Various Oregon Trail celebrations and observances will take place throughout 1993. The "Official Oregon Trail Sesquicentennial Wagon Train," a museum of authentic wagon trains, will move across Idaho and Oregon from June 25 to Sept. 5. For more information on Oregon Trail events, call the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council at (503) 22-TRAIL.
For more information on wagon train trips mentioned above, call Allen's Wilderness Guiding at (307) 332-2995, Oregon Trail Wagon Train at (308) 228-4307, Trails West at (800) 327-4052, and Wagons Ho at (602) 230-1801. Other companies offering wagon train trips include: Wyoming Country Outfitters (307-332- 9149) and Historic Trails Expeditions (307-266-4868), both based in Wyoming; Thunder Valley Western Excursions (308-772- 3906) and Front Street (308-284- 4601), based in Nebraska, and Oregon Trail Trolley (503-856- 3356) and CJ Lodge Covered Wagon & Horse Rides (503-395-2404), based in Oregon.