along the way to a new home   10 comments

Posted at 10:22 am in future,geology,Nova Scotia

interpretive sign and kiosk along emigrant trail in Idaho

On my way east, I made several stops and detours to visit sites marking sections of the Oregon and California emigrant trail. I’d visited a few on previous trips to the west – but none in Idaho. There are several such sites in and around City of Rocks of which I’ve recently written. After leaving that location, I made my way northeast into Montana, en route to southeast Alberta. Along the Idaho section of interstate, I stopped to visit three such emigraint trail sites. For those who are not familiar with the trails, they are still quite visible in many places — the land cut so deeply by cart tracks that you can still see their route over a 150 years later. The above sign post at a interpretive kiosk reads:

Emigrant Trails

Early California and Oregon trail ruts — left by thousands of emigrant wagons as they ascended this bluff — still are visible below this viewpoint.
In 1859, F. W. Lander’s wagon road builders dug an improved grade that shows more clearly, California traffic, for which Lander constructed a better road, diverged from the Snake River route to Oregon, just below Raft River, 6 miles west of here. When they got up this grade, emigrants were thankful that they had passed 20 miles of bad road, and that a less demanding trail lay ahead.

remnants of emigrant trail cart tracks beside interstate highway in Idaho

The above photo shows the spot where cart tracks crest the top of a steep trail. In the background, a truck races by on the nearby interstate. It’s so odd to stand in such a place, imagining oxen or horses struggling to haul a wagon up this grade, while watching cars and trucks fly past. How different it is for us to move from place to place. On my own journey, sometimes I experience strange feelings of being “out of place” because I’ve moved a little too quickly through the landscape and can’t seem to rationalize where I am at a particular point in time. That’s one of the reasons that I make a conscious effort to connect with the geography many times each day as I move from Point A to Point B during my travels. I don’t want to begin to take the earth for granted to the point that I lose that sense of place and movement.

inscriptions on a “register rock” in Idaho

One of my stops along the way was to visit a “register rock”. These were large boulders where travelers on the Oregon and California trails would write their names or messages in axle grease, or if time permitted, even chisel their name into the stone. Such rocks are usually found at those places where people would make camp for awhile to rest, find food, drink good spring water, and allow their animals to graze and recover from arduous days of trekking across difficult sections of the trails. I shot several photos of inscriptions on this rock, which is located along a side road just off of I-30 to the southwest of American Falls, Idaho.

inscriptions on a “register rock” in Idaho

As I studied the inscriptions, it made me think a little about my own eastward journey. About three hundred thousand people made the westward trek along the emigrant trails. They left their homes in the east, in most cases, quite unsure of what they would find the end of the journey. Their expectations probably differed at least somewhat, if not greatly, from reality. I have had the technological benefit of being able to see photos and even small video recordings of the place awaiting me at the eastern end of this trip. Still, how different would it be from the glowing images on my computer screen? Would the property feel as spacious and private? Would the house be better or worse than the condition I supposed it to be?

crack in the lava flows of Hells Half Acre in Idaho

A short while later the same day, I turned off I-15 to wander a little on the paved paths at Hell’s Half Acre lava field interpretive trail. It’s located by a rest stop near Idaho Falls. It’s difficult to imagine a more inhospitable piece of land to attempt to traverse on foot. When we read accounts written by those who traveled the emigrant trails, they describe an endless string of impassable mountain ranges, rivers, and other geologic features. Today, we are barely fazed by such obstacles. We fly far above in our airplanes, or drive through or over on highways and bridges. In so many ways, our technology has separated us from an awareness of the land. What we have gained in convenience, we have lost in intimacy. I’m not sure if we are better for that exchange.

Update: I wanted to give everyone an update on how things are going. Although this post was about the trip from Arizona to eastern Canada, that leg of my journey has since been completed. I arrived in Ottawa around April 10th, stayed a few days to buy a trailer, load it with a collection of my tools, then headed east to Nova Scotia to take possession of the new-old house that I’ve bought. I’ll try to write more about it soon, but suffice to say that the property is pretty much all that I had hoped for — a stretch of waterfront on a brook, plenty of trees and privacy. Good neighbours. Plenty of nearby trails going out into the forests, or along the Annapolis river. The house itself is, as anticipated, in rough condition and will be quite a challenge. But that’s what I was searching for when I began looking at properties online — a place that would help me to keep my mind and body occupied while I work on moving forward with my life. After just over a week, I can tell you that I love the area around Annapolis Royal.. but more about all of this in another post.. hopefully very soon.
EDIT: For those who would like to take a look, here are photos of the house and land. The first three or so rows of thumbnails are recent — taken within a day or two of arriving. The ones down below are older shots that I got from MLS listings, and/or that were sent to me by may agent, or saved from .vpike searches. Things have already changed since the photos in the first row were taken. The front and back lawns have been mown, I’ve been busy scraping and priming the exterior paneling, and I’ve begun tearing out the plaster and wallpaper in the downstairs room with the “big trucks” and “athletes” wallpaper. There’s a ton of work ahead – both small jobs and some major structural stuff — I’ll be the first to admit that, but it’s a neat property and seems well worth the trouble. Anyhow, here’s the link. Click on any thumbnail photo for a larger view.

almost impassable lava flow landscape of Hells Half Acre in Idaho

Written by bev on April 30th, 2010