Western movies and television shows sparked my interest in early American history. Stories about families loading up their possessions and joining a wagon train to travel 2,000 miles from Missouri to California are among my favorites. Hollywood rarely invests in this genre anymore, but the Bureau of Land Management’s California Trail Interpretive Center allowed me to imagine what life was like on the emigrant trail.
The building sits above Interstate 80 on the west side of Elko, Nevada. Easy hiking trails behind the building take hikers to overlooks of the Humboldt River, South Fork, and the California Trail.
A replica wagon train camp illustrated life on the trail. I tried to picture myself wearing a dusty and dirty petticoat, cotton dress, and bonnet, cooking the evening meal over a hot fire fueled by chopped wood or cow pies.
Inside, dioramas depict the daily chores and entertainment engaged in by the emigrants. Pioneer letters, lists of provisions, statistics on deaths, maps, timelines, and other information, rounds out the displays. I have to admire the courage of the emigrants who dared to make the 4 1/2-month trek, suffering disease, tragic accidents, starvation, and even death along the way.
Today we zip along the highway at 70 miles an hour tugging our mobile house with a bathroom, galley, refrigerator, and soft mattress. The next time an urge to complain about how far we have to drive, the trailer’s tiny bathroom, or my stuffed closet, takes hold of me, I’ll think about the emigrants walking next to their oxen and wagon and be thankful for our modern conveniences.
On Wednesday, a loop drive on Highway 229 took us through rolling green hills, another beautiful canyon, and cattle ranches.
We marveled at the blue sky we encountered everywhere we turned. The rolled bales of hay, fermenting in the sun, dotting the wide-open landscapes were an unfamiliar sight. We were used to the rectangular bales.
In front of the gated Mustang Monument property was a perfect place to stop and eat a snack. We could see a few buildings in the distance but no farming equipment, no horses or other farm animals, and no other type of activity. My curiosity was peaked. It was time to search the internet. If you are in the market for an eco-resort or American safari, you can tailor your adventure to your liking for the reasonable price of $1950 a night for a cottage or $1650 a night for a luxury tipi. All meals, alcohol, and adventures are included. I wonder if we could get a discount for bringing our own accommodations.
We gave the truck a work out on Highway 231 for the 11 miles up to Angel Lake, our last stop on the loop drive. Waterfalls feed the small alpine lake at an elevation of 8,500 feet where fishing and canoeing are popular. Several picnic areas near the parking lot are tucked in around the vegetation, giving visitors a sense of privacy. Angel Lake Campground is adjacent to the lake, and Angel Creek Campground is down the hill at an elevation of 6,800 feet for campers who wish to stay overnight.
The truck continued running at full power. We had four more days traipsing around Elko. Would we find enough to do?