By Judy Rickard, author, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011
When my Everest ancestors reached Hilgard Junction, they would have been glad to rest at this mountain crossing. Every wagon moving west had to maneuver downhill from what is known today as La Grande. So most emigrants camped here before continuing uphill toward Emigrant Springs or Meacham, further west. Evidence of wagon wheels and later stage coaches mark the ground. A display today at Hilgard Junction State Park gives a look at what an overnight stop would look like, with a wagon, oxen yoke, fire pit, tossed off furniture to lighten the wagon load and cattle skulls. The park shows signs of where the wagons came and where later stagecoach route and stop activity took place. It was fun to walk among the trees, glistening with dew, and imagine that no one else was there. In truth, a gay couple with expensive cameras was there at the same time, so we visited a bit. They were taking pictures of nature and were interested in our story of following the Oregon Trail.
It was easy to see that this area would have been a welcome stop for emigrants after the drier lands to the east. After stopping to rest and resupply at Whitman Mission, this terrain allowed the people to gather wood and water and let the animals graze as they moved along the last stretch of their journey west. Another stop nearby, Blue Mountain Crossing interpretive park, shows wagon ruts and interpretive display signs of the Oregon Trail.
Today, campers and picnickers enjoy the cottonwood and Ponderosa pine-filled area, as did the Oregon Trail folks. The Grande Ronde River is fun for fishing, rafting and swimming today, though it would have been another river crossing with some danger to the pioneers. The beaver, mink, deer and birds in the park today are safe from hunting, but would have provided welcome food for the Oregon Trail folks in those days.
While camping at the park, you can see ruts of the historic Oregon Trail at the nearby Blue Mountain Crossing Interpretive park, explore miles of open road in the national forest, or hop over to LaGrande and stock up on groceries, have a meal or partake in community events, according to the Oregon State Recreation folks. The area is next to Interstate 84 at its intersection with Highway 244 near the Grande Ronde River. The park offers camping and daytime activities. If you are there in the fall these days, you can enjoy brightly colored fall foliage along the river corridor. Winter snows bring herds of elk and deer to the banks of the river. But if your wagon train was at this point in fall or winter, you would be in increasing trouble making it to the coast without serious problems on your final leg of The Oregon Trail.
For more information on Hilgard Junction Crossing, go to: http://www.oregonstateparks.org/park_20.php
To find out about your ancestors on the Oregon Trail, check out the names database site at:
For an interactive map of the Oregon Trail route, go to:
For information on The Oregon National Historic Trail, go to:
For information on finding people or documents related to The Oregon
Trail, try the new Emigrant Name Search site at:
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