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.