Oregon Trail Ruts, Pioneer Graffiti & the Pony Express

Oregon Trail Ruts D.O.G.

As a kid, the only computer game I ever played was the Oregon Trail. I loved that game. I usually chose to be a doctor, so my wagon train had fewer fatal illnesses, but we often died from hunger since, as a real life vegetarian, I refused to hunt for food, on what I thought were principles.

Now when I travel out West, names like Laramie and Inscription Rock sound familiar, thanks to the Oregon Trail game. In Wyoming, I stopped to visit an actual section of the Oregon Trail and for the first time, began to grasp just how many wagon trains made their way West on this route: ruts from the wagon wheels are worn deep into sheer rock!

The Oregon Trail, eastern Wyoming

Wagon wheel ruts weren’t the only marks the Pioneers left here in rock. Hundreds of travelers also left their names, initials and inscriptions, carved in soft sandstone. Some carvings are more recent (1961) while others are more historic (1872/ 1889).

Register Cliffs, Pioneer signatures

Older section of Register Cliffs

After the Pioneers came the Pony Express, orphan boys riding half-broke mustangs 1,900 miles across the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and the High Sierras, delivering mail from Saint Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California. These rough riders hold an iconic place in western lore, but the Pony Express only ran for 18 months, from April 1860 until October 1861, until the first telegraph wires were strung across the country. Today, a series of bronze monuments trace the original mail route across the west.

Pony Express Bronze, eastern Wyoming

I used to say I was born a century too late; I would have loved to have been a Pioneer on the Oregon Trail. Now, I’m quite happy to have been born in the early 1980′s. The Pioneers had one hell of an adventure, but I’m more than happy to be crossing the West with the Raven & the Rattler.

About theblondecoyote

Mary Caperton Morton is a freelance science and travel writer with degrees in biology and geology and a master’s in science writing. A regular contributor to EARTH magazine, where her favorite beat is the Travels in Geology column, she has also written for the anthologies Best Women's Travel Writing 2010 and Best Travel Writing 2011. Mary is currently traveling the backroads from New Mexico to Alaska, writing and living out of a tiny Teardrop camper. When she’s not at the computer she can usually be found outside -- hiking, climbing mountains and taking photographs. Visit her website at www.marycapertonmorton.com.
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11 Responses to Oregon Trail Ruts, Pioneer Graffiti & the Pony Express

  1. Pingback: Boondocking Part 2: Finding a Sweet Free Campsite! « Travels with the Blonde Coyote

  2. Amazing. My direct ancestor Jackson and a bunch of his family settled in Oregon via the Oregon Trail in the early days of settlement. I would’ve been on the trail too.

  3. canonsett says:

    you post some really fascinating stuff Mary- thanks. I would have been too much of a coward to attempt that sort of journey- those wagon tracks- amazing.

    • Very cool. That wildfire was hell last summer, even in New Mexico. We had some days where you just couldn’t go outside because the smoke made your eyes and lungs sting! I love seeing post-fire forests. There’s always so much life in them! Mother Nature always knows what she’s doing. I won’t be swinging down by Arizona any time soon though. In southern Utah the other day it was over 100! I’ll stay up North, thank you very much! :) M

      • We have the wildfire smoke in the Albuquerque area again this year. That fire near Reserve is obliterating our views and air quality. Enjoy your travels!

  4. Moontree Ranch says:

    The opening line…As a kid, the only computer game I ever played was the Oregon Trail….

    When I was a kid there were no such things as computer games…we played outdoors, and yes Cowboys and Indians was one of them. On a family road trip to Yellowstone …circa 1967 or so we made an outline of a “covered wagon” using grass clipping at some rest area in South Dakota…a picnic lunch break long before the era of fast food.

    I always dreamed of living in the wild west…it happened in 1991

    • The sad thing is that I played it in school! Like it was some kind of educational game or something. At home, we weren’t allowed in the house unless it was absolutely pouring down rain. Sometimes then we played in the puddles. Where in the Wild West do you live?

  5. ritaroberts says:

    As always a fantastic post. You capture the Origon Trail and make it sound so exciting.Thanks for sharing those wonderful pictures.

  6. clarafire says:

    Your photo of the Trail Ruts in Wyoming is one of the best I’ve seen including those I’ve taken. I’ve been fortunate to follow the Trail from Missouri to Oregon.

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