A Home in the West, If We Can Just Follow the Oregon Trail to Get There

BLM's National Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming Gives Visitors a Feel For What It Was Like to Cross the Great Plains

Saturday, August 30 2008 15:42   Wyoming
Between 1840 and 1870 thousands-some experts say maybe as many as half a million-emigrants went West, following the Oregon, California, Mormon and Pony Express Trails that took them across the Grain Plains and to settlements in Oregon, Utah and California.

Often progress was measured in just a few miles a day. Natural landmarks such as Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff in today's Nebraska would be comforting signs that they were on the right track to their eventual destinations.
But what was travel like back in the mid 1800s? What was it like to walk those thousands of miles, pull a handcart, ride in a covered wagon, and struggle to even greet another day?

Sharing some of those experiences, giving us a glimpse of what life was like on the trail, is the purpose of the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center in Casper, Wyoming.

Opened on Aug. 9, 2002, the center is operated as a public-private partnership between the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a non-profit group called the National Historic Trails Center Foundation, and the City of Casper, Wyoming. It tells the story of America's westward expansion through interactive exhibits, multi-media presentations and occasional living history re-enactments.

The experience starts outside the center, where visitors will find informational kiosks that present various "jumping off points" of these designated national historic trails.

Colored clay tiles then lead visitors from the "jumping off points" to the facility's entrance. Quotes from emigrant diaries are embedded in the pathway, providing insight into the culture and thoughts of those who traveled the trails during the mid-1800s.

Once inside the center, the Inscription Wall, located in the Trails Center's Lobby, displays exact replicas of emigrant names found on the trails.

One of the main features of the center is a theatre that showcases composite characters traveling the trails. The characters represent Native Americans, explorers and mountain men, emigrants and Pony Express riders. These diorama figures offer a feel of the Native cultures and the thousands of people who emigrated West.

An original 18-minute multi-media program, Footsteps to the West, is shown on a regular basis. Special events and living history presentations also take place periodically.

Aside from the theater, the Trails Center includes seven exhibit galleries. They include:

All of these galleries feature hands-on exhibits as well as informational panels which tell the story of those who lived, worked and traveled these national historic trails.

Some of the hands-on exhibits include the opportunity to feel what it was like to pull a handcart, to experience what it was like to be inside a wagon crossing the North Platte River, and riding inside a stagecoach.

The tour also gives visitors a chance to listen to tribal stories at the Ways of the People gallery listening station to learn more about Native American culture.

Wyoming as a location for the center, and the BLM as one of the primary sponsors, makes a lot of sense.

During the 1800s, the area now known as Wyoming became the focus for western expansion. The discovery of the South Pass route over the Rocky Mountains was the primary reason for the location of the Oregon, Mormon Pioneer, California, and Pony Express Historic Trails in Wyoming.

BLM-administered public lands in Wyoming are one of the few remaining locations where these national historic trails can be experienced in a setting relatively unchanged from the 1800s. In Wyoming, 60 percent (more than 340 miles) of the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express Trails are under BLM stewardship.

Visiting the center is a great way to get a feel for what it was like to have been a pioneer rossing the West in hopes of a new life. Attracting around 30,000 visitors each year, the center really is one of this nation's little hidden jewels of Western culture and history, and well worth the time to isit.


National Historic Trails
Interpretive Center
1501 North Poplar Street
Casper, WY 82601


1501 North Poplar Street, Casper WY
I-25 at Exit 189

Summer Hours
mid-April to mid-October
8 am - 7 pm
Open Daily

Winter Hours
mid-October to mid-April
9 am - 4:30 pm
Open Tuesday - Saturday; closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day nd Easter