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Spotlight: National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Oregon

Spotlight: National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Oregon

An experience that captures the American spirit of the West

OR Trail Crossing the Oregon Trail was no easy task but something that thousands took part in. (Sarah Blevins/Share the Experience)

What You’ll Find

The National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker City, Oregon, brings to life aspects of the Oregon Trail experience through living history demonstrations, music, interpretive programs, exhibitions and special events.

Permanent exhibit galleries transport visitors along the 2,000-mile journey of the Oregon Trail, while special exhibits explore a variety of themes like Sinners & Saints: Indelicate Stories of Emigrants in the West (June 21 – September 9, 2013). An outdoor pioneer wagon encampment comes to life for special events, and a one-mile section of Oregon Trail ruts carved by pioneer wagons is a key feature of the four-mile interpretive hiking trail system.

Getting There

The Center is located at 22267 Hwy 86, five miles east of Baker City, Oregon, and is easily accessible from I-84 and Hells Canyon Scenic Byway.

Make Sure You

Take full advantage of the programs and special events offered at the center like the Dutch Oven Cooking workshops, a summer series on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon. Don your athletic shoes for the challenge to Run the Ruts 5K/10K fun run and walk on National Trails Day, Saturday, June 1st. Kids from 8 to 12 can learn about the wonders of the natural world with the Thursday Outdoor Club in June and July.

Try This

Another significant trail in this area is the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). This National Scenic Trail begins in southern California at the Mexican border, travels through California, Oregon and Washington, finally reaching the Canadian border after spanning 2,650 miles. Within a few hours west of Baker City, the PCT runs through the Oregon’s Cascade Range and is considered the easiest section to hike or horseback ride.

Don’t Forget

June 1st is National Trail’s Day® which celebrates the nation’s network of scenic, historical and recreation trails that provide access to awe-inspiring federal lands throughout the country. Go on... Take a Hike!

Get Started

Visit BLM’s Oregon Trail Interpretive Center website for more details about visiting and historical facts that may surprise you. Also, visit Trail Tenders, a non-profit volunteer group that, in partnership with BLM, operates the center, provides volunteer support, manages the gift shop and raises funds to support the center’s efforts.

Did You Know?

With more than 11,000 emigrants crossing on the Oregon Trail before the Gold Rush, traveling could be quite congested. Along the way these pioneers, like present day Americans, had the desire to communicate and developed their own information highway.

Called the "Bone Express" by then acting Governor George Currey, this system of communication was posted conspicuously along the trail route using cloth, wood and even human skulls. With this method, westbound emigrants and "go-backs" (eastbound) could leave messages, advertisements, directions and warnings to fellow pioneers. In one instance, the desire to communicate grew from love-inspired necessity. John Johnson and Jane Jones, two young pioneers who were attracted to one another but separated by their disapproving parents, developed a system of writing to each other on buffalo skulls with the code name "Laurie."

While some emigrants tampered with existing messages to insert their own opinions or humor, most remained untouched. One woman, traveling in 1852, came across penciled messages from 1849.