Wednesday, October 29, 2014
I think of the Donner Party every time I cross over the Sierras, snug and comfortable in my climate-controlled vehicle. I make a trip in 2.5 hours, nutritionally-enriched smoothie in my hand and a bucket of snacks at my side, that took weeks of life-and-death struggle to accomplish.
It never fails to fill me with a sense of awe and gratitude....
Which lasts until I hit Nevada and start complaining about how long it's taking and how hot I am, and willthisdesertneverendI'vebeeninitforever.
Personal epiphanies never last long with me. At least not in the desert.
This year I got to realize an ambition I've nourished through many, MANY trips across Nevada---I
finally got to stop at the California Trail Interpretive Center. Every other time, I've hit that area either too late in the day, or on too hurried of a trip and didn't have time to stop.
Not this time.
The center itself is very nice and has high quality displays and exhibits. It takes you along the experiences of the pioneers, from first "seeing the elephant" and deciding to make the trek to the California gold fields through the struggles they encountered on their way.
It is truly amazing that there were thousands upon thousands brave (or foolish) enough to willingly put themselves through such an experience. And to do that knowing they would almost certainly never see their friends or family again, losing forever those connections most dear to them.
Quite a difference from these days of Skype and Facebook!
The museum had this cheerful display to illustrate one of the great tragedies of the journey. To lose your spouse, your child, was bad enough, but then to have to leave them behind forever to be forgotten in a trackless wasteland was truly devastating.
And to do that with the almost-certainty that they were going to get dug up and eaten the minute you left must have broken many a heart.
Yes, full of flaws though they may have been, those nation-building emigrants did not lack for bravery.
For those of you who are history buffs and know the story of the Donner Party, this is a view looking south to the Humbolt River where the Donner Party rejoined the traditional route to California after their disastrous jaunt on the Hastings Cutoff. The extra time they spent taking that much-longer "short cut" is what caused them to reach the Sierras dangerously late in the season and become trapped by early winter storms.
Now there's an interstate freeway, where wagon trains loaded with exhausted travelers once plodded their determined way.
How much has changed in only 168 years!