A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Can You Imagine?

These photos are an attempt to show how it was for the early pioneers as they traveled through this area in a covered wagon, with the home they left behind many months ago a distant memory.  Can you imagine how they must have thought as things were only getting worse instead better?  How this land of promise they had heard so much about, had better be worth all the struggle and hardship?

In the winter of 1843-44 John C. Fremont and his party were the first explorers who entered this high desert region.  In 1846 Jesse Applegate and Levi Scott along with 14 others traced a portion of Fremont's route to establish an alternate route to Oregon.  The trail was used for several years as the "Southern Road to Oregon".  In 1848 Peter Lassen followed the Applegate Trail to Goose Lake then blazed a trail to his own ranch in northern California.  There are still wagon wheel tracks cut into the rock of High Rock Canyon as the immigrants had to winch their wagons down the steep canyon leaving axle grease markings and written inscriptions on the rock walls marking their grueling passage through this area.

With the discovery of gold in 1848 the rush was on and the Applegate and Lassen Trails provided an alternate route to the goldfields.  In 1849, after hearing about the tough conditions on the California Trail many of the gold seekers chose the Applegate Trail however this route added an extra 150 miles to their journey and the early thousands quickly exhausted the available resources of grass and water for their livestock.  The truth was this alternate route was even more demanding.

The immigrants would veer from the California Trail and head northwest stocked up with what grass feed they could collect and carry for their livestock.  Fifty miles later they reached Rabbit Hole Springs, a meager flow of water where they could rest and refresh their teams.  Feed was little to none depending how many before them had already passed through.  They pressed on and in ten miles was confronted with the above scene of the  Black Rock Desert. They aimed for the Black Rock (see above just off center to the right, the small black volcanic mound on the playa) for there they knew of a water hole and grass could be had.  But in order to reach this place many of the immigrants had to lighten their loads, most of their possessions they had carried so far from home east of St. Louis, now only to throw it off into the desert so that their already starving and weakened oxen could manage these final few miles.  Imagine their dismay to discover Black Rock Spring to be a bubbling hot pool of sulphur water.  Horses and oxen alike would rush headlong into the pool and die, joining the already dead and bloated floating on the surface.  And again, if you were among the later wagon trains through this area, the lush green grass would have already been stripped bare.  At this point they still had High Rock Canyon yet to negotiate but they really had no idea as to how hard that would prove to be.

I have been to and traveled through all these places mentioned, retracing the tracks of these brave and hardy pioneers, but that was when I had an old four wheel drive Land Rover.  Nowadays I can only view a few of these places from afar.  Yet it still leaves an impression upon me as to how tough these people were.
As for me, try as I might, I can only begin to imagine but really will never know.


  1. Very interesting and informative post to accompany your photos today, John! I enjoyed this journey with you. Hope you have a great day!

  2. What an interesting post.
    I can only imagine the hardships these people encountered along the way and will never again complain about high gas prices! Thank you for sharing. :)

  3. I had no idea about this, thanks very much for sharing, an impressive history!

  4. I have had similar thoughts of wonder about the pioneers. Several years ago I drove New Mexico following the old Santa Fe trail, the first of several drives there. Though it wasn't as rugged as the trails you're describing, I still was amazed at the endurance of those settlers - to leave the comfort of their homes in the east and strike out on such a long, arduous adventure into the unknown. Along the way I stopped at monuments which described places, events, etc. At one point, just on the Kansas/Colorado border, the long long trail across the Great Plains finally leads to the sight of the Rockies in the distance. I stood and tried to imagine how the weary travelers must have felt to finally see evidence that their destination was nearing. Yes, it's mind-boggling. A friend's son just last night had dropped his iPhone in the toilet and in his mind, the world had come to an end. We simply have little knowledge or concept of what true struggle is. thanks for the reminder and thoughts. happy day to you and Sinbad.

  5. Sure enjoyed reading your post today. A must read by those that may think dropping their iphone in a tiolet is a major issue! Thanks to Becky above for sharing that. When I see photos like this with the history you provided, it brings the women and the children to mind. They all had to be a team. What if you were not a team player back then? You write so well, keep your stories coming.

  6. Crickey, that is one desolate place. Wouldnt like to be stuck out there for long. Really good in depth post John.

    Shaun Valleys ShutterBug

  7. Many thanks for sharing this post John. Like you I find it hard to imagine travelling into the unknown just to try to better your life.
    Wonderful images.

  8. Excellent post John. Very interesting and sure an excellent reminder of what our forefathers did for us.

  9. There's never been any doubt in my mind that I would not have had the courage to be a westward pioneer. Even if life was bleak for me in the East, walking into the unknown on the the thin thread of a promise of good land, I would not have had the spirit needed to forge ahead. Your pictures and tales only confirm this. Captivating post.


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