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The “old settlers” are long gone; Even the two children carried up Grizzly Ridge by their mother, Mary Variel would be approaching 160 years of age if still living. Gone too, are most of the traces left by the passage of emigrant wagons. By the mid 1850s there were over 6,000 miles of trails stretching between the “jumping off” places along the Missouri River and the various destination in Oregon, California and Utah. Of those miles, perhaps as little as ten percent remain as visible traces. The rest have been paved over, plowed under, or bulldozed out of existence.
Standing alone in trail ruts on the deserts of Nevada or the plains of Wyoming, with no visible sign or sounds of civilization, is a wonderful experience. Yet it is not for the timid or the non-adventurous, nor is it for those who might venture out unprepared for what may be encountered. Unfortunately, it is an experience that may one day be unavailable even to the most adventurous and well-prepared. Because of ignorance, indifference, and carelessness, trail traces are being destroyed just as the surrounding areas are altered by development. Trail ruts existing in Reno, Nevada, but surrounded by shopping centers and cheek-to-jowl homes, do not convey the same feeling they would if the view remained as it was in 1852. The same is true of ruts in Wyoming where an otherwise pristine view may be marred by wind towers, power line, and oil wells.
A classic example of the thoughtless or irresponsible destruction of a trail site occurred at the big boiling spring on the Truckee Route in western Nevada. It was this spring that made the route possible. A life-saver, it was mentioned by every emigrant who passed that way. Over hundreds of years, the spring had build up a large surrounding cap of soft stone that bore the many ruts of approaching and departing wagons. Today the cap has been bulldozed away and the only evidence of the spring is a dry, dusty, debris-filled hole. Close by is an onion dehydrating plant where the hot water and steam that fed the spring are used in the drying process. Meanwhile thermal energy development continues throughout the area while dry onion skins waft in the wind.
Gail Carbiener comments, "In Oregon, the Oregon Trail used to cover 520 miles from the Snake River to Oregon City. Today, about 50 miles remain of Class 1 or 2, the pristine ruts. Half is on public land and half on private land. There may be only four or five spots where we can look out over the Trail and see the same view seen by the emigrants. We just cannot afford to lose more Trail."