Travel Thoughts by Kim

By Kim Pritt, Contributor Posted 20 March 2021 at 3:00 pm

Let’s go on an adventure together … to Idaho and Utah!

I thought I’d take you on the rest of my October 2018 Caravan bus tour. A couple weeks ago, I took you to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and in May of last year, I took you to South Dakota. Now, I want to take you to Idaho and Utah. I’ll also touch on a couple other parts of the trip that we visited between South Dakota and Yellowstone.

The National Oregon Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho, gives an amazing hands-on look into the lives of early pioneers that traveled by wagon trains across the country.

We didn’t spend much time in Idaho, but the major stop there was one of my top few favorite experiences of the trip. The National Oregon Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho is fully run volunteers dressed in period clothing and funded solely by donations. And, they do an amazing job – they told us they were really proud of their little museum and we all agreed they have every right to be. They offer an exciting and interesting first-hand experience of what it was like to travel from Missouri to California in the 1800s by wagon train along the Oregon Trail.

We were first greeted by a cowboy who explained how they traveled. They loaded their wagons with all their belongings, which left no room for riders – everyone walked – all day, every day for miles, except the severely ill and dead. It was very expensive to join a wagon train – they had to purchase a wagon and an appropriate team of animals to pull the wagon, so it was typically only the wealthy or upper middle class who were able to go. Everyone on the wagon train had a job – even the children – and they had to ensure they traveled a certain number of miles each day to stay on schedule. It was a long and difficult journey and not everyone made it.

The next part of the Oregon Trail experience was a simulated ride in an actual wagon with all the uncomfortable bumps and pitches. There were recorded readings of actual stories from diaries of the travelers to listen to along our “journey”. We, then, got to sit around a simulated camp site to show us what happened at the end of each day – the work doesn’t end. It really was an awesome experience and I learned a lot about pioneer life.

I mentioned in my Colorado article that I met a man from Batavia in the elevator of my hotel. Well, there on the Oregon Trail in Idaho, we met one of the volunteers who happened to be from Lockport! I continue to be amazed at how small this world really is.

Thursday evening rehearsals of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah are open to the public.

Another claim to fame for Montpelier, Idaho: The former location of the Bank of Montpelier boasts being robbed by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on August 13, 1896 – they got away with more than $16,500 in gold, silver, and currency. There is a Butch Cassidy museum there, now, and they are quite proud of their brush with the famous outlaws.

We moved on to Utah – Salt Lake City was the final destination for the trip. We stayed at a hotel right in the middle of downtown just a couple blocks from Temple Square and the Mormon Tabernacle. We were let out to tour Temple Square and it was fascinating! Two lovely young missionaries led a guided tour through two of the buildings – the Tabernacle and the Assembly Hall – and the beautiful gardens in the courtyard. We were not permitted to tour the Temple, because only those Mormon who follow the strictest of the church’s covenants and are declared “clean inside and out” may enter.

Temples are considered the House of God and no unclean thing may enter. The organist was playing while we were there for the tour – the sound was incredible! The organ has over 11,000 pipes, multiple keyboards, and multiple sets of foot pedals. We were told that the acoustics in the Tabernacle are perfect – if the organist wasn’t playing, they could drop a pin in the choir loft and you could hear it in the back of the room.

After dinner, we were given the option to return to the Tabernacle to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Thursday evening rehearsal, which is open to the public. WOW… getting to listen to their angelic voices and musicians in that stunning Tabernacle with the perfect acoustics was indescribable. An evening I will remember forever.

There were no “Close Encounters” when we visited the Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

The other two parts of the over-all trip I wanted to briefly touch on were in Wyoming and Montana. First – while in Wyoming, we stopped at Devil’s Tower. I wanted to swing by there when I went on a cross country motorhome trip with my brother and sister-in-law in 2016, but it didn’t work out, so I was happy to get to see it on this trip. Like millions of others, I saw the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, so it was an unexpected thrill to see the tower in person (and, listen to that tune in my head while I was there, and I’m happy all over again if I just caused you to get it stuck in your head, now – hahaha).

We didn’t have any “close encounters” on this trip, but it was still pretty cool. The Indian legend of the Devil’s Tower is that a group of young girls (I believe they said three) were playing when a huge bear came upon them. They ran and when it became obvious that they wouldn’t be able to outrun the bear, they huddled together and prayed that they could be raised higher than the bear could reach. Suddenly, the earth around them began to rise up to save them. The distinctive streaks on the sides of the tower are said to be claw marks from the bear as he tried to reach the young girls, but failed to do so. 

The other stop we made was in Montana – or, more specifically, the Sovereign Nation of Crow Country. As soon as we entered Montana, we immediately left Montana and entered the Sovereign Nation of Crow County, which is about 2.2 million acres NOT considered part of Montana, even though it is inside Montana’s borders. It is the greatest span of land within the US borders that is still not under control of the American government. 

While in Crow Country, we stopped to visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. In 1876 in the Valley of Little Big Horn, Sioux and Northern Cheyenne, led by Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, overwhelmed General Custer and his Calvary. It was a solemn place that the Crow now consider sacred. We attended a talk by a park ranger, who is a member of the Crow Nation – he told the story of the battle and dispelled the myths and legends that have been embellished over time. On the site, there is a memorial to the Native Americans who fought in the battle and markers all over the hill leading up to the peak showing where bodies were found after the battle. Beside the site, there is also a National Cemetery that has nothing to do with the battle. The park ranger told us that, although it is a National Monument, the site is proudly maintained by members of the Crow Nation. His personal pride in being a part of honoring this Native American heritage was strongly evident in his talk.

We got a nice taste of all these amazing states and I’d love to return, someday, to see more. I did get to spend more time exploring Utah when I traveled to New Mexico and Monument Valley – but, that’s a story for another time.

Check out all the stories and photos from our visit to Idaho and Utah: Click here 

Another blog post included in the series of posts from our Caravan Bus Tour includes visits to Devil’s Tower, the Sovereign Nation of Crow Country, and the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Country – all fascinating places to visit: Click here

Happy Adventuring,
Kim Pritt