New California Trail center tells story of covered-wagon pioneers

Martin Griffith

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 1 2012 8:01 p.m. MDT

RENO — A $20 million federal facility devoted to telling the story of the covered-wagon pioneers' overland journey during the California Gold Rush has opened in Nevada.

About 700 people gathered for a grand opening ceremony this month at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's California Trail Interpretative Center, located along Interstate 80 near Elko about 280 miles west of Reno.

It's the BLM's third trail center and the first federal facility devoted exclusively to the California Trail. The agency operates similar centers in Casper, Wyo., and Baker City, Ore., along the Oregon Trail.

The trail center's exhibits feature life-size dioramas, original artwork, interactive displays and multi-media presentations. They showcase a wide range of subjects, including a typical emigrant camp, the infamous Donner Party, the Gold Rush and American Indian tribes of Nevada and Utah.

"I've had some people say it's Smithsonian in quality and I truly do agree," center director David Jamiel told The Associated Press. "People are absolutely amazed when they walk through the door and see what we've done."

The trail center commemorates more than 250,000 adventurers who followed various branches of the California Trail across California, Idaho, Nevada and Utah between 1841 and 1869.

For the pioneers who turned left off the Oregon Trail for California's gold fields, the final one-third of their 2,000-mile trek marked the biggest challenge.

They were forced to cross the barren deserts of Utah and Nevada not only at the hottest time of the year but also when they were lowest on food and supplies. California's Sierra Nevada was the final obstacle before they reached the promised land.

The trail center's six galleries are organized by zones the emigrants encountered along the way: the Missouri River, the Great Plains, the Parting of the Ways (where the Oregon and California trails branched), the Great Basin of Nevada and Utah, Nevada's Forty-Mile Desert and the Sierra.

A large diorama depicting how the animals and equipment of the pioneers were breaking down by the end of the journey is featured in the Forty-Mile Desert gallery.

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