SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree returns to the Oregon Trail

Sweet Home to DC: The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree journey

A Modern Day Adventure on the Historic Oregon Trail

Each year, a National Forest provides a Christmas Tree for display on the U.S. Capitol lawn in Washington D.C. This year’s tree is travelling from the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, in central Oregon. District Ranger Nikki Swanson is recording her notes from the journey for the Your Northwest Forests blog.

To read previous entries, visit https://yournorthwestforests.org/category/capitol-christmas-tree/.

For more information, visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree website, www.capitolchristmastree.com, and story map: https://arcg.is/10DOyv

Track the tree! Follow the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree on its Return to the Oregon Trail journey in near real-time, at www.trackthetree.com


November 14th, 2018
Baker City, Ore.

Our last night in Oregon

Today we traveled 261 miles. The weather was clear but cold. All of the members of our wagon train were excited about today because we would be stopping in two iconic Oregon Trail locations, The Dalles and Baker City.

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Members of the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree team at the whistle-stop tour event in The Dalles, Ore. Nov. 14, 2018. Courtesy photo, The Joy Trip Project (used with permission)

This year the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is being transported by a crew that includes amazing women serving as rangers, law enforcement officers, media relations and the first EVER female driver of the truck transporting the tree!

After all of the fun for the day was done, we stayed in a hotel that has the reputation of being haunted.

From the beautiful Columbia Gorge to the open plains of sagebrush, the landscape changed before our eyes and I found myself imagining how difficult this journey would have been 175 years ago.

The river was more wild then, before the dams which turned the mighty Columbia into a series of large lakes slowed the raging waters. The overland route was filled with rocks and large trees and deep canyons that were very difficult to pass via wagons. Now we just cruise through at 65 miles per hour and marvel at the beautiful scenes passing by.

We picked The Dalles because of its importance along the Oregon Trail, and because we really wanted to stop in as many of the smaller communities as possible.

 

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A view of the 70+ foot trailer carrying the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree during the USDA Forest Service tree team’s whistle-stop tour,stop in The Dalles, Ore. Nov. 14, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

The historic buildings of The Dalles downtown are straight out of the old-time pictures in vibrant modern day color. We were welcomed into town by a band and a choir. The mayor was so thankful that the tree was visiting his town, and all of the people of the town seemed to share his enthusiasm.

A very special thing happened in The Dalles.  The tree was blessed in the traditional way by tribal members from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Yakima, Warm Springs, Nez Perce, and Apache tribes.

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Members from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, Yakima, Warm Springs, New Perce, and Apache Tribes. performed songs and prayers and a traditional smudging (burning of sage) to wish the tree and its trees safe travels on its way to Washington D.C. a blessing for the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree at the whistle-stop tour event in The Dalles, Ore. Nov. 14, 2018. Courtesy photo, The Joy Trip Project (used with permission)

Songs and prayers and a traditional smudging (burning of sage) was performed to wish the tree and its trees safe travels on its way to Washington D.C.

A pioneer display at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Nov, 14, 2018

A pioneer display at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Nov, 14, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

Next, we traveled to Baker City. Several of our team had the opportunity to visit the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Flagstaff Hill. I was a bit of a tourist, buying books so that I could learn as much as possible about the Oregon Trail as I travel along it.

Nikki Swanson, district ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District, models a pioneer-era women's bonnet at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center,

Nikki Swanson, district ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District, models a pioneer-era women’s bonnet at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Nov, 14, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

I bought a bonnet fashioned after the traditional bonnets that were worn by pioneer women. I thought it would be quite fun to take photos of myself in the bonnet along the Oregon Trail. I took the first of the photo series today along an intact section of the Oregon Trail.

That’s right! I actually touched the Oregon Trail today, with my very own feet. The only thing better would have been if I was riding the trail on my horse. Someday I’ll be back to make this dream a reality, too.

A pioneer-style wagon, displayed at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Nov, 14, 2018.

A pioneer-style wagon, displayed at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, Nov, 14, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

I’ll consider this a scouting mission for my someday in the future adventure of riding sections of the Oregon Trail on horseback. Dreams are meant to plan for… and then to accomplish.

The final stop of the day was a nighttime parade in Baker City. The city hosted a wonderful event. It was my favorite so far (shhhhh…. don’t tell the other cities!) because there was an ACTUAL covered wagon pulled by horses.

I climbed right up on the wagon and introduced myself to the driver, Danny Clary, from DH Wagon and Carriage.

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Nikki Swanson, district ranger for Sweet Home Ranger District, Willamette National Forest, lived her childhood dream when she rode in a horse-drawn covered wagon during the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree “Return to the Oregon Trail” tour whistle-stop tour event in Baker City, Ore. Nov. 14, 2018. Courtesy photo, The Joy Trip Project (used with permission)

It felt so wonderful to be around horses. And I’d always wanted to sit in a covered wagon, hooked up to horses.

There was also an absolutely incredible youth choir filling the crisp, clear, night air with sounds of beauty and bringing joy to all who were there.

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Santa Claus signs a banner carrying holiday greetings from many of those who came to view the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree during a whistle-stop tour event in Baker City, Ore. Nov. 14, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

There is hardly any room left on the banner for signatures. Oregonians really came out in full force and did not leave much room for those in the remaining states…

Oh, and another exciting thing happened! I met some of my cousins that I have never met before. How fun to see family so far from home. It was such a lovely surprise.

I wonder how many times that happened on the Oregon Trail?

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USDA Forest Service employees thank a participant in the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree’s whistle stop tour stop in The Dalles, Ore. Nov. 14, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

I suppose it might be fairly common, as the wagon trains grew in numbers during the height of the greatest human migration in the history of the American west. Friends and families met, became separated, and met again along the long and dusty road.

Tomorrow our journey is long and we leave our beautiful Oregon as we travel from Baker City, Ore. to Pocatello, Idaho.

Nikki Swanson
District Ranger, Sweet Home Ranger District
Willamette National Forest

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