SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree completes Oregon Trail leg

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 the western Cascade mountain range. 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 21st, 2018
St. Louis, Mo.

We have completed the Oregon Trail portion of our journey!

Today, we reached Independence, Mo., where the Oregon Trail began.

Although we and the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree are not done with our journey, this marks a major milestone for us, as it means we have traveled the length of the entire Oregon trail during our trip.


There is a monument, here, that to mark the starting point for the Oregon Trail.

It reads: “This monument honors the pioneer spirit of these courageous men and women who by their heroic trek across the continent established homes and civilization in the far northwest.”


Ahead of those pioneers lay 2,000 miles of prairies, river crossings, mountains and whatever weather nature dished out. Ahead lay a dream of land ownership and a better way of life.


A modern day “covered wagon”!

Independence, Mo. was a river port which specialized in outfitting travel along the Oregon Trail, and it was our first stop for the day.


What a lovely event it was! There were wonderful people dressed in historic pioneer clothing that helped make covered wagon ornaments. The library provided maps of our route along the Oregon Trail, and read several pioneer stories to the children.


Some days, the world seems smaller than others. Today was one of those days. I met a lovely couple who are good friends with the people who won the “find your ornament” contest on the Willamette National Forest’s Sweet Home Ranger District, where I work.


I took their photo so their friend could see they were there. This sort of thing has happened throughout the trip, with family members signing the banner and then taking a photo to send to relatives so that they can sign in the same place at future stops.


It continuously amazes me how connected we are, even when we are separated by 2,000 miles. I suppose similar experience happened to the Oregon Trail pioneers as they carved their name in a rock or left messages for those coming after them.




After the Independence event, we traveled to the nearby Mt. Washington Cemetery because we heard that Jim Bridger’s memorial was there. Jim Bridger was such an instrumental part of the Oregon Trail story that we just HAD to go and see it. Not even a washed out bridge with a narrow crossing could stop us from our mission!

We found the grave site, and felt the power of connection once more. It was only a few days before that we stood in a snowstorm at Fort Bridger, where Jim advised and outfitted so many pioneers as they progressed on the trail.


Our next stop was St. Louis, Missouri. Members of our tree team hurried, even jogging part of the way, to attempt to reach the Gateway Arch before it closed for the day!

We didn’t make it in time to go in the arch, but we were able to go into the museum and to explore around the arch.

It was a beautiful night with a nearly full moon and the place seemed absolutely enchanted.

The arch is an engineering masterpiece! It is so amazing.  This is a place I will return to, when I have more time to explore.


The museum under the arch was also incredible. St. Louis is often referred to as the Gateway to the West because it was a popular gathering area for many people who later settled in the western territories.


The museum had many exhibits and some great video of what life on the Oregon Trail might have looked like, as well as several first hand account displays of what life was like during the great human migration to the west.

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




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