Category Archives: Hiking

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree team celebrates Thanksgiving in St. Louis

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 22nd, 2018
St. Louis, Mo.

Celebrating the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree at the St. Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and I am 2,054 miles from home. But I’m thankful for the technology that allows me to correspond without the need for the Pony Express.

It’s harder than I thought it would be to be away from my family during the holiday, and I don’t think I was alone in feeling that way. Emotions were near the surface for many of us this morning.

But our day was brightened by the parade!

Here we are getting ready to hand out some Smokey swag to parade goers!

And here we are, making our way to the parade route.

What an amazing thing to be a part of! The St. Louis Thanksgiving Day Parade is the second largest Thanksgiving Day parade in the United States. It was broadcast on live TV, and occasionally the parade would pause for a commercial break.

There were nearly 150 entries, including the amazing animal balloons that are filled with helium. I had only seen those on TV before today. They are pretty cool on TV.  They are WAY COOLER in person.

Smokey Bear and firefighters from the nearby Mark Twain National Forest joined our entry. It was a toss up over who had the most fans between the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree and Smokey Bear. Combined, I’m pretty sure they stole the show….. but, I’m only a little bit biased. Cries of “SMOKEY BEAR!” and “Look it’s the tree!” followed us along the entire parade route.

After the parade, we all ate together as a “tree team family.” We had a fantastic dinner.

Several people were heard to say that it was the best food they had ever eaten, from the butter, to the main course, to the desert. I, myself, have never remarked on the excellence of butter before tonight, but I was not alone in stating this particular fact out loud!

Some of us had traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner, and some ventured away from the holiday menu. But all enjoyed their meal!

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Following dinner, we dispersed to nap, exercise, or to call family back home.

After so many days and nights on the road, we’re all thankful to spend two nights in the same hotel and to have an opportunity to rest up a bit before the journey begins anew in the morning.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree makes way from Perry, Kansas to Kansas City, Mo.

Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home district ranger (Willamette National Forest) road in a stagecoach with the mayor and Santa Claus during the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree whistle stop event in Perry, Kansas Nov. 20, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

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 20th, 2018
Kansas City, Mo.

Nebraska City, Nebraska… to Perry, Kansas… to Kansas City, Missouri!

Three states in one day! Today was a mighty fine day that took us and the 2018 Capitol Christmas tree on quite an adventure, from small town America to the big city.

We had two “whistle stop” events today, which could not have been more different – but were both amazing.

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We started the day traveling from Nebraska City, Neb. to Perry, Kansas, 131 miles away.  The weather was again good. We’ve been blessed with good weather. We’ve have had many more good days than bad on this adventure.

The city of Perry pulled out all of the stops! All of my favorite things were present; there were horses, children, and Smokey! I got to ride with the stagecoach driver to transport the Governor, the Mayor, and SANTA! What a special treat.

Our arrival was welcomed with American flags lining the road. Perry’s community pride was evident throughout the celebration. The kind staff at the high school prepared lunch for us. We were very thankful.

The event was at the high school, and the younger students were bussed over.

I think this stop had the most young people present of any event we’ve had, so far. The leaders of today and tomorrow signed the banners and learned a bit more about the Forest Service and the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

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Our final stop for the day was Kansas City, Mo., 53 miles from our last stop.  We were welcomed by a life size statue of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Quite the contrast to Perry. We were definitely not in Kansas any more!

The event was held at Union Station an absolutely beautiful building inside and out.  It was decorated for Christmas with lights and ribbon and a model train for the young, and the young at heart.

Several sponsors donated giveaways such as hats and pins. There was also free food for everyone including fresh dipped caramel apples, s’mores, pretzels and hot dogs!

This was a bountiful day for food. Unlike the Oregon Trail pioneers, no one in our group went hungry.

The skill of our drivers and the aid of local law enforcement were once again instrumental to our successful day.

Maneuvering the tree on city streets during rush hour was tricky business.

Not everyone understands that big trucks need a whole lot of room. And, it’s such a sight to see that people just naturally just stop what they are doing to stare and watch it go by.

Tomorrow is a big day, we go to Independence, Mo. to the official starting point of the Oregon Tail, marking a significant milestone in our journey.

Happy trails, until then!

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

The 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree team conducted its second whistle stop event of the day at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. Nov. 20, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home district ranger, is travelling with the 2018 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree from Willamette National Forest, Oregon to Washington D.C. The tree is traveling a reverse route along the Oregon Trail National Historic Trail, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Trails Act. Here, Swanson poses with a tree at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo. Nov. 20, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

 

 

 

 

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree enters Idaho

The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree and team stop at the headquarters of Sawtooth National Forest en route from Baker City, Ore. to Pocatello, Idaho

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 15th, 2018
Pocotello, Idaho.

Goodbye, Oregon. Hello, Idaho!

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Just a short entry today, as there were no stops. Today was a big travel day, 359 miles from Baker City, Oregon to Pocatello, Idaho.

What took us six hours took the Oregon Trail pioneers twenty days!

It was arid country, without much in the way of water. Fine for us, but it would have been difficult for those early trail travelers to find enough water for their livestock.

For much of the way, travelers could only look down from the high rock on the rim of the Snake River Canyon to the water below.

The rocks along the route must have created difficulties for the wagon wheels and the soles of the pioneers boots. One of the early pioneers described this stretch of trail this way: “It’s dust from morning until night, with now and then a sprinkling of gnats and mosquitoes, and as far as the eye can reach it is nothing but a sandy desert, covered with wild sage brush, dried up with heat; however, it makes good firewood.”

We ended the day near Fort Hall, which was the last trading post along the Oregon Trail for many miles. It was a place where travelers could resupply, fix wagons, trade out weary livestock and rest up a bit for the next part of the journey – one of the hardest of the entire trail. (It would have been hard to rest, though, given the millions of mosquitoes sharing the river valley with the pioneers).

I got to ride shotgun in the semi pulling the tree! What an amazing experience, to see the Snake River plains from this perspective.

It was fun to get to know the driver of the day and CEO of Central Oregon Trucking Company, Rick Williams. He was so proud to be a part of the tree team, and we are so lucky to have him and his company as a partner.

He and his drivers are so skilled and so professional… good thing too! There were some sporty moments negotiating some of the turns, but with the skill of the drivers and the help of Forest Service and local law enforcement, the truck made its way safely.

PS: See below for a lovely video montage of the tree as it traveled through Oregon, courtesy of the Oregon Department of Transportation.

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

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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SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree visits Oregon capital

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signs the banner hanging on the side of the trailer carrying the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree

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 13th, 2018
Oregon City, Ore.

The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree arrives at the Return to the Oregon Trail tour whistle stop event in Salem, Ore.

The 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree arrives at the Return to the Oregon Trail tour whistle stop event in Salem, Ore. Nov. 13, 2018. The tree is travelling cross-country on a route dubbed “Return to the Oregon Trail” to deliver the tree, harvested from the Willamette National Forest in central Oregon, to the U.S. Capitol on behalf of the state. USDA Forest Service photo.

Travelling the Willamette Valley

Today we made two important stops on our journey, the State Capitol in Bend, Ore. and the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Oregon City.

The State Capitol event was amazing.  The tree pulled up right in front of the Capitol building and the gold Oregon Pioneer statue stood proudly above us like a sentinel shining in the sunlight against a blue sky.

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The golden Oregon Pioneer statue stands as a testament to the spirit of early trail-goers at the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree whistle stop event in Salem, Ore. Nov. 13, 2018. The tree is travelling cross-country on a route dubbed “Return to the Oregon Trail” to deliver the tree, harvested from the Willamette National Forest in central Oregon, to the U.S. Capitol on behalf of the state. USDA Forest Service photo.

Granite monuments of Oregon Pioneers on either side of the Capitol building reminded all in attendance about the spirit of the Oregonians and our love for freedom and adventure and making a better life.

Speakers including Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown spoke about what this tree meant to them and to the entire State of Oregon.

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From left, Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, Gov. Kate Brown, and Senate President Peter Courtney pose with a smaller tree during the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree. The tree is travelling cross-country on a route dubbed “Return to the Oregon Trail” to deliver the tree, harvested from the Willamette National Forest in central Oregon, to the U.S. Capitol on behalf of the state. USDA Forest Service photo.

It was touching to hear how moved they each were about the honor of having the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree come from Oregon.

Brigette Harrington was on hand to read her amazing poem once more.

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Brigette Harrington, winner of the State of Oregon 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree essay contest, delivers remarks as the tree, harvested from Willamette National Forest and travelling to the U.S. Capitol for the holiday season,, at a tree tour whistlestop event in Salem, Oregon Nov. 13, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

After the speeches, a smaller companion tree, also from the Willamette National Forest, was presented to the Capitol.  This sister tree will be lit on November 27th at a special celebration. Next, pictures were taken to capture this exciting event for memories in years to come.

My favorite moment was when Smokey accidentally photo bombed the photo of Gov. Brown and Brigette.

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Oh Smokey…. Always wanting in on the fun.

Our second stop of the day was at the End of the Oregon Trail Museum in Oregon City.  This stop put our entire journey into perspective.  There was a very large map that showed the route we are taking across the country as we follow the Oregon Trail in reverse.

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Members of the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree team point to places they look forward to visiting along the Oregon Trail as they travel cross-country with the tree on a route dubbed “Return to the Oregon Trail.” The tree was harvested from the Willamette National Forest in central Oregon and will be delivered to the U.S. Capitol on behalf of the state and the Forest Service to light the Capitol Lawn during the holiday season. USDA Forest Service photo.

My favorite photo of the day was of our team pointing to their favorite part of the Oregon Trail, because we are actually going to see those favorite places.

I have wanted to journey on the Oregon Trail ever since I first learned about it in the 4th grade.  I never dreamed I would be taking a 70-foot long tree with me on my adventure… but here we go and this stop made it all seem so real.

It’s really happening!

Several of our team members were not as obsessed with the Oregon Trail as I, and thus did not have the same context for the trail we are about to take.

The Interpretive Center provided that context through some amazing videos and we all left excited and a bit daunted about what was to come.

The Interpretive Center put on a lovely event with live entertainment consisting of an older couple in period dress.  The wife played the dulcimer and the husband played the bass and it was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard.

There was hot chocolate and free posters from Travel Oregon encouraging people to find their trail and there was joy, so much joy.

What a lovely way to end the day and to begin our journey on the Oregon Trail at the end of the Oregon Trail.

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

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree tale, in two cities

Carolers in traditional, Victorian garb help celebrate the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree, a gift from the people of Oregon to the nation, at he tree's Bend whistle-stop tour stop Nov. 12, 2018.

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


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November 11th, 2018
Bend, Ore.

A day of contrasts in Bend and Detroit

Today was a day of contrasts. We traveled 80 miles today through the sagebrush, Lodgepole pine and Ponderosa pine in Bend, Ore., to the lush green Willamette National Forest, to Detroit, Ore.

The Bend event on our 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree tour: “Return to the Oregon Trail” was a big one. Really big. What other city has “Father Christmas” fly into their event in a helicopter? And fighter jets doing a low level fly-over? Smokey Bear came in a Forest Service fire engine and posed for pictures with his fans. Carolers caroled in front of the tree in their old-timey clothes.

More than 6,000 people signed the banner and collected their favorite Smokey Bear and U.S. Capitol Christmas tree swag. Gifford Pinchot was even on hand as living history to discuss the beginning of the Forest Service.

Children made ornaments for their own Christmas trees and adults marveled at the size of the tree and how tall it is for a Noble fir.  The 2018 Capitol Christmas tree was 82 feet in the wild and was trimmed to 70 feet to fit into the truck.

Everyone appreciated the stunning beauty and creative beauty of the ornaments adorning the top twenty feet of the tree that were handmade by the people of Oregon… a small sample of the 10,000 made with love by Oregonians young and older.

We left Bend feeling invigorated for our journey and amazed at the level of planning and community involvement it must have taken to pull off such a great event.

Farewell, Bend. Until we meet again.

The journey from Bend to Detroit was a path through vastly different ecosystems. We started in the dry high Oregon desert, then traveled through sagebrush and Lodgepole pines into the beautiful vanilla-smelling Ponderosa pines near the city of Sisters, Ore.

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) is my favorite tree species.  Tall, straight, orange tinged, trunks with branches of long tufts of green needles like nature’s pom poms. The old needles fall to the ground each year and were traditionally woven into beautiful baskets by Native Americans.

One of my high school teachers taught a group of us to make these baskets in the traditional way. I have never forgotten how proud I was to make such a wonderful thing with my own hands without the aid of modern day tools or devices.

As we neared the pass we transitioned into a large area of forest that burned in a fire over 20 years ago. Black and gray snags dot the landscape as far as the eye can see, with bright green firs literally rising from what was previously ashes. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem. Even knowing this, Smokey Bear encourages humans to be careful with fire. There can be too much of a good thing and as always, nature does it best.

After we left the burn scars we dropped through the majestic green Douglas fir forests. The west side of the Cascade mountains gets so much more rain than the east side.

We arrived in Detroit at dusk. The night was clear and bright and beautiful. This city is much smaller than Bend, but the tree was still a really big deal! It seemed the entire city of several hundred people came to wish us all well on our journey. The mayor was so excited to host us and so excited for the unity that the tree brought to his small town. There was a band and several choirs and peace and goodwill.

Everyone was so thankful that the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree stopped so that they could sign the GIANT Christmas card.

Detroit, Oregon has been a gathering place for travelers and explores of nature for over a hundred years.  The original town of Detroit was moved to higher ground when the dam was built and the lake filled the valley.  A few years ago, when there was a drought and the reservoir did not fill, an old wagon and a wagon wheel were found near the stone foundations of the old town.

There is so much history in the canyons and the mountains and the forests that we can’t see anymore, but the remnants are still there for those who know where to look.

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

Community members gathered to see the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree during a whistle-stop tour stop in Detroit, Ore. Nov. 12, 2018.

Community members gathered to see the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree during a whistle-stop tour stop in Detroit, Ore. Nov. 12, 2018. Courtesy photo, The Joy Trip Project (used with permission)

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree team hits the Oregon Trail

A scene of a pioneer family following an ox-drawn covered wagon from a mural displayed in the Oakridge-Westfir Pioneer Museum in Oakridge, Ore.

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


November 11th, 2018
Bend, Ore.

Finding our trail

Last night was the last night I will sleep in my own bed for the next thirty days. This adventure is starting to get very real. It was hard to say “goodbye” to my husband knowing I would not see him again for a month.

We decided to share a “picture of the day” through a family group text to keep connected while we are all separated. It’s faster and easier and more real-time than the handwritten letters written by pioneers and carried via boat or horseback.

While I will be away for what to me seems like a long time, it’s nothing like the hardships that the pioneers faced to communicate with their loved ones.

Another thing that struck me, today, was that I would be traveling for the next two weeks and sleeping in a different hotel every night. I struggled to figure out how to even pack for a trip like this. Again, thoughts of those Oregon pioneers helped put my problems into perspective.

While I will sleep in a different bed each night, I have a bed. I don’t have to sleep on the ground, or cook my meals on a fire. We are eating in restaurants. I have a comfortable, climate-controlled vehicle, not a covered wagon and animals to care for in addition to my own family. I am indeed quite lucky (although I do sincerely wish I was traveling by horseback).

Today’s travels took us to McKenzie Bridge and Oakridge, Ore. The McKenzie Bridge event was quite lovely. Tokatee Golf Course is a beautiful venue to gather around this beautiful tree – the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree.

The sun was shining down on us and people were so excited to see the tree in person. The District Ranger from McKenzie Bridge was there wearing an “ugly sweater” baseball jersey he won at the Eugene Emerald’s game during their “Christmas in July” event, where some of the ornaments we are bringing to Washington D.C. with us were decorated by fans.

The Oakridge event was also wonderful. People cheered and clapped as the tree rolled into town. Both the District Ranger and the Deputy District Ranger for the Middle Fork Ranger District were on hand to welcome the tree.

The winner of Willamette Valley Visitor Association’s “Find Your Ornament” contest attended the Oakridge event and gave a lovely speech about how they had hiked all summer long over a variety of trails to try to find an ornament. They encouraged everyone to go hiking, enjoy their National Forests, and to “Find Your Trail.”

As winners, they will also receive a free trip to Washington D.C. to see the lighting of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree this December. They were so cited to have won, and I was so excited to meet them.

Today was Veterans Day, and after my speech I realized that in the excitement of meeting the ornament contest winners, I’d forgotten to thank our veterans for their service. I wandered through the crowd to thank each veteran in person.

After Oakridge, we made our way towards Bend where we would stop for the night. Along the way, the tree did slow drives through Crescent Junction and LaPine. People honked and came out of their homes and businesses to wish the tree well on its journey. I am continuously amazed about the love that the tree gets wherever it goes. Maybe its because people know they won’t see another in Oregon for 15 or 20 years? Or maybe they are just so proud that this tree is coming from their State as a gift to the people of America.

I know I am.

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

 

 

SWEET HOME TO DC: 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree rolls out on tour

A reenactor representing Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the Forest Services, poses with U.S. Airmen during a 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree whistle-stop event Nov. 10, 2018.

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


November 10th, 2018
Albany, Ore.

Thankful for family, friends & veterans

Today we left home. The packing and the year of preparation is complete and it is time to leave family and friends and to take the first steps away from all we know, to venture into the great unknown. It was also a day to be thankful for the veterans who have made this country free so that we can travel as we wish. This freedom does not exist everwhere.

Our stop at the Cabellas store in Springfield, Ore. was like a giant farewell party. My family and friends who had not made it to the Sweet Home event came to wish me well.

I realized at this moment how much I am going miss all of my family and friends over the next month. It was just a small taste of what the Oregon Trail pioneers felt when they left their friends and extended family members behind – the pioneers were going to be gone for a much longer period of time than me. Many pioneers said “goodbye” knowing they might never see their families and friends again.

Cabellas was so festive!  There was music, hot chocolate, Smokey Bear and there were even LIVE reindeer! There was such a spirit of joy in the air as people picked their favorite spot to sign the banners on the side of the truck.

My friend’s son summed up the mood of the event perfectly: “Of all 50 states, that Oregon was chosen to deliver the Capitol Christmas tree ALL the way to D.C.? That is amazing.” I agree.

The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree also visited the Albany Veteran’s Day Parade, the largest Veteran’s Day Parade this side of the Mississippi. It was such an honor to be at this event.  There are so many veterans in my life and I am thankful every day for their service to our great country.  Not every country has the freedoms that the United States of America enjoys. When I was 17, I traveled to Canton, China as part of an international sports exchange to run a cross country race.

The funny thing is, I don’t remember the race at all. What I remember is seeing the poverty, and being surprised at the lack of freedom that we had. We could only visit the places the government gave us permission to visit. We could not go to just any jade factory, we had to go to the one they directed us to.

In America, visitors can move freely. I had always heard from my Dad that I should be thankful to be an American, I did not realize just how true that was until I visited another country. I came back proud to be an American, and thankful for all of our veterans and the price they paid for our freedom.

The service members and veterans, Civil Air Patrol cadets, and parade-watchers had a great time signing the tree banner, learning more about the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, and having their photos taken with Smokey Bear.  It was our second day officially “on the trail” with the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree, and it was a very good one.

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

SWEET HOME TO DC: City sends off 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree with celebration, parade

A logging truck sports lights and holiday themes decorations for the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree send-off parade

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


November 9th, 2018
Sweet Home, Ore.

The adventure begins

The city of Sweet Home ROCKS! Today was the kickoff celebration for the tree tour and Sweet Home hosted the most AMAZING send off every in the history of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.

I have only been to two other kick off celebrations (Idaho and Montana) and I am a little biased, but I can’t imagine anyone topping what Sweet Home did! There was an incredible parade, a wonderful list of speakers, a beautiful full-color, magazine-style program, and a concert by the country music group Cloverdayle.

Representing the USDA Forest Service during the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree send-off event in Sweet Home, Ore.

Representing the USDA Forest Service during the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree send-off event in Sweet Home, Ore. Nov. 9, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

The parade was incredible. Several thousand people came out to watch the lighted parade. The entire city of Sweet Home was decorated with Christmas lights and wreaths and painted windows. People came from near and far to see this historic event.

It’s only the second U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree to come from Oregon, and many of us may not get to see another.

It was fun to meet some of the people instrumental to the success of this project. Many a grade-schooler ran up and hugged me… this was actually my favorite part of the evening, that so many children were excited and proud that this tree came from their city, their state. My new title, as told to me by several of these wonderful young citizens, is “The Captain of the Tree”.

District Ranger Nikki Swanson, Sweet Home Ranger District, Willamette National Forest on stage during the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree send-off in Sweet Home, Ore. Nov. 9, 2018

The stage at the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree send-off celebration in Sweet Home, Oregon Nov. 9, 2018 was decorated with tree cut-outs made from different types of commercial wood products. USDA Forest Service photo

Another highlight was getting to meet a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Her organization hosted several ornament-making events, and made several of the incredible quilted tree skirts depicting the beauty of Oregon with so many colorful textures of fabric. I have never before seen such beautiful tree skirts.

The parade was so bright and awe-inspiring and there was so much joy in the air as lighted log trucks, and horses, and motorcycles, and even bagpipes made their way down Main Street.

Attendees at the Sweet Home, Ore. Capitol Christmas Tree send-off event sign a 70-foot banner stretching the length of the truck carrying this year's tree

Attendees at the Sweet Home, Ore. Capitol Christmas Tree send-off event sign a 70-foot banner stretching the length of the truck carrying this year’s tree from Willamette National Forest to the U.S. Capitol for the 2018 holiday season Nov. 9, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

Once the tree stopped at the end of the parade, a wave of people crowded around the truck, all eager to be among the first to sign the banner on the sides of the truck.

The banner proudly displays the names of more than sixty sponsors who made this project possible.

At each stop, we’re encouraging ALL of the people who see the truck in person to add their names to the banner wishing good will to the people of America, like a giant rolling Christmas card.

Another exciting part of the evening was when Senator Ron Wyden met with the Sweet Home Library to present them with books from the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

The Sweet Home Library is doing a fun project linking all of the cities across the country that the tree is traveling through.

Each city is invited to join a book club of sorts.

The children's book "You Wouldn't Want to Be an American Pioneer" is displayed with a model horse-drawn covered wagon and map of the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree tour route

Sweet Home, Oregon library sent a “book club” box to libraries in 20 cities the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree will visit as part of its whistle-stop tour en route to Washington D.C. The tree’s route is a reverse of the Oregon Trail, designated a National Historic Trail under the National Trails Act, which is 50 years old this year. USDA Forest Service photo.

Rose Peda the Sweet Home Library Director sent ‘gift boxes’ to 20+ Whistle Stop public library’s along the tree tour route, with the following note: “The Sweet Home Public Library invites you to celebrate the travels of the Capitol Christmas tree along the Oregon Trail. Join us in sharing the books “Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (and Children) Across the Plains” by Deborah Hopkinson and “Wagons Ho” by George Hallowell, and in eating the delicious apples from Oregon provided by Grandpa’s Farm. Children can track the travels of the tree with the Oregon Trail map provided by the National Forest Service.”

What a fun way to connect children across the entire country!

After the banner signing, the festivities moved into the gymnasium, which was decorated so beautifully for Christmas. There were several speakers, including the Mayor of Sweet Home and Senator Ron Wyden, who spoke about how proud they were to be sending this gift from Oregon to the people of the United States of America.

Brigitte Harrington recites her contest-winning poem about Oregon's holiday seasons at the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree send-off event i

Brigitte Harrington recites her contest-winning poem about Oregon’s holiday seasons at the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree send-off event in Sweet Home, Ore. Nov. 9, 2018.. The Oregon 4th grader’s poem, based on ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” was selected from 1,200 entries by Governor Kate Brown. Harrington will travel to Washington D.C. to light the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree with the Speaker of the House in early December. USDA Forest Service photo.

My favorite speaker was Brigitte Harrington! Brigette is the talented 4th grader whose poem was selected out of 1,200 entries by Governor Kate Brown to light the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree in Washington D.C.

Brigette read her poem, which is a rendition of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” that focuses on the beauty of the changing seasons in Oregon. It was truly a delight to hear her recite it. (You can download a PDF copy at this link, or scroll down to read the full text immediately following this journal entry).

The New Era newspaper created a beautiful, full-color magazine style program that was handed out during the evening events. The program contains the history of the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree as well as information about OUR Oregon tree.

The party ended with wonderful music from the country music band Cloverdayle bringing Christmas cheer all the way from Nashville, Tennessee.

So many wonderful memories were made tonight. This will go down in my book as one of the most incredible events in my life. Watching the culmination of a year of planning become an event filled with joy and happiness and pride for this Community and our entire state. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. With a send-off like this, the future looks bright.

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

A young fan dances to the music of the country music group Cloverdayle

A young fan dances to the music of the country music group Cloverdayle during the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree send-off celebration in Sweet Home, Ore. Nov. 9, 2018. USDA Forest Service photo.

 


Here’s the winning entry in the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree essay contest. Brigette Heather Harrington based her essay on the poem “‘Twas the Night  Before Christmas.” Her entry was selected by Gov. Kate Brown from around 1,200 entries submitted by Oregon 4th graders; Harrington won a trip to Washington D.C. to light the 2018 Capitol Christmas Tree, harvested from the Willamette National Forest.

‘Twas the month before Christmas, and all through my mind,
Swirled thoughts of my Oregon, all intertwined;
The four seasons how extraordinary, each one of a kind,
Left memories galore for my mind to rewind.
The winter how beautiful, the snow began to fall,
I quickly grabbed my mittens to make a chilly snowball.
The snowman we created, sat proudly in my yard,
He stayed there ‘till he melted, a snowy frosty guard.
The raindrops how they pattered, the wind gusts how they blew,
In Oregon this is common, it makes us special through and through;
So don’t be disappointed, for rain can bring such joy,
The puddles are for jumpin,’ they’re better than a toy!
In thinking of the springtime, birds began to chime,
The tulips and the daffodils, made for a colorful time.
It was time to plant my garden, the seeds went in the ground,
I watched each day as plants popped up, and roots became earthbound.
The roses oh so pretty, a painting of delight,
The picture of a rainbow, magical and bright.
A visit to the Oregon coast, is sure to bring a smile,
Watching waves and seagulls fly up high, my sandcastle took a while.
Flying kites their tails a’soarin,’ a fun sight to behold,
Especially nice upon the sand, with the ocean foamy and cold.
Hiking in the green lush forests, tall evergreens abound,
Watching wildlife, deer, and elk appear, animals all around.
Onto summer sunny days, the earth was in its glory,
Picking berries, apples, peaches and more, so sweet, like a fairytale story.
Kayaking on our rivers was great, it really was a thrill,
Paddling to and fro with dad, water rippling, peaceful and yet still.
Time for fall, it was really here, brilliant trees ablaze,
Leaves soon fell down one by one, my eyes just loved to gaze.
Finally into the pumpkin patch, oh which one should I choose,
A tall, a round, a skinny one, once carved it would amuse.
It’s time to cut our Christmas tree, we’ve got to find the right one,
Can’t wait to get it home inside, all decorated and done!
So as I close my eyes for sleep, my heart holds memories dear,
Thinking of my home, our state, my Oregon, how glad I’m here.

By Brigette Heather Harrington (4th grade, Oregon);
Winning essay,

2018 Capitol Christmas Tree contest

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