This article produced in partnership with TravelNevada.
Immersion at the California Trail Interpretive Center
We’re always overjoyed to have the grandkids come to visit us in Ogden, Utah, but as they’re
getting older, it’s starting to feel like we grew up in a world so different it might as well be
another planet. It’s hard enough getting the kids to connect with our childhoods; how do we
get them to connect to their family history?
That was how we ended up hitching up the camper and planning a trip to their great-aunt’s
place on the old homestead in California. On the way, just a little west of Elko, Nevada, we
found the California Trail Interpretive Center.
We had seen billboards on the road – “It’s a long walk to California” made the kids giggle, since
their pawpaw had already trotted out that particular threat. The wagons on the billboards
entranced the kids, and the Trail Center had very good reviews online. Although the parking lot
was nearly full when we pulled in, there was no lack of wildlife. A jackrabbit darted through the
brush as we walked up, drawing squeals of delight from our youngest granddaughter, Elizabeth.
Getting the real story
We weren’t expecting much, just something to get the kids off “those dang screens” and out of
each other’s hair, and the price—free!—was right. We were blown away by the size of the
building and the variety of activities. There were real covered wagons and some structures
made of sage and branches that the guide told us were a traditional Shoshone summer
encampment. The hiking trails with their sweeping views and interpretive signage were exciting
enough for the kids, but moderate enough for us to keep up.
I love history, and this wasn’t just anyone’s history—it was ours. Our ancestors came over on a
covered wagon, walking across the whole desert with whatever they could carry. It was
breathtaking to see their stories brought to life, especially for the kids. I think they had always
imagined a covered wagon as being not too different from a station wagon, and the trek as a
kind of extended camping trip. At the listening stations, they were able to hear the
emigrants—men, women, and children—speaking to them.
Elizabeth in particular seemed quite moved; she practiced her serious faces in the mirror while
dressed up in a calico dress and sunbonnet (their mother is going to love that picture), and then
she looked up at me and said, “Meemaw, I got tired just walking up the trails.” The Center,
which incorporated models, recordings, videos, and even computers, really spoke to the kids.
They even started asking me questions, and by the time we got to the genealogy research
station at the end of the exhibits, they were pressing around me, excited about their family
Can’t get enough
We stayed for the gold panning demonstration, where the kids got a hands-on lesson on the
Gold Rush. Sometime during the excitement, I realized I’d misplaced my husband. I found him
in on a couch in their gift shop, with a pile of history books in front of him. They had several of
the books he’d been wanting to read about the western emigration, and we were impressed by
the reasonable prices and the lack of sales tax. The lady behind the counter pointed us to a
book that had directions to the actual wagon ruts of the California Trail. The kids were almost
beside themselves with excitement.
They insisted on calling the rest of the trip “OUR California Trail,” and from the questions they
asked, I could tell that for the first time they’re seeing their ancestors as the brave pioneers
they were. I have no doubt we’ll be back on the way home, and probably for many years after
that—I understand they have a big historical reenactment every May called “California Trail
Days” that looks like a great time for everyone in the family. The world changes so fast, it’s hard
to keep up. Places like the California Trail Center do an amazing job bridging the past and the
Get in touch with a part of our story at the California Trail Interpretive Center.