Like most kids who grew up in this state, I spent hours playing The Oregon Trail, where most of the time my pioneer avatar was undergoing a slow, pixelated death. The computer game helped educate children about the grueling expedition out west, but I can think of no better teachable experience than making your own journey to the first city in Oregon where those travelers would stop. Vale, located 12 miles from the Idaho border along the Malheur River, honors that history with a collection of murals across the city, many depicting scenes from the route—from a painting of a family reading together at the spot they set up camp to the more dramatic burial of 6-year-old Gertrude Wentworth in Death on the Oregon Trail. There are 30 pieces in all, turning the town into a walkable open-air gallery.
To tread on the actual wagon ruts, head 7 minutes southwest of Vale to the Keeney Pass Interpretive Site, named after one of the first men to lead a wagon train across the entire trail. There you’ll find two deep depressions in the grass, where more than 50,000 people passed through. Push up the trail a third of a mile to a viewpoint of one full day’s journey—about 15 miles. It doesn’t look very far, but to a pioneer who’d already covered 1,500 miles, it must’ve felt like an eternity.