Exhibits: The Lands: National Landscape Conservation System
National Historic Trails
Designated by Congress under the National Trails System Act, a
National Historic Trail is a type of extended trail that follows as
closely as possible, on Federal land, the original trails or routes
of travel with national historical significance. Designation
identifies and protects historic routes and their historic remnants
and artifacts for public use and enjoyment. A designated trail must meet certain criteria, including having a significant potential for public recreational use or interest based on historical
interpretation and appreciation. The BLM manages a total of 3,623 miles of the listed nine National Historic Trails.
National Historic Trails Interpretive Center
1501 North Poplar Street
Casper, WY 82601
Pony Express National Historic Trail
The Pony Express only lasted 19 months, from April 1860 to October 1861, but the adventure of the breakneck cross-country rides have indelibly seared the national psyche. Two of the most famous figures of the Old West, Wild Bill Hickock and Buffalo Bill Cody, got their start with the Pony Express-- Hickock worked as a station assistant, and Cody had the distinction of being the youngest rider, at 14 years old, and also of setting the record for the longest continuous ride. Riders generally rode about 75 miles at at time, switching horses often at the many way stations along the route.
For the first time, half-million Americans in the West felt connected to their homes: mail traveled coast-to-coast in about 10-12 days during the temperate months, and about 14 days in winter. Until then, news took about 6 weeks to reach Sacramento by boat, or 3 weeks by the Butterfield Stage, which traveled through the Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Sonoran deserts.
The bold vision of the Pony Express, while financially disastrous, proved that a year-round central overland transportation route was not only feasible but crucial to a nation struggling with secession of the southern states. The centralized route, chosen over the heavily-promoted southern route, also guaranteed that California, with its strategic ports, sided with the Union in the Civil War. The transcontinental telegraph tolled the death knell for the Pony Express. Telegraph messages took minutes to cross the country, and the Pony Express went bankrupt 27 days after the first message was transmitted.
The Pony Express stations, where riders changed mounts and picked up mail, quickly fell into disrepair. Many stations were hastily constructed, and some were even simple tents or dugouts. Had this brief period not held so much glamor for the succeeding generations, and had the trail itself not passed through extremely remote desert lands, the traces of the trail might have disappeared forever.
Following the Pony Express NHT
Several national and state parks and monuments preserve major sites along the Overland Trail from St.Joseph, Missouri, which the Pony Express Trail followed. These forts, trading posts, and natural landmarks saw not only the Pony Express riders, but thousands of emigrants hopefully seeking a better life in the California, Oregon, and Utah territories. You can see the original Pony Express trail and structures in just a few places, mostly on BLM lands in Utah and Nevada, and also on BLM land in Wyoming, where the Pony Express overlapped the Overland Trail.
The Overland Trail through Wyoming follows the Platte River, then turns west roughly along I-80. Once past Salt Lake City, following the Pony Express National Historic Trail means traveling into the heart of the Great Basin desert, where temperatures vary from extreme to extreme, and where fresh water is at a premium. Even today, this route is lonely, requiring an adventurous soul and a rugged vehicle. In Utah, simply load the car with water, check your spare tire, and follow the Pony Express Backcountry Byway from Fairfield to Ibapah. Once in Nevada, the trail runs along sections of NV Hwy 50, US 6, and NV Hwy 2B, where you can visit both well-preserved and ruined stations.
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