Visually Impaired Students Retracing Oregon and California National Historic Trails.

Students with trail marker

Students from the Kansas State School for the Blind examine an Oregon Trail commemorative marker at South Pass, Wyoming. They used "talking" GPS devices to help them hike the wagon trail to the marker. NPS Photo

A combination of modern technology and hands-on interpretation is helping a group of students from the Kansas State School for the Blind on an expedition of discovery this month. They're visiting several NPS sites while retracing the routes of the Oregon and California National Historic Trails.

The group of eighteen students from the Kansas State School for the Blind and their leaders is travelling in a minivan-caravan, visiting important NPS trail sites and using “talking” GPS devices to help them walk in wagon ruts at stops along the way.

Fort Laramie National Historic Site and other NPS units along the travel routes are engaging the students in accessible living-history programming as they learn about the emigration experience. At Fort Laramie the trekkers, along with 20 support staff and teacher interns, learned how to load and fire a mountain howitzer and tasted the hard life of an Army laundress by washing clothing on an old-fashioned washboard.

Later they celebrated an early Fourth of July at Independence Rock and used their GPS units to explore Oregon Trail ruts at South Pass in west-central Wyoming. Other stops along the trail this summer include City of Rocks National Reserve at Almo, Idaho, and Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, Washington.

The trekkers will return to Kansas City following the Nez Perce and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trails, with stops at the Nez Perce reservation and two NPS areas in North Dakota: Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site and Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site.

Their route includes some fine NPS sites that many of us miss in our own journeys—and their trip reminds us there's more than one way to "see the U.S.A."