Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Olympic spectators get taste of ‘Western Experience’

February 12, 2002


— It was the telegraph that killed the Pony Express, but it's the Internet that keeps its spirit alive today.

Winter Olympic fans arriving here to attend Nordic skiing events can't escape the "Western Experience" as they make the short hike from the herd of shuttle buses at the transit center into the dramatic cross country stadium in the shadow of 11,470-foot Mount Timpanogos. There is a corral of mustangs, a fleet of horse-drawn sleds offering free hay rides, a pioneer village and a mock-up of a Pony Express Station.

If you can't be here, you can at least go online and check out the Pony Express Web site at The home page serves as a link for the organizations keeping the tradition and romance of the Pony Express alive.

Once each year, they cover the historic route on horseback, beginning in St. Joseph, Mo., and traveling through Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada on their way to Sacramento, Calif.

Back in 1860 and 1861, they covered the distance in 10 days.

The modern riders allow themselves the same 10 days. They can't cover the exact route there are a few barbed-wire fences here and there that didn't exist in 1860.

But the opportunity to follow roads is a big advantage the modern riders enjoy over the originals.

David Sanner gestures down the hill toward the Heber Valley and says, "Imagine it's 1860 and you have to cross that country at night on horseback and find your way to the next station."

I can't imagine it.

Sanner and his wife, Melva, are in Soldier Hollow from their home in Blue Rapids, Kan., and running the Pony Express Station at Western Experience with Nebraskan Tim Gibbons. Gibbons said the romantic image of a young Pony Express rider galloping into a station on a lathered horse, executing a flying dismount and leaping onto a fresh steed is fiction. The real Pony Express riders averaged 10 mph, which is about a slow canter.

The original Pony Express route didn't come through Soldier Hollow; it ran about 30 miles north in Emigrant Canyon.

But the name Soldier Hollow does have historic significance. In the early 1850s, a contingent of soldiers was assigned to survey a shorter route from southern Utah through the mountains to Wyoming. They encamped near a spring in the area that now hosts one of the world's premier winter sports venues.

On Sunday, Chris and Fred Graham of Salt Lake City were stirring a kettle of cornmeal mush and apples over a wood fire at the "Western Experience." Their whole family was on hand, dressed in homespun clothing the little girls in gingham bonnets.

They enjoy tracing their roots to Mormon emigration in 1846 and 1847. The Grahams took part in a wagon train that observed the sesquicentennial of that trek in 1997.

I asked Chris whether she was meeting inquisitive people from all over the globe who were curious about pioneer life in the American West.

"A few," she said. "But mostly people just want to have their pictures taken with us."

Life at the Olympics is just an interconnected string of photo opportunities.

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