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Wagons Ho! take to the high desert

If you are in the market for the authentic pioneer covered wagon experience, then Wagons Ho! of Powell Butte is the central Oregon business to call.
The steady rhythm of horse hooves clomping the packed dirt road is punctuated by the cackle of jays in the junipers and the call of red tail hawks overhead.
   The sounds of wildlife mixed with the creak of wooden wheels and snorting horses is no doubt reminiscent of the true pioneer trail experience.
   The occasional burst of laughter from the young people traveling aboard and walking alongside the two authentic covered wagons, is one indication of how much fun a covered wagon trip through the grasslands can be.
   This pioneer experience is hosted by Powell Butte's Wagons Ho! Partners Heinz Balk, manager of Sunset Ranch and Dave Peterson, Manager of Wagons Ho! have joined forces to provide tourists of all caliber with a peek into central Oregon's pioneer past.
   As part of their work to enhance the flow of tourists to our area, Balk appeals to the European market with invitations to the dusty trail over the Internet. According to Balk, Europeans are particularly interested in vacationing in central Oregon due to our wide open spaces, clean air and fantastic panoramic views of the mountains.
   Enticed by visions of the beauty of the High Desert with its views of the Ochoco and Maury Mountains to the east, the snow caps of Mt. Bachelor and the Three Sisters in the west, a group of foreign exchange students from Germany recently took a ride through the Crooked River Grasslands aboard Wagons Ho! authentic covered wagons.
   The students traveled to Prineville from Springfield for the last leg of their four-week-long visit to the United States. They were treated to a sevenhour-long adventure which included a narrative on Oregon history, first hand pioneer trail riding experience and a good old-fashioned cowboy campfire dinner complete with song and poetry.
   Although the wagon trail experience isn't nearly as rough for travelers today, taking a trip on an old road in a wagon drawn by Belgin Draft horses is a good way for visitors to get a taste of what it was like for travelers a hundred-plus years ago.
   "It's a good experience for these students and all of our customers," Balk said. "Over 300,000 pioneers traveled to Oregon on wagons, and about 140,000 people died along the way."
   The authenticity of the trail ride gives the covered wagon crew a chance to talk about what the pioneers went through. "It was very hard for the people back in the 1800's. The wagons were heavy and some were pulled by oxen. They moved very slowly over very rough roads," Balk continued. "I told these young people, `Now you can see what it was like for the pioneers and how they were able to make do with the comforts provided by the covered wagon.' The wagon is all original, complete with noises of the clanking gear and the unpaved road, it's an enlightening experience for everyone."
   Ultimately he explained, it's an eye opener which builds respect for how much the settlers knew about their surroundings and how well they adapted to the changing landscape.
   Balk indicated that the current European-American exchange rate is making it a little difficult for overseas visitors to afford a trip to the U.S., so the business is stepping up their appeal to American tourists.
   Wagons Ho! offers several packages for anyone, local or international, who would like to create a memorable vacation experience. Trip packages range from one to seven day adventures.
   Local educators interested in taking students on a pioneer adventure can make special arrangements with the owners for a reduced rate.
   The maximum back country overnight excursions start at Prineville and go from the Painted Hills along the John Day River to Shaniko. Historical looks into the area's past include visits to deserted area gold mines and ghost towns.
   Entertainment on the adventure includes the Warm Springs Indian dancers, cowboy poet Rick Steber, historian John Bowerman and singer-songwriter and poet Rick Weatherson.
   The trail is approximately 70 miles long and the wagon travels about eight miles a day. Balk indicated that the minimum party is six people.
   For more information call 447-8189 or visit their online website at www.sunset horses.com.