Smithsonian

Step Two: The Rocky Mountains as a Barrier to Travel

Examining a Painting
Display Colorado by Boardman Robinson. Identify the piece and explain that it depicts the Rocky Mountains. Point out the Rockies on the map. Begin a discussion about this physical feature as a barrier to travel. What do you notice about the size of the mountains? How does the size of the mountains compare to the size of the buildings? What do you notice about the terrain? What transportation systems do you see? How might people today travel over these mountains? Focus the discussion on travel during the early and mid-1800s. How did people travel during this time period? What difficulties did people who traveled over the Rockies encounter? Record student ideas on the board or chart paper (“class list”).

Examining a Journal Entry
Distribute and display John Kirk Townsend’s journal (Materials). Identify the text as a diary entry written by a man who made a journey across the western states and the Rocky Mountains in 1834. After reading, conduct a discussion on the issue of the Rocky Mountains as a barrier to travel. Ask students to cite evidence from the text to confirm, disprove, and add to the ideas gathered and recorded in the examination of the painting. Make amendments and additions to the class list.

Making Connections
Referencing the students’ lists, explain that South Pass was the only feasible way to cross the Rocky Mountains. South Pass is a large stretch of land some twenty miles long. It allowed wagon travel. In no other way could migrants with wagons cross the Rocky Mountains into states such as Oregon.