I have a ton of them in paper form and several more bookmarked on my web browsers. Some were hand drawn and now available via Google, while others are the latest in tourist roadmaps. Still more are from National Geographic with infinite detail of every mountain and valley in our country. I have more maps than those of just the United States, of course. I’m trying to ignore them in favor of finishing the Oregon Trail series. After this project and all its intensive research, I’m totally in favor of writing something either present day or set in the far future.
“What? That can’t happen! You just pulled that out of your butt!”
“Why yes, yes I did.”
So back to the maps and why I have access to so many. Well known landmarks in the 1800’s aren’t the same as the ones we take note of now. In some places, the original trail crisscrosses highways. In others, it runs through privately owned land. Is every single step along the way to Portland vital to the story? Yes, and no. Sure, I could have a character die by falling down a steep cliff into the river below. Could it be the Green River, or would it best to use the Snake River?
This is Green River.
A bad place for a cliff death. That might be a good thing. So, the victim will have to wait until the Snake River. Even then, the banks aren’t steep the entire way. Landscapes like this is why I study the topography of my settings. It’s also fun to see what surprises the terrain and weather can bring to my characters as well.
Fun fact about the Oregon Trail! You could have left Independence, Missouri, near where I live, and maybe reach Oregon before October. If nothing tragic happened, other than a death or two, it would be possible. But if you waited to leave next week? It’d be a whole lot better if you just waited until next April. Otherwise, you’d risk a catastrophe of Donner proportions. Read here for more information.