Sunday, October 7, 2018

Of Hot Springs and Canyons - Research Road Trip, 2nd Edition

Another road trip happened this summer, four seasons after the first epic dance with long distance driving. On the downside, this trip, like the first one, was marred by smoke from fires, mostly in Canada I'm told, but also from the epic ragers that were flaming in California.

So that makes two trips in a row lessened by atmospheric smoke drifting in the wind, hundreds of miles from where it originated. ah well....such is life in dry western states late in the summer. oh - and rattlesnakes, too. First time I've seen a sign like this in any of the freeway rest stops I've ever stopped at.

Once again, the pleasure is in the details, as well as in the hot springs and canyons. I didn't plan it like I ended up doing, but the trip evolved into more of a road trip through Wyoming than anything else. Day One began with dropping my wife off at the Salt Lake City airport. I then missed a turn and started out driving west on I-80, along the Great Salt Lake. Very cool. Literally. I was shocked at how cool the temps were. Also there was water everywhere, even as I drove through the whitest, brightest desert light I've ever seen. No trees either. I took the first exit I came to (Kemmerer I think), which was highlighted by a giant smokestack off in the distance. The picture I took was overexposed and did not turn out. Did I mention how bright and white the light was?

By the way, this was a trip to drop off our youngest kid at the University of Utah, which turned out to be an unexpectedly cool place. I like Salt Lake City. Turns out it is actually a bit smaller than Madison. In my mind, SLC was a metro area more akin to Chicago than Madison, but I was wrong. It's a smallish feeling city. We stayed at an AirBnB in the Sugar House neighborhood. Lots of oldish one story brick bungalows. Nice. Unexpected. In retrospect, I guess I was expecting more of a stark severe Mormon influenced desert town. What I found was a hip neighborhood, full of coffee shops, people pedaling to work, and the aforementioned bunch of brick bungalows. Reality was MUCH better than anticipated. SLC is well worth a visit. btw, I think the UU campus is gorgeous, with much less Mormon influence than I was anticipating. Campus is built on a hillside, maybe even a mountainside. Fairly rugged, not much flat space at all. Like SLC, I found UU reality much better than I imagined.

And then there's Logan. The first trip, four years ago, delivered our middle kid to Utah State University in Logan. Really like this town and the campus, which is at the mouth of a canyon. It looks to me like the school is built on top of the outwash field that has come flooding out of the canyon over the years. I think. Bottom line is that the school is perched a couple hundred feet above the rest of this small city. Great view. Great campus. Great program if you are looking for biological engineering. We all really like Logan.

After a hike down from the top of Snowbird, a roughish ride to a half empty Porcupine Reservoir, with both kids dropped off and after dropping my wife off at the airport, it was ‘me’ time, which meant six days of roaming back roads, empty spaces, and small flyover towns. Love it. On the sixth day I had to be in New Hampton, Iowa for a project. So this trip really worked out well. New Hampton is right on the way back to Madison. In fact, Highway 18 through Iowa, is close to New Hampton and runs right into Madison. Small world.

Like the first edition of this road trip, the point of the trip is three fold. First, I like road trips through flyover country. I only stay in small motels in small towns. I only eat at ma and pa diners in the same small towns, and I drive the small roads, the non-freeways, the kind with two way traffic and crossroads. Second, I always enjoy returning to places where good things happened at earlier points in my life. Sometimes nothing has changed (Hwy. 12 thru Lochsa Canyon), sometimes it has gone all wrong (neon, casinos, and ugliness of Missoula). The fourth I might add is the driving time to listen to entire CDs that I never have enough time to listen to. Fifth, I stop wherever I see something cool, which never happens on a freeway with wife and kids.

This trip was every bit as good as the prior edition, but for entirely different reasons. I stopped at hot springs and I went on a different route. All good. Can't wait for the third edition!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A small spot in a quiet valley for a giant historic figure

I stood at this spot for quite awhile and imagined all that could have transpired here back in the day. Imagine a 14 year old girl, kidnapped and horsebacked across a 1000+ miles of wilderness and forced to start a new life. She is then sold to an old nasty frenchman, with whom she has the 'life issue' (to be charitable to old nasty frenchman) of having a young child. Lewis and Clark show up out of the blue looking for a guide who can get them to pretty much the spot she was taken from. It all works out and years later Sacajawea shows up back at this very place and is reunited with her tribe and her family. All this happening after guiding a group of men across unknown terrain for that same 1000+ mile journey with a new baby on her back.

Today the Lemhi valley is a quiet spot. Forgotten about in back of beyond Idaho, sitting at the base of the climb to Lemhi Pass. It is pretty even in the heat of a semi-arid summer. Cows are all over the place. So are chukars. Huge scree slopes are all around as you start the climb up through the Agency Creek drainage. It's easy to imagine the presence of those many historic figures passing by, maybe even on the very piece of earth on which you are standing. As for Sacajawea history does not know what happened to her. No one knows where she is buried. No one is sure when she was even born. At least we know where this young woman, responsible for who knows how much of the Lewis and Clark Expedition's success, was born. A granite monument with words etched in stone makes note of this place. Something for the ages.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rivers That Flow North

It's always a trivia question that no one ever gets. 'The Nile' is one rare answer. The question is 'Name a river that flows north?'. Here are some more answers. River and Ranch is set in an area of the country that happens to feature not one, not two, but three river that rise in the south and FLOW to the north. Without further ado, here are three answers to that difficult trivia question.

1) The Lemhi river flows north. It rises near Gilmore Summit (elev. 7,150 ft amsl +/-) and flow generally north where it joins up with the Salmon River in the middle of Salmon, Idaho.
2) The Bitterroot river flows north. It rises in the small waters flowing out of the mountains in around and behind Lost Trail Pass. Trivially speaking everything on the Idaho side of that pass flows south and goes to the North Fork of the Salmon. But the snow that melts on the Montana side flows downhill to the NORTH and ultimately adds a load to the Bitterroot, which ultimately enters the Clark Fork (of the Columbia river - more trivia) in the valley just outside of Missoula, Montana.
Finally, the Big Mama of rivers that flow north - the Middle Fork of the Salmon.
3) Way down in central Idaho but quite high up there is Bear Valley creek, just outside of Stanley. It's a little thing flowing through meadows full of flowers. Once the snow melts. But while the snow is melting it is a big thing that combines with Marsh Creek and creates the Middle Fork. 100+ miles of north flowing beauty.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Road Trip turns up old TV reminder

Idaho Highway 28 Petticoat JunctionNot quite what I was expecting to see in the middle of nowhere. So of course I stopped turned around and went back to look some more. Between kids, wife and my parents I've fallen into the trap of "just getting there". Once there we'd be stuck staring at hotel room walls or worse, boredom would set in. This trip I promised myself to remember the journey and NOT the destination. So I stopped all the time, drove slowly and looked at the small things. First off, I was amazed at how empty this stretch of road was. Once Idaho Falls was in the rear view mirror, I don't remember passing or being passed by any cars for hours and a good 150 miles. Midweek, midday, school in session. Quiet and empty. Flyover country.

Seeing this water tank and windmill was a great pullover. I wonder what ever happened to the old show? Someone must have the tapes. I wonder why reruns for this haven't happened. Beverly Hillbillies was the same time frame. I think.

At any rate, this is one more thing to pop into the book and a fun reminder of TV culture from way back in the day.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Research Surprise

The main point of this trip was to get back to one of my favorite places on the planet. Just for me. A reunion with place. Maybe some memories too. The second big reason was 'research' for River and Ranch. It did not disappointment. One of the big takeaways was the presence of Lewis and Clark. Lemhi Pass, Tendoy, North Fork, and the road up Agency Creek bore reminders that L & C had passed by way back in 1804-ish. Driving that road was an especially powerful reminder of what the Corps of Discovery accomplished. Agency Creek is possibly the steepest road I've ever driven up, especially the last pitch that tops out on the pass. It winds around for about thirteen miles, once you leave Tendoy. Doing this route while following a guide who had never 'quite' been there, with the beginning out of sight below you and the end unknown somewhere above you, like L&C did is a whole additional layer of difficulty. This is old land. It's been lived in for awhile now. Waves of people have washed over it. Seeing Lewis and Clark all over the place and experiencing the terrain they covered by foot without a road, while I did it in the comfort of car and trails made for compelling research and stands as a testimony to the strength and fitness that this group had hundreds of years ago, in conditions much more difficult than what we have now.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Leadore Idaho

Leaving Logan, Utah on the first day of my 'research trip' as I called it, I was quickly reminded of just how much more wide open, desolate, grayish space there is 'out west'. Leadore was the only big town outside of Salmon, once I left the Idaho Falls area. As you can see, it looks kind of like a ghost town. I drove some of the back streets and saw zero people outside. The entire town looked abandoned. It's not, at least according to what I read. In fact there's even a high school in this town, small as it is. Two hotels, four rooms each. One hotel owner is a wood carver of some repute, again according to what I read.

I billed this as a research trip for River and Ranch. Leadore was one of the 'must see' stops. Didn't know quite what to expect, but seeing zero people outside everywhere I went was a surprise. Maybe they only come out at night.....

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Road Tripping in a Special Slice of Big Empty

This is the 'lead in' to Salmon. My return started with a drive from Idaho Falls. Heading northwest, half is uphill to the crest at Gilmore Summit and then it's coasting all the way down the Lemhi river valley into Salmon. By the way, the Lemhi river is one of the few that flow north, the Middle Fork of the Salmon is another.
     Gilmore Summit is over 7,000 feet, why it's not a 'pass' I don't know, but if you're into big wide open spaces, it ranks well up there. I think the road image up top sums it up pretty well. I drove it midday, midweek, in late August - admittedly a quiet time, but still, once I left Idaho Falls and hit Hwy. 28, I think three cars passed me going the other way in over 100 miles. That's one of my indicators for being in big empty. I even bought a case of bottled water along with the last tank of gas in Terreton, the last town before things empty out. Just in case.
     Like most other road trips through remote places, there's history along the way, the land for the most part, has already been lived in once or twice. Also like almost all other empty space, by definition, there are few, if any, people living in these places. Hwy. 28 followed this rule pretty well too. There were a few gravel roads that could have led to ranches I suppose, but I did not see any occupied houses, only shells of houses. Long empty, appealing in the sense of wondering who lived there and why would they choose such a desolate spot. These houses always seem to have the window casings removed, assuming they ever had windows with frames. Maybe that's another requirement for 'big empty', remaining houses must be scavenged for reuse elsewhere.
     Anyway, I made it to Salmon, with Highway 28 turning out to be a wonderful prelude to small town places in the heart of flyover country. The reality of this place and space fits well with the feel I want the description of this road to have in River and Ranch.