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!

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