Thursday, August 30, 2012

US Hwy 30: Columbia River Gorge

West of Pendleton, US Highway 30 is captive to I-84 well into the Columbia River Gorge. Reaching the Columbia River is a powerful experience on a road trip like this, both as an accomplishment of miles and as a stunning change of scenery. The river and the gorge it has carved out over the millennia do not disappoint. They are also impossible to photograph -- especially when you are driving on a hazy day -- but perhaps this will give you the gist of it.

Through the gorge, US30 deviates from the interstate on occasion. Most are just brief detours through local towns, but a few are lengthier forays into the surrounding countryside. One was a steep, twisty climb that afforded this preposterously fantastic view, in which I was able to capture Darth and my road rig at their finest!

Hinting at more beauty to the west are glimpses of Mt. Hood rising in the distance. It's been a very long time since I've seen forests -- even trees! -- and snow-capped volcanic mountains. It gives me a profound sense of approaching "home" (to the extent that I have such a place anymore!)

Speaking of trees, I am very happily camped in a densely wooded lot with a full canopy of shade. Color me happy as I plan to stay here for the weekend and enjoy the area… Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

US Hwy 30: Pendleton, Oregon

Pendleton is an historic frontier location, notable since the early 1850's as a cowboy town. That motif prevails today, for which the annual Round-Up is clearly the highlight. The old town area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is an enjoyably quirky place for a stroll. Besides that, I didn't have much success here.

The local museum is a collection of what-not, ranging from a group of early license plates to correspondence from the WWII front. The defining feature of the place is that it's housed in the old train depot, conveniently vacant because Amtrak doesn't run here anymore. More decorative than useful, it's mostly just for touristic diversion.

The same is pretty much true of the town's other attractions: The underground tour, river walk, hall of fame, etc. That's not to say it isn't a pleasant little town. The surrounding area is quite pretty and the folks are very nice. It's also quite possible I'm just a little filled up on frontier stuff, and a visitor who hasn't just spent a month following the Oregon Trail might find it very diverting.

I did thoroughly enjoy my visit to Hawley's, an historic mega-plex of shop, saloon, restaurant, cafe, etc. It was a treat for me to spend time walking around a store in which I had almost no idea at all what I was looking at. Just reading labels and scratching my head, I learned a lot about horse-related gear. There was plenty of it, as you can see in this photo of one small area of the store.

The food was good -- though ridiculously over-priced -- and the whiskey selection was adequate. If you visit here and some of your party want to spend time at the famous woolen mills, Hawley's -- or almost any of the many, many saloons in town -- would be a good place to wait.

I'm heading into the Columbia River Gorge tomorrow and expect to spend a few days there. I'm looking forward to enjoying an emphasis on natural beauty rather than frontier history… Stay tuned!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

US Hwy 30: Northeastern Oregon

The wildfire smoke was really bad in Baker City yesterday, so I spent the entire day with my head down into a project that some of you will appreciate very soon. (The only hint I'll give you now is that one of your favorite sled dog websites is about to get a major -- and I mean major -- upgrade!)

Driving northwest out of Baker City, US Hwy 30 is separate from the interstate for about 20 miles and offered a pleasant, flat -- though still very smoky -- drive. One highlight was crossing the 45th parallel -- halfway between the equator and the north pole -- which is the latitude at which I typically start enjoying the scenery. Once rejoining the interstate, the road is the usual high speed affair.

I stopped about 30 miles later in La Grande, to visit the folks at Northwood Mfg who made my Arctic Fox camper. I mostly wanted to show them my camper sled and -- based on the many, many inquiries I get about it on a daily basis -- strongly encourage them to add it to their product line. They were very receptive to me and we spent almost an hour together.

Besides making a close inspection of my camper sled, they were quite interested in my satisfactory experience living in my camper throughout the winter in Alaska, with temperatures going as low as -60 degrees. They asked to video me offering a brief testimonial -- which you probably won't be surprised I did in one "take" -- and they gave me a couple of nice caps as souvenirs.

From there, it was a long, steep hill climb, though the presence of green trees suggested better things ahead than I've seen for quite a while. It's funny about the little things you appreciate!

Once over the pass, the road makes a very long descent onto another wide open expanse of land. As always, I tried to imagine what the Oregon Trail pioneers must have thought when they first encountered this view after so many, many miles of grueling travel.

I've stopped in Pendleton and plan to be here for a couple of days… Stay tuned!

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

US Hwy 30: Baker City River Walk

In my post yesterday, I mentioned that the Powder River runs right through downtown Baker City. Well, it turns out there's a river walk alongside it from the south end of town all the way north to near my campground.

The trail is a memorial to Leo Adler, the town's benefactor whose Victorian house I toured yesterday. It's a nice feature for the town and obviously fairly well used.

The weather was perfect again today, so I made the stroll and stopped about midway to check out the town's annual car show taking place in the town park about half way.

Here's a photo especially for my mom:

From there, I went all the way to the southern end then returned via historic Main Street and a coffee shop. In other words, I've had a very nice day moving around without driving. I'm enjoying everything about this place and may just hang out for another day tomorrow... Stay tuned!

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Friday, August 24, 2012

US Hwy 30: Baker City, Oregon

Baker City is an active, attractive town of about ten thousand people, situated in a fertile valley between the Wallowa Mountains to the east and the Elkhorn Mountains to the west. The Powder River runs right through the center of downtown on its way to the Snake River.

I don't normally report so much about a town's geography, but in the case of Baker City it's kind of a big deal. The Oregon Trail passes through the valley, not far from the present town. Imagine you are a westward bound pioneer who has survived to the point where I took this photo. Now look at the mountains that are ahead of you, and keep in mind that you have many more miles, mountains and rivers to cross after that. Perhaps you might think about settling here?

Platted in 1865, Baker City eventually became the largest city between Portland and Salt Lake City. There was money here, both from gold that was mined in quantity and from cattle that thrived in the area. There are many remnants of that wealth, including an exquisite old hotel -- the Geiser Grand -- where I've had one of my best meals so far on this road trip.

Besides the interesting and very walkable historic downtown, the city boasts a few notable attractions. One is the Baker Heritage Museum that's housed in a converted old natatorium. The displays are fairly well done, with a refreshing focus on local personalities in addition to the usual pioneer artifacts. Second is the very well preserved Victorian Adler House museum that once belonged to one of the town's primary benefactors. Unlike many exhibits I've seen of late, this house is mostly original and continuously lived in until bequeathed as a museum. I very profitably spent the morning walking around town and focusing on these two properties.

The crown jewel of the area, however, is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center a few miles out of town. Atop the hill from which I took the photo above, the Center has an extensive, time-line exhibit of traveling the Oregon Trail. Emphasis is placed on motivations, preparations, the daily grind, extreme hardships, decisions to be made along the way and eventual outcomes.

My favorite display is a scale model of a "Prairie Schooner" with various wooden blocks simulating what pioneers might choose to take with them. As with all travel -- including modern day -- you can't take everything with you, and it's easy to make poor choices about what you overload yourself with.

In addition, I was able to observe two women in period costume having a 30-minute "stitch and bitch" together, covering their recollected hardships on the Trail, gossip about local folks, news about the Homestead Act and, of course, the menfolk! Topping that off with a few topical videos and a visit to the outdoor circle of wagons, I spent the entire afternoon well engaged.

I ended the day with a visit to some actual Oregon Trail "wagon ruts" which -- unlike those way back in Gothenburg, NE -- are discernible enough to be worth photographing. Thus, I now can happily offer you a well preserved view of what you would have seen a not quite three quarters of the way along your migratory trail.

On top of all the above, the weather here was absolutely perfect today. Sunny with bright blue skies, yet cool with a pleasant breeze. It's been the nicest weather day so far on this road trip, and views of the surrounding mountains are idyllic. That's my way of hinting I will probably just hang out here for another day tomorrow… Stay tuned!

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

US Hwy 30: Into Oregon

A few miles west of Twin Falls, US Hwy 30 is once again subsumed into I-84. Moments later it is joined by US26, and soon joined by US20 as well. It is unusual for two main east-west routes such as US20 and US30 to run together, and even more unique that the two routes cross here and US30 becomes the more northerly route as it approaches the west coast. The result is the signage seen in this photo, one of the more crowded I have ever seen on my many road trips.

The reason for this convergence, I believe, is simply because there isn't much north or south of the route, so one road is all that's needed. Mostly it is a high speed affair and -- because of the heavy wildfire smoke you can get a sense of in the photo above -- I kept Darth powering down the road making very good time over the distance.

Western Idaho and into Oregon is a pretty desolate area, with barren landscapes and arduous hill climbs that must have been heart breaking for the pioneer wagon trains.

At a few points, the Snake River can be seen as it gains power heading toward its merger with the mighty Columbia river. A welcome oasis, even if just driving by!

I've stopped in Baker City, Oregon, which has been highly recommended to me both for its many attractions and for the town itself. I will probably spend a couple of days here… Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

US Hwy 30: Mid-Idaho

For the first hour or so from Montpelier, US Hwy 30 continues generally northwest as a proper highway in its own right. Trees are still pretty sparse, but the land is arable and evidence of wheat farming shows up for the first time. It's a pleasant, rolling-hill drive with modest traffic.

Soon after, US 30 is once again subsumed into the Interstate system, first into I-15 to Pocatello, then I-86 west until it merges into I-84. The road is your basic, no-frills, high-speed affair, with little to recommend it as you traverse another windy, dusty, barren landscape.

Just about at the point where the road crosses the Snake River, our beloved US Hwy 30 once again deviates slightly to parallel the interstate a few miles to the south. In this region, the landscape is quite arable, showing a pretty good mix of wheat, corn, soy, alfalfa and, of course, potatoes. It's funny how the little things -- in this case just a bit of variety in the flora -- can make a big difference!

I've stopped in Twin Falls, a city of fewer than fifty thousand, near the edge of a massive Snake River canyon. I will stay here tomorrow and hope to get a few photos… Stay tuned!

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Monday, August 20, 2012

US Hwy 30: Montpelier, Idaho

Montpelier, Idaho, is a town of about 2,500 people, situated at the intersection of two US Highways: US 30 (with which you are by now very familiar!) and US 89, a major, border-to-border north-south route (which is a prime candidate for a future Macgellan road trip!)

Accordingly, the town gets a fair amount of traffic and offers ample travel support services. It is a regional center for outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, hiking, etc., but doesn't have a whole lot else going on. The two exceptions are a famous truck stop and a national museum.

The Ranch Hand Trail Stop once won a "Best Breakfast in America" award, and advertises that fact on billboards for well over a hundred miles in each direction. The counter area is reserved for "grumpy old men" (I qualified!) and the breakfast is indeed quite good.

That's not honestly saying much, though, because I have many, many good "two eggs over easy, sausage, hash-browns and rye toast" in my travels. I'm not sure exactly what the criteria is for being the "best", but I give them credit for gaining notoriety and making the most of it.

Montpelier's other significant landmark is The National Oregon / California Trail Center which offers a combination of display rooms, art galleries and a surprisingly good "go back in time and relive the Oregon Trail experience" tour.

Guided by actors in period costume and attitude, the tour does a very good job of describing the motivations, preparation, equipment, costs, hardships, death tolls and experiences of travelers on the Oregon Trail in 1852. For example, the average total cost for a family of six to make the journey was about $1,500 and was equal to about ten years' average wages at the time. Almost one-in-five people died on the trail from a combination of disease, injury, starvation and indian attacks. The script is well written and delivered, the displays are well designed and realistic.

In sum, if you're ever passing through Montpelier, it will be well worth a couple of hours to have the best breakfast in America and travel the Oregon Trail. A couple of days here has been enough for me, so I'll be pushing west on my own trail in the morning... Stay tuned!

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

US Hwy 30: The JC Penney Mother Store

One of the things I enjoy most about driving the "old" US Highways is that I never know what I'll find and learn in the small towns I pass through along the way. For example, driving through the tidy, prosperous looking little town of Kemmerer, Wyoming, I saw this storefront and said to myself, "Now that I've got to check out!"

The inside of the store looks like a typical retail shop, with the addition of a few historical artifacts and photos on display. I asked the woman at the counter a few questions about the place, and received a response that amounted to not much more than, "Yes, this is the first JC Penney store."

After looking around a little more, I selected a souvenir t-shirt and tried a few more questions at the purchase counter. This time, the woman said, "You should go down the block and look at the house museum. They have a lot more information there." Good to know!

So, I wandered down the block and found this darling little house, the inside of which is decorated with furniture of the period and a fairly extensive display of artifacts.

I was the only visitor in the place and, to my delight, the curator on hand was a very nice woman who was more than happy to answer all my questions and give me excellent, detailed answers. The gist of the story is that JC Penny worked at a dry goods store in Rock Springs, Wyoming (where I had just come from!) called "The Golden Rule Store." In 1902 he was offered the chance to buy a one-third share in a new Golden Rule Store in Kemmerer. That store was immediately successful, and within five years he was a partner in three Golden Rule stores. In 1907, he bought out his partners and renamed the stores, which eventually numbered more than a thousand.

In our conversation, I asked the woman what her favorite artifact was and she showed me a picture. In it, she is the young woman standing next to Mr. Penney, along with her mother and grandmother. She explained that her grandfather had been an associate of Mr. Penney, and had the opportunity to buy into the business very early on. She smiled when she said, "I think if he had, I might be rich now." My favorite artifact is the hole in the upstairs floor where Mr. Penney kept his money!

There's a lot more to the story, including "The Penney Idea" which is a pretty good set of rules for running a business. You can click on the photo shown here at left to enlarge it and read for yourself.

It is clear from everything on hand that Mr. Penney was an extremely astute business man and a very charismatic individual who built an extraordinary enterprise.

Another part of the story is especially interesting to me. Showing my t-shirt to the curator, I asked, "Now I understand why the illustration shows a building called 'Golden Rule Store', but what's the story behind the 'One Price' sign over its door?" (Click on the t-shirt photo above to take a closer look.)

She answered that Penney was the first retailer to offer "one price for all" instead of haggling on almost every sale.

Clearly a novel sales approach in its day, it got me thinking about Penney's recent "Fair and Square" pricing strategy which you've probably seen in the media, and which has been pretty much a disaster for the company. Researching further, I found some analysis that this result is because modern customers do not trust or appreciate one-price strategies. (There's a lot of psychology involved, which you can read about in this article link.)

The gist of all this is a fine reminder that success in business requires a thorough understanding of what customers want (in both products and buying experience), a straightforward business model, a compelling philosophy, consistent cultural reinforcement and a good dose of personality.

All of these things, however, are subject to the fashions of the time in which they exist. All enterprises must evolve within their commercial environments in order to survive, let alone thrive. If you attempt an evolution and it fails, try another evolution. Going back to "how we did it in the beginning" -- as JC Penney has so clearly exhibited -- will not work.

To say the least, I got a lot out of my chance visit while driving through Kemmerer… Stay tuned!

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

US Hwy 30: Into Idaho

For the first 40 miles west from Rock Springs, US Hwy 30 continues to be subsumed into I-80. The geology is interesting is places, but mostly it's just a dry, dusty, windy drive.

Finally, for the first time since Chicago -- 1,250 miles ago! -- US Hwy 30 deviates substantially from the interstate, the former heading northwest toward Idaho where the latter swings southwest toward Utah. It's still a pretty lonely road, but it's in very good shape compared to what it has been. The scenery quickly improves, even giving some hint of green in my future!

Before long, fairly thriving little towns appear -- each an appealing green oasis -- in stark contrast to the nearly abandoned towns I've gone through over the past few weeks. This is clear evidence that US Hwy 30 is a proper road in its own right again, no longer the poor step-child of the interstate.

I've stopped just across the Idaho border in the small town of Montpelier, where I have a campsite right alongside a pleasant little creek with cool running water in it. It's feeling quite likely that I'll stay here for a couple of days to enjoy being out of the desert… Stay tuned!

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Friday, August 17, 2012

US Hwy 30: Green River / Rock Springs, Wyoming

This is a hard area for me to like. It's hot, dry, dusty, windy and just plain feels like a desert to me. Despite the eponymous river and Flaming Gorge Reservoir nearby, there's no feeling of water that's so important to me. Similarly, the surrounding geology is imposing but not very beautiful to my eye.

Green River city is the county seat, yet the smaller of the two towns. It also feels less prosperous, with the small downtown area dominated by a huge railroad yard and many, many saloons. There is a nice little museum that's well laid out and documented, featuring a good balance of natural and local history on display. Otherwise, there didn't seem to be much around.

Rock Springs is far more modern in feeling, with a definite buzz to the place. It is home to Western Wyoming Community College, and the typical influence of a few thousand students is quite evident: WalMart, Starbucks, Applebee's, a mall, movie theater, etc. A pretty annoying wind / sand / smoke storm impeded my exploration, but I don't think I missed much. Instead, I saw the new Expendables movie which -- to my great surprise -- was actually a very good, really fun film.

True confessions: I've been on the prairies, plains, steppes and high desert long enough. I'm ready to see some green again. So, I'm going to push west out of Wyoming tomorrow and set my sights on someplace in Idaho.

Along the way I will certainly be mindful and appreciative of my fantastic road rig. While I'm sitting in air conditioning, listing to an audiobook and powering down the road at 60mph, I will ask myself if I would have done the trip in a wagon like the one shown in this photo... Stay tuned!

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

US Hwy 30: Mid-Wyoming

US Hwy 30 heading west from Laramie is a sad and lonely road, victim once again to the disuse and semi-disrepair that comes from being so close to an interstate. Nevertheless, it offers dramatic and powerful vistas that one can imagine once put no small amount of trepidation in the minds of westward bound settlers. I was not without concern in my comfortable, reliable, diesel powered rig!

Pretty much in the middle of nowhere lies the town of Medicine Bow, which consists almost exclusively of a small museum and a hotel that is clearly struggling to stay in business. The attraction of both -- and of the town itself -- is that Owen Wister wrote his famous novel The Virginian based on his experiences in the area.

The Virginian is widely considered the first true western, a novel which paved the way for many more westerns by famous authors such as Zane Grey, Louis L'Amour and others. The nice ladies in the museum were ardent that the Virginian was an actual local cattleman known to Wister, but other sources suggest the character is a composite creation of Wister's, based on a type of local man he encountered. The nice young lady at the hotel bar was equally ardent that I have a cup of her tomato soup with the excellent BLT she made for me. In both cases of ardency, I acquiesced.

A bit farther west, US Hwy 30 is subsumed into I-80, though the road retains multiple designations. At various places, the original highway roadbed is visible -- seen on right in this photo -- and is generally no more than a gravel service road or sometimes even less than that.

The interstate roadway was no great treat for the 100+ miles I was on it today, made less pleasant by gusting winds and very swiftly passing trucks that often gave me my own experience of high plains drifting. I've stopped for the day in the small city of Green River and plan to take a look around tomorrow… Stay tuned!

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

US Hwy 30: Laramie, Wyoming

I had a nice, easy drive north from Fort Collins to rejoin US Hwy 30, then a short stint west to Laramie, Wyoming. I'm on the "high plains" now, for which wide open prairies and strong gusting winds are the two most prominent features. Laramie is a truly "old west" town that claims to have some thirty thousand residents, though it is also a college town so those ranks must swell during the academic year.

Upon arrival yesterday, I walked around the "old town" for a bit, then took advantage of the typical college town breadth of offerings to have a surprisingly excellent Thai food lunch. I also visited the local plains museum, which was good but a little repetitious for me at this point in my westward migration. I capped off my evening with a trip to the local movie house to see the new Bourne movie which I enjoyed very much.

I did some more exploring of the area today, and while there isn't a lot to see I found the well restored old Territorial Prison to be a treat.

The prison dates back to 1872 and was expanded over time to hold as many as 170 of the "most violent and desperate outlaws during Wyoming's territorial days and early statehood." One of the most famous inmates was Butch Cassidy, though one learns that was not his real name and the movie about him is almost entirely fiction. As the exhibits put it, there is a big difference between "real life and reel life!"

The interior of the prison is very well restored, and the various rooms -- cells, kitchen, dining hall, infirmary, workshop, etc. -- are all set up in period-authentic conditions. The facility is worth a visit, even if you're just passing through the area.

I'm going to head farther west through Wyoming tomorrow, but don't yet know how far… Stay tuned!

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Monday, August 13, 2012

US Hwy 30 -- Detour: Charlie!

I just had a visit with my favorite horse -- Charlie! -- here in Fort Collins.

He was all decked out in his "anti-fly" gear, looking quite mysterious but also quite comfortable in his new home.

We didn't have much of a conversation, of course. I'm not as interesting as hay, and he hasn't got much to say.

So, I gave him a pat and he didn't try to bite my face off. That's about as far as horses and I go.

Any minute now I expect to hear from Sam about where I'm meeting her -- and maybe some of her friends -- for a farewell dinner... Stay tuned!

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US Hwy 30 -- Detour: Fort Collins, Colorado

I got settled in Fort Collins on Saturday afternoon, then met my young friend Samantha for dinner. It was fun to catch up on current events -- since it's only been six weeks since we spent time together on the Pony Express -- and to find out that her horse Charlie is thriving in his new environs!

It was a beautiful day yesterday, so Sam suggested we go on a mini road trip into the mountains. We headed westerly from Fort Collins across ranch lands and rolling hills, then through the gorges and into Estes Park where we stopped for lunch.

I have to admit I didn't particularly care for Estes Park, mostly because it's very touristy and was extremely crowded. Sam suggested we continue further west then south to Grand Lake, via the summit road through Rocky Mountain National Park. As you can see on the right in this photo, the road climbs steeply and consistently up the mountains, giving Darth a good "off day" workout!

Many miles into the park we reached the highpoint. The road may look like it is on a saddle, but that's only because it is so high above the tree line and windswept. We are as high as anything around, a new personal best for Darth at 12,200 feet!

We worked our way down to Grand Lake, a quiet and very lovely place that I would happily visit again to spend some time. Rather than backtrack to Fort Collins, we decided to continue south quite a ways, then did a short stint east to clear the mountains and finished up with a northerly drive along the eastern slopes back to our starting point. It was a fantastic drive and we had a lot of fun along the way.

I'm taking care of some chores today, then hope to visit Charlie in his new abode. I'll be heading north again tomorrow, to rejoin US Hwy 30 and continue my westward expedition... Stay tuned!

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