Forty days and….

Day 40. Tuesday 27 September.

A visit to Chihuly before departing Seattle had been planned, based on our itinerary which stated a 1915 flight to Vancouver. However, on checking the tickets (not sure why, actually) the flight time was actually 1140 – and being an international trip, we needed to be there at least two hours before departure, after handing back the motorhome: it wasn’t going to work. So, a departure from the group program, bypassing the scheduled overnight stop in Cascade Locks tonight and heading direct to Seattle to allow the visit tomorrow. Getting that simple change sorted had its moments. We emailed KOA Seattle to ask if we could change the reservation to add the extra night, giving dates: the reply said that yes we could change the reservation – but didn’t actually confirm that this had been done. Another email….and we were expected. As a courtesy, emailed Cascade Locks to let them know we weren’t coming and that we weren’t seeking a refund. Advised that we could neither reserve nor cancel by email (curious, since we had an email confirmation of the booking). A telephone call got voicemail….so we asked the rest of the party to confirm that we wouldn’t be coming: don’t wait up!

A long day – 470 km all on Freeways (84, 82 and 90). The wind played its usual role, making the latter half of the journey a bit scary, and the many sections of narrowed roadway due to roadworks contributed to seat clutching (by T) and wheel gripping (by D).

For the first time on this trip (it is Day 40) we were the first away – a great achievement, probably never to be repeated. Stopped at a little town called Prosser for a late breakfast, as we’d forgone a repast in order to get on the road. Full of antique shops, mostly still closed at 10 AM, but it seemed nary a place to get breakfast. Eventually redirected to Caffe’ Villa, where we had the sort of meal you read Reacher having in one of Lee Child’s novels – excepting we had (very reasonable) espresso rather than cup upon cup of drip coffee like Reacher does. Interestingly, a gent behind D had his cup filled several times by the waitress, just like in the novels. It was dark inside, with no natural lighting, lending it a suitable ambiance. Most of the clientele were elderly (much older than us) in groups around tables, and mostly women. This ‘Diner’ experience was one D had been hanging out for. We both had omelettes – one would have done nicely for both of us, with leftovers.

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Today’s journey took us through dry/rolling hill & valley country, planted with vines, fruit trees, hops and pasture….rather like the Barossa. Clearly there’s enough water to deliver heavy production. Snow-capped mountains were ahead on the horizon…we presume one of them was Mt St Helen’s. Then it was through Snoqualmie Pass (very, very steep and long descent) in spruce forests and we were on the outskirts of Seattle, with 4 lanes of traffic screaming each direction. T was more than relieved to step out of the truck. D was relieved that the gripping-wheel -hands could relax.

And for the first time in 40 days we were able to get a radio station that played T’s preferred music. Searching through 5 bands of stations, nothing was familiar/to her liking until a public radio station delivered just the ticket. Early on there was a station doing a post-mortem on the Presidential debate (yesterday?) Although the commentators declared a non-partisan position, they were somewhat critical of Hilary’s “too prepared” approach but then critical of Trump’s failure to ask questions about the Clinton Foundation. So, it was time to find a different station. Roadside signage called for voters to Make America Great Again with TRUMP.

D has given the truck its final washdown. Tomorrow, we’ll take public transport into town and do the tourist sights (The Fish Market, Dale Chihuly’s Garden, Sky Needle….).

Following the Oregon Trail

Day 39. Monday 26 September.

Some more impressions:

  • The military is well regarded – actually, more than that. There are discounts for active duty military, including no cost, and for veterans. There are many wearing caps with ‘Veteran’ or ‘Vietnam Veteran’ or ‘Disabled Veteran’ and the like;
  • And there is a strong sense of patriotism, in a very positive sense;
  • D is reminded of the advice that Admiral Yamamoto gave the Japanese government prior to WW II: ‘don’t awaken the sleeping giant’. There is a sense of the same potential today: latent power – hard to define, but definitely there;
  • A bit of resignation from the locals about the political shenanigans. We heard a comment today about the inadequacies of those aspiring to leadership (sounds familiar?).

The last few days have gifted us with wonderful changing scenery – and some scents to go with them. There has been the strong aroma of the diesel exhaust of huge locomotives mixed with the exhausts of the semis, the sweet smell of freshly mown greenery, the agricultural ‘tang’ of dairies, the surprisingly sweet smell of a 20 ton lorry of brown onions and the overwhelming pong of cattle manure in feedlots. Transport seems to be the key. People and stuff are constantly on the move. Big, well-maintained roads straddle the continent. It seems that there is no barrier to moving.

img_5018Dropped into Baker City after several hours on the motorway. Much was closed because it was a Monday, and the historic area was quiet. But the downtown had a lovely sense of the preservation of the old, buildings of stone with pressed metal ceilings, Victorian architecture in timber homes… This has been a rare find in our month of north-western roaming.

Mostly, the smallish towns we’ve passed through have been ugly, sprawling and characterized by 1960’s chain store malls and fast food outlets. And today we found a good coffee in a store that had a curious mixture of delicatessen, kitchenware, wine, coffee and cards.

While there, we put the motorhome through the truck wash point (we are required to return it clean). It took about 45 minutes, mostly done manually, the team speaking Spanish although in conversation with us their English was very good. Good outcome, except for the door catch broken by the wash broom – and the thousands of bugs that sacrificed themselves on our newly pristine home on the next leg! And we have another day of driving to go.

The Oregon Trail Interpretive Centre provided a terrific story of the hardy emigrants who travelled the almost 2000 miles track from about 1840 until 1870, mostly on foot, with a ton+ of supplies in wagon trains. Hardy? Well, there was a grave every 80 yards for the roughly 300,000 who started out. Why did they do it? Why didn’t they stop and settle on the way? They were desperate for a fresh start, economic times were bad and there was the lure of free good land in Oregon. Their six -month ordeal makes our six month odyssey in Gloria, with its problems, look like a picnic.

We mentioned the smells. The scenery has also been constantly changing. Rolling hills – perhaps the road south from Adelaide to Victor Harbour? Long straight stretches of sagebrush – perhaps the Hay Plain? Into the Blue Mountains – that’s their name, and not like our version. And for a while, passing through forests of spruce.

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The manager of KOA Pendleton where we are tonight is the son of the manager (owner) from last night in Boise – a chip off the old block. Like his dad he entertained us with stories for well over an hour. Travis had completed his mission as a Mormon in Tasmania in the late 1990s, so well understood Australians, and their sense of humour.

Tomorrow we’ll head straight for Seattle, our wagon drop-off point. Don’t think we really qualify as Oregon Trailers.

Shoshone (Not)Falls

Day 38. Sunday 25 September.

A summer’s day, how bizarre! Today was “avoid the freeway” where possible, so the short run became a long loop through the agricultural canyon of the Snake River.

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An amazing early 20th century engineering project that dammed the magnificent ‘western Niagara’ falls called Shoshone, reducing them to a trickle, and turned a vast desert into irrigated food production. And it certainly looked a wealthy farming system.

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As we approached the gate to Shoshone Falls, the attendant commented on the embarrassing political nightmare that the country is in. T suggested that he access the 1800 number seen on a sign at the bridge over the Snake River we’d just crossed. It said “Need Hope? Call 1800…..” Later in the day, at the end of the food bowl drive, a private home had a big sign on its roadside driveway: “Store your food and your ammo. You’ll need them”.

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A quick trip into Twin Falls looking for a coffee: surely a city of over 45,000 would have lots of espresso cafes downtown? Not so – the malls and large shopping strips have resulted in the cultural, old centre being virtually deserted. We found an espresso (of sorts) at Burnie’s Bumps, basically a bar and dance club that remained open until 3 AM (the only one), although the flow of alcohol was turned off at 1 AM. Burnie was a refugee from the Yugoslavian crisis in the late 1990s and had successfully settled and intehrated in the US. He was happy to talk of this, as was his wife when she came in.

By the way, should you ever visit Twin Falls, 2nd Avenue is one way.

The vistas changed regularly between canyon walls, mesas, sagebrush, river flats and field upon field of maize/corn/potatoes/dairy cattle feed lots. Every home/ranch had manicured lush lawn (sprinklers going full bore). Such a contrast to the surrounding desert terrain.

Now camped at Boise, next Pendleton and ahead we have 2 days of driving to reach Seattle.

 

Craters

Day 37. Saturday 24 September.

It’s always good to have a plan. Our plan today was to have a relaxed start (that’s not so unusual), then visit the Museum of Clean and the Idaho Museum of Natural History, then retrace our steps to Blackfoot (home of the Potato Museum) in order to take the scenic route to Twin Falls.

The first part of the plan worked well: the leisurely start. After a breakfast of leftover potato mash on toast (yes, for both) we were on our way.

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The GPS worked well, getting us to within two blocks of our first destination, but failed to warn us of the Homecoming Parade that blocked our route, which at that stage was one way.

 

 

 

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T hopped out to take some photographs and to find out what was going on.It was an annual event, celebrating the coming game of football involving the local side. T chatted to a woman sipping a bloody Mary and asked dumb tourist questions, including “So is this just all about a football game?” Well, yes, but it’s a community event and all the businesses put together floats and “we just LOVE A PARADE”.

T also found out that it would be at least another hour, so with some careful reversing we changed our plan to remove museum visits from the list. The GPS refused to give up, however, and although we changed our destination it was determined to take us through the parade – twice. In the end we ignored her and once clear of the city she gave up and behaved.

So, in the amended plan we would find a coffee in Blackfoot to recover. Easy. Downtown Blackfoot was not only pretty much deserted (maybe they were all at the parade in Pocatello?) but there was no evidence of any place that would provide coffee and T wouldn’t countenance another visit to the Potato Museum. Next plan – visit the Walmart Mall as they were sure to have a coffee shop and we needed some fresh supplies anyway. We got the supplies, but no coffee. As we prepared to leave Blackfoot we noticed a little café called XII Stones and sure enough it served espresso – D’s good, T’s just so.

img_5016Now we were back on the original plan. Out on the plains of the Snake River there was a lot of “high-security-looking” infrastructure within a landscape of sagebrush. A short stop at an atomic development and research site, although not much to actually see. There had been a lot of US Navy work done there on the development of the nuclear submarine capability (why was that in Idaho, so far from the sea?) as well as other munitions testing. We could have been in SA.

Under a glorious sky, and with snow-caps on the horizon, we passed through a few small towns (populations of 94, or a few hundred) and turned into the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. What a find! A vast landscape of black lava formations from only 2000 years ago (could have been yesterday). Spent the rest of the afternoon doing the Crater circuit by car and on foot….lava tubes, caves, craters….black/blue, with outcrops of vegetation showing just how resilient plant life is.

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Dwarf Buckwheat

A strong wind made the drive to Twin Falls a challenge – the speed limit was 65 mph, we travelled at 55 mph and the big trucks and other rigs wanted to get a move on! Our GPS, which so far had been reasonably reliable, wanted us to go past our destination and do a U turn – over two lanes of 65 mph highway traffic. In trying to work out just what we were supposed to do, we missed the RV park, so turned onto the Freeway back to Pocatello – with no chance of turning back for 15 km! 30 km later we arrived at the destination, with the GPS turned off in disgrace.

It has taken 4 weeks to figure out how the car radio works. Now when T surfs the bands, the only obvious choice is the local country music channel. When that becomes drear, it’s time to plug in the Bluetooth and go from Baroque to folk from our home list.

Dinner tonight is a chicken curry with potatoes. Potatoes twice in one day (voluntarily) for T: must be the Idaho air!

Stop Press.

The origin of the term ‘spud’ was a fib. Thanks to Wikipaedia for the following true explanation (we can trust this source, can’t we?)

The name spud for a small potato comes from the digging of soil (or a hole) prior to the planting of potatoes. The word has an unknown origin and was originally (c. 1440) used as a term for a short knife or dagger, probably related to Dutch spyd or the Latin “spad-” a word root meaning “sword”; cf. Spanish “espada”, English “spade” and “spadroon”. The word spud traces back to the 16th century. It subsequently transferred over to a variety of digging tools. Around 1845, the name transferred to the tuber itself. The origin of the word “spud” has erroneously been attributed to a 19th-century activist group dedicated to keeping the potato out of Britain, calling itself The Society for the Prevention of an Unwholesome Diet (S.P.U.D.). It was Mario Pei’s 1949 The Story of Language that can be blamed for the word’s false origin. Pei writes, “the potato, for its part, was in disrepute some centuries ago. Some Englishmen who did not fancy potatoes formed a Society for the Prevention of Unwholesome Diet. The initials of the main words in this title gave rise to spud.” Like most other pre-20th century acronymic origins, this is false.

Famous Potatoes

Day 36. Friday 23 September.

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No animal photos today – unless you include D.

 

 

 

Many of the RV Campgrounds we’ve been staying in have been in the process of packing up for the winter season. Some amenities have been removed or closed down – recreation rooms, common camp kitchens, BBQ areas and the like. In some cases we almost feel like we’re imposing!

The day looked bleak after another overnight rain. We hit thick fog on mountains a few miles out of West Yellowstone, but after we descended, the weather cleared and although cold, at least the rain held off – and there were occasional patches of sun.

A surprise touring route today when T realized we were very near Idaho Falls, where she’d been about 20 years ago with Sally to visit her friend Marsha. This took us off the route on the TomTom and guidance sheet and we expected to have to double back. In fact, Tomtom dropped about 50 km off the total distance to be driven and when we consulted a map we saw that Pocatello, our destination was south west of Idaho Falls. Others in the group ignored the guidance – the best of these went back into Yellowstone, took the southern route out and then travelled through the Tetons, creating envy with their descriptions of the beautiful scenery. A lesson for next time!

img_5707After a few shots of the falls of Idaho Falls for old times’ sake, a very decent coffee and a very chocolaty pumpkin brownie in Downtown, we did a bit of a tour on foot – and we found one likely spot to add to a well named street.

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Back on the road again to discover what must be the highlight of the trip at Blackfoot. It was hard to drag T out; she was so interested and totally intrigued by the story of the spud!

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She intends to follow up on this claim.

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Yellowstone with Justin

Day 35. Thursday 22 September.

Toured the southern section of Yellowstone today with Justin. He (and the park) were fantastic. After a night of constant rain, we wondered about our tour chances….no need to worry, there was more sunshine than rain, excellent informative commentary, views and steam and critters, trout trying to jump up impossibly high waterfalls,  and 2 grand old hotels (Old Faithful and Yellowstone) to marvel at. The most amazing thing was learning that we are actually sitting inside a giant crater, with thermal activity all around and just below the ground; this is the only place on earth with this activity happening so close to the earth’s surface. We did hope that it was not time for another Yellowstone eruption! A place where geology and biology and chemistry display their symbiotic wonder.

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Yellowstone

Day 34. Wednesday 21 September.

A day exploring the northern section of Yellowstone. Some super early birds (not Crans) were off before sunrise in search of bears….maybe tomorrow will deliver. But rewarding sightings of elk, bison, deer, dall rams, squirrels (and a pity we had to share narrow roads with lots of fellow rubbernecks).

Spectacular were the Yellowstone canyon walls and geysers.

Tomorrow we take a guided tour of the southern section of the park and D gets a much earned day off from wheel duties.

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