Ginger and Ken drive to Alaska from Texas, through Wichita, Madison, Chicago, Corpus....

We decided to make a lifestyle change and move. Following are tales of our trips, packing mishaps, beautiful drives, visitations and more! This is Texas2Alaska2 because it is my second time to make the drive.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Out of Hermiston, Umatilla Army/Chemical depot, weird

Visiting family, or anyone you like or love is always a challenging time. The seeing and visiting is fun, the hard part is leaving. As much as I enjoy family, and also seeing them in some of the beautiful places they live, Ken and I are on our way and have many other gorgeous places to see. 

We are heading north from Pendleton through Hermiston up to Kennewick, Washington.  Buck said this is a nice route and I have made the call to navigate this way since neither of us has been in this area before. When my sister and I drove to Alaska, we went all the way up through Idaho. Ken and I did want to see Vancouver, but with all the small trials we have had so far with the car, we are a bit delayed as far as season is concerned, so we must try to find a route that is easy and somewhat direct. Above is the  Arrowhead Travel Stop. It is near the Wildhorse Casino outside of Pendleton and I think owned by them as well. A little bit different travel stop, not as coated with corporate graphics and ads like the big chain travel stops. In the distance are those Blue Mountains we crossed coming to Pendleton.

Around Hermiston there is nary a parcel of undeveloped land to be seen. Miles and miles of irrigated farm land are seen all along the highway. All the sections are filled with crop circles, not the creative kind, the center pivot irrigation kind that create varying shades of green circles on the land. There is no shortage of water here with the mighty Columbia River marking the border between Oregon and Washington. 

As we turn off Interstate 84 onto Interstate 82, there is yet another unusual man-made terraform structure. It is the Umatilla Army Chemical Depot. Besides the fact that there is scary stuff in the ground there, it is just a creepy looking place. All the little doors to the underground storage holes are exactly lined up in even rows across the property. Neither of us was expecting to see it so we were both gawking. Can’t believe I did not have the camera out and handy. Google it and you can see a couple of photos, not too many, but you will get the idea. I did get the camera ready in time to snap our crossing of the mighty Columbia River. On my western trip with Uncle Andy, we crossed at Walla Walla, Washington. With my sister on our Alaska drive, we saw the headwaters of the Columbia in British Columbia–simply gorgeous. I took a drive along the scenic Columbia River out of Portland to The Dalles many years ago stopping at the stunning waterfalls along the road. The Columbia is much more powerful and awesome than my photos today display. (these are not some of my best work)

The weather was so nice we kept driving into the late night. Here is a cluster of tumbleweeds gathered by a fence near a gas station where we filled up. When I was on the western drive with my Uncle Andy, he called these Russian thistles. I read about them at that time and he was right (this from a man who remembered the roads of the family farm he only lived on from 1917 - 1922) There are several plants that propagate themselves by this tumbling method. One is an asian species which has become a weed in the American West. It is so ubiquitous that it was a staple of many western films. The big Asian version is of course the most showy for film. Salsola tragus is in the Amaranthus family. Species native to U.S. that tumble are Baptisia tinctoria, some plantains (not very big), and some Eragrostis species. Uncle Andy remembered collecting these as a child from the fence rows. In the late summer when fall winds start to pick up, they stick to the fences in Kansas giving the fence the appearance of being made of the plant. 

The other interesting aspect of this corner is the sign on the fence. It reads “State Trust Land for Lease” If Alaska doesn’t work out for us, maybe we can try this lovely place. 

Pendleton, Oregon

Buck and Sharon have several horses, dogs, and the occasional herd of elk and deer that cleverly find their way into the barn to partake of the horse feed. Buck has made a comfortable home away from any city noise and in what I think is a lovely place. Ken and I are so excited for the opportunity to travel and to be able to visit them while we both are able and healthy. 

Considering our destination of Alaska, it is also a benefit to visit with Buck to talk about his life in Alaska. Several decades ago, Buck was a teacher and coach in Galena, Alaska. I know from my trip to Alaska in 1999, that Buck’s life there was a much different experience than it will be now or was on my first trip. The advances in digital technology alone would be amazing, much less the options of travel and clothing technology. I don’t mean to imply he was there during the gold rush days, he did after all, fly with his teams to play other schools. In fact, that is one of the reasons he left the state, so much traveling by plane and being so far from other family. Galena, like many small towns in Alaska, is not connected to any other part of Alaska by a paved road. It is on the Yukon River, north of Anchorage, north of Denali National Park, north of most civilization, yet short of the Arctic Circle. We ask him about darkness, snow, caribou. He’s a rather matter-of-fact guy. His answers are basic, its not dark as much as you think and he stayed busy with school; you just get used to the snow and cold; and yes, there is a lot of hunting. As much as he likes to live in place that is a long arms reach away from a big city, he does like to be able to drive to a store, or to the mountains, or to his brother’s. (below, descending to Pendleton off the Blue Mountains)

To his brother’s, my other second cousin’s, is where we are headed now. This part of Oregon (really all of the state) is beautiful. On our way in from Nampa on Interstate 84, we skirted Hell’s Canyon along the Snake River. In 2002, on my western travels with my Great Uncle Andy, we thoroughly explored the area because he had spent many years in the region mining and just plain trying to survive. One of Andy’s younger brothers, Kayo, whom I only met when I was a baby, was Buck’s dad. All the brother’s and my great-grandparents toiled in these and nearby mountains after a bust of trying to dryland farm on the Montana prairie. Andy and I visited some spots he had not seen since the 1950’s. And before that it was World War II that took him away (round-aboutly). Yet, in the year he and I were together, at his age of 91, he could sniff out every hand wrought hole in the ground that he dug gold out of, incredible! We made many stops on that trip, enough for a whole other story. What I am most happy about in the differences of that trip and this move (besides by loving companion) is the weather! November is so much nicer a time of year than when we visited in the summer of 2002. Andy was hoping to escape the heat of Scottsdale yet we were punished with extended days of 100+ here in eastern Oregon. (below, cut in the rolling foothills of the Blue Mountains)

Ken and I drive Interstate 84 from La Grande to Pendleton. This stretch of 84 from Baker City to Pendleton is part of the historic Oregon Wagon Trail and the Blue Mountain Forest State Scenic Corridor. There is one rest stop in the mountain section where Uncle Andy and I took our lunch one day. There I learned this scenic corridor is home to intermittent stands of stately old-growth ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, western larch, and Engelmann spruce among others. An uplifting thought considering how the settlers thought everything was put here for their taking. My sister and I stopped along the road at a few national monuments where the wagon ruts are still visible in the ground today. Why our contemporaries are oblivious to the many “marks” we leave on the earth confound me when these from over 100 years ago are plainly visible. Again, I could digress. 84 cuts through the Blue Mountains before dropping into the flat lands of Pendleton, location of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and acres and acres of farm land. The Blue Mountains this month glow golden with deep basaltic rock underneath. To me, this color combination hints at a deep purple-blue. The highest pass we cross between La Grande and Pendleton is just above 4,000 feet. There is a light snow on top today, but dry air once we drop into the city. It seems an easy cross in our 200+ horse power car, we will traverse it twice in one day. A wagon train would be relieved that it is their last mountain crossing for most who settled what is now the Hermiston Valley or any other spot along the Columbia River. 

Pendleton is home to the Pendleton Woolen Mills, not much is actually made here anymore but the historic mill is open for business and tours. A world famous rodeo, the Pendleton Round-Up is held here late each summer. I can only imagine how the city swells at that time of year. Cousin Mike grew up here, coached baseball for years, and married his lovely wife here. They live in the house that he pretty much grew up in. I had a lot of fun visiting with Uncle Andy the hot summer we stayed. Mike’s wife Carol collects lots of neat things and one I really enjoyed was costume jewelry. We talked a lot about thrift store shopping and ebay selling. This year, we again compared re-sale stories, neither of us works much with ebay anymore, too many large businesses and so many reproductions available now. Otherwise, we had a great visit with Mike and Carol, they both have a great sense of humor, are hugely warmhearted, friendly and just plain good folks. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

One View of the Grande Ronde Valley, Oregon

Oh, what a beautiful day in the neighborhood. We arrived at cousin Buck’s last night in the dark. Dej√° vu. When my sister and I visited him in 1999, we came in at night too. At that time he lived above the Clearwater River and up some tall mountains along some narrow, dark, logging roads. Here again, he is along the Grande Ronde, up some tall mountains on small, dark roads. Whenever I drive into a place like this, well, 1) I know its some beautiful terrain, but, 2) I have not been on these tiny, winding roads so we are driving imperceptibly slow. We arrived at 9pm last night and did not expect to be so late. It looked so close on the map! Oh well, we were safe and the trailer made it too! 

Buck relocated to La Grande from Orofino, Idaho a few years ago after marrying his smart and sweet wife, Sharon. They are now closer to his brother and his wife in Pendleton. Buck is not a city guy, so he and Sharon found a beautiful clearing on a small hill near the Wallowa and Whitman National Forests. It is amazing how fast the scenery changes from the desert lowlands of Baker County to Wallowa County. Buck is a true westerner in the spirit of my Garritson family. His father was a ferrier, and his grandfather drove horses from Colorado to Washington state and later tried to homestead in Montana in the 1920’s. The whole family lived west of the Rockies except my grandfather whom the rest of the family pestered to no end to move back west. But my grandfather had horrible hayfever and there was none of that to be had in Tennessee, at least not on his little hill (and not much else to be had there as far as I am concerned).

Buck is a retired teacher and high school coach, while Sharon still works. On this weekday while she was working, Buck took Ken and I up to what is called Johnson Hill. Since I am not familiar with the territory, I could not find my way back here if I tried. Besides, it turned out to be a four-wheel drive route anyway. (wishing we had those AMC Eagles we saw in Casper!) After a slow, slippery drive up the side of a very steep mountain, we were duly rewarded with a most spectacular view of the Grande Rhonde valley! 

The magnificence of our country is overwhelming. We crept up-hill in a modern 4-wheel drive truck for what seemed like hours. As the truck hauled us up, dogs in the back baying and wanting to run, my knuckles going white from seeing over the edge of an unpaved, snow-covered, guardrail-less mountain shoulder, I thought back to those in covered wagons. On the westward journeys, how long such a climb might take with horses pulling wagons on stiff wood and iron wheels laden with everything from food to furniture. Then once at the top, with the grand vista, I believe neither party in either century would remember the drive upon seeing this Grande valley. I am once again reminded, no matter how much I think I have traveled in these United States, there is always something beautiful around the next bend.

The dogs I believe were just as relieved as we were to get out of the truck, albeit for different reasons. It was comforting to set foot on ground and walk around. There was not a moment that our arrival at our destination was in question, though Buck’s sense of humor tested my gullibility. Buck grew up in this country, has worked in it and lived it, knowing how to get around and where to go are not questions for him. 

The air up on Johnson Hill was fresh, cool, and clean. Something I look forward to on the entire rest of our journey and in Alaska. After years of unhealthy alerts, Texas arguing with the EPA over what constitutes non-attainment for air quality, it is nice to absorb this atmosphere. We clomp around the rocks a while, then Ken and I climb the fire watch stand for an even more incredible view. Talk about testing your fear of heights if the edge of the mountain was not enough, seeing through open steps is equally un-nerving. I hope you will agree it was worth it!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Time to Leave Idaho for more Alaska Connections in Oregon

After a bummer of a day off yesterday, I was certainly ready to hit the road again. It was a cloudy, cool day, as seen in this photo, but no bad weather other than wind in the immediate future. It was a very interesting grey day all the way to Baker City, Oregon. Our destination tonight is outside of La Grande, Oregon where my second cousin and his wife have a small homestead. 
Another scenic day in the western United States. Again, the highway route was along the old Oregon Trail tying me back into 'Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey'. The wagoneers found this calm route between the mountains along the Snake River. When some departed west for Oregon, as we are doing, a camp was set up to be called Farewell Bend. This is now a state recreation area

The modern highway 84 leaves the Snake River (above) at Farewell Bend and soon follows what is now the smooth river canyon floor of the Burnt River until Durkee. I say smooth now, because in the time of the pioneers, it was dry and wretched to traverse. Very odd how desert like this landscape is, even along a river (below). Our next stop however was Baker City for lunch. In 2003 when I traveled the west with my Great Uncle Andy, we roamed all over this area because he and his family spent a great deal of time here working in mines. One of his brothers, great uncle Kayo, later settled in Halfway and Pendleton. Presently we are off to see Kayo’s sons Mike and Buck (Buck has also lived in Alaska). 

When I was here with Uncle Andy, we visited Cornucopia, Halfway, Hell’s Canyon, Baker City, Pendleton, and Walla Walla. In Baker City we spent an afternoon in the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center .  Ken and I will not be visiting today, but I encourage anyone interested in putting a visual image on the life and travel style of the wagon train folks to stop at this center . The structure and design of the museum would be interesting to architects, the interpretive displays are life size, the environmental location is stunning (of course that was not by choice) and there are actual wagon paths still visible on walking trails. 
Today it is much easier to get a meal on the Oregon Trail than back in the 1840’s. We selected the Oregon Trail Restaurant for lunch (what else?!) Every once-in-a-while Ken has a hankering for a big piece of meat and we sure found one here. He had the skillet steak with home fries and was not disappointed. All I remember about my sandwich was  meat and cheese, no veggies at all-really, about what I expected. The service was warm and friendly and that counts for a lot! Plus, there were taxidermy fish of all shapes and sizes on the wall so we could get familiar with a new set. 

We parked on the street very close to the Baker City crossing of the Powder River. This river was another chosen route for Americans making the westward journey. It was also a water source that even my Great Uncle mentioned using while living in the nearby mining towns. Baker is a stalwart of a town, it was a major crossing point for the wagon trains, then a huge center for gold mining, and after the miners left it stayed important by becoming the county seat. There are a lot of good museums here if one is traveling for education or ‘curious.'

Since this is my third major visit to Oregon, I have gotten lots of mileage out of the book 'Oregon for the Curious' by Ralph Friedman, the 1972 edition. I purchased it at a used bookstore in Pendleton on my first trip. The book provides good descriptions of points of interest on most major and minor roads. There are also names of museums, cities, and recreational sites. The most interesting to me are general geological and geographical notes with reference to historic events. I performed a cursory search on the internet for a current version, and it appears the author has written another book instead, “In Search of Western Oregon.” 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

One more Round of Appreciation for Friends

Ken and I spent six days with Beverly, visiting Jake at the Veteran’s, and at Rosie and her mom’s house. It was a fantastic, leisurely, helpful, and friendly time. We had such a fun time laughing and learning and sightseeing we got over the car trouble and heavy load pretty quick. We spent the day reloading the trailer and restructuring the sleeping quarters. Ken and I will have a full additional ten inches for bed space, added to our cramped 5 will give us space to actually turn on our sides! Woohoo! 

With an extended somewhat relaxed pit stop, we were able to see another cool business Ken had been interested in for years: Kitfox Airplanes. Kitfox is actually located in Homedale, Idaho about two miles from Beverly’s house. Ken has been interested in these kit planes for decades. It is such a great idea for an individual to build their own plane, so they could know all the ins and outs of it. This would also keep the cost of owning a plane down. 
Ken and I called Kitfox and asked if we could come visit and they said yes. We went down on a beautifully sunny day and the owners were so generous as to give us a tour. We saw the manufacturing hangar with all the hand made parts, forms and assemblages. I had a great feeling seeing the parts for a quality product made in the United States. The final hangar was a museum, there were three beautiful planes shining brightly proud of the awards they had won at Oshkosh. Here we are with our next project after the boat! 
We wrapped up our fine visit with a classic family dinner. Finally Beverly was able to reconnect with Rosie and see where she lived. When Beverly travels, she is usually on a mission but it always nice to know someone in the area if you need them! 

There was such a warm feeling of friendship it was hard to leave. And maybe my head was telling that literally, the next morning when I woke up to leave, I had a pounding, piercing headache. I thought we were going to just get up and go early since we had the trailer at Rosie’s doing the unloading and reloading. Not so today. This was one of those nasty migraines I did not catch in time and it was difficult to reel in. So, basically I stayed in bed all day. Ken was a great caretaker and rounded up all the elements and Rosie offered up chicken noodle soup when I was able to eat. Nice to have a second mom around! But a bummer that the day could not be enjoyed. 
Around sunset is when I finally could move, here is the great view they have from their upstairs window. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Knowing Someone Who has Driven to and From Alaska is a big Help!

Besides rebuilding planes, Johnny also rebuilds cars. The next project he is embarking on, the 1952 Chrysler, sounded like a major one to me. It had been sitting on his Aunt’s land for over 40 years, what condition could it possibly be in? No one had really seen it in ages so He and his sister Rosie will be going to visit the car to make a preliminary plan on how to move it. 
Johnny and his cousin will be putting the car and a farm tractor on a trailer and towing the whole load up to Alaska with the cousin’s truck. The car will be going to Eagle River and the tractor to Soldotna. Pretty amazing feat to carry out as we are learning just with our little trailer. While Johnny waited on his cousin, Rosie suggested we ask Johnny about carrying some of our gear in the car to help lighten our load. 

One thing Ken became concerned about with our rig due to the oil loss was too heavy of a load. Rosie had the great idea of putting some boxes in the Chrysler on the trailer as a way to help us out. Plus, another serendipitous moment for us, our destination is Chugiak which is two miles from Eagle River!!!!! How crazy is that! We talked to Johnny about it and he had no problem with it. He talked to his cousin who was not totally hip to the idea, but went along with it anyway. 
Ken and I spent the day separating out goods that could withstand frigid temperatures and that would fit in the car easily. We figure we offloaded about 800 pounds of goods. These containers were not light. There were two with clothes in them. The clothes where in vacuum bags so there were a lot of clothes smashed in there! One container was office equipment, the two below are tools, a kitchen mixer, juicer and all kinds of small items filling the voids-things that might be missed, but can be replaced should anything happen to them. We also gave Johnny a few extra dollars for gas and the trouble. We could not have been more lucky or grateful! Thanks a million times over to Johnny and his cousin.
Our original total rig weight was 7940 pounds measured the day we left Wichita at a truck scale. 
The vehicle alone weighs 4000 (with us). Which leaves 3940 for the trailer so that WAS a little over our 3500 pound towing limit. OOPS
With our offload, we estimated now to weigh 7000 total. Estimate.....

We also packed up a few more boxes and sent them through USPS, adding to what we sent from Wichita we have spent $555.00 on media mail, parcel post, and priority mail.
Plus we gave up our Canon ink jet printer. It would not fit in the car so we left it with Rosie. Not a big deal as she was more than kind to us while we were in Nampa! Thanks Rosie! Clearing out some bulk should also make it more comfortable for us to sleep in the trailer without moving too much around. 
Moving is rarely fun or easy. Moving from one end of a continent to another is the exact opposite of easy. We knew we could not take all of the possessions we had been living with for the past 3, 5, 10 years with us. Ken had already moved from the mainland to Hawaii and back, so he was aware of the drastic slashes that had to be made in material possessions. Sure, I had moved across the U.S. a couple of times, but each time I made provisions for storage or made the purchase of a used moving truck happen. This time I did have space offered to me by my sister, that was a huge help for family mementos and artwork. To the folks who only drive a car up, our rig may have seemed big, but to us it felt small. After assessing what would or must be kept and stored, selling or otherwise donating that which was not absolutely necessary, we thought we were left with what we could afford to carry and what we felt was absolutely required to start a new life in Alaska. Alaska is not uncivilized, many of the things we left behind we knew we could replace if we wanted to. I thought we had limited what we carried with us very well. However, with the realization today that we had to take more stuff out of the trailer, looking at this stuff and deciding what I could do without should I not see it again, was just an amazing decision to make. After a few moments though, I did not let it overwhelm me. We had made a decision to move a long way from where we were entrenched, from where we had connections. By letting go of more items, it seemed we were really cutting our ties to our old life. But a bigger realization than that emerged. We were discovering the minimum requirement of stuff we needed to survive. Our rig had to be mostly self sustaining, especially due to the time of year we were driving north. So really, what did we need? Safe transportation, food, shelter, warm clothing, safety gear. 
Just a few things to think about if you are planning on moving to Alaska.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A New Alaska Friend and Veterans with Similar Interests

The Warhawk museum is located at the municipal airport in Nampa, Idaho. It was Veteran’s day during our stay in the area and there were many events celebrating Veterans including open house at the Warhawk. With both Ken and I having family members associated with airplanes and our own interest in planes, we figured it would be an educational place to visit. This photo feature is for Vicky, Curtis, Uncle Ken, Uncle Andy, Bill, Grandpa’s and us!

How is this for another coincidence: while we were spending time in southwest Idaho with our friends Rosie and Beverly, it just so happened that Rosie’s brother was coming down to visit from Alaska. Wonderful for Rosie and her mother, and fantastic for Ken and I to meet another Alaskan and get some road trip tips. 

Johnny is a Veteran and an avid plane expert. He has rebuilt what is called a boxcar, a C119 transport plane. See his fine work here Johnny has worked on and rebuilt too many planes to mention. He is truly an artist at reconstruction. Johnny is in town to retrieve an old 1952 Chrysler Imperial that he parked at his Aunt’s house back in the 1960‘s! He is waiting for his cousin to arrive to help pack up the car on a trailer and they will be driving the rig to Alaska. 

This is the type of submarine Ken served on from 1978-1984.

All the history buffs should enjoy this trip and the fine work the museum has done to preserve these planes as well as the history and stories of the dedicated forces that served the U.S.

Carved shell casings are works of art that I had not heard of or seen before. Kind of made me think of the old sailors that carved ivory or word on long tours of duty. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Learn the Limits of Your Auto before You Drive to Alaska

I was so excited when I purchased my new to me Lexus earlier this year in Austin. I bought it from the original owner who took excellent care of the vehicle. It was not the vehicle I was originally looking for when I was ready to get rid of my truck and convert to a consulting type professional instead of a laborious professional. Additionally, with the long drive to Alaska in mind, I had been looking at mini-vans with space so Ken and I could carry as many personal items as possible. We spent hours researching cars, vans, and SUVs. I test drove numerous new and used vehicles. When I decided on the Lexus RX300, I felt I had made the best decision possible with all the information I had. It is a comfortable and reliable vehicle. 
However, today, my head was thrown into serious doubt. Ken and I were driving out of the Target parking lot after purchasing some groceries when the engine started making a ticking sound. We turned the radio down, put the car in park, revved the engine, put it in drive accelerated, stopped, turned, and listened. Thankfully, right across the street was a Toyota dealer. We took the car straight over there.
Here is something we were not expecting or prepared for: when the Tony Scott Toyota dealer mechanic checked the fluid levels, he found the oil was completely gone. No indication on the dipstick! I had continued with the regular maintenance schedule the previous owner adhered to, and I had the 90K complete inspection done before leaving Austin. With all the drives back and forth to Wichita, to Madison and Chicago, I had the oil changed before the final departure from Wichita. It was only about 1,500 miles to Boise, so how could we be out of oil? 
Ken started doing research on the internet while in the waiting room of the dealership. He found a known issue we had not come across before, oil gelling. Ken presented this information to the service manager and she was understanding. But, she told us, we would have to take the vehicle to the Lexus dealer for that inspection since it could be considered a legal case. Thankfully there is one Lexus dealer in Idaho, and we are in that city. 
After refilling the oil we made an appointment at the Lexus dealer for the next morning. The service managers where very accommodating and reinforced my experience of excellent customer service which I had already been through with the Austin dealer. Without expanding on my many hours of agony about this vehicle selection, I will jump to the end of the story with this lovely photo of the inside of our RX300’s crank case, beautiful! I was so relieved as was Ken. Being the man and mechanic in the family, the poor guy had so much weighing on him that he was allowed to let go of when we snapped this photo. 
We were so appreciative of Traci, the Service Manager at Lexus, , and the technician for calling us into the shop to see the engine. The technician explained to us that although our vehicle is rated for towing, and we are within the weight limits, the extra strain is probably what contributed to the loss of oil. Yet where did it go? There were no visible leaks around the engine compartment, no blue smoke out the tail pipe? We were advised to check the oil more often due to the long trip. YEA!

ReConnecting for an Alaska Connection

This is the coolest story ever of finding someone you know but don’t know how to find. I have another friend whom I met through Uncle Andy, Rosie, and I know she is somewhere in Idaho. Uncle Andy was an interesting character. He had been all over the country selling the rock he mined and worked himself. And that is how he came to know Jake and Beverly, and Rosie and Dave, and Dagmar and Julian, and so on.
Rosie’s story is convoluted, though. She moved back to Idaho from Alaska due to an illness, to live with her mother somewhere in this part of the state. She had called me a while back, but used her Alaska phone number. That number had since been disconnected and she had called again with an Idaho number, but in my move I had misplaced it. I was not able to find her name in a phone book or online, which makes sense as everything is probably in her mother’s name which I do not know. 
This fine Idaho late fall morning we are sitting up with Beverly in Homedale, having hashbrown potatoes of course, with eggs and bacon. This is her lovely maple tree in the back yard with piles of some of Jake's hand dug stone. I have asked Bev if she has heard from or seen Rosie. Of course she hasn’t since all this medical emergency episode with Jake. She has, however, gone with Jake to Portland for his surgery (there was no one qualified to remove a brain tumor in Boise) which the Veteran’s Administration took care of. 
This is a tangent to my Rosie story, but I think its a good story to relate. Jake had not taken advantage of his Veteran’s benefits since leaving the military after the Vietnam era. Upon diagnosis of Jake’s health, Beverly promptly marched him down to the VA, got him enrolled and lined up for medical treatment. And it has all gone well. So, notice to all my friends who may have family that was ever part of the military and needs medical care, go sign up with the VA!
After catching up with Beverly and how the rock sales have been going, I found a way to possibly find Rosie. Beverly knew that one of Rosie’s sons ran an upholstery business in Nampa. Beverly did not know the name of the business, the name of Rosie’s son, or the exact location. Here’s what she told me, it was his father’s business, its been there for years, and if I went down the main road, the building was at the intersection and I couldn’t miss it. It might be named Don’s or Dan’s or Jim’s or John’s?
Ken and I take our now leisurely drive out of Homedale and into Nampa on the Caldwell road. Leisurely because we have parked the trailer at Jake and Bev’s for a couple of days. Now in the daylight, the drive is not as stressful and we can enjoy the views. As we come into the more commercial edge of Nampa, there straight in front of us is Jim’s Upholstery. Could that be it? There was only one way to find out. Ken drives into the parking lot and I go in looking for someone who has a mother named Rosie. 
This is the coolest find ever! Rodney is the owner, and he said Rosemary is his mother.  He called her up and told her that a Ginger was in his shop looking for her. Little did I know, she knows a couple of Gingers. I tell Rodney I am Ginger from Texas and boy could I hear the shriek on the other end! It was smart of Rodney to call and get confirmation that his mom knew me. He then gave me the address and Rosie’s new phone number and we laughed and I gave big thanks! Rosie lives very close by so we were there!
Reconnecting the easy way! See, the internet cannot do everything for us! 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Southwest Idaho, Potatoes, Good Friends, and Good Health

We crept into Homedale, Idaho at about 8pm on the 8th after yet another installment of “Where the Heck is my &*&^%# GPS taking me?!” It never helps when it is night and you are not familiar with your surroundings anyway, but to be led by the crazy GPS programming is really nerve-wracking. The Homedale-Parma-Caldwell area of southwest Idaho is basically level farmland. There are a few rises and a picturesque drop off along the banks of the Snake River. Potatoes are king here, elevated to superstar status by J.R. Simplot after he clenched the McDonald’s french fry contract. I didn’t believe it was a real person’s name at first, you know, kind of harkens to Soylent Green. But, there was a real person and he has done great things in the processed food business and for the commerce of Idaho. 
Other large swaths of farmland in this area include alfalfa, mint, onions, vineyards, and sugar beets. Yes, sugar does come from a beet my southern friends. I didn’t believe that one either but after seeing piles and piles of melon sized beets waiting for squeezing, I learned. In the northwest, a great deal of sugar is made from beets, not cane. Interesting what you learn when you get out of your home. 
Back to the GPS issue, all this farmland is usually (or was) divvied up by sections that were rectangular. When roads were dozed, they where constructed around the fields. As farms grew and families expanded their farmland, the road was moved to outline the field. Of course, no farmer wants a road through his property causing him headaches to move equipment back and forth. Farming has been going on in that part of the state for decades. As such, there was a time when cars did not go or were not driven as fast as they are today. So all the circumnavigating of farmland was not as distracting as it is today. We don’t like having to slow down for a 90 degree turn out in the middle of nowhere. 
Which brings me back to our frustration of the evening, its pitch black, no street lights, no malls or convenience store lights to give us any indication of the lay of the land. What came to be a normal 20-30 minute drive from Homedale to the freeway, seemed like two hours that night. Never-the-less, Ken, myself, and the obedient trailer made it safely to our pit stop of the week. 
Our hostess, Beverly, is a bubbly retiree from the office but a squirrelly busy rockhound. I met her and her partner Jake through my Great Uncle Andy while visiting him in Arizona. Jake is an avid rockhound, miner, stone worker. He and Beverly each have several claim leases they mine for agates, jaspers, and other natural wonders. They sell their beautiful rock in bulk for others to work, in slabs, and finely polished for presentation. Picture jasper, Blue lake jasper, Graveyard Point jasper, Morrisonite, Bruneau jasper, mushroom jasper, and many more are some of the stones you could purchase from Jake and Beverly. If you visited the big sales in Quartzite, Arizona in the winters over the past few decades, you would have seen them. 

Much to my surprise on contacting Beverly for a visit, she informed me Jake was in the Veteran’s hospital recuperating from a mild stroke and surgery to remove a brain tumor.  Thank goodness he was doing well, he is a hardy goat of a man and I can’t imagine him being hurt, nevermind that he is a Vietnam vet, a smoker, coffee drinker and wine drinker. Nevermind all that, he gets out in the deserts of Oregon, Idaho, and Arizona to excavate rocks! TONS of them. 
Before we get to our final stop in Homedale, Ken and I stop in Boise to visit Jake in the Veteran’s Rehabilitation center. Its a fine facility and it was a great surprise for him! We had not seen each other since Uncle Andy’s passing in 2006. And Jake was recovering great, he was walking with an aid and cognition was excellent. 
Here is a little bit about Jake’s Graveyard Point Plume agate diggings
buy some of jake’s picture jasper here 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Twin Falls and the Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey

I know, it does not look real does it! It looks like a background painting for a movie! 
By lunch time we were in Twin Falls, a good rest point. Neither Ken nor I had been here before and hadn’t really thought much about the name. To enter Twin Falls, highway 93 is taken south off interstate 84. When we approached the main part of town, 93 took us across the Perrine Bridge over the Snake River. Oh my goodness, what an incredible sight! After coming off the flat lands of the southern Idaho valley and Craters of the Moon area, seeing this 90 degree drop off into a river was breathtaking! 
I had seen the Snake before and already knew it was an amazing geological feature. Seeing it here, far away from Hell’s Canyon, and still being so dramatic reinforced its role as a wild and scenic destination. There is actually Twin Falls as well as Shoshone Falls and Pillar Falls. We did not stay long enough to visit the falls, but the view from the visitor’s center was entertainment enough. 

This makes for a great moment to segway into a book I had been reading on our travels: Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey by Lillian Schlissel. Ken and I both kept commenting to each other: ‘Imagine seeing this in a covered wagon’ or ‘How long would it have taken in the prairie schooner to get from Idaho Falls to Twin Falls’ (though these cities may not have been named such at the time) or ‘What did the pioneer do when they came to a sheer cliff such as this?’ Some of these questions are answered in Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey and many other books on the pioneer event in the U.S. However, Women’s Diaries focuses on the migration as recorded by women, wives, fiancees, daughters, and even a few single women. My mother gave me this book many years ago when I was traveling west to Arizona to visit my great Uncle Andy.  I had not read it until now and this was the perfect time! 

In 2003 when my brother, sister, and Uncle Andy traveled to Montana to disperse of my mother’s ashes, we spent a lot of time on some of the Oregon Trail roads. We also spent a lot of time on the Lewis and Clark Trail. Even earlier, on my first drive to Alaska with my sister in 1999, we spent some time on different parts of the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail and even stopped in Guernsey, Wyoming to view wagon ruts . In 2007, the first time I drove to see my sister’s new home in Wichita, Kansas, I visited at the Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma .  All of these locations were now tied together with Women’s Diaries. For those interested in U.S. history, women’s history, mass migrations of people and some reasons why migrations happen, this would be an educational read. 

As seen here in the sunset, most of southern Idaho is flat. This aspect magnified the dramatic effect of the drop into the Snake River. 

We stay the course! Thank goodness our prairie schooner has 220 horses, enclosed climate control,  enclosed gear locker, and GPS (though it could be argued which is better, this or a scout)!

Snow Arrives, but we Skirt Winter!

Ken was reminiscent about this stop in Idaho Falls as he spent time here training at The Idaho National Laboratory when he was in the Navy. Ken served on a nuclear submarine from 1978-1984. Believe it or not, nuclear sub training was in Idaho! Crazy! Was that some senator’s pet project? Job creation program? Or safe place to build a nuclear training facility? Interesting. 
Sure enough the snow manifested as predicted. It started lightly as we saw out of our hotel room window. There was a fantastic view for miles across farmland. The hotel we chose-this time from roadside advertisement, was built on the very far west side of Idaho Falls. And by far I mean in new territory. I am going to surmise that being right next to farmland meant someone was selling off land and there was a grand west-side development process beginning. 

As we packed up our belongings knowing we needed to head further west before the snow piled up, the showers got heavier. The angle of snowfall increased indicating a moving front, and as the snow flakes multiplied, they began to turn the ground white. I thought it had been too warm to stick, but never underestimate the persistence of nature. 

The interstate west out of Idaho Falls goes through Craters of the Moon territory. This is a vast ancient volcanic field of pumice, basalt, and ash. I had been to Idaho a couple times before, but only on the west side: Orofino, Coere D Alene, Lewiston, Homedale and Nyssa areas. I had always wanted to see the Craters area and now I finally see it and its covered in snow! That’s ok, the snow gave it an extra eery feel.

One of the main benefits in staying in a hotel instead of struggling to find a camp site, internet access. I checked my favorite website, NOAA, and saw that the front was narrow and we would be out of the precipitation by afternoon. If we left when we were confident enough to drive through it! 

Here we go, running away from the snow-until Alaska!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Yellowstone in One Day-Not Recommended for the Slow Natured at Heart

How lucky can we humans be in this day and age to have the ability to visit acres and acres of gorgeous scenery in one day! Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating it, as I would have liked to stay for days in order to fully learn and appreciate the environment. But with our cars and high speed cameras, we are able to sight see a lot in the span of twelve hours! 

At a fork in the visitor central trail system, there is a path through nearby woodlands that leads to a high viewpoint overlooking Old Faithful. This is Geyser Hill where we caught the one more eruption of Old Faithful from a high vantage point.  The new Old Faithful Visitor Center is directly behind the geyser, the lodge is to the right. 

Our visit was timed just about right considering we only had this day. There was a little snow storm coming and as such the Park Service had made the announcement that all roads would be closed as of November 8. This morning had started out stunningly blue, as the day wore on, the clouds closed in and by night fall we knew we had to get out of the park and find a place to hunker down. 

Our drive out the west entrance was just as exciting at the ride in from the east. More mountains, buffalo, and elk, and sumptuous creek beds all made for a nice exit. 

Sadly, we did not go to Mammoth on this trip. Just leaves a reason to stop in again on our way back to Kansas to retrieve more of our belongings. 

With the closing of the park to automobiles, the east and west entrances were ghost towns at this time of year. Amazingly, the entrances are not flanked by huge cities. They are very small communities keeping the park low key. As I mentioned before, some of my relatives spent a lot of time growing up in the western states. They were there from the 1800's through the 1960's. The picture below reminds me of looking at my grandfather's photo albums. His mother had a Kodak Brownie and that got him hooked on photography (and his work at Eastman) and he got me hooked. Grandpa narrated his photo albums to me whenever he had a chance. The photos were aged just so and full of history. When I view my photo in this style, I can imagine Yellowstone the way he would have seen it when he and his mother photographed and painted the west. (only after taking the photo, grandpa would have taken the elk for dinner! A necessity in the early part of the 20th century.)

The relatively low lack of development is a nice observation for an eco-conscience person, however, for a person looking for a place to sleep, its a challenge. Like with eastern Wyoming, even the RV parks are closing up for winter. As such, we kept driving to Idaho Falls. Another family memory is Uncle Andy saying he would have been traveling this area on foot with a bed roll on his back. Then he'd just plop down anywhere he wanted to rest!  We're such poofs!