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.”