Thursday, September 3, 2009

Stories from the Road -- West on 84

I will be out of town Friday through Monday. My next post will be on Tuesday.

They are called "Chad-cations".

I am becoming notorious for cramming a lot into vacations. During my "formative" traveling years, my goal is exploration. See as much as I can, and jot down the places that I want to devote more time to in future trips. The best way to do that, in my mind, is to take road trips. Road trips, as I see them, are as much about the land you pass by as the land (or water) you are driving toward. You know, the old cliche of it being about the journey and not the destination. Many times, the places I jot down are the places I didn't even expect to look out the window for.

My first graduate school road trip was to Minnesota in May and June of 2006. The first day was spent driving on I-35 from Norman to Duluth. I drove all night, riding through a strong thunderstorm near Albert Lea, MN, and then seeing perpetual twilight north of Minneapolis. By the time I reached northeast Minnesota, my steering wheel couldn't breathe because of my white-knuckled grip. Exhaustion was reached.

I perked right up, however, when I reached Lake Superior. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Duluth to be such a great place. Nature decided to foreshadow this by gleaming its first yellows and oranges above the city on the banks of Lake Superior. It was a spectacular sight, and driving to see the actual sunrise over Lake Superior in Two Harbors, MN, is one of the highlights of all of my road trips. I wish I had my digital camera at that point, because the scene was sublime. The purpose of the trip was to visit the Boundary Waters, itself a wonderful location. But I will visit the area again, focusing on the North Shore's hikes, waterfalls, lighthouses, and rustic towns.

Similarly, Mom and I went to the Pacific Northwest last year to visit Seattle, Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, North Cascades National Park, Puget Sound, and the Oregon Coast. The day before we reached the region, in "Chad-cation" speak, was a "driving day". Not many stops were planned on the way from Pocatello, ID, to The Dalles, OR. The drive was long, and we figured that we already had enough planned for the following days that we should not get caught up in any excursions the day before. Despite the laborious driving task ahead, I considered it a "down day" of the trip.

This was a mistake. A big mistake. The drive on I-84 in Idaho and Oregon is absolutely beautiful, requiring frequent 70-mph snapshots. If there is one thing about road trips that everyone should remember, it is that the best days are the unexpected ones.

The main stop of the day was Twin Falls, which is located along the Snake River in south-central Idaho. The Snake River forms a canyon in this area (appropriately called the Snake River Canyon), and the views along the Perrine Bridge just north of the city are sensational. The bridge itself is a masterpiece, allowing a major highway artery (US 93) to cross the formidable landscape. Mom and I spent at least an hour at the Perrine Bridge, and it was one of the big successes of a very successful trip.

The point in visiting Twin Falls was to see Shoshone Falls. All I knew about the waterfall was that it was called the "Niagara Falls of the West". Having visited Niagara Falls in 2006, this was automatically reason enough to make a stop. Although certainly not as beautiful as Niagara Falls, Shoshone Falls was still a gem. (We visited in the late spring, when the stream flow was highest.) The overlooks of the waterfall were spectacular, and we lost another hour of the day drooling at the magnificent sight.

We next stopped in Boise to eat. After the meal, we noticed a strong thunderstorm had developed to the north of the city and was plunging south rather quickly. My head was locked to my right for the next couple of hours as we continued westward on I-84. Even if the terrain didn't interest me that much, the atmosphere stepped up.

However, the highlight of the day for me was eastern Oregon. The beautiful dry hills northwest of Ontario and southeast of Baker City, near and west of the Snake River, were stunningly beautiful. This section of interstate is one of my favorites in the nation, and any roadster would be remiss to skip this section of the country. I jotted down "Hells Canyon" in a notebook I brought with me.

At one point, a train was visible on the tracks that wind their way through the hills. It was a classic "West scene". I wish my photographs had turned out better here, but I just could not get the blur out of 70 mph that day. No matter. My memory of the sight is vivid. Have you seen a movie or television show that slows down a scene to emphasize the beauty of a moment, such as a leaf falling or water glistening in a river? Well, that's what happened here. The train rolled on the tracks slowly, with the grass slowly whisking by. The horn of the train could be heard above the din of interstate traffic, and the air smelled of recent rain. Magical.

Before dark, we hit the Blue Mountains east of Pendleton, OR. The views were infinite near the pass, with relatively flat land endlessly stretching to the west up to and through Pendleton. Why I didn't take any pictures here, I will never know. I jotted the location down, though. Unfortunately, as "Chad-cations" usually go, we missed much of the scenery east of The Dalles and west of Pendleton. Too dark. Oh, those unexpected road trip diversions! I didn't care. The day exceeded every expectation beyond my wildest imagination.

On trips like these, it is always important to look out the window. The rewards in traveling America are endless and unforgettable.
The Snake River north of Twin Falls.
The Snake River Canyon.
The Perrine Bridge.
Shoshone Falls.
A developing storm north of Boise.
Another storm about a half hour east of the Oregon border on I-84.
The Snake River, beautiful hills, and a threatening sky.
Trains and eastern Oregon terrain.
A late spring shower near Baker City.
The Columbia River alongside I-84.