Oregon – The Trip West
Unfortunately there is no way to get around the fact that it is about 2,000 miles from Terre Haute to Oregon. We have once again been reminded how very big our country is and how diversified the topography.
We pulled out of Terre Haute Sunday morning and essentially drove all day across Illinois and Iowa into Nebraska. We ended up 650 miles later in a nice campground north of Lincoln, Nebraska. It was only the second time while checking into a campground that we have received instructions on where to go if there was a tornado.
Monday we drove by many familiar towns: Kearney, North Platte and Sidney. Driving in and out of rain all day, there were highway notifications warning of high winds.
Around lunchtime we took a break at the flagship Cabelas store in Sidney. We tried to get out of the truck and discovered what it was like when winds gust to 55 mph. We just about ripped the doors off the truck. In front of the store they always have some tents set up. It was like a wind tunnel test. Oddly, the small dome tents were shredded and the larger guide tents were doing just fine.
We continued west past Cheyenne and Laramie into areas uncharted by us. We stopped at the highest point on I-80 where there was a visitor center and a monument to the Lincoln Highway, I-80. It was originally a series of highways connecting the two coasts. Later they received number designations, but originally it was known as the Lincoln Highway. The bust of Lincoln was cast in 60 pieces in Mexico City and shipped up to Wyoming.
We ended up in Rawlins, Wyoming that night. Still windy. We ran into a neat Wyoming wind gauge. We could certainly relate to it after our day in the wind. Our mpg dropped to 8.0 with the headwind from the west and the climb up to the highest point on I-80.
Tuesday morning before leaving we toured Rawlins. We stopped at an ACE hardware store to pick up a replacement for the small ladder that someone had removed from the bed of our truck. Across the street was one of the most elaborate and beautiful mansions we have ever seen. It is a B&B now.
Heading west across southeastern Wyoming was interesting. There was nothing there. “Next rest stop 102 miles” was observed by us.
We dipped down into northern Utah where the scenery picked up, stopping at a rest area with great views up and down the valley/canyon. The place was thick with Franklin’s ground squirrels. Apparently they are very rare. They live underground most of the year. They are like little prairie dogs and live in burrows. They were very attentive as we ate our lunch near to where they were frolicking.
We ended Tuesday pulling into Twin Falls, Idaho, about 100 miles east of Boise. On the way to the campground we stopped at one of the area’s landmarks, Shoshone Falls, known as the Niagara of the West. Actually, the falls are slightly higher than Niagara. They are created by the Snake River (the same river that flows by the Tetons).
Turns out there is all sorts of geology around here that we didn’t know about. To the southeast, more than 13,000 years ago, there was a huge freshwater lake, Bonneville Lake. It was the size of Lake Michigan, 20,000 square miles. It had no outlet, so with the accumulation of rain and snowfall through the centuries it got bigger and deeper. One day the natural dam broke and the water flowed down the Snake River. Something like a cubic mile of water at first. It flowed for 6 weeks (how they know that I don’t know) creating the Snake River Canyon. Actually, the water overflowed the north rim and the rushing water scoured the land so severely that even today there is still no topsoil for miles out from the rim. Huge volumes of water flowed through the canyon for six weeks and lesser amounts for a year. The town of Twin Falls sits right on the southern rim of the canyon. Today it is a beautiful and awesome place.
Wednesday morning we drove into town and across the Perrine Bridge, which spans the canyon and leads into Twin Falls.
It is open to BASE jumping all year and people come from all over the world to jump off of it. Something like 486 feet to the river. It was really windy this particular morning, but three men had jumped off before we got there and had already hiked back up. They were repacking their parachutes. Back in the 70s Evel Knievel tried to rocket across the chasm, but failed (ended up parachuting down). The earthen ramp he used is still standing. There is a beautiful park down at river level with a boat launch, picnic areas and trails, with views up and down the river.
In fact, the entire area is beautiful. It is truly an oasis in a barren landscape, deserving the nickname it goes by: The Magic Valley. We saw that moniker everywhere around town. Looking up its derivation we learned that back in the first decade of the 20th century two major dams were constructed as well as a series of irrigation canals on the Snake River. In a short time these projects “magically” transformed what had been considered a nearly uninhabitable area into some of the most productive farmland in the northwestern U.S. Many cities and towns in the region were founded between 1900 and 1910 as a direct result of these projects. We saw the evidence of that as we drove I-84 through the heart of this valley. Green fields being constantly irrigated lined both sides of the highway. Besides the obvious crop of potatoes, sugar beets are another major crop. Barley, wheat and corn are all close behind. It was a real eye-opener for us.
We drove on and entered Oregon. Very barren and desolate land at first. No trees, just dry grasslands in an undulating landscape. We passed Farewell Bend State Park where the pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail bid farewell to the Snake River as it turned north and they continued west. We landed in Baker City with our first views of mountains tipped with snow lying to our west and east. Tomorrow we plan on getting a more in-depth education of the Oregon Trail immigrants . . . Baker City is the location of an Interpretive Center.
And so, the long miles are behind us. We look forward to spending consecutive days in one location, taking time to smell the roses. Traveling across country is very enlightening, something that takes us out of our familiarities. The West is a vast and rugged place and its landmarks are quite distinctive. Indiana seems very remote to us these days.
Under the western skies,
Chris and Melinda