Archive for the ‘history’ Category
As I can’t resist a “world’s largest” or “home of” roadside attraction, I swerved off the highway in Iowa and followed signs to Winterset— birthplace of John Wayne (American). There I encountered bustle and excitement: bunting around the courthouse, a cavalry encampment, a Rotary-sponsored fun run, a band assembling in the town square, and everywhere, flags flying.
“What’s going on?” I asked a local Rotarian. “Memorial weekend?” He blinked at me. “It’s John Wayne’s BIRTHDAY,” he said.
Oh. Sorry! Didn’t know.
Laura and Kevin, the Oregon couple I interviewed for Airstream Life (“The Technomads”, Winter, 2010), own a stomp-gorgeous 2010 27′ International. I dropped by to spend a splendid morning where they were glamped at Champoeg State Park only thirty miles from Portland, where the couple enjoys taking their writing work while they take in the view. (Sometimes they tow over to the coast, for a different scene from their picture window.)
Both hightech creatives, they’ve upgunned their rig with sleek silver and chocolate upholstery, and the tastiest of household conveniences (down to the ingenious key holder by the door, magnetic spice jars, and wine rack under the bed).
Why we waited to replace a four year old battery until the day it died—the morning of a road trip—is indicative of how we roll. Ralph, not what anyone would describe as a grease monkey, struggled with the issues surrounding its replacement and we were off like a herd of turtles to The Dalles only three hours past ETD.
The Dalles, Oregon: the town that sounds awkward in any sentence.
Tillamook, Oregon is a depressing working class town with two agreeable ways to kill an afternoon.
According to the tourist brochure, the Tillamook Cheese factory is one of the top ten visitor attractions in Oregon. (California this isn’t.) Signage inside reads “nearly 1 million visitors stop at the Tillamook Cheese Visitors Center” (a day? a year? since the beginning of time?)
It’s easy to ignore the many badly-designed, text dense displays; the entire factory —packing machines, conveyor belts, workerbees—is visible behind glass from observation decks. (“Wouldn’t it be great if they piped in Raymond Scott music?” said Ralph.)
Later: “Donner, party of 84…” (And so on. Ha! I never tire of this joke, once told by restaurant lounge cover bands who used to call names when tables were ready.)
Returning from Bend during a holiday snowstorm on the Santiam Pass (my knuckles are still white), the subject of the ill-fated Donner party arose. What would that trip have been like without a heated, 4WD, 8 cylinder SUV with traction tires?
Well, it was unpleasant.
Grand Coulee Dam is 550 feet high! 5,223 feet long! Generates 6,809 megawatts of electricity! And other measurements as well. The best statistic comes from a jaunty pamphlet provided by the Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation: “Grand Coulee Dam is one of the largest concrete structures in the world. What else could you build with 12 million cubic yards of concrete? A sidewalk four feet wide and four inches thick and wrap it twice around the equator (50,000 miles), or a highway from Seattle to Miami.”
Ok, ok. Wow. A visit to Grand Coulee on the Columbia River sounds like it might be boring but it’s quite the sight and has the most fun visitor center.
“Experience History With A Bang at Canada’s National Artillery Museum in the Central Museum of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery at Canadian Forces Base Shilo”. That’s a mouthful to put on a road sign but we didn’t need to read it; Ralph scoped out the RCA Museum early on and we made a crooked beeline for it when we passed through Manitoba.
I couldn’t have less interest in war lore, but through Ralph I’ve grown to appreciate military museums as an alternative way to connect with the regions we visit. They often house peculiar items found nowhere else and present a different perspective than the usual insipid pioneer museum.
I’m not sure how I feel about the Old Montana Prison, built in 1871 and emptied of prisoners and staff in the late 70s.
While sad, it also felt unhaunted and peacefully laid to rest. Inside the red castle-style walls the offices are in stasis—as if the job placement counselor and chaplain just stepped out for a coffee—and have a stark, government-issue beauty (if there was ever an oxymoron, that’s it).
We visited the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument—a vast area 60 miles from Billings, Montana—on the day after it took place 134 years ago. Ralph “The Master of History” narrated the story of the clash between Custer, his two subordinates (Benteen and Reno) and the 600 men of the 7th Cavalry, and thousands of well prepared Native American warriors as we drove the length of the battlefield and back.
“What happened was this,” Ralph began patiently. “Custer divided his command into three, well, really three and a half parts” (already this account is getting complicated.)
Look up “Virginia City” in any thesaurus and it will be synonymous with “tourist trap”. Something about that name, from Nevada to Montana, means overpriced sassparillas, olde tymey portraits, tedious demonstrations, cheap t-shirts and worse.
Virginia City, Montana and it’s redheaded stepsister, Nevada City, are technically ghost towns that are described as “two of the best-preserved examples of the many mining camps of the West.” During the gold rush days in Alder Gulch, Virginia City—population 10,000—was the largest town in the inland Northwest. Now, it’s teeming with nearly that many sightseers, but unlike the Nevada version, it manages to retain a modicum of authenticity.