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Archive for the ‘history’ Category

of steinbeck and salinas

You know you’re in for an underwhelming museum experience when the docent at the entrance greets you with “We don’t have a lot of exhibits right now.”

There’s a lot to read and very little to see at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, where Nobel Prize-winning novelist John Steinbeck…I dunno. Was born? Grew up? Went to school? I was unable to differentiate, assimilate and process what I wanted from the barrage of words and pictures and plastic dioramas that make up the permanent collection, all competing for attention.

Since the exhibit hall is essentially set up for children to enjoy, this should be easier.

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nevada state museum

“On the road again…” Without fail I sing that out loud when I put the 4-Runner in drive with the Airstream in tow. This trip, Ralph was spared (left behind to continue shaping young minds at COCC), but I had Raven by my side as I embarked on a long-ish journey through the Southwest.

Among other activities, I was researching the lesser-known fossil dig sites of the West for a magazine article. My first order of business was to study up on the geology of Nevada. First stop, Reno…and the nearby Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

Despite the terrible online reviews, I overnighted at the Silver Sage RV Park in Reno.

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john wayne’s birthplace

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.

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champoeg

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).

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the dalles

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.

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tillamook

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.)

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donner, party of 87…

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.

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grand coulee dam

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.

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artillery museum

“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.

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old montana prison

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).

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