Archive for the ‘West’ Category
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.
Lowered expectations are the key to happiness. Every Airstreamer under fifty warned me about the dork factor of the WBCCI 53rd International Rally. Thusly, we had a rockin good time.
Yes, there was a weird opening ceremony involving unit flags and the procession of club officers in their blue berets; the sort of ancient tradition like the Elks’ 11 O’Clock Toast or the Shriners’ love of clown cars that many people enjoy. And I was confounded by the focus on structured indoor activities that had nothing to do with camping: byzantine meetings heavy on the Robert’s Rules of Order, some board game called Joker, ham radio workshops…it was like being on a senior cruise without the buffet.
Question: Is Austin legitimately fabulous, or only comparatively so?
I visited Austin—an oasis in a bleak and vast cultural wasteland (I’m looking at you, Texas)—on work business, sans Airstream. Released at last from exhibit hall duty at the Hilton I set out on foot in the wrong direction to find Hey Cupcake, the Airstream food cart darling of Twitter buzz. After many blocks I was informed by a hot UPS guy that I was miles from my destination on the opposite side of town. “But if it’s cupcakes you’re lookin’ for?” he said, pointing. “Right by those men there walkin’ up ahead? There are some cupcakes…” [trails off, slowly shakes head]. “Mm-mm. They are dee-LISH. They make you wanna slap yer mama.”
The Utah scenery abruptly vanished when the wind kicked up and created a brownout of smoke and grit from Provo to Ogden so thick we could barely see the huge temple in downtown SLC. People everywhere were apologizing. (“It’s never like this!”) A crusty guy in line at the gas station convenience store reported that “one of the islands in the lake”—what on earth could he have been talking about—was on fire due to a lightning strike.
When a state park is downgraded to a county park it falls into a bureaucratic black hole for a period, making it impossible to find online or otherwise. Such was the fate of Fort Buenaventura, which we finally discovered hidden behind the railroad yard.
Sorry California. You too, Colorado. In the scenery smackdown, Utah is the clear victor.
My conspiracy theory is that Utah pays New Mexico to be a disorganized empty lot so it can be even that much more attractive by comparison. Almost immediately northwest of Four Corners the attitude brightens and the landscape gets increasingly more striking as you near Moab, which is home to what looked from the freeway to be one of the prettiest KOAs in the West.
Surreal Arches will require a second visit to stop and camp overnight at Devils Garden. (I would love to know how many natural areas in the U.S. have the word “devil” in their name).
Outside Magazine just declared Colorado Springs the number one best city in the country. (As they maturely state, “It’s simply a pretty awesome place to live.”) Passing through Colorado Springs we only saw the Scenic Office Parks of I-15 as we drove around in vain looking for an Airstream dealership that moved months ago but never updated their website.
We agree that the best thing about Eastern Colorado is the tiny town of Trinidad at the base of the Sangre de Cristos. “Oh, I know Trinidad well,” said Ralph’s mother when we later told her we found it to be the cutest place we visited (this should tell you something about our route).
When I moved to Portland twenty years ago I thought the Oregon Trail was, well, in Oregon. I’m embarrassed that I was surprised to encounter historic aspects of the trail (and signs of Lewis and Clark) in almost every Western state we visited.
Fort Laramie in Wyoming is (according to the Smithsonian Guide to Historic America, our roadtrip reference bible) one of the West’s most important forts. As a trading post in the 1840s it became a popular stop on the Oregon Trail, one-third of the way to the promised land and the first place to swap an ox in 300 miles. Today, it’s restored to appear the way it looked back in the day and “provides a glimpse of a bygone military era”.
Close Encounters has been on my Top 10 Favorite Movies list for 35 years so I was predictably excited about visiting Devils Tower, our nation’s first national monument. As we drove through Wyoming I waited for it to appear on the horizon the way I did as a child in the 60s approaching Disneyland, watching from the backseat of the family Studebaker for the first sighting of the Matterhorn.
As one explores the world it’s interesting to note how the natural and manmade wonders you’ve come to know in photos and films hold up to face-to-face scrutiny.
Now a day behind schedule because of The Incident, we’re caught between the urge to hurry and the need to slow down so there will be no further mistakes. Up at 5am, we make our way carefully across Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.
Lots to see in Montana along the I90; we’re in too big of a rush to stop but managed to check a couple of boxes:
☑ Prairie dog
☑ 25ft McCain/Palin yard sign