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Posts Tagged ‘history’

the thing

I had a choice to make upon leaving the Alumafiesta Airstream event in Tucson. Drive north an hour to the Biosphere research facility and educate myself about Earth systems planning and policy? Or slog east toward El Paso on the I-10 to Dragoon, Arizona?

No contest. I went to see The Thing.

Every driver passing through the Southwest has seen the garish yellow billboards that command you to go to The Thing. As you near fabled Exit 322, they come fast and furious, dominating the scenery. “Mystery of the Desert” the signs proclaim. “Have You Seen It?” they tantalize.

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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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pendleton round-up

I towed into Pendleton, Oregon minutes before the Westward Ho! parade and faced nowhere to park; every empty slot and lot teemed with RVs and horse trailers and teepees. Somehow I squeezed into a miracle spot in the WalMart parking lot, stuffed to the curbs with motorhomes, tents, and rednecks camped in the beds of their pickups…like spring break for hillbillies. I followed the crowd and piles of manure on Court Street to the all non-motorized parade which showcased wild west wagons and buggies, all manner of cowboy, Indians, Mexicans, sheriffs, preachers, outlaws, firemen, Oregon Trail pioneers, weird timber equipment, every rodeo princess in the Northwest, longhorns, mules, donkeys, horses, miniature ponies, and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler.

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wally byam’s birthday

I used to be crazy-patriotic. I walked precincts for the party when I was eleven, voted in every election since I’ve been able (wearing pajamas to the dorm polling place to be first in line at age 18), and I know every flag etiquette rule and the harmony part to This Land is Your Land. I grew out of it though, jaded in recent years by my understanding of the bigger world, media massaging, and our electoral system.

But, this Independence Day I had to turn my head so no one would see me choking up over a red white and blue birthday cake.

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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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toy museum

It’s hidden in plain sight on busy Grand Avenue in Portland in an unmarked, windowless, locked building. To gain entry you must knock, wait, and the door will be opened (when I visited, by a woman who returned to an unseen corner after speaking her only words: “Set your umbrella down—no, not there,” (the dirty worn carpet). “There.” (The dirty worn linoleum.)

The silent cramped foyer smells musty and is lined with display cases packed with shadowy objects. Enter the first brightly lit showroom on the left and be overwhelmed by cases and cases and cases of…toys.

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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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