Posts Tagged ‘US travel’
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.
From the moment I was informed by the nice gas station character that filled the trailer tires that 38 tornadoes just had their way with my eastern destination states, the hostile spring weather has tried to run me off the road: torrential rain in Washington; fat wet snow flurries in Oregon (is the west not aware that it’s nearly Memorial Day?); fierce winds in Idaho that actually BLEW A PART off the Airstream (hopefully they’ll reattach it at The Mothership); and fog so dense in Wyoming that semi drivers on the I-80 formed a 30mph protective convoy, hazards flashing.
I didn’t see another Airstream on the road until two days into the journey—they waved to me from the other side of the freeway where I was shipwrecked with a blowout.
My mom and dad—married 65 years and counting—still live in the POS town in California where I went to high school, an hour’s drive north of Santa Barbara (which sounds far tonier than it is).
It’s also near Solvang, the ersatz Danish community where tourists flock to buy abelskivers and crap from the Thomas Kinkade gallery. Six miles further lies the promised land: the smoke-choked but otherwise upscale Chumash Casino.
My parents, frequent flyers of the resort, drag me there when I return home to visit. This trip to Chumash had three saving graces.
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.
Maybe it’s because I came up in the suburbs of the west coast and have never seen oddities like weatherworn drake decoys and antique muskie lures. Maybe it’s the way said items were displayed. Maybe I just hadn’t been shopping in awhile. But I was positively mad
A bit like Les Puces de Saint-Ouen without the newer merchandise and pickpockets, Shady Hollow is not about transients unloading their castaway crap. Here, professional antique dealers traffic hand picked items from teeny, tasty little store-sheds and tables piled decoratively with fabulous junque. Shabby chic people, you’ll go out of your mind.
Look up “good clean fun” in the dictionary and you’ll be directed to the Detroit Lakes, Minnesota annual Water Carnival. The community recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of the event in the usual way: turtle races, boat parade, firehose water fight, “polka in the pavilion”, kid’s ship building contest, and 63 other events.
The money shot of the two-week festival is the Parade of the Northwest, involving every Shriner in a 200-miles radius, every emergency and service vehicle in the city (including the Kentucky Fried Chicken delivery van), assorted entrants (like the bed race champion), and local elected officials and festival organizers waving from towed pontoons.
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.