Tour 2003: The Big Six-Oh, or, How I Spent my Birthday Holiday

Vacation time: the traditional get-away for the '0' birthdays. We take the cats to the boarding kennel at noon on Thursday, October 9, 2003, then finish out the work day. I get home at 4:30, grab our Windows XP Home disk and rush it back to work for Mike M. to repair someone's personal laptop, while Judy stages the baggage to load the car. Surprisingly, everything fits. We stop at the bank and the gas station, and are headed south up the valley by 5:30. We had a snack before leaving home, getting the rest of the perishables out of the 'fridge, so we decide not to stop for supper until we quit driving for the night, as it was a beautiful fall evening, with the storm clouds moving in and the setting sun under them.

Up to Lost Trail Pass, then left, climbing yet along the Bitterroot crest to the Continental Divide at Chief Joseph Pass, following a big truck down the rolling and curving MT 43. We pass the Big Hole Battlefield, where the U.S. Army caught the fleeing Nez Perce in 1877 in a brief but bloody battle before the chase wound across southwestern Montana Territory to Yellowstone and north nearly to the Canadian border before Joseph surrendered his band to exile in Oklahoma.

We turn right at the tiny village of Wisdom at the intersection with MT278, passing through Jackson Hot Springs just as the sun sets, then up over Big Hole Pass, catching the rise of the full moon through the thin overcast. The moon sets in the east as we dip into the valley into full darkness, then up over Badger Pass and down into the Beaverhead, with the second moonrise now nearly obscured by thickening cloud. We arrive in Dillon about 8:00pm, check in to the last room at a reasonable but decent motel, then settle on dinner at Sparky's Garage Diner, at the southwest corner of the University of Montana Western campus, using up half our daily points allotment on barbeque sandwiches with cole slaw. On a Thursday night, we are the only patrons at first, but a few more trickle in as we finish.

Friday morning, we pack the car in a light drizzle, pick up a bagel and english muffin at the front desk on checkout, then head south as the drizzle turns to flakes of snow. By the time we are back on I-15, having been unsuccessful in an espresso hunt, the snow is thick, sticking to the wipers and building on the roadway. We've been looking forward to a full breakfast down the road; thirty-five miles later, we spot the beacon of the Dell airport through the driving snow and start looking for the exit. The snow is thinner here, but still sticking as we pull up in front of Yesterday's Calf-A, formerly the Dell School. We indulge in bacon and eggs in the former one-room school, that, had I grown up in Dell, would have been the scene of my entire elementary and secondary education, as it closed in 1963, consolidating with the larger school in Lima (2003 population 267).

Back on the highway, we climb over Monida Pass into Idaho, where the driving snow gives way to sunny skies surrounded by snow squalls, about 10 miles south of the border. We turn off on US30 south of Pocatello for a diversion through the Bear Lake area near where Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming intersect. We stop at a small quilt shop in Soda Springs, ID, then take US89, curving south around the west side of Bear Lake. We are now deep into Mormon country: The white spires of local wards dot the countryside; civic buildings in small villages reflect a secular version of the sturdy brick Mormon architecture. We cross into Utah about mid-lake, then turn right on US89, climbing a steep set of switchbacks toward Logan, traveling down through alpine valleys into the valley where Logan nestles in the heart of rich farmland, then up over another ridge into the Great Salt Lake Basin, stopping for groceries in Ogden before climbing up the Ogden River Canyon to the Upper Ogden Valley to our resort, which lies at the foot of Powder Mountain, a prime ski destination in the Wasatch Range in winter. To the south, we can see the Snow Basin ski area on the east flank of Mt. Ogden, site of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The Big Day.

October 11, 2003 dawns awesomely, as the sun line sweeps down the mountainside to the west, with the nearly full moon hanging just above the ridge. It's clear and cold as we wind down the canyon into downtown Ogden to attend the final day of the 25th Street Farmer's Market, where we buy locally-grown eggplants, tomatoes, chinese squash, and anaheim chiles, and some fresh dates from California. Mid-morning pastry stop at Great Harvest Bread, our first stop at one of the regional chain bakeries, even though we lived three blocks from the one in Missoula. I have a 12-ounce jalapena cheese roll, which is still hot from the oven and lasts through midafternoon. Judy has a bran muffin. In our tour of the historic district (25th street ends at the Union Station, which brought 19th century America from both coasts to Utah on the first Transcontinental railway), we spotted a flyer for a food bazaar, which becomes an option for birthday dinner.

A stop at a few shops on 25th, including a needlework shop and a garden shop, then a nice visit at one of the larger quilt shops in the area filled the early afternoon. We then head to the Buddhist Church of Ogden for the advertised sit-down dinner, the high point of their Fall food bazaar. We arrive early, fortunately: the huge parking lot is completely full by the time we finish dinner, with the line stretching out into the parking lot. Excellent teriyaki, cooked on huge outdoor barbeque. Afteward, we wandered into the rest of the bazaar, and shared a piece of carrot cake, so I got birthday cake after all. Better than any evening out in an expensive restaurant.

Sunrise in the Upper Ogden Valley. Looking west over the Wasatch.

On the way back to our condo, we continue on up the Powder Mountain road, winding up an incredibly steep canyon road in first gear on an average 14% grade, ending up at the ski area at 8,000 feet, more than 3,000 feet above our condo, just four miles down on the valley slopes. An abundance of shuttle busses at the summit answers the question of how skiers got up here in the winter. The trip back down is equally hairy, in first gear with the brakes on, giving us time to view the mule deer crossing the road.

Larye at Powder Mountain

So, it looks like we picked a good area to visit for the week. The aspen are in full color in the valleys, though the colors are already fading in the high alpine valleys. The Ogden area has lots of history, and is surprisingly eclectic, considering the pervasive Mormon monoculture in most of the rural areas of Utah and southern Idaho. Of course, the LDS presence dominates the cities with the towering spires of stake tabernacles and large college and university campuses. We also notice the homes in the central Rockies (Utah, Wyoming, Colorado) tend to be much larger than we are used to seeing in the Northwest, and there seems to be a much more affluent middle class than in our home state of Montana.

Sunday, October 12. A lazy day, make breakfast, get a newspaper from the lobby, take a car tour past the 2002 Olympics Snow Basin area, just south of us, loop back through Ogden, get some groceries, back to the condo for lunch. Go for a three-mile walk through some of the new housing developments up the mountainside, take a soak in the hot tub, make a carrot-yam-garbonzo ginger-curry soup for dinner, freeze some for later in the week.

Judy at Powder Mountain

Monday, October 13, officially Columbus Day. We head out for Antelope Island State Park, getting lost on US89, headed the wrong way on I-15, then double back at mile 327, taking back roads in the basin until we find the road to the causeway. We pay our $8 (for up to eight persons in a vehicle—we're in a two-seater car) and drive across the seven-mile county toll causeway. At mid-morning, the Great Salt Lake is like glass. We stop and look at the mirror reflection of the islands in the lake and back at the looming escarpment of the Wasatch and its upside-down image. On the island, we find it has a 150-year history as a cattle range and now is home to a large herd of bison, distinguished from the familiar Montana herds by extremely dark pelts, an artifact of genetic divergence from a century of near-exinction of the species. The rangers we meet on a remote beach tell us it was much worse. Before they brought in breeding stock from Montana, the Antelope Island herd was sickly and scrawny from overculling and inbreeding.

Great Salt Lake

View of the Wasatch Range from the Antelope Island causeway, Great Salt Lake.

We see lots of bicyclists pedaling the twenty miles or so of paved roads on the nearly 100-square mile island, a dinosaur spine of ancient bedrock cleaving the waters and vista of the east side of the Great Salt Lake. On the north shore, facing the length of the lake, is a broad sandy beach, where in warmer season, tourists come to float atop the briny waters. We visit the old Garr Ranch site, from which herds of cattle and sheep were managed from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th. One of the docents is an elderly fellow who worked the ranch in its last decades. The rather spare living quarters consist of a single-story main house, a long, narrow building with bathing, kitchen, dining, and living areas down one side, and small bedrooms down the other, with a separate bunkhouse across from the outside entrance to the second bathroom. A springhouse for storing dairy perishables reflects the lack of modern amenities, even in the 1950s. The foreman's house combines a one-room cabin and blacksmith shop. The shearing barn features a belt-driven power shaft the length of the shearing platform, reminiscent of the pre-electric factories of mid-19th century New England, though the structure is clearly less than 75 years old.

Ranch on Antelope Island

Bison at water tank, Antelope Island

October 14, Tuesday. There's a bit of frost on the car as we head out for a road tour up Hwy 39, a scenic route that winds up a long valley and along the ridges at the top, reaching a high elevation of 9081 feet before coming out of the aspen forest through stands of alpine fir then down through range country to Woodruff, marked by a few houses and the unmistakable spire and massive hall marking the local LDS ward. We turn south on Hwy 16, over the Wyoming border and down to Evanston, Wyoming, where we chat with the quilt shop owner, have lunch in the city park. Evanston is a major rail junction, and trains flow steadily through town. After a lunch of avocado, whole grain bread, and a banana, we zoom west on I-80 back into Utah, a short distance out of town. The highway descends gradually through high plain into tortured cliffs of red sandstone to the junction where I-84 heads toward Oregon while I-80 continues through Salt Lake City and on to San Francisco. We take I-84 through a canyon of vertical ridges of weathered granite, ending up back in Ogden, where we spend the rest of the afternoon at the Hill Air Force Base Aerospace Museum, then back to our little valley on the leading edge of the afternoon rush hour. Dinner is more sauteed veggies from our Saturday Market haul, corn steamed in the microwave, and leftover carrot-yam soup. After dark we take a dip in the outdoor hot tub and then settle in for the evening. TV and a video tape we brought from home, the first two installments of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Wasatch Range, from the top of the Great Bear Mountains, looking west.

Upper Ogden Valley, Wolf Creek Resort beyond the golf course.

Wednesday, October 15th begins at 5:45am with the cell phone wheedling; work calling. A power outage had been scheduled today and the servers were not shutting down according to plan. An hour later, they also weren't coming up properly: drag the laptop over to to phone and connect to Hamilton's Rocky Mountain Labs via Bethesda, Maryland. The main server is up, but not all the way, I log in but lose the connection before the problem can be fully diagnosed. As more of the system comes online, I connect with RML directly and determine that a file server outside the main server room has not been turned back on, keeping the whole network startup on hold. Once the connection is cancelled, the main servers spring to life. A little cleanup of configuration files to make sure it doesn't happen again when the power source is switched back tonight, and we are in the shower and out the door for the day's scheduled vacation activity, having gained back three hours of work time.

Wednesday's itinerary calls for a tour of downtown Salt Lake City, with lunch. Our major shopping target is Mormon Handicrafts, across the street from the Temple, a quilting and craft store. I buy a couple of books, Judy looks at fabric but doesn't buy.

We take a walking tour of the downtown shopping malls, then head out on foot east, toward the medical district, to the Oasis Cafe and the adjoining Golden Braid Bookstore, where we enjoy a vegetarian lunch of curry tofu and vegetables, hummus, and artichoke caponata on pitas with espresso and capuccino, then peruse the selection of meditation and reflection books, picking a small enough number of titles to carry back to the car. On the way, we take a short walking tour of the Temple complex. Then, a drive east around the University of Utah, up the streets around the Shriner's Children's Hospital, down the hill, around the State Capitol building, then join the northbound rush hour traffic in I-15 back to Ogden and up the canyon to the upper valley, where we find the water shut off at our condo: fortunately, we have enough bottled water left to cook dinner, and the water is back on for cleanup. Dinner is a skillet dinner, sauteed onion, roasted peppers, chopped baked potato, and egg substitute, set under the broiler and served with fresh basil and tomato slices. Plug in the laptop to the phone for a quick check on the servers at work to make sure the evening power transfer and restart worked, then we settle down to watch the remainder of The Two Towers.

Thursday, October 16: light breakfast, lazy morning watching the sunrise fill the valley with light, then off to The Oaks restaurant in the canyon for a mid-morning brunch from their breakfast menu: hashbrowns and garden burger or bacon, no eggs. After brunch we journey past Huntsville to the Abbey of the Holy Trinity, a Trappist monastery founded in 1947, for the noon chants. It is evident that the order has failed to thrive over the years, as many of the 12 remaining brothers appear to have been numbered among the founders and are very aged. We make some purchases at the gift shop and return to Eden by an alternate route, seeking the craft fair advertised in road signs on the way to the resort. Indeed, the craft sale is an established event in a large home off Highway 158, evidently a group of crafters with a wide selection of products, very well done. Back at the condo, we cook a pot of curried lentils to take with us for the remainder of our trip, then have a light supper and head into Ogden to visit a kitchen shop and a large new and used bookstore downtown. We finish our evening meal at home with another light skillet dinner to use up the remaining potato, egg, and onion, then start planning how to fit everything back in the car, including our new purchases, after a dip in the hot tub and sauna.

Friday, October 17: NPR's Morning Edition issues scrathily and fuzzily from the cheap bedside clock radio at 05:00am. Pack the car, microwave frozen muffins from the Greenery serveral days ago, out the door by 06:00am, down the canyon and onto I-15N/I-84W. Daylight catches us just before fuel stop at Snowville on I-84, then into Idaho and west to Boise. A stop at Starbucks across from Boise State University, eat lunch in a parking lot out of our cooler, another gas stop, then north up the Payette River Scenic Route, following the river canyon then up onto the high meadows, through Cascade. At McCall, we stop for a stretch downtown, taking in views of Payette Lake, chat with the local needlework shop owner, who directs us to the quilt shop next door, upstairs in the supermarket/department store. Leaving the lake, we climb up over a ridge and down the Little Salmon River, then the Salmon to almost where it plunges into Hell's Canyon to merge with the Snake. Another steep climb, then down into the Clearwater to join US12 into Lewiston, Idaho for the night. Northern Idaho is on Pacific time, so we've gained an hour and have time to tour a couple of shops near the hotel, even though we've covered 650 miles today.

Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho

Saturday, October 18: We rise in time for the complimentary breakfast—bagel for me, English muffin for Judy, check out, drive around to the other side of the railroad tracks, go for a morning walk on the Clearwater River Levee, through the park back to the car, then climb up out of the industrial fog to the top of the bluff overlooking the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers, then angle north into Washington State for Espresso near the Washington State University campus in Pullman, then on to Spokane for the Washington State Quilter's 25th annual quilt show at the convention center downtown. We spend all day at the quilt show, sharing a turkey sandwich and bagel at the concession stand, look at all the quilts, vendor booths, and take in several of the demonstrations. By 5:00pm, we make our last purchases and head back to the car, which, we note, is parked behind the Liberty Building, home of the Liberty Cafe and Auntie's Books. We peruse the books, then grab a Thai curry vegetable plate for me and a pasta salad for Judy before heading north on US2 for Sandpoint, Idaho, our destination for the evening.

Clearwater River railway lift bridge, Lewiston, Idaho

Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. Clearwater and Snake rivers.

Sunday, October 19: Rising on the hotel breakfast schedule, which features do-it-yourself waffles along with fruit, pastries, juice, and yogurt. We opt for a waffle for me, English muffin for Judy, juice and yogurt for both of us, then head east after a stop at the downtown Starbucks a few blocks from our hotel, stopping only to top off the tank before rounding the north shore of Lake Pend Oreille and crossing back into Montana and Mountain Time. The colors are great as we follow the Clark Fork to Plains, where we turn off for a quick cottage cheese lunch out of the cooler at the Sanders County Fairgrounds boat ramp. A few more miles, and MT 200 turns to follow the Flathead River, past the old Perma townsite to Dixon, where the highway follows the Jocko River through Ravalli and Arlee, climbing up to Evaro and diving down into the Missoula Valley, where we stop for some craft tools and fabric items, hints from the demos at the quilt show, then head up the Bitterroot River on US93, enjoying the rich fall colors from the cottonwoods along the river to the larches on the mountainsides, home at last after 2300 miles and ten days on the road. We switch cars and pick up the cats at the boarding kennel, all of us glad to be home.

Sandpoint, Idaho: covered bridge is now the Coldwater Creek store.

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho, looking south from Hope, Idaho.