Road diary: July 6-20

    Wednesday, July 6

Every year when we return from vacation I tell myself next year we'll just go somewhere and stay there. But here we are again, off on a 14-day trip, staying 3 nights in one place, 2 nights in another, and 1 night everywhere else. I blame the courthouses and the freeways. We hate a diet of industrial strength high speed Interstate driving, and we love to amble through small rural county seats (which frankly are not worth lingering in for days). So we hop: Minden, Tonopah, Elko, etc. instead of barreling up I-80. Maybe next year we'll go up 395 to some place in eastern Oregon or Stehekin..
Leave Oakland around 10, reach Placerville about noon. Lunch at Cozmic Cafe ("Make coffee, not war"). Performance space and bar upstairs in 19th C brick building, cafe below.
1 PM, leave P-ville, head east on US 50 past town of Strawberry (pop. 50, alt. 5800), then Twin Bridges (pop. 10, alt. 6100); more height, fewer people.
Torrential rain at Echo Lake; hail, lightning, thunder. Road & windshield thick with pea-sized hail.
Temperature goes from 91 to 47 in 30 minutes.
Reach busy South Lake Tahoe. Air full of greenish-yellow dust; pollen?
Over the pass, through old Genoa with 1865 courthouse in pouring rain, and into Minden NV. I like Minden; didn't expect to. Only one casino, on main highway; town center has well-kept bungalow residences; green wooden shutters with pine-tree cutouts in them.
Snow-capped mountains west of town across from fertile Carson River marshland.
Minden Holiday Inn a good place; room not large but well laid out; pillows are labeled Soft and Firm.
Town shows must evidence of real-estate bust. Several large areas have parking lots, curbs, water, sewer, electrical service; & nothing else. "Look on my shopping mall, ye mighty, and despair."
Dinner at Buona Sera, 1779 Ironwood; recommend it; upscale Italian, good food and service.
1916 courthouse has typical tree problem, planted close to bldg a century ago as small saplings; multiple shots to stitch together may work.
Most Nevada drivers stop for us as we approach crosswalks; remarkable courtesy; we wave thanks.

    Thursday, July 7

Beautiful morning in the Carson Valley; blue skies, fleecy white clouds, air washed clean by rain. 70 degrees at 9:30 as we leave Minden, pause to photograph courthouse in morning sun.
US 395 very scenic S of Minden; pass thru old settlement of Wellington, and N to Yerington, county seat of Lyon County.
Yerington sightem: BMW sports car pulls up to curb & parks. Very scruffy scraggly young man gets out & goes into gun store. Glocks are featured.
Vast onion fields on way S to Hawthorne past dramatic Walker Lake (very dry shoreline though) and the immense Hawthorne US Army Ammunition Plant; low earth-covered ammo-filled bunkers extend for miles along highway.
Note: have not seen one casino on Indian lands in Nevada, unlike CA; too much competition from gringos? Lots of stand selling fireworks and cheap cigarettes, but no gambling parlors. [Later: none in Idaho or Utah either, must be a California thing.]
Many valentine messages painted on rocks beside Walker Lake and highway.
Reach Hawthorne in pouring rain. Town looks depressed; dilapidated houses with bombshells for lawn decor. Pause at McDonald's for lunch, have messiest gooiest Big Mac ever made, swear off them forever till next time.
East of Hawthorne, pass exit to "Naval Undersea Warfare Center" in middle of desert; for seasick submariners?
Quarter-mile segments of Highway 95 are dedicated to veterans of each war from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and "Global war on terror". Wonder at shortness of segments, but that leaves lots of room for future wars before reaching county line.
Small town of Luning has strict rule: "No explosives-laden vehicles allowed to park here". One boo-boo could erase the town.
The "Wildkat Ranch" surrounded by faux Roman columns beside highway is shuttered; recession has closed even the whorehouses.
Odd white vapor in distance; steam after rain on hot rocks?
No, find on approaching it is alkali dust stirred up from salt flats by wind.
Tonopah is surrounded by slag heaps which convey the down mood of the place; v. depressed economically. Saloon is the one thriving business.
Eat at El Marques Mexican restaurant; pretty good, as is Best Western here.

    Friday, July 8

Good weather news as we head out to a long desert drive on lonely roads; the rains have kept the temps down, heat expected only to the mid-80's.
(In fact, we had good weather the whole trip after the first two days. Some dark skies and strong wind in Idaho north of Arco, but no rain.)
Fact: Tonopah has 2 cemeteries. One is north of town; the other is off Main Street behind the Clown Motel.
Leave Tonopah ~8:30; N to Austin NV along Big Smoky Valley between 2 mountain ranges with active mines (gold and other metals). Most of Nevada's mountains are in roughly north-south rows.
See average of 1 car about every 3 minutes.
Reach Austin on US 50; lunch at Toiyabe Cafe, buy turquoise and tiny fleck of gold (to be repriced tomorrow on account of higher price per ounce) at Jim's Trading Post mineral shop just west of cafe. Proprietor stares at my shoes; turns out she wants to buy her husband a pair like that for her husband's birthday.
Looks like many hay fields are being irrigated; didn't know hay paid well enough for that.
On Austin to Battle Mountain highway, 1 car ~ every 10 minutes.
Into Elko around 3:30, stay at downtown Thunderbird Motel; like many downtown places, is older and run down but in the heart of the city.
Photograph courthouse against sun, will try again in morning. (Was much better in morning light).
Buy hat at Capriola's Western Wear; Hamley's in Pendleton has bigger selection, though.
Dinner at Star Hotel Basque restaurant; remember having lunch there in 1973.

    Saturday, July 9

North from Elko on NV 255 toward Owyhee, named for group from Hawaii who came here; why they did is unclear.
Morning air scented with sagebrush; pass street named "Cattle Drive" in suburbs.
Pass Wild Horse Reservoir, an oasis in the desert. Descend Owyhee River canyon; many hoodoos and rock dikes, wild roses everywhere.
Pass Patsville, a fairly recent (1932-1949) ghost town that rose and fell with the nearby copper mines.
Enter Idaho. First 2 towns (Riddle and Grasmere) consist of 1 building each; Bruneau is a little larger.
Through Jerome ID and down to Twin Falls, past an estate named "El Rancho Costa Plente".
Check into TF La Quinta and meet Sharon Fisher and her daughter Maggy for dinner at Rock Creek restaurant. Good time had by all.

    Sunday, July 10

Leave Twin Falls 9:30. Get gas; 38+ MPG! Even with the A/C on!!
Stop at N end overlook of Perrine Bridge & Snake R gorge; watch hang glider jump off S wall of gorge.
10 miles N of river, snow-capped mountains appear on horizon.
Shoshone courthouse square is host to "Art in the park" festival: quilts for sale, wooden birdhouses, pony rides, C&W singers, crocheted objects of indeterminate nature.
Buy a "scone"; turns out to be a thick, deep-fried sort of pancake that the Scots never saw.
77 degrees on road to Gooding, a pleasant small town with old downtown buildings; like Shoshone, it's a RR depot.
NE of Gooding immense fields of corn; then into sagebrush terrain with basalt hoodoos from old lava flow. Over a low pass and down into the Camas Prairie.
Photograph tiny Camas County courthouse and proceed N to Hailey, plainly a visitor-oriented town; lunch at Shorty's Cafe, bustling but friendly; recommend it.
Into a different price orbit here; Hailey has a Sotheby's Realty office, vacant lot offered at $2,400,000.
Through Ketchum and Sun Valley ski resort area; up over Galena Pass and into Salmon R watershed. Reach Idaho Rocky Mountain Resort and unpack.
IRMR is not really in the Rockies and isn't strictly a ranch; but it is in Idaho and the mountains, 2 out of 4, and quite friendly.

    Monday, July 11

Breakfast includes bagels & lox, old cowboy favorite.
Drive back south up toward Galena Pass; find (with difficulty) the century-old unpaved toll road that preceded the modern highway below.
Hike old road around mountain to view of Boulder Mountains, alpine flowers, spectacular views.
Have lunch, return to car, drive to Alturas Lake, hike up Alpine Creek trail, take many pictures.
See numerous pronghorn antelope, many more than in SE Oregon.
IRMR hosts "Dutch oven cookout"; have worked up fierce appetite for it.
Cook threatens to kill self over failure of baked beans; offer reassurance but don't ask for seconds.

    Tuesday, July 12

The Salmon R runs a tortuous course from its headwaters near Galena Summit: north, then east, N again, and west into the Snake at Riggins. We didn't get right to the source, but pretty close; saw it as a small creek.
(Have also traced Snake R back to its source via maps, but decided in 2005 not to visit it; long roadless trek leads to area S of Yellowstone Park designated a "grizzly-bear management area"; no thanks, been there did that in Montana's Madison Range, once is enough.)
Drove to Stanley Lake and hiked up to "Lady Face Falls", named for who knows; doesn't look like anybody I've ever met. Falls are really a series of rapids, I think. Return through town of Stanley, a summer-recreation village: camping, kayaking, river-rafting, etc.
Flowers seen so far: yarrow, red & yellow castilleja, larkspur, penstemon, lupine, balsamroot, ranunculus, ipomopsis (I think), sedum, pearly everlasting, dusty-miller, goldenrod, wild roses, cinquefoil, eriogonum (buckwheat), bistort, aquilegia (columbine), ribes (gooseberry), arnica, and of course lots of taraxacum (dandelions).

    Wednesday, July 13

Leave IRMR, drive down scenic Salmon River valley (many rafters bobbing about) to Challis.
Hand-lettered Tea Party sign in farmyard urges readers to oppose corruption; check.
Photograph Custer County courthouse, head S on deserted US 93. Pass thru narrow canyon with steep eroded cliffs like Cambodian temples
Stop at very windy Willow Creek Pass for lunch behind ham-radio operator who has set up a mobile station with portable generator and antenna, anchored against blowing over.
Drive past Mt. Borah highest point in state and site of major 1983 earthquake, sign says.
Many old sod-roofed potato barns outside town of Mackay and along road. Newer form is Quonset huts, must require A/C against heat.
Stop at Arco, view "Number Hill" with high-school years painted on side, going back at least to '24.
Pass series of volcanic buttes, and Idaho National Atomic Laboratory; surely unrelated.
Reach Idaho Falls, eat at Rutabaga's restaurant; good place.

    Thursday, July 14

Happy to leave the Idaho Falls Best Western Driftwood Inn, a crumbling infrastructure. Coped with lack of hot water, and electricity for an hour, staff who don't know how to get waiting voice messages, and a few physical hazards. Add it to our "never again" list.
Drive up to Rigby, Rexburg, and St. Anthony for pix, see Tetons on horizon.
Old Rigby courthouse now a Montessori school. Downtown dilapidated, but newer section to north looks prosperous.
Rexburg offers the "Ying Yang Chinese Restaurant"; did not try it.
Extensive lava beds beside highway, appropriately near the town of Basalt.
Visit Potato Museum at Blackfoot, lunch across the busy RR tracks at Rupe's Burgers.
Storefront in Blackfoot offers "guns, ammo, reloading, and Internet file transfers".
Reach Pocatello and my brother-in-law's house; his wife is driving back from Libby MT, a 1-day marathon.

    Friday, July 15

Circuit of SE corner of Idaho today: Soda Springs, Paris, Preston.
Painted sign in Portneuf: "Perfect horse for sale".
Soda Springs has the "Nifty Needle Quilt Shop".
Pass thru Montpelier on way to Paris; photograph signs for French friend.
Top headline in Paris newspaper: "Report on dead dog falsified".
Paris a charming town with giant Mormon tabernacle; lunch at Paris Grill ("under new management"); good.

    Saturday, July 16

Leave Pocatello for Utah.
Idaho license plate: L CHAYIM
Malad City a pleasant rural town with the Chat 'N Chew Grill and the Dude Ranch Cafe.
Reach Logan UT 2 PM, room not ready, walk around town.
Lunch at 1914 Bluebird Restaurant on Main Street. To the south is sandwich shop named Logan's Heroes.
UT license plate: STLHDR. A fisherman?
Logan is a clean, tidy, very Mormon town. Main Street looks prosperous with few empty storefronts, unlike most of the city centers we have seen so far. There is a large Hallmark Cards store with a rack of LDS cards in front. A Lawrence Welk, Ozzie & Harriet sort of place. I believe we saw no African-Americans, perhaps two Asian couples and one from India. Unlike towns in Idaho, no bilingual signs for Spanish-speakers. In my suburban childhood this would not have been remarkable; now it stands out.
Walk up the hill to the most imposing building in the city, visible everywhere from its size and location; it is the Logan temple, with acres of parking. Families are playing on the lawn and viewing the colorful flower gardens. Evidently the Logan Tabernacle on Main Street is the older church.
The styles of Mormon ecclesiastical architecture would make a good study, or even a book. 19th century churches tend to be of stone, but magnificent with thick walls and Romanesque arches; later ones are more Gothic like Chartres, and the modern style (like Idaho Falls) seems to be pure white stacks of rectangular solids, not obviously derivative of any older form.
Head to Caffe Ibis for a latte; pass a small Episcopal church whose pastor is having a smoke outside; we chat about earthquakes and stone buttresses as reinforcement. Ibis is a funky hangout; jukebox plays C&W version of "Rock & roll is here to stay".
Across the street, roadies wrestle amps off a truck and into the Iron Gate Grill. Maybe Logan isn't so starchy after all.
Or perhaps it hosts two cultures, who seem to coexist. Peaceable Kingdom and all that.
Dinner at Le Nonne Italian restaurant; good food, reasonable prices, service a little sluggish; would go there again.

    Sunday, July 17

Leave Logan, pass Wellsville and a sign for the Hardware Ranch, a wildlife area.
Enter Brigham City; license plate on Corvette convertible: NOTOPON. It was true.
Roadside billboards near Ogden:
    - Visit the Missionary Mall
    - - "church, caffeinated"
    - - purpose obscure, seems to oppose wilderness designations
Farmington UT a charming old tree-lined town, but hard to reach from the freeway.
Skip SLC courthouse: too big a city to be convenient access (or parking).
Everything in downtown Provo seems to be closed on Sunday; ours is practically the only parked car.
Large skyscraper houses Nu Skin Enterprises, with top salespeople's Walk Of Fame in front. Seems to be all about marketing.
Drive south; aha! everyone is out at the shopping mall, that's where they went.
S of Provo, isolated housing developments in middle of farms; odd sight.
Safari Motel in Nephi is about as primitive as a place with a roof can be.
Down the street is the former Starlite Motel, now weed-choked and abandoned.
Town is dry and dusty and depressed, about the polar opposite of Logan.

    Monday, July 18

Pass through Delta UT. we have a soft spot for this town, since it is where we discovered 8 years ago that it's possible to get a healthy meal at McDonald's. Order the Grilled Chicken Salad, which they mostly leave unharmed. (Do not order its evil twin the Crispy Chicken Salad covered in thick gelatinous oily glop that - surprise! - we don't care for.)
There is a shoe tree about 6 miles W of town; the idea is going viral. I think it's the seventh one we've seen.
Recent rains have left desert full of standing water; odd sight of sagebrush swimming.
Pass "U-dig fossils - trilobite quarry" 30 miles W of Delta.
Wide shallow Sevier Lake appears, between Skull Rock Pass and Death Creek. Not a realtor's dream, name-wise. Dark islands of rock rise above white salt flats.
Crows flee roadkill as car approaches.
Pause for pix at pass, where ribbon of highway stretches out to Nevada mountains.
Reach Ely, set clocks back 1 hour; check into Bristlecone Motel, opposite Copper Queen Motel/Casino where the room doors open onto the smoke-filled slots area and swimming pool. The Cafe Dreadful where we attempted to eat in 2003 while staying at the CQ is now La Fiesta Mexican restaurant.
Not going to risk it; walk to Big Apple restaurant on US 50.
Oops. BA is closed for dinner Monday-Tuesday. Walk back to La Fiesta.
Glad we did; food is good and service attentive and competent.

    Tuesday, July 19

Stop again at Jim's Trading Post in Austin for some gifts.
The shoe tree east of Fallon is dead, long live the shoe trees! Old one was sawed off at base; memorial post next to it is covered with condolences, and comments to "accept what is". But 2 young trees to west are green, healthy and full of shoes. Even a tall sage nearby has been turned into a shoe brush. The legend continues.
Pause at Sand Mountain for look, then proceed to Fallon.
Look for place to have dinner. Pick 3 possibles. One is shuttered, one is too far away, and "Heidi's Country Kitchen" is inside a casino filled with stale cigarette smoke.
Try steak place next door. Waitresses are error-prone dolled-up teen tarts, but beer is cold and food is OK.

    Wednesday, July 20

Heading home today!
Fallon Best Western has "easily sanitized" TV remote. Is this a problem? What do people do with these things? Never mind, don't answer.
Place also has hand-sanitizer dispensers outside rooms. Yet all breakfast utensils are facing up in a can so you have to retrieve them by the tips, not the handle, with your presumably sanitized hand.
Leave Fallon 8 AM, pass through major highway construction at Reno, into Truckee.
Coffee at Trockay Cafe near RR station. Place is so new they don't have business cards, or even a tip jar.
Home by 3 PM, unpack, launder, upload my 1423 photos for sorting.

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