If the settlement of the West had been left up to yuppies in fancy convertibles, the Sioux, Apache, Shoshone, and others would have had little to fear. Planning to make a life in, or ever crossing this harsh environment, must have taken a determination I can scarcely fathom. Today our route took us along more of the Oregon Trail.
Southern Idaho is nothing but flat farmland – everywhere. There are contrasting green and barren areas, all depending on where irrigation takes place. The air is brown with dust from tractors working the land. I remember the many times I’ve seen these areas from the air. The lushness of the plains fading to brown-gray of more arid regions, with huge irrigated circles looking like green alien landing areas in contrast to the start topography. As we flew over, we were thrilled when the gray with green circles gave way to snow-covered mountains, because that meant we were getting closer to our destination. This trip has given me a new appreciation for what I’ve seen from the air, but from here on out, I think I prefer the aerial view.
The canyons of Southern Idaho give no warning of their existence. The Snake River Canyon is a gouge out of level land. There are no hills to give you a view of its edges, and it is nearly invisible until you are right on top of it. We crossed the canyon at Twin Falls, and stopped at the scenic overlook. The cliffs are straight down, with a lush valley along the river. The AAA guidebook said that Shoshone Falls, for which Twin Falls is named, was just to the north, and described it as “the Niagra of the West.” Turns out that description fits as long as water upstream isn’t being diverted for irrigation. Today there was just a single cascade. Early spring during snow runoff, it does take on Niagra proportions, but during the summer, it might be completely dry. Since we have hit the start of the growing season, there is still some water.
The interstate ran along the north edge of the canyon for awhile, then abruptly turned southeast and crossed the Snake into Utah. The only other time I had been in Utah was to step over at the Four Corners area, so I guess this is my first real visit. The land remained flat, or so we thought. Turns out that we were gradually ascending the entire time. I looked at the GPS altimeter at one point, and we were at 4200 ft – higher than Snoqualmie Pass in Washington where there was still snow. After a quick lunch, we were soon approaching Ogden, Utah, and were catching glimpses of the Great Salt Lake. Turns out that glimpses were all we were going to get. When we left the interstate to find a better view, all we could find were places that would make us pay to enter. We decided that we had to far to drive to fool with this, so we continued on our way. I-84 made an abrupt turn east and started ascending through canyons. The rock type changed just as abruptly, with massifs of red rock jutting out from the canyon walls like the prows of ships. We connected with I-80, and crossed into Wyoming.
We were now on three historic trails – Oregon, Lewis & Clark, and the Pony Express. We were also on the most tedious leg of the journey. I can see why these trails led somewhere else and didn’t stop here. I also see why many didn’t survive the journey. I can also see why they chose this particular route. We were ascending the entire trip east, and were now at nearly 6200 feet, but there had been no rough mountain passes. While some part of the road were steep, these portions usually didn’t last long. However, there is little or now water available for long distances. I wonder if the rough weather and harsh terrain of mountains is a decent trade for the barren Badlands of Southern Wyoming.
We skirted the edge of a huge thunderstorm all the way across Wyoming. Laura also pointed out barracades lining the highway, which she said were there to prevent snow from blowing across the interstate. From the positioning of the barracades, you got an idea of the direction of the prevailing winds.
Our stop for the night was supposed to be midstate in the town of Rawlings. I think the only thing keeping this town alive are the oil fields. The town looks dismal, so we decide to try to find something for dinner and to push on to Laramie. Turns out that there was a graduation at Wyoming University in Laramie, so the only place we could find lodging was Cheyenne.
With lodging at least secured at our next destination, we stopped at a place called “The Rustler” for dinner. This restaurant looks like it had been something else previously, and that it wishes it were something else entirely right now. The food was simple fare. Laura got trout, and I got chicken fried steak. Mine came buried under a gelatinous goo of light gray gravy about a half inch thick. It was a good thing it was hot, because it looked like it would solidify to the consistency of concrete if it cooled. Laura marveled at its viscosity. I was served a baked potato, even though I had ordered mashed potatoes. Turns out I had mashed potatoes – buried under the grayness.
We pushed on, another 100 miles to Laramie, then on to Cheyenne. We were a bit worried about driving the pass east of Laramie at night, because it was listed at over 9000 feet, the highest point on I-80. Turns out we had nothing to fear. It was the same gradual incline we had seen the rest of the trip across Wyoming. We got into Cheyenne at 9:30, found our room, and promptly collapsed.