Surprises on the road

17 09 2010

We just got back from another epic journey in the American west. Jetlag has attacked with a vengeance (I am having more and more trouble with him as I get older, it seems), and I am up at all sorts of ungodly hours, writing. But I have to say that we had a grand time – as expected. It was also a learning experience, my second such educational tour in the western part of my own country. There is so much to discover out there and I am sure I haven’t learned nearly all I want to know.

So I decided to compile a list of things I didn’t know before I went, as well as vignettes and facts that surprised me during the 12 days we traveled through northern California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada. Maybe you were ignorant of these as well (but probably not).

If only I could put all my cool experiences in a box and take them with me everywhere, to open and enjoy whenever I want to.

Here is my list of interesting & fun stuff (in no particular order):

  • There is a lot of desert in Oregon.
  • There is a sign at the side of the road whenever you cross into a new time zone.
  • Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park blows every 93 minutes, like clockwork. Almost.
  • San Franciscans have thoroughly embraced the Smart car.
  • Bison can swim?

"Yes we can!"

  • Buffalo wings have nothing to do with these buffalo because they come from Buffalo, New York.
  • The LDS-church temple in downtown Salt Lake City (from which non-LDS-believers are banned) is pretty small. And downright insignificant when you compare it to many European cathedrals built 600 (or more) years ago.
  • A Jeep Grand Cherokee is also called a “Laredo.”
  • New quarters will be minted with motifs of the national parks, in the order in which they were established. Yellowstone (founded in 1872) is the first to be commemorated on the back of a quarter – and I have one.
  • Coast Redwoods can get to be 2,400 years old.
  • While looking for change in my wallet at a Starbucks in Bend, Oregon, the Barista told me, “Sorry, we don’t take Euros.”
  • There is actually a place called “Jackpot” in Nevada.
  • There are many onions in Idaho.
  • Sarah Palin was born in Idaho.
  • West Yellowstone, Montana is the self-declared “Snowmobile Capital of the World.”
  • It takes eight hours to drive from Salt Lake City to Reno, Nevada (520 miles / 800 km), across a whole lot of nothing.
  • If you come to live in San Francisco, you will never leave. As a friend put it so aptly: “How can you be miserable in such a beautiful place?”

She's right, you know.

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Idaho & me

11 09 2010

This was supposed to be an entry about Idaho but I’m not sure I have enough stuff to write about Idaho – most of the time we spent in Idaho was at about 82 miles per hour, heading east on Interstate 84 and behind schedule. This was my first ever visit to Idaho… From far away, I was always fascinated by Boise, but don’t ask me why. I just thought that was a cool name for a place. Boise, Idaho. It sounds so…happy.

According to Wikipedia, the state itself  “was possibly named as the result of a hoax – the so-called ‘Idahoax‘ ” . (Hee hee…)

So, despite my fascination with the name, unfortunately we didn’t get to see very much of Boise except for the strip malls along the highway. But we did notice that the residents (called “Idahoans”) seem quite proud of their state, way up there in the northwestern corner of the country, even if there isn’t really much in it other than all forms of agriculture and some pretty spectacular scenery. A popular road sign declares, “Idaho is too great to litter.”   (“Too great“?)

One of many, many farms.

Another one of the state’s features is the 85 75 mile per hour (120 km/h) speed limit – crossing over from 55-mph Oregon it’s like a big breath of fresh air. It makes you almost feel like you are actually getting somewhere – if the distances between the places were not so… so… unbelievably huge.

In the nine or so hours that we spent on southern Idaho’s highways and byways, crossing from west to east, we saw a lot of roadkill – much skunk, some birds, and a bunch of unidentifiable carnage in various states of decay. Many more bugs than usual, it seemed, found their final resting place as splatter on our windshield. (Hmm… Maybe wildlife don’t appreciate that 85 75 mph speed limit after all.)

And did you know that this is also “Onion Country, USA”? I did not! A big sign along the road told us so, and the sweet smell of young onions accompanied us for couple of hours. And here I thought all these years that all Idaho had to offer was potatoes for McDonald’s French Fries. But now I find out that not only is Idaho potato central, it also provides us with significant amount of the world’s onion rings too. Yum.

Guess I should have read this first.

Idaho has given the world other impressive stuff too – two things that interest me in particular: billboards along the Interstate advertise “From Wolf to Woof – the Story of Dogs” at the Museum of Idaho, and of course how can we forget Rigby, Idaho, the birthplace of the television. There are even a couple of notable Idahoans who have definitely left their mark on history, including Ernest Hemmingway and Sarah Palin.

So wow. I am truly on a voyage of discovery here. There really is a lot to be thankful to Idaho for.

It’s simply, well, great!