Saturday, May 14, 2011


This weekend was spent on a quick road trip out to Boise, ID, to visit my in-laws. While this is a trip that my husband and have taken several times, we generally do it at varying parts of the year and usually manage to find something slightly new and exciting to brighten the many miles and hours. I had not yet traveled through North-Eastern Oregon during the height of spring and was heartened to spot patches of delicate desert lupine and sunny balsamroot flowers throughout the hills and highlands, sparkling snow-fed brooks coursing through the arid Blue forest, songbirds of all types, and even some pink headed buzzards!
Contrary to my cowboy boot collection, I am a bit of city girl and take a lot of opportunities to poke fun at our neighbors to the East. We stopped at a rest stop right over the Idaho border and came across this sign-
I don't know why you would need to unload your livestock at a rest stop, maybe they need a drinkies?

Got some pretty good thrifting done in the city (vintage is certainly not very well appreciated over there), saw a lot of quail, trucks and Walmarts. My husband took me by this little gem of a bar/junkyard, only 1/4 of a mile from a ubiquitous suburban development-
Who needs a drink and/or buckshot?!
Ok, this place did shut down a few years ago, I'm sure that motorhome is a fairly recent addition.

One of my favorite things about road trips is finding the most ridiculous way to get back home. Travelling along the Columbia on I-84 takes about 6 hours. We decided on a route that added about 40 miles to that path and 4+ hours, doing our best to avoid major highways. Our last stop in Idaho took us to the little town of
Parma, where stands a concrete replica of Fort Boise. 
Hard to appreciate if you are not an old man/little boy

I was much more fascinated by two concrete statues that stood guard in the front. Here's one fella-
"Bigfoot"-but this ain't your Henderson's type of Sasquatch
"Bigfoot was a gigantic outlaw with the measurements of this statue. (about 5'6", ed.) He killed and terrified this area from 1856 to 1868 when he was ambushed and killed with 16 bullets. His death was not reported. So for 10 years travelers thought they saw him hiding behind bushes and feared for their lives." sic.

Not visible in the photo, but my husband pointed out to me the remaining patches of his original coloring-red, of course.

Bigfoot's companion had a more plausible, if even more poorly told, story-
Marie Dorian and child

According to a different infographic, Marie traveled only 200 miles. Hey guys, you both got it wrong! One of the first (documented) women to head  west, she left Missouri in 1811 with her husband Pierre, who had been hired as a guide and interpreter for a large hunting party on their way, and eventually landed on the West Coast. This is a great site for learning information on the intrepid women of the West and gives some great background on Marie's travels and trials,
For a Native American woman to have even this small bit of honor in a highly conservative region is encouraging, but the juxtaposition of the "savage man" with the "wise woman" is not an exactly enlightened point of view, and the crudeness of the statues, together with the fact they stand in front of a military fort makes me wonder what, if any, intentions the artists and community had in the construction. I freely recognize that living in Portland has me living in a thought bubble, and I view mine and others actions with an increasingly liberal dramaturgical eye, but honor served with a dose of "well ain't that just something" just doesn't sit right.

Now, traveling along the Gorge is one thing, the desolation is quick and isolated, and the river and wind ensures profitability and growth of cities and towns. The smack dab middle of Oregon, however, is rife with, well, nothing. Mostly suitable for ranching cattle and growing tumble weeds, several mountain ranges break up the landscape and hold clues to Oregon's past in gold mining in their shadows. At the base of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, a small town called Prairie City is nothing more of a blur and offers little other than a faded historical marker pointing out a small stream. Nothing too unusual for scrubby desert that is at the base of a mountain, especially after an extended winter, but we needed a quick break and hadn't stopped at any historical/geological markers for a while. This small stream was actually part of a large gold mining operation, and was dug by hundreds of Chinese laborers. There are thriving Chinese communities all throughout Oregon but I never gave much of a thought as to why. A myriad of factors led to the exodus of hundreds of thousands Chinese to seek work in the expanding American West, and as the search for gold leached into the NW, the workers followed. Oregon did not enjoy the cultural sensitivity it generally has today, and the workers were hard pressed to find profit or joy in their journeys. One place of respite was a small general store, hostel, hospital and restaurant in the town of John Day, just over the mountain pass, ran by Doc Hay and his friend Lung On. Wonderfully preserved to this day, we were led on a little tour of the building and our pleasant guide was delighted to let us know that even though the space had sat unused for over 60 years, the residents of the town held the good doctor in such regard that they left the building unharmed and warned their bratty teenagers not to break into looking for liquor (of course, this made a few bratty teenagers do just that thing, but they never caused much damage).

My favorite, and most dramatic section of Oregon is the John Day Fossil beds. Best seen on a sunny day, the hills show off salmon and sage layers. There is a really fantastic little river that runs through the canyon at the entrance, we keep telling ourselves that we will one day take the time to do some wandering around, the winding roads don't give much chance for observation.

The last thing of note on our trip was passing through the town of Antelope, OR. Just a blip on the map, it was home to the crazy ass Rajneeshees, who really had a great name but not much else than that going for them other than your typical cult stuff.  We took a pretty crazy 40 mile road from Fossil to Antelope, if we had had access to Google Maps, and particularly to it's Terrain option, we would have opted for the highway, it was super scary, you guys! The bottom of the hills was pretty gorgeous, though, it's an obviously little traveled road. More hills, white knuckled driving, and prairie to Maupin, where I saw my first every buzzard-man, they're ugly! We also saw (and heard!) Western Bluebirds, such sweet little things, I really wish that they lived in town.

There are miles and miles of emptiness, so it's a little jarring to spot broken down houses and barns off in the distance. I'm pretty lucky to be married to a historian, although it does ruin my tendency to over romanticize things. Oregon allowed homesteading up until the mid 20th century. I always thought home steading was kind of  a bum deal, mostly because I am not a fan of physical labor, but it's probably helpful if you can actually grow something on the land that you plopped yourself down on. Modern farming does allow for massive operations and ranching, but to see the evidence of giving up, being broken and moving on, belies that placid demeanor of the grass lands. 
I'm sure you all played that old school Oregon Trail game in elementary school-it was really boring, wasn't it? Maybe next time, we can fly.

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