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phoebus - The Amazing Adventures of Sid - Week 5
Columbia Gorge, Baker City, Boise, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon NP
West along Columbia River
Looking west along the Columbia River from the Mitchell Pass Overlook.
Checked out of the motel and headed straight back onto the I-84 east. Stopped for gas after a little while and discovered that even though you can't fill up the tank yourself, you get to say, "fill her up" to the attendant, which is just about worth it. I-84 tracks the Columbia River for a couple of hundred miles, the river serving as the border between Oregon and Washington. The whole area is called the Columbia River Gorge and is set a few hundred feet below the surrounding land so provides some spectacular scenery. A little further on was Starvation Creek, which I decided to give a miss, and then the Mitchell Pass Overlook, which was around a windy road going up to the top of the side of the gorge. This gave a view of the entire area, including the Cascade Range of mountains in which part of the gorge is set in the middle. I went back onto the interstate and continued on
East on I-84
Driving east along I-84 through the Columbia River Gorge.
until I turned off to go to the Dalles Dam visitor centre, which was closed. Pity really, the dam is huge and from it you can see all the way along the river in both directions (as you'd expect from a dam). After a while the interstate leaves the river and heads southeast, passing through Pendleton and La Grande (which purports to be "the friendliest town in Oregon". It may well have been, but it was tiny, so I left it be). Further on I stopped at Baker City and though the "city" was small it was getting late and I'd been driving
North from I-84
Looking north from I-84 after it had left the Columbia River.
for seven hours so I stopped for the night there in the Best Western Sunridge Inn. The area seemed quite nice but I guess my judgement may have been coloured since the girl behind the reception desk said, "this town sucks." So there you go. Went for dinner in a restaurant around the corner and whilst eating read a visitors guide to Baker City and discovered that there was actually quite a lot to of stuff to see and places to go. So there, strange gothic reception girl. It seems that Hells Canyon, about 100 miles north-east from here is an excellent place to visit, and there are many other trails and small roads around to look at. I'm not sure whether to go to Yellowstone or Hells Canyon first - they're both in the wrong direction from one another. I'll decide tomorrow - watch this space! I also discovered Oregon's strange liquor laws - I wanted to take the rest of a bottle of wine back to my room, so the restaurant had to sign the bottle (yes: sign the bottle), make a mark on the label where I had stopped drinking it and date the mark. This is to make sure that I wasn't going to go on a mad rampage about the state in a car with half a bottle of wine - if the police pull you over, they can look at the bottle and see if you've drunk any since you left the restaurant. To be honest, if I was going to drive (which I wasn't - the restaurant was attached to the motel) I wouldn't drink half a bottle of wine first, but there you go.
Left the motel and got gas and some food. Went into the visitor centre and got a couple of maps - one of Baker City and one of the route to Hells Canyon and surrounding area. Drove through downtown Baker City and saw that it's actually quite a nice town - it has the requisite banners announcing its historical nature and several old-ish buildings. It's
South along Main Street Baker City
Driving south along Main Street in Baker City.
relatively spread out, as are most towns in this part of the world, but has a slightly nicer feel to it as it has resisted the temptation to capitalise too heavily on its history. Headed out of town and back onto I-84. Stopped off at a couple of rest areas to admire the view - the highway passes through a long range of large hills, which were covered with golden grass and so gave a velvet effect from a distance. I drove into Idaho and stopped off at a visitor centre to pick up some maps of the state, then continued down into Boise (pronounced boicy, which, I was later told, is from French, although the French would never have pronounced it like that), which is the state capital. Boise turned out to be
Southeast along I-84
Driving southeast along I-84 near the Oregon-Idaho border.
quite a large town - much larger than it appeared on the map - so I though I'd stop there for the night. It turns out that aside from the Capitol aspects of the town, it has several highly rated museums and art galleries so I decided to stop for a couple of nights to allow time to explore. Checked into the first hotel I found (always a mistake) called the Grove Hotel - a very nice place, which was reflected in its price (about twice that of an out of town motel) but since it was so close to everything I though it was probably worth it. Another thing I discovered was that Idaho is in Mountain Time (as opposed to the west coast that is in Pacific Time) so I lost an hour crossing over. I went down to find a place to eat dinner and wandered around a few blocks, finding only closed or practically empty places, so came back to the hotel and seated myself in the hotel restaurant. Described as "fine dining", it was quite a nice restaurant but the waiter had a slightly annoying habit of standing by the table after attending to me for just a little longer than was comfortable. A minor complaint, I know, but it annoyed me; it was as if he was waiting for praise or just to see my reaction to something. The food was relatively bland, with a cornucopia of unidentifiable vegetables smothered in a brown spicy sauce, thus killing any taste they may have had. Fine dining my arse. When asked how the food was I, needless to say, said it was lovely.
Northeast along Capitol Boulevard
Looking northeast along Capitol Boulevard.
Southwest along Capitol Boulevard
Looking southwest along Capitol Boulevard from the Grove Hotel.
Boise Capitol Building
The Boise Capitol Building.
I went out for a walk around town today, stopping off in the Boise Art Museum. The museum was filled with recent American artwork that to be honest didn't really impress me, although some of the landscape stuff was quite nice. Most of it was modern art and there were several people standing in front of completely black canvases taking notes, which just seemed ridiculous. Continued a little further out of town and walked along Boise River for a little while and then headed back towards downtown. I found the Capitol building, which was quite impressive and set in some nice grounds (as they all seem to be). Boise itself is extremely clean and has several large parks, although it is quite small and so there aren't too many places to walk to before you end up on the edge of town. I got back to the hotel about 6 and then went to find dinner.
East along Snake River
Bridge over the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls.
Checked out of the hotel and drove out of town along Main Street. Most of the main roads are tree lined with a central reservation, which is again tree lined and makes for a very pleasant atmosphere around town. I got back onto the I-84 and headed southeast. After the very hilly landscape had finished, the land flattened out considerably until I descended into a canyon where the road followed a river along the canyon floor. I turned off the interstate just after a town called Bliss (which was far from it - dilapidated would be a more appropriate name) and followed the US-30 along a route called the Thousand Springs Scenic Highway. Although I saw the alleged "Thousand Springs," which were a few waterfalls
Blue Spring Hill from I-84
Driving south on I-84 through Blue Spring Hills. Just look at that sky.
coming out of a canyon wall, I didn't stop for long and continued along the highway to a town called Twin Falls. Twin Falls was a nice town which I would have stayed in had it not been so early; instead I drove out and back onto I-84. I followed the highway into Utah and the landscape by now was becoming increasingly arid with scrubby foliage taking the place of trees. The clouds had also completely gone and it was getting hotter by the minute. As I neared the Great Salt Lake the Wasatch mountains were appearing, as were ski resorts.
South along I-15 towards Brigham City
Driving south on I-15 towards Brigham City, just north of Salt Lake City.
I-84 met up with I-15 coming in from the north and went south between the eastern edge of the Great Salt Lake, which I couldn't actually see very well due to the various buildings and foliage in the way, and the Wasatch range. What I did see was water, which I wasn't expecting since I thought the salt lakes were dry, but there you go. I drove into Salt Lake City, Utah's capital, and got thoroughly confused by the road system. I discovered, much later, that it begins at the Mormon temple with road 0 and each block increases the road numbers by 100 in all directions. So as I came in on the highway there were signs for things like 1200 S and 800 S and I had absolutely no idea what the signs were for - roads, places, whatever. I figured the best thing was to wait until the number was lower and found one called 300 S, which turned out to be pretty close. I drove around downtown for a while looking for a place to stay and found a Best Western (yes, another one) and checked in. Salt Lake City is quite large and has a fairly massive downtown area with several tall, shiny buildings, so I though two nights would be best to give a little time to explore before I head off again. It was pretty late by the time I'd checked in so I grabbed some food and went back to the room.

Miles driven so far - 3415.
Temple Square from Hotel
Temple Square from my Hotel Room.
Salt Lake Temple
The Mormon Temple.
Went for a walk around town and started off at the Mormon (or Latter Day Saints, as they prefer to be called) temple. Mormon life is pretty important here, shown by the fact that the street numbers start at the temple and not the capitol building. The temple is pretty amazing, made entirely from granite blocks carried 15 miles down from a valley in the
Salt Lake Temple Assembly Hall
The Mormon Assembly Hall in Temple Square.
mid-19th century, so no automation to help with the carrying. It's about 150 feet high and is completely closed to the public, except for weddings, which are pretty popular here. The "sisters" walking around (basically all pretty girls - call me cynical but that seems a little strange) frequently come up to the public and engage them in conversation, trying to get them to sign up for representatives to visit them at home. Being slightly naive about this I talked to one for a while before realising and after that it became slightly
South through Downtown Salt Lake City
South through downtown Salt Lake City.
Salt Lake City at Sunset
Salt Lake City at Sunset.
irritating. I even noticed a few people walking around with The Book of the Mormon (their equivalent of the Bible) and simply waving the sisters away with it. I wandered into the Tabernacle and discovered the world famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsing for a concert, which was quite cool. After exploring the grounds (which were immaculate, no pun intended) I headed out and further into downtown. There's plenty of shopping to be had, with several shopping malls sprinkled around, but the town lacks restaurants and bars - too much fun I guess. Like most cities I've been to, Salt Lake City is very clean, the people very friendly, and the streets lined with trees. Having explored the town as much as I wanted to I went back to the room to drop off my copy of The Book of Mormon and headed out for dinner.
Sign at I-80 Rest Stop
A mildy worrying sign at a rest stop on I-80.
West from I-80 Rest Stop
I-80 streching off into the distance between the Great Salt Lake and the Salt Flats.
I left Salt Lake City and drove west out on I-80 past the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, which I discovered is in fact a lake, as there were several sailing boats on it. The city doesn't use any of the water from the lake (which is absolutely huge, about 50 by 30 miles, and as flat as a mirror) because of the extremely high salinity, but actually gets
North along Bonneville Salt Flats
A lot of salt - the Bonneville Salt Flats. The mountains in the distance are over 25 miles away. The salt stretches for tens of miles in either direction.
all its water from the surrounding mountains, especially during winter. I stopped at a visitor centre just the other side of the lake where the bloke running it was very helpful and showed me a number of other places and picturesque routes on which to drive. I kept going west and more and more salt flats appeared on either side of the highway - at one point I saw a couple of SUVs driving out onto some of the softer salt flats, except that one of them was stuck up to the axles and everyone was standing around looking at it. Then I came to the Bonneville Salt Flats where the land speed record is tested. There was a rest area right next to it so I stopped off and walked out on the salt; it was like slightly squishy gravel and yet the ground was amazingly hard - quite bizarre. It even tasted, surprise, surprise, very salty (I'm not sure how clean it was, but there were a few people sampling it so I guess it was OK). It was very bright and hot out there and quite difficult to look at the ground without sunglasses, although I did notice that lots of people had placed stones
Small Road off US-93A
A gravel track in Nevada I shouldn't be on. I thought there was a viewpoint at the end but it turned out to go on and on for ever.
Sunset over Mountains West of US-93
Sunset over some mountains west of US-93 in Nevada.
to form amusing words such as "water". I continued along the interstate into Nevada and turned south just after the border on US-93a down towards US-93 proper. The 93 was amazingly straight in places and I could see it stretching out before me like a ribbon over the hills. A little while later, just before Ely, I managed to get pulled over for speeding - 84 in a 70 limit - but fortunately the officer let me off with a warning, although when he asked me where I was headed and I mentioned Canada he said, "you're going the wrong way," which was helpful. After a while it began to get dark (as it tends to), which was a great pity as the landscape was getting quite interesting - lots of canyons and mountains and such. Out in the desert the stars were great (not that I was looking at them whilst driving) although a faint glow was erupting from the horizon and gradually invading the night. The glow
Sunset onto Mountains East of US-93
Sunset onto some more mountains, this time to the east of US-93 in Nevada.
got brighter and brighter until I came over a hill and saw the mass of lights that are Las Vegas. It appeared to be a huge city with an obvious central point with towers all lit up. I drove down into the city and along the main strip, which had several subsidiary strips coming off it. It was amazing - row after row of bright signs and buildings - one road was even entirely covered with a series of images playing out in lights all along the roof, like a ceiling cinema screen. The place was absolutely rammed with people and I figured that since I wasn't intending to spend any money there (I've spent quite enough as it is) I should find a place to stay just outside town. To that end I turned around and headed out of town (west by mistake), driving for ages looking for places to stay and eventually finding one after about an hour. It wasn't particularly nice and had a casino attached to the side with several dodgy looking types hanging around outside shouting abuse at passing women who refused to join them, but it was cheap and after driving for nearly 11 hours and 515 miles I decided it was good enough.

Miles driven so far - 3930.
South along US-93
Leaving Las Vegas along US-93/I-15.
Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam. The rocks are redder than this - the colour seems a little washed out.
Left the motel - the morning was amazingly hot - and went for another quick drive through Vegas to see it in daylight - and what a difference. Not quite so spectacular although everywhere was still open and the throngs had yet to subside. I drove south out of town on US-93 and noticed that in the light Vegas is mainly low-rise suburbs with a small core, that of the casinos, standing out quite clearly from the rest. US-93 goes over the Hoover Dam that dams the Colorado River at Lake Mead (which is where the Grand Canyon exits). I
North along Route 64
North along route 64 towards Grand Canyon. That's a long road!.
originally had no idea where the Hoover Dam was, so was quite surprised to see it all the way down south. There were police security checks on either side searching all large vans and trucks, searching for what, I don't know, but it slowed the traffic down to a standstill, which was quite nice since it gave plenty of time to look at the dam. I continued over the dam and through a very rocky and almost mountainous terrain (part of which has been enhanced with thousands of electricity pylons) that eventually went over the state border into Arizona and flattened out to a hilly, arid landscape with mountain ranges down either side in the distance and small shack towns dotted along the mountain foothills. The road was probably the longest straightest road I've ever driven along, 50 miles of absolutely straight-as-a-die road. I turned off the road at one point to go to a Visitor Centre (which turned out to be closed) four miles down a gravel track. The centre was in a town called Chloride (great name) and was just like all the hick towns you see in movies with old bearded men sitting on the verandas of their wooden houses. Having got back to the highway, I turned onto I-40 (the old Route 66) in Kingman and followed that for a while until I
North across Grand Canyon
Looking north across Grand Canyon at sunset.
Northeast along Grand Canyon
Looking northeast across Grand Canyon - again at sunset.
turned off on highway 60 to go up towards Grand Canyon. The road went up a shallow but long hill and more and more trees appeared until the place resembled somewhere in Oregon as opposed to near desert, until I came across the entrance to the park. I drove on and was suddenly presented with an amazing view of the canyon to the right, where I found a place to park and walked up to the edge (there seem to be no barriers except around large easily accessible public areas) to take some photos. Fortunately I got there just as the sun was setting and so was rewarded for my tardiness with some absolutely spectacular views. There was also some controlled forest burning on the north rim of the canyon (I was on the south rim, where all of the main lodgings are) and the smoke was rather handily floating across the sun creating some excellent colours on the canyon walls. The canyon is on average 12
Northwest along Grand Canyon
Looking northwest along Grand Canyon. The smoke in the distance is a forest fire.
miles across and so far enough away to make the other side dim in the distance. It's also incredibly deep, around a mile on average, but I couldn't see the river at the bottom. After the sun had set I headed off around the rim in search of motels, driving past a couple of very expensive looking places and stopping at the Maswik Lodge, which was nicely priced and split into separate blocks of about ten rooms surrounded by trees. I went to get some dinner as it was getting late and had a rather bizarre conversation with a waiter:

Him: Are you from Australia?
Me: London.
Him: Really? You don't have an accent as strong as other Australians.
Me: Eh?
Him: Huh?

I'm getting used to this sort of thing. I also discovered that I was running an hour ahead of time. All of Arizona has decided that it uses Mountain Standard Time, which means it doesn't observe daylight savings (their equivalent of summer time) and so runs an hour behind the rest of the Mountain Time zone. Except in the Indian Reservations where, for some reason, they do observe it. It was probably the first and last time that I was early for anything.

Miles driven so far - 4225.
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