Ketchum, Idaho to Bend, Oregon (~470 miles)
We got an early start from Ketchum and had US20 pretty much all to ourselves as we went west toward its merge with I-84 at Mountain Home, Idaho. US20 departs from I-84 from time to time between Mountain Home and Ontario, Oregon but we just stayed with I-84 through Boise, Idaho to Ontario. Boise has become an increasingly interesting place to visit but not so much so early on a Sunday morning, so we skipped it this time. After Boise, we crossed the Snake River after almost exactly 3,000 miles of driving and were home again in Oregon! We picked-up US20 in Ontario, went through Vale (where the rain started up again), along the Malheur River to Drinkwater Pass, and then on to Burns, Oregon. We’ve been to Burns numerous times over the years but have never warmed to it. It’s at the intersection of two major U.S. highways (20 and 395) and is the gateway to a major bird watching wildlife area, but seems uninterested in offering much more than one good hotel, one decent sit-down restaurant (the redoubtable Pine Room – good steaks!), one coffee shop, and [now] one brew pub (but no bookstore). All but fast food was closed on Sunday anyway, so we settled for Subway. The long stretch of US20 between Burns and Bend has few services and no towns of any size, making it the most remote leg of our entire journey. But traffic was light, speed limits pushed by all, and we were in Bend in time for a coffee at Thump, a stroll around the touristy downtown, and, later, a dinner at Brickhouse (good but possibly over-priced). Bend is certainly no longer the dusty little town on the edge of Oregon’s eastern desert that I first visited back when dinosaurs walked the earth.
Chadron, Nebraska to Cody, Wyoming (~400 miles)
The day got off to somewhat of a clear start – just some high, thin clouds – as we went west from Chadron. Just beyond Chadron is Fort Robinson State Park, an historic cavalry fort that we’d visited before but we got to too early to visit this time. After traversing miles of grassland dotted with cows, we crossed the Wyoming border at Van Tassell and joined I-25 at Orin, Wyoming. We could finally see real mountains – the southern end of the Wind River Range – on the far horizon. We took I-25 into Casper, Wyoming, along the route of four trails that fueled the westward expansion: Pony Express, Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Pioneer Trail. The speed limit on I-25 is 80 miles per hour (not that anyone felt they had to go THAT slow…), so we reached historic downtown Casper in time for a large, amazing breakfast at Sherrie’s Place. We then tried to walk off some of our meal by ambling over to Wind City Books to smell the cellulose. US20 departs from I-25 in Casper and we took it northwest to Shoshoni and then into the Wind River Canyon, where we had to wait out yet another construction delay. Then it was past the largest mineral hot spring in the world at Thermopolis, Wyoming and on toward our hotel in Cody, Wyoming. The weather had started to fail us before Shoshoni and by the time we reached Cody, it was raining again. Cody is the eastern gateway to Yellowstone Park so its downtown is more than a little touristy but we enjoyed a visit to Legends Bookstore and a good dinner (buffalo ravioli, yum!) at Adriano’s before succumbing to classic 1930’s monster movies on cable in our hotel room.
Chicago, Illinois to Williams, Iowa (~320 miles)
The remnants of a Pacific tropical storm had finally reached the Mid-West and we awoke to a driving rain storm – and then spent the morning driving west through it. We weren’t allowed any respite from the rain until we reached the Ulysses S. Grant Home State Historic Site in Galena, Illinois. We stopped there primarily (OK, they had toilets too) to recognize the U.S. President that, despite a scandal-plagued adminstration, had the wisdom to create, in 1872, Yellowstone National Park. We were here years ago to hike the Illinois state highpoint, Charles Mound (1,235 feet), which is northeast of Galena. Then we crossed the Mississippi River into Dubuque, Iowa and stopped for lunch at Caroline’s Restaurant (very good fish tacos), after which we indulged ourselves on bound cellulose at nearby River Lights Books. West of Dubuque US20 is, for all practical purposes, a freeway lined with vast fields of corn and large silos to store it in. We flew along and made it to our hotel in Williams, Iowa (at the intersection of US20 and I-35, “The Crossroads of Iowa”) well before dark. Williams is small (population 344) and the only place to eat was the Boondocks Cafe (which served a marginal, but filling, dinner) across from the hotel. The Boondocks (a cafe, hotel, and gas station) clearly dated to the early days of US20, so we got to experience some of that nostalgia close-up. Unfortunately, a corporate Flying J truck stop had just opened a few blocks away and it seemed to be drawing all the truck traffic away from the Boondocks – so the future of this bit of old US20 may be limited.
Day 3: Tully, New York to Norwalk, Ohio
It rained a little overnight but by morning it looked like we’d have another nice day like we’d had in Massachussetts. But patchy clouds had rolled over by the time we got to the Finger Lakes Region, with its properous little hamlets of Auburn, Seneca Falls, and Geneva. West of there, US20 alternated between two- and four-lane road and we made good time to Lancaster, New York, just east of Buffalo, New York. The rolling hills, small towns with their classic old houses, and forests in Fall colors made this a particularly attractive stretch of US20. We had lunch at the Broadway Deli (very good soup and salad!) in Lancaster and then followed US20 – slowly – through Buffalo’s eastern and southern suburbs. Then it was along the shore of Lake Erie (which you can’t see from US20) and into Pennsylvania. We entered Erie, Pennsylvania as its schools were letting out and rush hour was beginning, so we crawled through it, hitting stop light after stop light. We’d gotten through Springfield (MA) and Albany (NY) on the weekend, so this was our first experience with regular, weekday urban traffic on US20. The glacial pace we were forced to assume made us question the practicality of going urban on US20.
Day 1: Boston, Massachusetts to Marlborough, Massachusetts (~30 miles)
Our flights on Delta from home to Boston’s Logan Airport were utterly boring; that is, they were perfect. No fellow passengers going crazy over seatbacks or armrests, no smoke in the cabin, no being bounced by weather, no flight delays, no screaming babies, nothing – just take-off, fly, eat small pretzels, land. Ahhh. We’d used some worklife accumulated reward points to take the edge off a one-way Hertz rental, which was waiting for us at the airport. Boston’s aggressive traffic is infamous but, on a Saturday night, it wasn’t too bad (and there was no game at Fenway), so, after a little kerfluffle with I-90, we reached the start of US20 West in Kenmore Square as night fell, tagged it, and then pressed on west.
We occassionally happen upon an engaging (to us at least) topic or activity that does not fall readily within the outdoorsy, non-motorized focus of this blog. This is one such “diversion” from that life on our feet.
A few years ago, I read Pete Davies’ book American Road (2002) about Captain (later General and President) Eisenhower’s 62-day expediton in 1919 to coax 69 military motor vehicles some 3,250 miles from the White House to San Francisco, on the narrow agglomerations of dirt, mud, rock, and sand that laughingly passed for transcontinental “roads” in that bygone era. It was this experience that apparently made him such a strong champion for the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, the enabling legislation for today’s transcontinental system of controlled-access highways (freeways). This book started us thinking that, someday, it would be fun to do our own transcontinental road trip (but in less than 62 days!) [in truth, this whole road trip thing is quintessentially American, and for us traces way, way back to Jerry & Renny Russel’s On the Loose (1967) or possibly Kerouac’s On the Road (1957)].
Every place we’ve lived has had a favorite local hike – one that is close-by, accessible, and short – so that you can get out into the woods for a leg stretch without committing to an epic journey. There are actually several such hikes here in the southern Rogue River Valley but two that are mentioned in every local guidebook, in several newspaper and magazine articles, and on numerous websites, are Grizzly Peak, located on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands just east of Ashland, Oregon and Wagner Butte on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest just west of Talent, Oregon (and just northwest of Ashland). After a four-day siege of wind, rain, clouds, and gloom, the LovedOne needed to muck about in the garden finishing some Fall planting and winterizing, while I needed to do some hiking. Grizzly, the easier of the two, seemed the obvious place to start, followed by the longer ascent of Wagner Butte, now wearing a good coating of snow from the recent storms.