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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Unique Drive

In his Book "Nature," Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, "the eye is the best artist" and goes on to describe how due to its structure and the laws of light perspective is produced.  This structure, this art, that is created by our eyes is unique to each of us.  How you see a landscape is not as I see it due to the differences in perspective owed to the uniqueness of our eyes and ourselves to process the light and objects.

As Leslie and I drove up US 395 from Reno into and through Oregon to Pendleton yesterday I was thinking again and again of Emerson's eye, the artist.  What we saw on our drive yesterday was some of the most unique, and beautiful, landscape we have seen anywhere.

Crossing back into California the land was similar to what we saw further south, high desert, sage brush, valleys and large hills, mountains, winding next to rivers and creeks.   Approaching the Oregon border we started to run along the eastern shore of Goose Lake.  Goose Lake is very large, it appears to be as large as Lake Tahoe and very beautiful.

North of Goose Lake is Lakeview where we stopped for a sandwich in a local deli.  Back on the road, with each mile north we saw fewer travelers on the road, and fewer farms or other evidence of human habitation.

After several miles we came upon Lake Abert, a truly unique and interesting area.  The highway ran right on the eastern edge of the lake.  Looking across to the far side it appeared completely barren of any vegetation, just big brown dirt hills falling to the lake.  The lake itself appeared similar to some of the lakes we saw last summer in Yellowstone, white shores from alkaline or other minerals, completely still and a lack of vegetation anywhere but on the slopes of the eastern shore where we were driving.  Leslie took a picture or two and said, "pictures cannot capture this."

And we saw no one.  For perhaps 120-150 miles we had perhaps five or six cars pass us going south, otherwise we were completely alone in this barren and desolate landscape.

Driving north of Lake Abert the land became huge plains that had some cattle grazing every ten or twenty miles, sage brush, no trees, just vast space and no sign of human habitation.  For a few hours our drive was like this.  Straight highways for miles, then a few bends through some hills and then straight again.

Eventually we reached Burns, filled up the tank on the  Odyssey and pointed to Pendleton, 200 miles north and our destination.

It was as if we crossed a distinct barrier laid down at Creation, below this line shall be vast desolate spaces with little vegetation, above this line shall be forests and rivers and creeks.

The 200 mile drive was through the Malheur and Umatilla National Forests.  Climbing to peaks over 5000 feet and then dropping to valley floors.  Winding through tight turns surrounded by towering pines following a river or creek and then breaking out of the forest into a huge valley with alfalfa fields and grazing livestock, and them back into the forests.

When we first entered the Malheur National Forest we drove for many miles through small white butterflies that were flying all over the forest and roadway.  Thousands of them for miles and miles.  It looked like we were driving through falling flower petals.  When we would clear the forest we would clear the butterflies, when the road wound back into the forest we would be back in them.

When we finally exited the Umatilla National Forest and began the final 20-25 miles to Pendleton we entered a much different landscape.  Huge brown hills that would come together like large round globes pushed together, not gently sloping from one to the next but steep drops. Think of hundreds of balls of dough rolled up to make rolls that are pushed together with little valleys in between.

Eastern Oregon is beautiful in its vastness and its extremely diverse landscapes with a common theme of being an arid climate.  Our 500 mile drive was the most unique of any we have experienced and one we thoroughly enjoyed and will remember.  The eye is indeed the best artist and yesterday we were treated to a masterpiece created by The Artist.

Today we head northeast.  Going through Walla Walla, Washington, then Lewiston, Idaho and finally to Missoula, Montana.  Our drive is about 400 miles and per one of the guests at the bar last night we are in for another beautiful drive.

Today's picture is from Riley, Oregon.  This is at the junction of the 395 and 20, and the only building for miles--I guess this is all of Riley.

Hey Boss...

In yesterday's post I mentioned our friend Tim who re-located to Reno from Southern California.  Thankfully his business relocation has been a great success, this is good news for Reno, for Nevada, for his workers.  It is bad news for California.

Tim's father started a company in the 1950's that makes temperature control devices.  Tim and his brothers now own the company and Tim runs it.  Over bourbon and steaks at his home on Sunday night he related the story of his move to Reno.

Several years ago his managers came to him and said, "Hey boss, we want to move."  Tim said he kind of shrugged it off but said he gave them three major milestones they needed to meet and then he would discuss relocating the company.

Two years later the group came back to him and said, "we met all the goals you set up. We have investigated Phoenix, Las Vegas, Reno.." And the discussions began.

It seems that not only did the managers want to move but so did the workers who assembly the devices they sell.  They all wanted out of Southern California and all of California.

So after some investigating Tim decided Reno would make a good fit for his company and his employees.  He brought them up to Reno in groups to learn about the area.  With each trip it became clearer and clearer the company would be moving.

Tim told us that 23 employees relocated from Southern California to Reno, almost the entire company.  Just a few line workers and some of his sales staff chose not to make the move--and those were mostly for family reasons.  Those who moved are glad they did as they feel they have a much better quality of life for their families and lower cost of living.

As for the company, Tim says they have grown since the move four years ago, despite the economy.  They have added local workers and have no regrets about the move.

And, as Tim says, "we all got 9% pay raises since we no longer pay California income tax!"

Monday, July 30, 2012


Day two saw us waking up to a beautiful morning in the Sierras, packing up and going to the lobby for the ubiquitous continental breakfast. After one half a sip of coffee that tasted five days old and reheated at least eight times we passed and headed a few doors down to Schat's famous bakery.

Walking into Schat's one is overwhelmed with the quantity of baked products available, all of it delicious and all of it accessible.  We immediately grabbed two loaves of chili-cheese bread for our hosts later in the day and got in line for breakfast pastries and coffee (apple fritter and cinnamon roll--yes they were and yes if you are in Bishop you must).

The drive north on US 395 is a winding drive up through the valleys and canyons, north of Mammoth and June it follows the West Walker River.  Once the road follows the bends and twists of the Walker the roadside is littered with SUV's and pickups as the fishing folk just pull over and climb down to the river to entice the rainbow and brown trout to bite their fly. (Seen on a bumper sticker "Why do men fish? So they can play with their fly all day.)

Like many roads in America one's speed is often dictated by the number of motor-homes and trailers being hauled by huge pick up trucks and how long before you can pass them and get back above 40 MPH (30 in the mountains).  Having a leisurely two hundred mile day to cover we enjoyed the scenery and mosied along towards destination Reno.

Reno is an interesting city.  Expanding through the valley and having merged with Sparks, Reno has several casinos whose hotel towers spring up across the valley and also has many new businesses relocating from neighboring California (more on that later).  Around 1:00 we pulled up to our friends Shelle and Mike's home.  Immediately Mike indicated he and I were meeting friends to go target shooting and the ladies were heading off to run errands and evidently go wine tasting.

Reno is in Nevada and Nevada is decidedly not California when it comes to gun laws.  Driving northeast out of Reno about half an hour Mike pulls off the highway and into a barren area right next to the interstate.  The area has several groups of trucks with its occupants firing pistols and rifles at target set up on berms.  We pulled up to one of the groups where Mike's good friend Tim who was also a classmate of Leslie's at Cal State Fullerton, was set up with his family, including a sergeant with a Southern Californian police force.

Mike had loaded a .45 pistol and a HK-91 rifle, which I have no idea about but was told it shoot 308 bullets, which I was to find out are very powerful and very loud. Our group of about nine shooters took turns firing at targets with various guns and have a great time.  If one is to consider an insurgency in America my strong suggestion would be to avoid Nevada and the Caltagirone and Wilkinson families.

Here is a look at your intrepid writer firing a .45 caliber handgun for the first time.

You can believe I had earplugs in.  This picture gives you and idea of the backdrop for our bullets and you can see the targets arrayed on the berm.  Here is Mike with the big rifle that is quite powerful.

After shooting we met our wives at a local wine shop for a glass of wine and then headed up the hill to Lynn and Tim's home for a barbecue. Set on the top of hill at about 5700 feet in altitude we were treated to a beautiful night as we looked over the valley and slowly the lights of Reno and its casinos lit up below us.  One of the best views of the night however was Tim's grill as he masterfully worked his fire and meat to perfection.

A lot of people come to Reno looking to be dealt Aces for a winning hand.  We were dealt a winning hand just by being with our friends the Caltagirone's and Wilkinson's.  Day two was definitely Aces.

Day three will be without a set final destination, we will continue up US395 into Oregon, perhaps as far a Pendleton which is just below the border with Washington and according to Google Maps 589 miles away. So far we have traveled just under 400 miles from the front door in Long Beach. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

An Easy Start

The Odyssey mileage before heading off this morning
And we're off! One of the easiest exits from LA I can remember got us on our way this morning. Having a short first leg makes the start of the trip a bit less stressful compared to wanting/needing to cover about 600-700 miles on opening day. (Adding to the stress relief it remembering my wallet this year!).

By last year's standards our first leg was a breeze, destination Bishop, CA which most Californians know as the last town you go through before you head up to Mammoth Lakes.  It is just under 300 miles from the Lime Avenue front door and a mere six hours through mostly desert and desolate landscape.  Highway 395 is sandwiched between the Eastern slope of the Sierras to the West and Death Valley off to the East.  Even as we get further North and drive through Lone Pine, Independence and finally Bishop, the scrub brush and rock of the desert is only rarely broken by trees and greenery which is how you know there is a town coming up.

We made a stop for lunch in Mojave at a classic American diner, Mike's Roadhouse Cafe.  For those of you who travel back and forth regularly to Mammoth, June Lake or Lee Vining I suggest you take nourishment at Mike's.  It is right on highway 14 just south of the turn East towards 395 and Bishop.

We arrived in Bishop before 4:00, temperature in the low 90's and the hotel lots fairly full with fishermen and others enjoying the mountains.

When we checked into the luxurious Comfort Inn the desk guy asked us, "do you have dinner plans?"


"If you want fine dining try Whiskey Creek"

"We've been there before," I replied thinking to myself that the definition of "fine dining" certainly varies with what is available. (For those who have never been to Bishop or Whiskey Creek think Charleston's or Cask and Clever or Claim Jumper)

"Wellllll," he said with a sideways look. "If you want to go where the locals go then eat at the bowling alley."

"Um, okay."

After a few cocktails (when travelling long distances over multiple days in multiple hotel rooms bringing a bottle of your favorite spirit and several mixers is a strong suggestion) in the room, doing some work related emails, shooting off a message to the girls at camp and listening to Leslie get increasingly frustrated with her Tetris game on the iPad while watching the Olympics we headed to the bowling alley.

It wasn't hard to find.
11th Lane Bar & Grill's Road Sign 
"Behind La Quinta" is the primary direction.

Forget Whiskey Creek, or the barbecue place, when in Bishop eat at the bowling alley.  Seriously.

Leslie had a bacon wrapped sirloin and I had grilled pork chops, both came with a salad and baked potato.  The meat was cooked perfectly and delicious.  As a bonus they have regular Coors in the bottle and Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap...for $3.50 and $2.00 respectively.  Also on the menu were swordfish that was served at the table next to us that looked great, huge Prime Rib, burgers and...when have you ever heard this in a bowling alley grill?  "How do you like your ahi? Seared?"

Tomorrow we head north to Reno to visit our good friends the Caltagirone's and Wilkinson's, we are led to believe there may be some homemade barbecue in our future!

Remember, when in Bishop, the 11th Lane Bar and Grill at the Back Alley Bowl!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Great American Road Trip 2012 Version

And we're off! It is time for Leslie and I to pack the Honda Odyssey and head to the North Woods and pick up the girls from Camp Birchwood. Jenna has been there since July 9th and Blaire since the 23rd.

 Last year's route to pick up them up consisted of a three day sprint through California, Nevada, Arizona (about 10 miles), Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, South and North Dakota and finally Minnesota. About 2,000 miles in two nights. Our route home was a long first day haul to Mount Rushmore, through Wyoming and Yellowstone, down to Jackson Hole to jump the Rockies and down to Idaho Falls, south to Cedar City, Utah and Zion National Park and through Vegas to home.

 Last year's round trip looked like a diagonal cut across Western America. This year's trip will be a giant square. We will head up 395 on the eastern side of the Sierra's to Bishop and then Reno, continue up 395 into Oregon, cut across Idaho to Missoula, Montana, head to northern Montana and then east to Minot and Grand Forks, North Dakota then southeast to Laporte, Minnesota and Camp.

 Next Sunday we will depart Camp Birchwood with the plan to spend the night in Des Moines, Iowa so the girls can see the homeland of their maternal grandfather then on to Tulsa for a few nights to see the homeland of the Dad (that's me) and several generations of Smiths. From Tulsa we will head west to Albuquerque to Williams, Arizona where we will spend a few nights and take a train up to visit the Grand Canyon. Two weeks from the day we left Long Beach we will leave Williams and return to Lime Avenue in Long Beach, California.

 Google Maps has the route at 4,949 miles and thirteen states and putting me at 40 states visited lifetime (missing Alaska, Washington, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia). Here is a look at our route. We'll be posting updates on our Facebook pages and this blog site so you can follow along as we travel this beautiful nation and meet its wonderful people.