The Dalles

Finally, a slow morning. We had coffee on the porch overlooking the river valley, then EG and I made attempts at a small home workout. We ventured down to the waterfront for lunch and then a quick wander through Downtown The Dalles to hit Oregon’s oldest bookstore, a NAPA Auto Parts, and a giftshop so Evan M could procure his roadtrip tradition: a finish line mug.

And, having failed to purchase a book in Boise, I picked up this sci-fi novel that leapt off the shelf at George when he saw it — he and the owner then started gushing about it and its author. After more than a month of straight Oregon Trail related reads, which I enjoyed more than I expected to and really made this trip what it was… I need a genre change.

Then we headed across the river into Washington for a hike that was a little more uphill than I had anticipated, which I rightly received some heckling for because this isn’t the first time I’ve done this. But the payoff — for three of us anyway — was pretty phenomenal.

Unfortunately, half a mile in, during the worst of the incline, Evan M declared an incident.

Apparently the hike was not mixing well with the fish ‘n’ chips, and an urgent return to the cabin was in order… it finally happened, we had a case of Oregon Trail Dysentery. Although from what I’ve been reading, I think I’ve deduced that what the game was calling dysentery was actually a symptom of cholera, not food poisoning. Aaaaaaaaaaaaanyway.

The Carwash

On the way back from the hike, we dispersed further. George went to go pick up some remaining supplies from the NAPA while EG and I split off to go to a carwash and the grocery so we could cook by the fire tonight (read: AirBnB has a gas range and a lovely kitchen / no-more-veggie-burgers-please). With my wagon all cleaned up, I took some photos to prepare a listing tomorrow, then we spent the evening eating on the porch and drinking over a little Legend of Zelda.

The Blue Mountains

Baker City, moreso than others we’ve driven through, has really positioned itself as The Oregon Trail City entering Oregon, so we stopped by their Centennial Obelisk and Memorial on the way out of town — which got us thinking about the date. We knew westward migration really hit its stride in the late 1840s, but it was apparently in 1843 that the first major train, nearly one thousand people, headed west.

Both in western Idaho and in eastern Oregon, The Oregon Trail Scenic Auto Tour route — which we’ve tried to take when possible — actually follows Interstate 84 — which we traditionally try to avoid. But as we snaked up the mountain pass, I couldn’t help but look off to the mountains on either side to look for the fading, long-forgotten ruts braided with present-day pavement.

The Blue Mountains is the final mountain range in the trail, and while Oregon is more green and wooded than the last two states we’ve crossed, there still wasn’t an abundance of water up high.

Water is scarce in the steep, forested slopes of the Blue Mountains and is often found only at the bottom of steep ravines. Although forage for livestock is plentiful, it is widely scattered among the trees. Oregon Trail emigrants quickly discovered that livestock could not be allowed to range to free. Many along with Honore-Timothee Lempfrit, emigrant of 1848, found “Nearly all of them strayed during the night…. consequently when morning came we found ourselves without any oxen.” Although the search for lost animals was a common experience, more than livestock could be lost in the forest.

Rest area placcard placed by … some Oregon government department that didn’t sign it.

One popular camping area with a small spring is now known as Emigrant Spring, near the top of Dead Man Pass between La Grande and Pendleton.

We stopped there for a short stroll through the trees, and again on the way down the pass — at the same spot where I stopped with the Celica the night I cut through Oregon on my way north.

Hat Rock

EG found a scenic area that looked worth a detour, saving us from further Interstate-related woes. Hat Rock is a waypoint noted on the Lewis & Clark Expedition maps and sits on the auto tour route for the highway route that follows that journey. As we cut through waving wheat fields north toward Oregon 730, we caught our first glimpse of the Columbia River, which we’ll follow from here, all the way to Oregon City.

I was surprised at the lack of greenery in north/central Oregon. It is less wooded than I expected, and except for the irrigated agricultural fields, there is still a lot of desert scrub and rocky ground.

The Dalles

After Hat Rock, Oregon 730 rejoins I-84 as it speeds along toward The Dalles and eventually Portland. The headwind was shockingly intense. It felt like we’d dropped into a tunnel focusing all the Pacific Coast’s wind straight at us. We were pushing hard to go 70mph and it felt like we were going nearly 100. I developed a few new wind related whistles and rattles. On the occasional radio calls, both the Fiero and Piazza sounded as if they were on the verge of rattling to pieces. My turn signals got stuck on-solid a couple times, too — don’t let me down now, Wagon.

We finally emerged into The Dalles and headed straight to a brewery for dinner before retreating up the mountain to our swanky cabin with a view, at which we’ll camp an extra night to regain our health and resupply — as we debate the merits of our last routing decision: do we float the river or take our changes on the Barlow Road?

The time has come my friends to talk of many things:
Of cars — and tires — and carnauba wax
of cheap cars and road kings.
And why the radiator is boiling hot
and whether redbull gives you wings.

Callo-Callay, come, rust away,
with cheap cars and road kings.

Evan Mackay

EM and I both realized that in the haste of getting underway, we hadn’t done a post focused on cars and the stories of acquiring them. He posted his on Opposite-Lock today, which has a very gearheads audience, but is definitely worth the look for his read on the situaiton:

Three Island Crossing

We started our last morning in Idaho at Three Island Crossing State Historic Site, where many pioneers crossed the Snake River en route to Fort Boise. It was a steep descent down a bluff, the tracks of which are still visible, and then three long fords across a string islands across the river.

Wednesday [August] 6 This morning we hired an Indian to show us the ford. After we saw him cross we determined to try it ourselves. We accordingly commenced making preparations. We crossed two slews to the second island. Here we put ox yokes under the wagon loads to raise them, and put four yoke of our best oxen to each of the four first wagons that crossed. These four got over safely. We then sent the teams back to fech the other three wagons… Suffice it to say we all got over, our cattle and all safely.”

Robert Haldane Renshaw, 1851. Collected by the National Park Service.

(And despite the potentially problematic screenshot above, the game does offer users a choice here: try to ford it yourself or hire a Native guide to help you across for the cost of some in-game provisions/supplies.)

An impressive visitor center is located along the trail up the shore with lots of trail history and a more thorough explanation of Native American involvement and history in the region than we usually see at sites like this. We walked down to the river, which looked impossibly far to cross and swiftly flowing.

#1: Marnie’s quote here is presented in-game. But the display this photo is from illustrates the hilariously — almost criminally — inaccurate sales pitches made back East to potential emigrants.

Fort Boise, Sorta.

We rolled into Boise without as much of a plan as I’ve made at previous stops. And given long, rural drive days recently, at EG’s suggestion, we made today a bit of a city day. Which I was quite looking forward to; Boise is a lovely city with an interesting downtown. We had one of our best lunches of the trip, poked through an independent bookstore where a couple of us found our next read, and walked over to Fort Boise City Park — which was — a giant tree and four softball fields.

Fort Boise is either of two different locations in the western United States, both in southwestern Idaho. The first was a Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) trading post near the Snake River on what is now the Oregon border (in present-day Canyon County, Idaho), dating from the era when Idaho was included in the British fur company’s Columbia District. After several rebuilds, the fort was ultimately abandoned in 1854, after it had become part of United States territory following settlement in 1846 of the northern boundary dispute.

The second was established by the U.S. government in 1863 as a military post located fifty miles (80 km) to the east up the Boise River. It developed as Boise, which became the capital city of Idaho.


Ah, okay, so Fort Boise is the city now. So we weren’t too off course. I feel sufficiently resupplied for our next stage of the journey.

The Oregon Border

And now, after Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, and Idaho… we’ve made it to Oregon Territory. What I was not ready for was to see a distance marker to Portland Oregon City on the way in.

But if I’m honest, I’m starting to see why all the things I’ve been reading have a tendency to start fading out or summarizing after the dramatic hazards of Wyoming… it’s been a long way… I’m runnin’ out of words as much as miles… But I don’t know if I’m ready for the end of this journey yet. I do know I’m ready for a beach day in The Dalles though.

Road Trip Musings (Guest Post // Evan Griffith)

I know very little about cars. Like, impressively little. Which feels like a sacrilegious confession as a newcomer to a road trip tradition in which cars—and their inner workings—are so central.

To be honest, I’ve long had a general disinterest in motorized vehicles, which made me a bit of an outlier as a kid, especially in a culture where there’s an expectation that boys will love all things that go vroom. I remember being a child and having the opportunity to pick out a Hot Wheels toy; I bypassed all the cars and sprung for a Hot Wheels-branded medieval chariot. And when it came to my Star Wars LEGO preferences—give me a Mos Eisley cantina or Yoda’s hut over an X-wing or AT-AT any day. (Dioramas? *Swoon*)

At the same time, though, I’ve always had a fixation with the *idea* of driving. It grew, in part, through music—Springsteen anthems, where cars were symbols of freedom and agency; Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” where the car was the ticket out of a dead-end town… and later the ticket out of a dead-end relationship. When I think about cars, I think about stories: Getaway cars. People running away from things, or running toward things. Races against time. I also think about how my own cars have often been sacred spaces. Spaces to think and feel and process. Transitional spaces, between work and home, between errands and hangouts—spaces where all the versions of me stitch back together, at least for a few minutes.

So while I don’t know what’s under the hood (…an engine, maybe?), I think I get some of the emotional workings of cars. What they represent to folks. What they offer. And joining a caravan of quirky cars across a changing and dramatic landscape is already sparking new story ideas.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll pick up some technical know-how along the way. My little blue Prius waiting for me back home would probably appreciate it. 

Goodale’s Cutoff

Today’s detour was not, in fact, entirely off-route. As we drove north out of Blackfoot, Idaho, I saw several signs marking the highway as the Goodale Cutoff of the Oregon National Auto Tour.

It was a desolate, dismal scenery. Up or down the valley as far as the eye could reach or across the mountains and into the dim distance the same unvarying mass of black rock. Not a shrub, bird nor insect seemed to live near it. Great must have been the relief of the volcano, powerful the emetic, that poured such a mass of black vomit.

Julius Caesar Merrill, a pioneer traveling Goodale’s Cutoff in 1864. Collected by the National Park Service.

“In 1862 an emigrant party asked guide Tim Goodale to lead them west from Fort Hall on the cutoff pioneered by Jeffrey. They hoped the alternate trail would enable them to reach the Salmon River gold fields more directly. Goodale succeeded in leading a group of 1,095 people, 338 wagons, and 2,900 head of stock safely from Fort Hall to Boise. It took this enormous wagon train — the largest to travel any section of the Oregon Trail — over 3 hours to get into or out of camp.

“By 1862, the Northern Shoshone and Bannock tribes were beginning to resist the intrusion of settlers into their homeland. In August of that year, Shoshone Indians ambushed a wagon train at Massacre Rock, killing 10 people. The growing Indian hostility along the trail resulted in increased demand for a safe alternative. In 1863, seven out of every ten wagons en route from Fort Hall to Boise took Goodale’s Cutoff instead of the main Oregon Trail.”

We began to see lava fields many miles before our turn to Craters of the Moon National Monument. But before we even made it that far, George discovered something.

EBR-1, The First Nuclear Power Plant

US Highway 26 runs through Idaho National Lab, the site of America’s first, largest push into the peaceful use of nuclear physics — for the generation of electrical power. There is a free museum at the EBR-1, the world’s first “breeder reactor,” a reactor that produces more fissile material than it requires, and produced a useable amount of electrical power beyond what was required to operate it.

And the nearby town of Arco, Idaho was the first city to be entirely nuclear powered!

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Back on the highway, it was a short drive down to the national monument. Can you imagine the despair of the pioneers who left the grasslands of Nebraska, crossed the Wyoming deserts, and arrived into the hellscape of an endless lava field? I had no idea that pioneers came this way. And while the Goodale Cutoff stayed a bit north of the park, largely along present-day Highway 26, there sure was a lot of lava rock and desolation to be had along the route. I was surprised that wildflowers and desert scrub bushes will grow out of it, so the land looks green-ish at a distance, but it would have been another stretch of little grazing and almost no usable water.

But it was beautiful and other-worldly. The fire-and-ice combination of lava fields against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks was a huge departure from what we’ve seen so far.

Tragically, the hikes into the caves lava tubes because they’re still snow-packed from a late winter storm. I was really looking forward to those, which I suppose means I’ll need to make my way back up here one day. On our hike, we did come to the entrance of The BatCave! — or, rather, a cave that bats are hibernating in, and was thus closed beyond its entrance, but the cold air rushing out of it made the cave feel like it was probably quite deep.

There were also “tree molds,” where oozing lava encased trees and branches and solidified before the wood burned away — or in other cases, the reverse, where lava seemed to have replaced wood or root systems and retained their texture and feel. Something between petrified wood and charcoal.

The Farmhouse

Tonight’s lodging in King Hill and Mountain Home, Idaho was the somewhat ominous looking wooden farmhouse without an address. I’m grateful that we managed to make it here in daylight because the place is actually much more inviting than it appears on the listing. Although as we slowly approached, EG suddenly said, “Oh, it is standing,” which I think sums up its curb appeal.

I suppose there’s been little mention of the cars over the past few days, as each has settled into its own brand of subtle dysfunction but continues its long cross-country trudge to the Great Northwest. George continues to fight periodically with the roof glass rattle, but the Fiero is running well. The Piazza still has its sloppy steering, and Evan was able to disable the heater thus restoring the usefulness of his air conditioning. And my Wagon’s spark plug mitigation is holding — and the distributor cap replacement seems to have also improved its idle, too — but it is still quite slow on hills. Hard to think I’m going to put it up for a fire sale soon… I’ve come to rather like it. And although Evan M has always planned to take the Piazza home, George is still very much undecided. He did finally buy a flight yesterday… but it is refundable.

Not entirely sure what tomorrow brings. We know we will visit the Three Island Crossing State Historic Site in Glenns Ferry, where many pioneers crossed the Snake River. We’ll also stop at Fort Boise. But we may actually spend some time in Boise, which is not our usual style, but I did note a wish to come back to Boise when I passed through here in the Celica in 2019.

There is a “Main Oregon Trail Backcountry Byway” signed in this area, which I saw reference to once on an old PDF from Idaho’s Department of Transportation, but George and I can’t find it on any maps. And often “backcountry” means unpaved, which has been rough on both the Piazza and Fiero, so we may see if we can find where it starts but not sure if we’ll take it all the way to Boise.

Fort Bridger to Soda Springs

Fort Bridger, Wyoming

We started our day at the state historic site down the road from our Mini-Cabins Motor Court and Chinese Restaurant overnight. The fort, even moreso than Laramie, was renovated and well-maintained. Many buildings that had been deconstructed have since been rebuilt.

With the decline of the fur trade and the need to find a new way to make a living, mountain men Jim Bridger and Louis Vasquez built a small fort here, in what was then Mexico, as a stopover for the Overland Trails to Oregon and California in 1843. Consisting of only a few cabins and a stockade, Fort Bridger provided thousands of travelers each year with supplies, wagon repairs, and other assistance. In 1855, the Mormon trader Lewis Robinson bought the place in order to serve the thousands of Mormon immigrants headed for Utah. The new owner built a stone wall around the fort, measuring as high as 18 feet, but its wooden portions would not last much longer. As the U.S. Army approached during the Utah War of 1857, the Mormons burned the fort and retreated west.

Wyoming State Parks.

I’m sorry, what? Utah War? The four of us looked at each other, somewhat confused, not having heard that one before. Topic to research another day, but in short, apparently a war in which Mormon settlers blockaded Salt Lake City and resisted increased U.S. Army presence in the region, fearing religious persecution. In later years, the fort served as a center of trade and tribal negotiations as well.

After Fort Bridger, we headed north to Kemmerer, Wyoming, a town with quite a fossil enthusiasm and the homestead and first store of retail mogul J. C. Penny.

Fossil Butte National Monument

Fossil Butte is a tall rise out of a deep section of Fossil Lake, which spanned several present-day states approximately 50 million years ago. It drained slowly with soft sediment which left a multitude of fossils behind. Commercial and scientific quarries have been operating here since the late 19th century.

The park entrance begins a several-mile drive to the visitor center which features sign posts of a geological timeline. At the parking lot, the scale changes and the walkway toward the building features the development life on earth. In a timeline that is more than 2 miles long, humans exist only within the last two inches.

After an amazing visitor center fossil exhibit, we walked the historic quarry trail showing a campsite of the first independent commercial excavator, who camped in the area while digging. In the winters, he operated a gas station back in a nearby town.

Soda Springs, Idaho

Our next game-inspired stop was Soda Springs, a camping and trading post just inside Idaho. When I went looking for “the spot” in Soda Springs to prove our that we’d been there, it seemed like there were several roadside signs, a park along the river, or a “world famous” mineral water “captive” geyser. So obviously we had to go there.

“Geyser erupts every hour on the hour,” is a suspicious sign in the parking lot at the end of an alley behind a bar, but it sure led to a modest boardwalk around the travertine pools of a mineral spring. Apparently in the quest to find a geothermal hot water source for a community pool in the 1930s, this erupted and was later capped, and now features this periodic mechanism to “release pressure” hourly. 🤔 ‘kay.

No one was there when we happened upon the place at 10-til the hour, but with about two minutes to go, about twenty people rushed up from the parking lot to watch the 7 minute eruption of this mineral water. It all seemed rather manufactured, but still cool. In the pioneer days, this area’s spring-fed water features were more like pools.

Traveled… along the bank of the Bear River & are encamped at Soda Springs. This is indeed a curiosity. The water tastes like soda water, especially artificially prepared. The water is bubbling and foaming like boiling water. I drank of it… We find it excellent for baking bread, no preparation of water is necessary. Take it from the fountain & the bread is as light as any prepared with yeast.

Diary of Sarah White Smith, July 24, 1838. Collected by Legends of America.

“These natural bubbling pools of carbonated water, caused by ancient volcanic activity, were first called “Beer Springs”. Visited by local Indians, fur traders, and trappers prior to the days of the Oregon Trail emigrations, the springs were rightfully considered to be one of the marvels of the overland trails.”

Grandma’s House

And then finally, we rolled into Pocatello, Idaho, to the AirBnB that most captured Evan M’s heart — what can only be described as someone’s grandmother’s house. Behold the scratch-n-sniff gloriousness of these views:

Tomorrow is Craters of the Moon National Monument, our other major detour off The Oregon Trail, but a park I’ve wanted to visit for quite a while.