Observations from the Road – Week 2

by Carolyn L. Barkley

I have now traveled over 5,000 miles in a car with two other people and we’re still talking to one another. Last week’s article offered some observations and questions from the trip from Virginia to Portland, Oregon. Tonight I am writing from St. Charles, Missouri, just two days from home (and my own bed). I have spent so many single nights in so many hotels, I cannot remember what my room number is each night or how to get to the elevator – but wonderful food and experiences, not to mention some great local beer, balance that momentary disorientation. Here are some observations and a few questions from the last half of the trip.

1.      Last weekend, I attended the Clan Barclay International annual general meeting at the Portland Highland Games in Gresham, Oregon. I have been attending Scottish festivals for over twenty years, but find that they have changed over the years, and not necessarily for the best. Where once they were characterized by people in traditional and mostly correct Scottish attire, attendees now wear wildly inappropriate attire, blending various eras, countries, and fantasies. Somehow, the essence of Scottish tradition and customs has been diluted. If I sound like an old fogie, well then so be it, but I think that if it’s your heritage, you should honor it by being accurate.

2.      The Columbia River Gorge is absolutely beautiful with soaring waterfalls, cool temperatures, and green pine forests. Don’t miss driving through it if you are in the Portland area (and no hail on this trip!).

3.      Why do Americans need signs explaining things should be the obvious? For example, we are all familiar with McDonald’s warning us that our coffee is hot. In Oregon, however, I saw signs that stated, “Don’t pass snowplows on the right.” Really? Do we need to be reminded not to do this?

4.      I have a picture from a trip to Colorado several years ago in which I stood with one foot on either side of the continental divide. During this trip, I crossed the 45th parallel, which marks the half-way point between the pole and the equator – equally an impressive occasion.

5.      Some signs seem out of the ordinary, or even comic. One sign, instead of stating “deer crossing,” said “deer migration crossing.” Does this mean that we should look for a whole herd crossing as opposed to a single deer? A sign outside of Bliss, Idaho, advertised hot springs and included a tag line “caution: alligators.” That might give me pause about indulging in a dip in the hot springs! A highway sign, indicating locations near an Oregon highway exit stated “Boring” on the first line and (with no punctuation) Oregon City” on the second. Not a great advertisement enticement to visit! My all-time favorite announced that we were passing through No Name, Colorado, located off I-70 in Garfield County. Wikipedia states that it is named for No Name Creek and No Name Canyon, but that really doesn’t seem to explain the name.1 The real story, however, is that the area was named after the construction of I-70. When the Colorado Department of Transportation noticed that the area had no name, an employee marked “No Name” for Exit 119. The name became accepted by local residents who resisted attempts to establish a more formal name. 2 Supporting the unusual name are No Name Canyon, No Name Creek, and No Name Tunnels.

6.      We made two interesting stops on the way from Portland to Salt Lake City. The first was at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, Oregon. The multi-media displays are well done and very informative. Not only did I get my National Passport stamped (see last week’s post for more information), but I purchased two books that look as if they will provide very interesting reading: William E. Hill’s The Oregon Trail Yesterday and Today (rev. ed., Caxton Press, 2008) and Randolph B. Marcy’s The Prairie Traveler (1859, reprinted Applewood Books, 1993). This later title was originally published by the authority of the U.S. War Department as a handbook for pioneer’s traveling west, providing information about routes, first aid, recommendations for clothing, shelter, provisions, wagon maintenance, selection and care of horses, and information about the Native Americans who would be encountered along the way. The other stop was at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory, Utah. The two locomotives which met for the historic placement of the final spike, the Jupiter (Central Pacific) and No. 119 (Union Pacific), have been beautifully replicated and are on display and daily live demonstrations are offered during summer months. Of course, I bought a book in the gift shop: Derek Hayes’ Historical Atlas of the North American Railroad (Univ. of California, 2010).

7.      Reminder: Never ever forget to check the holiday hours of research institutions when you are planning a trip. When we planned this trip, we decided to include a stop at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Ignoring research planning tips that I include in lectures, I simply made the hotel reservations for the two nights that worked for our trip. Well…….. it turns out that Utah has a really really big state holiday – Pioneer Day – held annually on 24 July. I did not discover this fact until I walked through the door of the Family History Library late in the afternoon on 23 July, only to find a sign indicating that they would be closed all day the following day. Always, always check about holiday hours!

8.      Perhaps the high point of the return trip was our visit to Arches National Park outside of Moab, Utah (the positive outcome of not being able to spend Tuesday researching in the Family History Library). The sandstone landscape is awe inspiring, with soaring cliffs, impossibly balanced rocks, strange shaped pillars, and graceful arches. Once again, however, the American tourist reared her (in this case) head. The following was overheard in the visitor’s center (again, I could not make this up): Tourist: “Where are these [sites] on this map?” Ranger helpfully begins to point out locations of various rock formations and arches on the car-tour map. Tourist: No, no, I’ve already driven the whole route and didn’t see anything!” How did she miss the signage pointing out (and descriing) the features along the route, let alone, how did she miss huge rock formations rising on all sides of the road? It was a perfect visit, followed by a lovely ride along the chocolate-colored Colorado River and the canyon lands. What a beautiful part of the country! After this visual treat, we passed back into the flat, tan, plains of Kansas. Enough said (with apologies to readers who live in Kansas!)

This trip has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I am completing the trip with a new appreciation of the variety and beauty of this country’s landscape as well as a new understanding of events in its history. Above all, I have a heightened appreciation of the courage with which individuals (your ancestors, perhaps) left all they knew to go in search of a different, and hopefully better, life. I cannot imagine traveling across the plains in a covered wagon, and I can’t imagine, having done so, deciding to stop in Kansas and establish a farm on the plains. To me, the enormity of the landscape would have been more daunting than continuing to travel westward (maybe that decision was made by wives saying, “I’m not going another step!”). Instead of the months of dusty, uncomfortable, dangerous travel that these hardy individuals endured, I’ve traveled for two weeks – two weeks of air-conditioned driving, comfortable hotel beds, and great food. While I’m looking forward to being home again, the images and experiences of this trip will endure, as will the echoes of those who went before.

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1 “No Name, Colorado” Wikipedia (http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Name,_Colorado : accessed 25 July 2012).

2 Fidin, Dave, “The History of No Name, Colorado,” (http://www.ehow.com/about_5209556_history-name_-colorado.html : accessed 25 July 2012).

 

 

 

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