Jun 22, 2009

The Great Pacific Northwest Odyssey Part I

I must preface this travel story by saying that prior to embarking on The Great Pacific Northwest Odyssey, I planned on three things being of vital importance: A GPS device (Google Maps within my blackberry), cruise control, and a half ounce of the chronic (which almost got us into huge trouble). In hindsight, all three have been absolutely crucial in making our long drives tolerable. It blows my mind that eight years ago, when I first became a travel junky, I had no clue what a GPS device was. And kids today have no perspective into the world that was once was, where you had to match a street sign to a point on a map. How times have changed.

The Odyssey started on June 22nd, 2009. We left early in the morning from Placerville, CA and embarked on a 12 hour trek across the state of Nevada. It turned out to be a beautiful drive. I didn’t realize that the northern half of Nevada was so elevated. Yes, you’re driving in a desert. However, all along your sides there are peaks and hills, and you can tell that you are well above sea level. Highway 80 is very desolate in the middle of the state, although you do come across more little towns than I thought.

After crossing the state line into Utah, you immediately notice a change in topography. Gone are the peaks and desert. Instead, out of nowhere are the infamous salt flats of Bonneville. I can see how racers like the Indian set speed records here. There are nothing but miles and miles of flat salt lands all around you. We took a pit stop to see how the earth felt. The ground is firm yet soft at the same time. It’s like a hard-packed beach. As the sun sets, a purple hue surrounds us, with the earth white from all the excess salt. It really is a breathtaking scene.

Our journey the first day ended in Mormon country: Salt Lake City, Utah. We were very exhausted the first night, and realized that there are not a lot of places open in this surprisingly big city. The consignor recommended the Red Lion Hotel across the street, as the place had a lounge that served drinks and food late night.

This is where we met a trio of gay men who would make the folks in the Castro proud. As flaming as they get. Very friendly too. They told us how the city’s tolerance towards gays and other minorities has improved drastically over the years, although there is still a high level of conservatism in the city. We ate a good meal consisting of turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetables along with corn chowder. Crashed hard that night.

The next day we checked out the Mormon Temple, and while we knew the city had a strong Mormon presence, it still can catch you a little off guard. They’re very friendly, but also different in a way that’s hard to explain. We toured the Temple’s square, and then got on the road, heading north.

After getting a little lost, we found the place we were looking for: Antelope Island State Park. The hotel concierge recommended the place for hiking. It’s an island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. At first we had decided on camping there, since from a distance it looked beautiful. However, upon reaching the island (via a seven-mile causeway), you get a rather creepy feeling. The marina is practically empty, and so is the campground. Not to mention the island itself has a very isolated, desert-feel to it, and we noticed an infestation of bugs. After driving around for a while and checking out come of the island’s local inhabitants, including bison and antelopes, we cancelled our camping plans and decided to head back north. On to Idaho it was.

The second we crossed state lines into Idaho, everything suddenly turned green. The state looked beautiful. Lush hills all along us, really a beautiful site. After being tempted to check out a place called Lava Hot Springs (which was 11 miles off Highway 15), we settled on a small city called Pocatello. There isn’t a whole lot to see there, but we got a pretty good room at the Holiday Inn to crash for the night. We went to Sandpiper Restaurant, where they serve this really good bread with a delicious garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil sauce. Really good prime rib. Not the best, but really good.

On to day three. We took the long, scenic route to Jackson, Wyoming. First we drove through some Idaho farmlands, taking in the remote beauty, then drove alongside the Palisades Reservoir, which starts with the biggest dam we’ve ever seen. You know, the type that, if it erupted, would cause some serious, serious damage. After driving for a few hours, we ended up in Jackson Hole.