Friday, July 19, 2013


We exited Mt. Rainier National Park through the South to U.S. Highway 12 which wends its way between Mt. Rainier on the North and Mt. St. Helens on the South.   The nearest road to St. Helens was closed because of snow.  We could have gone the long way and entered through a different entrance, but it was an extra hundred miles or so, and we needed to get to civilization for the evening.  I last visited Mt. St. Helens in early 1981, not long after its violent eruption.  I was single then and made the trip by myself.  It was incredible.  The volcano was still smoking and volcanic ash several feet deep lined the roads.  Many square miles of trees were leveled.  It's been over 30 years, and I was happy to see that the forest has largely recovered.

Highway I-5 comes down through Southern Washington state into Portland.  There we turned East along the picturesque Columbia River Gorge.  Interstate 84 is the most scenic superhighway I have ever driven.  It is difficult to keep your eyes on the road when you can see the strangely beautiful rock formations and bluffs on both banks of the river. The farmers in this region grow fruits and vegetables--especially cherries, peaches and strawberries. Wineries and breweries court the tourist trade.  Nobody goes thirsty here!   To our South, in the setting sun,  we could clearly see the pointy snow capped peak of Mt. Hood.


As evening fell, we decided to stop for rest in The Dalles, a town of about 14,000, located about 60 miles West of Portland on the Columbia River.  Nearby is the strangely named Horsethief Lake, a popular camping area upstream behind The Dalles Dam.   U.S. Corps of Engineers gave the lake its unusual name in the 1950's.  They saw the horses kept by the local Indians and imagined that the terrain resembled that of popular Western movies.  Well it seemed like a good name!

The Dalles is a historic town.  It was named by French Canadian fur traders who camped in the area.  The French word dalle means "flagstone" which describes the basalt columns carved out by the Columbia River.  To read the brochure "Historic Downtown The Dalles" one would think the main industry in its early days was prostitution.  The madams included Big Betty Ramsey who would drive around town in the summer in her Buick convertible greeting the judges and mayor by name.  No word on how enthusiastically they returned the greeting.  The upstairs at the old Washington Hotel was home to Madam Nora Miller who ran one of the cleanest brothels in town.  In the early 1900's, a fire claimed the hotel, and the mayor was heard to exclaim, "You know, its kinda like watching your ol' Alma Mater burn."

Today the town is the county seat of Wasco County, but the economic engine is the dam and the truck farms and wineries in the area.  Not mentioned in the guidebooks was the notorious 1984 bio terror attack when a group of Indians from a nearby commune attempted to take over the county government by deliberately spreading salmonella at 10 local restaurants just before the election in the hope that enough people would get sick to swing the election to their candidates.  This sounds like something out of Michael Crichton, but it really happened.  As it turned out 751 people were poisoned, 45 were hospitalized, but none died.  In the words of Archie Bunker, "people in communes are Commun-ists." 

Obviously the followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh had much to learn about fixing elections either the Russian way or the Chicago way--all they had to do was register the people in the cemeteries.  In any event, the FBI investigation found the bacteria sample matched that at the Rajneeshpurum medical laboratory, and the Indian group's top officials went to the Happy Hunting Ground--at the Federal Pen.    The good citizens of The Dalles were spared the spectacle of city council meetings conducted in Gujarati.

A wonderful museum captures history at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center just West of town. 
Most of it is devoted to geology and  paleontology with large murals of mammoths.  Especially interesting to me was the explanation of how the Columbia River Gorge was formed--by a series of floods--inundations--from melting snow at the end of the last Ice Age.   The ice was a mile thick, and when it melted a wall of water came roaring down the canyon taking everything with it. 


We turned South through Oregon's fertile central valley and drove on back roads in the shadow of the Cascades on our right for hundreds of miles.  first it was the stately Mt. Hood for much of that distance and then Mt. Jefferson which was originally called Mt. Vancouver when it was named by the British.  Our old friends Lewis and Clark renamed this volcano after their mentor President Thomas Jefferson.  It's last eruption occurred in 950 A.D.  How do we know that?  It was probably revealed by a study of tree rings.  Keep in mind the local Indians used a different calendar--they didn't number their years.  Incidentally, Mt. Hood last erupted in 1865. 

Anyway you slice it, the Pacific Northwest has more volcanoes--recently active ones--than any other part of the continental U.S.  Just outside Bend, OR, in the central part of the state is Newberry National Volcanic Monument, a testament to recent past volcanic activity--if one considers 7000 years ago recent.  We explored the Visitor's Center there before climbing Lava Butte, a cinder cone rising 510 feet above the plain.  We drove up the steep winding road one and a half miles to the peak where an observatory was built with a commanding view of the surrounding plains, the black rock lava beds and Newberry caldera.  In 1969, 23 U.S. astronauts trained in this rough area for the upcoming moon landings.

One doesn't normally think of Oregon as a desert, but the central part of the state is covered with desert vegetation.  The Cascade Range to the West captures most of the precipitation from the Pacific Ocean.  There, in the mountains, pine forests of fir and spruce thrive.  The pine smell is clean and aromatic. 

As we made our way into Southern Oregon, we caught a glimpse of the distant Mt. Shasta, 100 miles away in Northern California.  We spent the night in Klamath Falls at the Shilo Inn which was a real find!  It is a relatively inexpensive hotel a large step above the Super 8's, EconoLodges and even Holiday Inns that we were used to.  We felt so comfortable there that we even did our laundry.


A few miles inside Northern California is the town of Weed, which seems like an appropriate name for a town in a state where marijuana is one of the leading cash crops.  I'm sorry to disappoint everyone, but the town was actually named after an early settler, Abner Weed who built a sawmill there.    We don't know what he smoked, but the Chamber of Commerce makes money peddling t-shirts with messages like "Rollin' Weed".  Nobody in Weed is complaining as long as the tourists keep coming and buying the t-shirts.  Weed is in the shadow of the beautiful Mt. Shasta, a magnet for outdoorsmen--hikers, campers and new agers.  About the only notable person from Weed was the long time girl friend of the Doors'  Jim Morrison, who had a little too much weed in his system when he died at age 27.  

Mt. Shasta was sacred to the Indians living in the area who claimed their gods lived there.  Modern conspiracy theorists and UFO buffs picked up on this and contend that the gods were actually aliens.  We didn't see any, although some of the Californians we saw looked like they came from another planet.   According to Indian legends, everything from Lemurians to elves to aliens had been seen on the mountain.  Even Sasquatch and/or bigfoot would show up from time to time.  Among the evidence UFO promoters give is that in 1946 (before Roswell), an Air Force pilot reported seeing strange lights flying around Mt. Shasta.  To this day, we don't know what he saw, but we can all agree the scenery is awesome.  God probably would live there if He could afford it.

We decided to see for ourselves, and took the road up Mt. Shasta where it abruptly ended around the 7000 foot level and we couldn't go any further.  The mountain is over 14,000 feet high but pretty much everything above us was covered with snow.  People can hike to the top, but our aging bodies aren't in shape to do that.  Mr. Shasta, like the other mountains in the Cascade Range is a volcano, but has not erupted since 1786.


We stayed for three nights in the San Francisco East Bay area.  Having some free time, we decided to visit the town of Colma, just down the peninsula from San Francisco.  We had to cross the San Francisco Bay Bridge which is a toll bridge.  The toll is $6 until 10 A.M. at which time it drops to $4.  We arrived at the bridge at 9:58 A.M..  Darned if we were going to pay the extra $2.  Everyone else on the road had the same thought.  Hundreds of cars crept along at s snail's pace until the stroke of 10 when we all went through at $4.

The main industry in Colma is cemeteries.  According to the sign, the population is only 101.  That's live people.   There's at least 1 million dead ones.  The town motto is "It's great to be alive in Colma."   We were looking for the legendary Western sheriff, Wyatt Earp who is buried at Hills of Eternity, the Jewish cemetery.  We had learned about this when we visited Dodge City last year.
We stopped at the cemetery office where the receptionist gave us a photocopied sheet with a map to locate the grave.  It's an unremarkable grave and headstone, surprising when you consider that it is the most visited grave in the cemetery.  The printed materials explain why Earp was in the Jewish cemetery--his wife Josephine Marcus Earp was Jewish.  He and Josie were together for 50 years.  In the 1920's, the Earps lived in Los Angeles where they had many friends in the movie industry.  Earp died in 1929 at age 81.  The cowboy actor Tom Mix was a pallbearer.  Earp had no family left, and Josie brought his ashes up to San Francisco where she buried him in her family plot.  Josephine died in 1944, and they are buried together, in the same plot with Max Weiss.  The cemetery people don't know who Max Weiss was or whether he as a relative.  But he'll be forever linked with Wyatt Earp. 

I talked a little with the cemetery manager and asked him if anyone else famous was buried there.  The only other one was Levi Strauss, who invented blue jeans.  Befitting his wealth and status, Strauss's grave was the largest one--a Greek Revival structure.

Other notables buried in Colma.include baseball great Joe DiMaggio, William Randolph Hearst, Gov. Pat Brown (Jerry's father) and A.P. Giannini, who started Bank of America.  They are all in the Christian cemeteries. 


Three of us left the San Francisco area--our daughter Lisa caught a ride with us to meet her husband Dan in LasVegas the following day.  We had some time to spare, so we decided to take the scenic route down the Coast Highway, California Route 1 through Carmel and Big Sur.  We made it to Carmel by lunchtime and cruised around town, admiring the cutesy stores and restaurants.

Carmel is an artist colony town and has been for over 100 years.  It was originally settled by bohemians (with a small b) who came down from San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and set up shop.  Over the years, the town's residents have been a who's who of actors, artists and authors.  What most of them have in common is their eccentricity.  The result is that Carmel has passed some strange laws.  For example you (men or women) can't wear high heel shoes (higher than 2") without a permit.  The reason is to prevent tripping on the uneven pavement.  The good news is that the permit is free.  You don't have to hire a
lawyer or go before the City Council. 

The other strange law is that the town is dog friendly--to an extreme.  Many shops put water bowls and dog biscuits out on the sidewalk.  You can eat in a restaurant or stay in a hotel with your dog.  Restaurants even have doggie menus.  I suppose if Bowser can't eat it all, he gets a doggie bag. 

We drove down to the beach and then took the narrow one way street through the residential area skirting the coastline.  No cookie cutter houses here--these homes have character, as befitting an artist colony.  Most were built in the 1950's and 1960's.  The lots are not very big, but the ocean views are worth serious bucks. 

Politically, the folks here elected Clint Eastwood mayor.  He would scowl at his opponents and get things done.  Eastwood's campaign issue was his drive to repeal the law prohibiting selling or eating ice cream on the public street.  Essentially, he kicked out the killjoys who would take away your ice cream rights. 


Southbound from Carmel, we followed the twists and turns of Highway 1 along the coast and had lunch at the Rocky Point Restaurant overlooking the ocean.  It wasn't cheap, but the view was worth every penny.

Big Sur is the section of the Pacific Coast between Carmel and San Simeon where the Hearst Mansion is located.  I could write pages and pages about Hearsst and the Hearst Mansion, but we didn't visit it this time.  I can't resist one story about how the newspaperman William Randolph Hearst allegedly started the Spanish-American War in 1898.  He sent a photographer down to Cuba to take some war photos.  The photographer complained that nothing was happening.  Hearst replied, "You take the pictures and I'll provide the war!"  

The narrow Highway 1 is carved out of the craggy rocks with little or no shoulder or guardrails for much of it.  I glanced out to the right of our car and saw a thousand foot cliff.  I held on to the steering wheel a little tighter.  The speed limit is 35 mph, and you don't want to speed.  You probably don't want to drive this road at night either.  When there's no fog, the beautiful scenery can be hypnotizing.  It's
 easier going Northbound because you feel more safe on the same side as the mountain--except for occasional rockslides. 

The road was completed in 1937: a large part was built by prisoners from San Quentin, although author John Steinbeck, among others, also worked on the road.  The bridges are engineering marvels stretching from mountain to mountain.  The largest is the impressive Bixby Creek Bridge, 700 feet long, including a 310 foot concrete arch span.

At some points the road runs level with the beach.  On Piedras Blancas Beach near San Simeon, crowds of people watched the elephant seals plopped down on the sand in every position imaginable.  It was mating season, and the scene was one to appeal to most people's prurient interests.  These creatures, which weigh up to 4 tons, don't move well on land--they drag themselves along the sand.  They are prolific however.  They were hunted for their blubber, almost to the point of extinction.  Now protected by the government, their numbers have increased exponentially. 

Our fuel supply was running law, and it didn't appear we had enough to reach San Luis Obispo, so we looked for a gas station.  We were shocked to find the price of gas at $5.89 per gallon.   We passed up several gas stations at that price, figuring that it would be less in the next town.  You may recall the old Jack Benny routine where the holdup man says, "Your money or your life."  Jack Benny replied, "I'm thinking!"  That's how I felt.  Finally at Ragged Point we bought 20 bucks worth--about 3 gallons, enough to get to San Luis Obispo.  As it turned out, at SLO, the gas was in the $4.50 range, expensive, but not highway robbery. 

It was probably fortunate that we stopped.  Just past Ragged Point we found ourselves in a traffic jam--a long line of stalled cars.  No traffic was coming toward us either.  Curious, I got out and walked almost a mile to the front of the line and found there had been a terrible accident minutes before.  Choppers and ambulances were at the scene.  They took almost an hour to clear the narrow road.  If we hadn't stopped for gas, that could have been us in the accident. 


James Dean fans make their pilgrimage on Cal. 46, the road between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield.  At the intersection with Cal. 41, we find the James Dean Memorial Junction.  Movie fans recall that on September 30, 1955, near this intersection, movie star James Dean was speeding along in his Porsche Spyder sports car when he collided with a 1950 Ford Tudor driven by a guy named Donald Turnipseed. 
Turnipseed survived the crash.  Dean didn't.  The James Dean Memorial Junction was dedicated in 2005 on the 50th anniversary of the accident.  I got a quick photo of a 40' poster of Dean next to a gas station there.


After a long trip across the Mohave Desert, the three of us arrived in Barstow at 11 P.M. on a steamy hot Friday night.  Barstow is a fair sized town--a railroad center and the crossroads of two Interstate highways.  The Santa Fe Railroad, now part of the Burlington Northern operates a switchyard here.  Folks making the trip from Los Angeles to Vegas find Barstow a popular rest stop. 

Our plan in Barstow was to visit the Route 66 Museum. We tried to visit last year on a Monday, but found it is only open on weekends.  It opens at 10 A.M.  We had to kill about an hour, so we made our way to the local WalMart where we stocked up on bottled water, potato chips and other essentials.

The Route 66 Museum is staffed by volunteers who have other jobs during the week.  It is located next to the luxurious Casa del Desierto which was once a hotel staffed by the Fred Harvey girls.  That in itself brings tourists who still watch The Harvey Girls on late night TV.  Filmed in 1942, the popular musical starred Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury.  Now the hotel is largely a museum, but it still hosts events in the ballroom.  It was preparing for a wedding that afternoon.  The railroad tracks are a few yards away.  At least every hour, a freight train rumbles through, to or from Los Angeles.  (See KENSUSKINREPORT, July 28, 2012).


In this part of the country, people have to stop for lunch or free ice water at the brightly colored blue and white Mad Greek Cafe.  Without this restaurant, nobody would ever stop here.  Baker, CA, the gateway to Death Valley, is one of the hottest places in the country in Summer.  Everything bakes in Baker--a fifty foot thermometer across the street goes up to about 130 degrees. 

It took us awhile to figure it out but it is evident that the Mad Greek is not mad as in angry, but rather is mad as in crazy.   An old saying goes , "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun," In Baker, that makes perfect sense.  This restaurant is the local answer to Wall Drug.  Billboards promoting this place extend out for hundreds of miles, and every time we've eaten there, it's been packed!  As Yogi Berra said, "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded!" 


No Western trip is complete without visiting our money in LasVegas.  Aside from our usual haunts there, Lisa suggested that we visit the Pawn Stars, a pawn shop in a rundown neighborhood near downtown Las Vegas.  Pawn Stars is a popular TV show which I had never watched.  Apparently a lot of other people have watched it, because a long line of people stretched down the block waiting to go inside.   Standing outside on the sidewalk in 110 degree heat is not a lot of fun.  Eventually we were allowed to go inside.   They sell a lot of memorabilia of famous people at high prices.  They also do a brisk business selling t-shirts and mugs.  The shopkeepers quickly size you up to see if you are serious about paying thousands of dollars for some of this stuff.  The other 99% of the people will be steered to the t-shirt rack.   


We drove East  through Arizona along old Route 66 and I-40, passing through Kingman, Seligman, Williams (gateway to the Grand Canyon), and Flagstaff (home of the Lowell Observatory where Clyde Tombaugh discovered the planet formerly known as Pluto). We even passed the Barringer Crater, a large hole in the ground formed by a meteorite 50,000 years ago.   I've seen it twice before and wasn't about to shell out another 15 bucks apiece to drive over and see it again.  However, if you've never seen it, I highly recommend it.

We rolled into Winslow which is known for two things.  The first is LaPosada Lodge, a 1929 Spanish style hotel built by the Santa Fe Railroad conveniently next to the train station.  In the 1930's, people would get off the train for the night and stay there and be served by the beautiful Fred Harvey girls, the 1930's demure version of the Playboy Club.  This hotel has been beautifully restored to its former glory with stone and tile floors, glass murals, antiques and a lush garden.  It is notable for some of the people who stayed there in the past.   Howard Hughes stayed there several times.  Bob Hope stayed there.  Charles Lindbergh honeymooned there and designed the airport.  Even Albert Einstein stayed there.  Although he stayed everywhere else, by most accounts, Al Capone never stayed there. 

The other thing putting Winslow on the map is the Eagles' song Take it Easy.  The second verse starts out, "I've been standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see, a girl my lord in a flatbed Ford, slowin' down to have a look at me..."   The LaPosada Lodge had fallen on hard times and the town needed a jumpstart.  Then this song came along.  The town built a bronze statue of a musician and a flatbed Ford on a street corner, and the merchants in town started promoting this by selling souvenirs.  Local donors purchased paving bricks to raise money for the project. 


We spent the night in Holbrook, just a few miles from the Petrified Forest National Park.  There is not much to see in town but the Wigwam Motel, a Route 66 icon.  It consists of 15 wigwams, each 14 feet in diameter and 32 feet high, with running water.  I mention it only because a few years back, Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gayle King stayed there on their televised road trip.  They lasted about 10 minutes.  Get us outta here!  We knew better; we stayed at the Howard Johnson. 


Tucked away in the Northeast corner of Arizona, we find one of the most hauntingly beautiful national parks.  The highlight is the 28 mile drive through the park, capturing the colorful moonscapes.  Strewn around the desert are huge logs which look like wood, and they once were,  but now they're stone and quartz crystals.  Some of these logs are 200 million years old!  To prevent tourists from walking off with these things, the authorities threaten you with big fines if you step off the paved walkway or if you so much as pick up a rock.  The big logs are probably safe from us, you'd need to bring in heavy equipment to move one. 

The other interesting thing in the park are the Indian petroglyphs written on boulders.  This is the ancients' version of graffiti.  The aptly named Newspaper Rock contains more than 650 petroglyphs, with stuff like Running Bear arrested for RUI--riding a horse under the influence of peyote. Actually, I'm making that part up.    They won't let you get up close--you have to look through telescopes placed about 100 feet away.  Despite that, I was able to take some fairly clear photos of these.  They would be more interesting if I could read them. 


We breezed through Pie Town on the Continental Divide.  This town was named for a long gone bakery, but is today renowned for its annual pie festival.   A few miles down the road we could make out in the distance the huge antennas comprising the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA).  That was to be the highlight of our trip.  Karl Jansky was an engineer who worked for AT&T and is considered the father of radio astronomy.  The mother of radio astronomy was Mrs. Jansky.

The VLA is a radio telescope.  Radio telescopes are not like normal telescopes that you look through on clear nights.  A radio telescope works 24/7, rain or shine (except Christmas and Thanksgiving), scanning the skies for radio waves emanating from distant galaxies and black holes.   The VLA consists of 27 enormous dish antennas  arranged in a wye (Y) formation on the flat Plains of San Agustin, 50 miles West of Socorro.  Each radio dish is 82 feet across and weighs 230 tons.  The antennas are on short tracks so they can be rotated or moved slightly to focus better.  Taken together, the 27 dish antennas comprise a single radio telescope system with the qualities of a telescope eye 22 miles across, linked to a super-computer to make sense of the data it collects.  You can see them from 10 miles away, but they can see things billions of light years away at the edge, if there is one, of the Universe.   

One would expect this to be a top secret place, like Area 51, and I felt like I was being watched as I walked around the desert facility, looking at the mechanisms.  Many of the buildings are off limits to tourists.  The scientists have to process the data.  Signs all over insist that your cell phones be turned off because they interfere with the data collected.  The antennas are fenced in although one could easily climb over.  I didn't do so--or use my cell phone either--I wasn't sure whether snipers were employed.  They're not--actually the facility is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory which is part of the National Science Foundation. 

The VLA operates a Visitor's Center with exhibits and videos illustrating what a radio telescope does.  Much is incomprehensible to the average tourist unless he is a physicist or an astronomer.  The VLA sponsors guided tours once a month.  Twice a year, they even have a tour to the Trinity Site (first A-Bomb test), about 100 miles away.


In Socorro, the Chamber of Commerce promotes a walking tour of the historic houses in town.  The dominant building in town is the Spanish mission style San Miguel Church, built in 1821.  The historic homes are by and large similar to what you would see in any other town--they are old.  One, however, caught my eye because of who lived there.  The August Hilton House, built in 1912, is a fairly non-descript brick and stucco house in a neighborhood. that has seen better days.  Mr. Hilton owned a general store in town.  If you've never heard of him, you might be familiar with his son, Conrad who left town and went into the hotel business.  Or maybe you'd know of his great-granddaughter, Paris, who is famous for being famous, although we're not sure why.    


Fort Sumner is best known for its connection with William H. Bonney, a/k/a Billy the Kid.  His name at birth was William Henry McCarty Jr. He also called himself Henry Antrim, using his stepfather's last name.  When you've killed 21 people, you have to use a lot of different names.  That worked well for him in an era before credit reports and computers. 

Historians note that in that era, local newspapers grossly exaggerated and sensationalized his exploits, and part of that may have been promoted by Sheriff Pat Garrett to build up his own reputation.    The net effect is that BTK was much more famous than he deserved to be.  Hollywood has made at least 24 movies about him. 

The town of Fort Sumner has at least 2 museums devoted to BTK, and his memorabilia--his rifle and guns, his boots, his clothing, the list of men he killed, etc.  Billy the Kid was 21 when he was shot and killed by Sheriff Garrett in a saloon in 1881.    Like Jesse James around the same time, 50 years  later several old guys came forward at different times, claiming to be Billy, and that he survived the shooting, escaped and went straight.    They may have fooled a few people,  but none was ever proven. 

A few months before his death, BTK had shot his way out of the Lincoln County Jail, killing the Sheriff, and became a wanted man.  The new Sheriff Garrett gathered up a posse and went looking for him.  At the museum, you can see the door that BTK stumbled into after being shot.  The saloon awnings are there too. 

We visited The Kid's grave which also contains his two buddies who were killed a few months later.  The headstone is covered in a metal cage because the previous headstones kept walking off.  It is located on Billy the Kid Road. 

The locals made an effort to present a balanced view of BTK's life.  Historical revisionists claim he wasn't such a bad guy after all.  In describing him, they use the word "outlaw" in quotes--no worse than "inlaws".  The Kid was born in New York City.   His mother was an Irish immigrant.  His dad, McCarty disappeared and Billy was raised by a single mom. She moved to the West where she married Mr. Antrim.  Billy was slightly built and often bullied, and he decided he wasn't going to take it anymore. 

His first victim was a blacksmith named Cahill who had beaten him up.  BTK shot him, ala George Zimmerman, but he wasn't as fortunate as George.  Billy went to jail from where he escaped, climbing up the chimney.  He claimed self defense and felt he was wrongfully convicted.  On the lam, he made friends, especially females (including married ones)--he was a good dancer.   His friends covered for him.  He came to Fort Sumner because the nearest lawman was a day's ride away.    His luck eventually ran out.

Fort Sumner was built to protect the Navajo Indians.  In the 1860's the U.S. Goverenment decided to convert the Navajo into farmers.  They said, "We're from the government and we're here to help you."  The Feds hired the famed scout Kit Carson to round up 9000 Indians in Arizona and forcibly marched them 400 miles to their new "homes".  The "Long Walk" as it is painfully remembered today, caused much suffering and many deaths from starvation, disease and forced labor.  Eventually, several years later, the government admitted failure and the Navajo were allowed to return to their former homes. 


The last town as we neared the Texas border is Clovis, New Mexico.  Clovis was interesting to us because of its connection to the late rockabilly singer Buddy Holly who recorded That'll be the Day at the Norman Petty Recording Studio.    Holley (there's supposed to be an e in his name)  was from Lubbock, Texas, about 90 miles away. 

This studio is not real well known in town.  I had to ask for directions.  The cashier in the gas station convenience store across the street didn't know where it was or had even heard of it.   Fortunately, another customer pointed it out to me.

One can tour the studio, but you have to make an appointment 30 days in advance.  Apparently the guy who owns it doesn't want a lot of tourists like us foraging around, so the doors and gates are locked.  We tried.  We walked around and knocked at the doors, to no avail.  We didn't know about the place in advance, so we couldn't make reservations. 


We stayed one night in Pampa, Texas, a sleepy town of 18,000 in the Panhandle.  To our pleasant surprise, the most action in town at 9:30 at night was Braum's Ice Cream.  Our introduction to Braums was "as good as it gets" to quote their company motto.  They had some of the best ice cream we had ever tasted with 12 flavors, along with hot fudge, turtle sundaes, milk shakes and other goodies.  We later found Braums in other small cities we passed through in Oklahoma and Missouri.    In fact, I checked their website and learned they have almost 300 stores, all concentrated in a five state area. within a 300 mile radius from their home farm in Tuttle, Oklahoma.   They make their own ice cream using milk from their own company farms using no hormones, additives, etc.    Try it next time you're down there.


Ponca City is a small city of 25,000.  Its fortunes go up and down in response to the petroleum industry. Ponca City boasts, 2 mansions, open to the public, both once belonging to Ernest W. Marland, who founded the predecessor to Conoco Oil Co.  Marland's story sounds like the TV show Dallas.  He made a fortune in Pennsylvania oil and lost it in the Panic of 1907.  He came to Oklahoma and made another fortune. He was able to borrow enough money to drill a few oil wells.  All came up dry until, as he scraped up his last few dollars, Marland hit a gusher on the last one.

He started the Marland Oil Co., made $100 million and lost it a few years later in a hostile takeover by J.P. Morgan Jr.  He needed a job, so he went into politics.  Marland's personal life was much more interesting.  He and his wife, Virginia had no children, so they adopted Virginia's niece and nephew, George and Lydia, who were teenagers at the time.  Virginia died in 1926, and two years later, Marland married his (adopted) daughter, Lydia.  He was 54 and she was 28.  To marry her, he first had to go to court and get the adoption annulled.  I didn't know you could do that.  The story had a good ending--they were together 13 years until Marland's death in 1941.

Apparently his personal life resonated well with the voters, as he was elected to Congress for one term and then was elected Governor of Oklahoma.  A Democrat, he supported FDR's New Deal policies.

I suggested they should make a movie about this guy--then I found out, they are making a movie about him.   It will debut next year.

Conoco Oil Co. made out well also.  Around the same time Marland made his fortune, Frank Phillips led a somewhat parallel life in a nearby town, Bartlesville, where he made a fortune producing Phillips 66 gasoline. My father once owned a Phillips 66 station.  Several years ago, Conoco merged with Phillips Petroleum, and the headquarters of the merged company are now in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a company town where everything is named after Mr. Phillips.


I conclude this story with a salute to the energy and resourcefulness of the citizens of Joplin, MO. a small city devastated by a tornado a couple of years ago.    We had dinner in Joplin.  Driving from the Intestate to downtown Joplin, we could see where the tornado cut a swath about a mile wide through the town.   The people of Joplin got right to work building new homes and businesses.  They brought in hundreds of  new manufactured houses.  Much still remains to be done, but we wish these folks all the best.    

Monday, July 8, 2013


It was June 1st, and we were prepared for our annual road trip across the U.S.  As a member of the Extra Miler Club, I have a personal goal to visit as many of the 3143 counties in the U.S. as I can.  This road trip made a significant addition to my total, although I could never visit all the counties in a million years.

We left the Chicago area at 5 A.M. on Saturday morning to get a good start.   We had a few bases to cover, and beyond that we were free to explore.  Our granddaughter Christina was graduating from middle school in the San Francisco Bay area on June 12.  On the way, we made arrangements to visit with my cousin Nancy in Washington state.  I hadn't seen her in about 50 years.  We also planned to see my sister Gerry in Auburn, California as we did last year.   AAA mapped out an itinerary to see Glacier National Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, and Petrified Forest National Park, none of which we had seen before.  Because we were not on a fixed schedule for the most part, we could stop at roadside attractions as we found them.

Initially, we headed to the frigid North to see two of the coldest towns in the U.S.--International Falls, Minnesota and Cut Bank, Montana.  Although it was June, we packed winter gear for frosty temperatures.  If its cold in June, imagine what winter is like.  Fortunately for us, it wasn't snowing, but it was cold.  We spent the night in both towns.  Needless to say, we didn't need air conditioning. 


Our goal the first night was International Falls, about 600 miles from our house.  Driving through central Wisconsin, we saw signs for the Leinenkugel Brewery in Chippewa Falls.  Although I don't much like beer, we like to visit breweries for the experience.  Leinenkugel is an iconic brand throughout the Midwest.  The brewery does not compare in size to Anheuser Busch or Miller, so the perception with most people is that the beer must taste better.  I didn't taste any of the beer; I was driving.  The people there are friendly and helpful.

We didn't have time to wait for a formal tour of the brewery (we've seen others), but we visited Leinie's Lodge, a log cabin gift shop/store the size of a discount store, selling t-shirts and other items of clothing, mugs, beer (!), etc. with the company logo.  Marketing people are brilliant.  They convince us to become walking billboards for their products and we pay for the privilege. 

Further up the road, in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, where in recent winters the low temperatures approached 60 below zero F., we found a wonderful restaurant for lunch, the Norske Nook.  The town was settled by Norwegians who are used to the cold.  The Norske Nook is famous for homemade pies, 73 different varieties including stuff like lingonberry sour cream and lingonberry apple pie.  They enter them in contests and have won numerous blue ribbons.  According to the Daily Meal, the Norske Nook, with branches in other towns like Osseo and Hayward is Number 2 on the list of Wisconsin's five sweetest places.  By the way, the burgers were good also.


We crossed over into Minnesota through Duluth, the largest port on Lake Superior.  It is best known for shipping iron ore from the nearby Mesabi Range.  We stayed in Duluth once before, so we didn't need to tour it.  A cold rain was falling, but it was still daylight, and we were determined to make the last 150 miles or so through Mesabi iron range to the Canadian border.

To save time, we bypassed Hibbing, the home town of singer Bob Dylan.  Hibbing was about 30 miles out of our way.  According to the guidebook, Dylan's house (on Dylan Drive) is privately owned and not open for tours.  Virginia, the city named after a state, was interesting in its own right.  The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame is a large facility on the main highway.  Don't confuse it with the "real" Hockey Hall of Fame located in Toronto--most professional hockey players are from Canada.  We didn't visit it, but we did drive up a steep hill for a good look at a gigantic (now closed) open pit iron mine called Mineview in the Sky.  The mine is 3 miles long and 450 feet deep.  On the top of the hill overlooking it is a small museum and visitor center dedicated to the iron mining industry.

Most of the mine was under water, perhaps because it had been raining for days.  Everything in this area is supersized.  Outside the museum was parked the "King of the Lode" a 21 foot high, 240 ton dump truck with a flat tire.  The tires are almost 10 feet high.  Changing a flat is a bear.  The truck is 24 feet wide, too wide for any highway.  We enjoyed the gift shop, and we purchased a beautiful quilt made by local artisans for a bargain price. 


International Falls is the Mecca for serious fishermen in the North Woods.  The town is dominated by the Boise paper mill, and the smell from that mill permeates everything for a radius of about a mile.  The other major source of jobs comes from the tourism industry--fishing and snowmobiling.  People don't go there for the climate.  This place is cold, and snow covers the ground for much of the year.  We arrived on June 1st, and it was a balmy 43 degrees (F) in the afternoon with frost in the forecast.

International Falls' most famous citizen was football great Bronko Nagurski who starred for the Chicago Bears in the 1930's and '40's. We stayed at the AmericInn where they were hosting a fancy (by local standards) wedding in the Bronko Nagurski Room, graced with a large portrait of him.  The town built a museum honoring Nagurski's exploits with a large statue of him outside.  Across the park from Nagurski is a 26 foot statue of Smokey Bear (not Smokey the Bear).  The deal with Nagurski was that a scout from the Chicago Bears spotted him one day pulling a plow in the fields.  Most farmers would use a mule or a horse.  Nagurski was pulling it himself.  Maybe we can teach this guy how to play football!  The rest was history. 

After we ate dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, the Margarita, we decided to go across the border to Fort Francis, Ontario, looking for night life.  The border is the Rainy River which flows into Lake of the Woods.  The international bridge is a toll bridge.  The toll is 6 bucks.  We told 'em to forget it--we'll go to bed early. 

The next morning we started West across the top of Minnesota.  The town of Baudette is the walleye capital.  It appears that every town in that area is the capital of some type of fish.  On the main road is a statue of Willie Walleye, a 40 foot long fish for a photo op.    Everything is fishy around here!  We continued on to Warroad which is the only U.S. port on Lake of the Woods, and also to Roseau by the Northwest Angle of Minnesota.

The Northwest Angle is a subject for trivia buffs.  For some reason, a small portion of Minnesota juts into Canada and makes Minnesota the Northernmost state in the Continental U.S.  The reason it's there is pretty obscure.  It seems that the 1783 Treaty of Paris extended the Northern border of the U.S.  from the West end of Lake Superior through the network of lakes and rivers to the Northwest corner of Lake of the Woods.  A different treaty drew the Canadian border West along the 49th Parallel all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  They forgot to consider that the 49th Parallel was about 40 miles South of where the other border ended.  The result was the Northwest Angle.  There are no roads or towns in that area, and you can only get there by boat. 

Driving down the highway through the piney forest, virtually every vehicle we saw was towing a boat.  We didn't see too many cars; most people in this area have trucks or campers.  The North Woods is quite a rugged area, and the local culture is camping, boating and fishing.  Because of the melting snow and heavy spring rains, standing water and flooding was evident along the roads and farms all the way from Minnesota through North Dakota and Montana.  These states are flat and green, but beautiful in their own way.  With all the flooding, the corn crop is iffy this year. 


Straddling the U.S. and Canadian border is the 2300 acre International Peace Garden which is probably unique among the nations of the world.   For example, you wouldn't find something like this in the Middle East or along the Russian border.  Essentially, this garden commemorates the peaceful relations between the U.S. and Canada, at least for the last 150 years or so sharing the longest unfortified border in the world. 

We arrived there on June 2nd, and much of the gardens were not in yet.  They are not planted from seed because of the harsh winter--they use greenhouses.  The 120 foot Peace Tower, the Peace Chapel and 9/11 Monument are placed directly on the border, so you can stand in both countries at once.

In the Interpretive Center and Conservatory, we toured the greenhouse and were amazed by the different varieties of cactus, as well as other flowers.    On the day we visited, in the main hall they were putting on a folk singing concert employing guitars, fiddles, bass and other instruments.  People came with their instruments just to jam, and everyone could participate.  It was a lot of fun. 

We met several Indian (from India) families at the peace garden.  I struck up a conversation with an Indian gentleman.  I asked him where he was from.  "Fargo" was the reply, in an Indian accent.  Well I could have guessed that!  Since he was from Fargo, I asked him if he had ever visited the Roger Maris exhibit at the West Acres Mall.  "Who's Roger Maris?"  Even people who don't follow baseball usually know of the local guy from Fargo who played for the New York Yankees who broke Babe Ruth's home record.  He died at least 30 years ago, but still!  I suppose there was no point in asking him if he heard of the other famous North Dakotan, former Bulls and Lakers coach, Phil Jackson. 

Leaving the peace garden, we had to go through customs to get back into the U.S.  Fortunately we had our passports with us. 

We had a terrific fried chicken lunch in Langdon, ND, and more fried chicken at the buffet dinner at the Pizza Ranch in Minot, ND.  They make very good fried chicken in North Dakota but it doesn't have the cachet as Kentucky.Fried Chicken

North Dakota is perhaps the most prosperous state in the U.S. because of the oil discoveries in the Western part in the past few years.   Unemployment in North Dakota is almost nonexistent.  Despite this, it is difficult to attract new people to the state because of the harsh climate.  For 9 months of the year, the state experiences blizzards and frigid cold.   Also, there's not a lot of scenery to enjoy.  Most people from other states are content to make less money or pay higher taxes in exchange for milder weather.  Seriously, would a Californian migrate to North Dakota?

We made our way to Minot, a thriving railroad town, home to a nearby Air Force base.  Minot is called the "Magic City" because it grew so fast--in the 1800's.  Today every fast food restaurant and motel chain known to man is represented there.   We spent the night there.  The next morning, we drove West through North Dakota.  Oil wells dotted the countryside.  Williston, a modern day boom town is the center of the oil producing Bakken formation.  A residue of oil coated the roads and the rain splashed it up onto our car.  We needed a car wash badly.  It may be dirty, but you can almost smell the money!


As we crossed into Eastern Montana on U.S.Highway 2, the weather went from bad to worse.  Driving rain lashed into us with temperatures hovering in the low 40's.  Montana  is the fourth largest state, after Alaska, Texas and California, and we were crossing it at its widest point.  Its name implies mountains, but you have to traverse about 400 miles of flat prairie before you see a mountain.  In the rain, that's an awfully long and grueling drive on a two lane highway. 

We stopped for gas in Glasgow, Montana, the home of the Scotties.  Last year, we visited Glasgow, Scotland, but this railroad town has nothing in common other than the name.  The Scotland Glasgow is a gritty industrial city which tourists bypass to visit Edinburgh.  The Montana Glasgow is not easily bypassed; it straddles U.S. 2 and is the first rest stop for hundreds of miles.  We often talk to locals wherever we go.  In the convenience store they told us about an interesting museum in the next town featuring the dinosaur fossils found all over the state. 

Paleontologists give their dinosaur skeletons cutesy names, usually to honor the person who unearthed the bones.  For example Chicago's Field Museum has "Sue",  the tyrannosaurus Rex.   So in Malta, Montana, about 50 miles down the road from Glasgow, but not near anything else, we found the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum.  For a small admission fee, we spent an inspiring hour on a cold, rainy day looking at old bones.  We met Ralph, a new species of sauropod (discovered by a guy named Ralph--well duh!).  Other exhibits featured the Brachylophosaurs named Leonardo and Roberta.  We assume Roberta was female, but we're not sure how they would know that.   Dianne purchased a 60 million year old fossil shellfish.  It was on the shelf for about half that time, so we tried to negotiate a discount, but we were turned down.

At the local diner where we ate lunch, we were dismayed to learn that the famed Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park would be closed because of deep snow.  Despite this era of Global Warming, the park was inundated with about 60 feet of snow last winter.   As it turned out, however, the road wasn't totally closed, and you could drive about 15 miles of it and still see some spectacular scenery.  You just couldn't drive over Logan Pass on the shortcut through the park.  Instead you had to drive around the Southern boundary of the park on Highway 2. 


We spent the night in Cut Bank, Montana, about 50 miles East of Glacier National Park.  In the 1930's and '40's, Cut Bank was the oil capital of Montana.  The oil ran out and today it is home to a large wind farm.  We had a nice dinner at the Village Restaurant in a strip mall next to our motel where we feasted on a delicious stuffed green pepper soup.  The server there told us about the best shortcut to Glacier, and it was good advice.  We took the back road through towns like Babb and St. Mary to the Northeast sector of the park to see Many Glacier and Swiftcurrent Lake.  We drove 13 miles from Babb up the road into the park.  No sooner did we enter the park than a grizzly bear crossed the road in front of us. 

It was a sunny day, and the clear blue waters of the lake vividly reflected the image of the surrounding mountains.  The glaciated valleys were spectacular sights.  This was the closest thing to paradise!  The road over Logan Pass is 50 miles long, but we could get only as far as the Visitor's Center.  Then we had to double back to the main road for our trip to Two Medicine (not plural) Valley, another 7 miles up into the mountains with more breathtaking scenery--snow covered peaks and glaciated valleys.  It was still early in the season, so we didn't encounter a lot of crowds or traffic. 


The first major town West of  the Continental Divide is Kalispell, MT, which we had never heard of before.  The main attraction in this town of 15,000, according to our guidebook,  is the Charles Conrad Mansion.   It was Tuesday, and it was closed!   AAA's guidebook said it is closed on Mondays.  Irate and determined, we rang the doorbell, and the docent was kind enough to let us in.  It wasn't high season yet, so they don't get a lot of visitors during the week.  We were given a wonderful tour of the 26 room Norman style house which was built in 1895.  Most of the furniture was original to the house.

Mr. Conrad, like most Montanans, came from somewhere else, in this case from Virginia.  Shortly after the Civil War, the 18 year old Conrad left home and traveled up the Missouri River to Fort Benton.   He apprenticed to a man with no family and ended up controlling a shipping and trading empire on the frontier.  The story didn't end there, however.  Conrad saw more opportunities further West, and in 1891 moved his family over the Continental Divide to the Flathead Valley where he founded the town of Kalispell.  The name means "prairie above the lake" in the local Indian dialect.  He basically built a company town, setting up businesses and a bank.  Eventually Conrad's heirs couldn't afford to maintain the house, and they conveyed it to the city in 1974. 


We left Montana and entered Idaho, another mountainous state.  The road skimmed the shores of a beautiful Alpine lake through the twin cities of Hope and East Hope.  Hope has a population of 97, but East Hope has 200.  Maybe the names should have been switched, but in our observation, there's not much hope for either. 

After a long day of driving winding mountain roads, we found civilization in Coeur d' Alene where we had our choice of motel chains to spend the night.  Coeur d' Alene is believed to be the only city in the U.S. with an apostrophe in its name.  The name,  given by the French traders to the local Indians means "heart of the awl", a phrase describing the natives as shrewd traders.   It's hard to pronounce, so the locals call it "CDA".

The town was established in 1878 by General William T. Sherman, who made his reputation marching through Georgia.   Sherman was dispatched to the Indian Wars in the West, where he set up Fort Coeur d' Alene (later changed to Fort Sherman) and a trading post on the Columbia River.  Today, this town of 44,000 is a major crossroads on Interstate 90, and a popular resort town.   It is considered part of the Spokane metro area.

The town got a bad reputation a few years back when it was thought to be the home of the "Aryan Nations", a group of White Supremacists constantly at war with the American government and everyone else.  Coeur d' Alene boosters explain that those guys were actually located in nearby Hayden Lake.   A contentious lawsuit finally bankrupted them.  Their creditors seized their land and finally put them out of their misery. 


Only about 30 miles from CDA, across the Washington border, is the falrly large city of Spokane, Washington.   We arrived on a steamy morning, the first warm weather of our trip.   Spokane is famous for two things.  First is Gonzaga University, a Jesuit institution which, in recent years has become a college basketball powerhouse.  Second, Gonzaga's most illustrious alum, (not basketball great John Stockton), Bing Crosby has a museum honoring him on the campus at the Crosby Center.  Crosby's childhood home is right next to the campus.  We visited both.  Most people probably never thought about where he was from, but of course, everyone is from somewhere. 

Bing Crosby is perhaps the most popular American singer of the Twentieth Century and certainly of his generation (he was 12 years older than Frank Sinatra and about 30 years older than Elvis.).  Crosby's  gold records, including White Christmas (written by Irving Berlin) adorn the museum.  Everyone loved Bing Crosby except perhaps his kids, two of whom committed suicide. 

Crosby acquired his nickname from his favorite comic strip character Bingo, from the Bingville Bugle, a popular children's section of the local newspaper.  No, I don't remember it either!  Crosby received an Emmy award for the 1957 Bing Crosby Edsel Show which starred Bing, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Rosemary Clooney (George's aunt).   With all those big names, they still couldn't sell Edsels.   They couldn't give 'em away!   Crosby also won an Oscar for the 1945 movie Going My Way.  The awards are on display in the museum.

On the way to Seattle, we stopped for gas on I-90 in George, Washington, which is only significant because of its name.  Chicagoans may be dismayed to learn there is no "Harold" in the State of Washington.  The AAA guidebook doesn't mention George, but we had a decent lunch at the Subway.   George was founded in the 1950's by a guy named Charlie Brown (I'm not making this up), who built a truck stop and cafe.  Unfortunately for Charlie Brown, his profits were peanuts, and today the total population of George, Wash. is only about 500. 


We rolled into Seattle in the early afternoon on a sunny day, unusual for gloomy Seattle.  Seattle natives relish the infrequent sunny days, and they were out en masse.  We didn't have a hotel reservation, and we were concerned that a hotel in a large city like Seattle would cost an arm and a leg.  However, in the Pioneer District, we saw a sign for hotel rooms--75 cents per night.  We felt relieved.

We went into the Chamber of Commerce to get a guidebook and city map.   In particular, we were looking for the Science Fiction Hall of Fame which was in the AAA book.  After driving around downtown for a half hour or so, we eventually found it, right next to the famous Space Needle.  The Space Needle is a 600 foot tower built for the 1962 World's Fair.  Most of it is unusable except for the elevators to the top where the Observation Deck is located.  On the top are restaurants and a walkway with a 360 degree view of Seattle, Puget Sound and the surrounding areas.  Free telescopes are provided.   Looming ominously in the distance is the snow capped summit of Mt. Rainier, an active volcano which has been dormant for the past 150 years and hopefully will stay that way for a long time.  The view, of course, on a sunny day, is spectacular, and hordes of people were there to enjoy the view. 

Back on the ground, a few feet away, near the totem pole, is the EMP Museum which houses the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.  Outwardly, the building, designed by Frank O. Gehry, could have been designed by Gaudi--it looks like a blob.  Our first impressions was "What was he thinking?"  The guidebook says it is supposed to be a depiction of a smashed  guitar ala Pete Townshend of the The Who.   The What?

Be that as it may, the Sci-Fi occupies a relatively small portion of the museum.  Most of the museum is devoted to rock music which one wouldn't expect in Seattle.  You probably wouldn't expect that in Cleveland either where they house the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.  In the center of the EMP Museum is a wall of guitars--about 700 of them, approximately 50 feet high.  The exhibits celebrate Seattle natives Jimi Hendrix and the rock group Nirvana.  The guitar gallery shows the evolution of the guitar from the early 1800's to the present.  Speaking of that, I wonder if the recently deceased nonagenarian Les Paul has a museum.  Some of his groundbreaking guitars are on display in Seattle.

The Sci-Fi Hall of Fame is on the lower level and features monsters, robots, illegal aliens, movie posters and plaques honoring guys like the recently married George Lucas (Star Wars) and Frank Herbert (Dune).  Costumes from Star Wars and even Superman dazzled the tourists. 

We drove up through the North suburbs of Seattle looking for something a little cheaper than the 75 cent hotel.  We landed at a Holiday Inn in Lynnwood and it was more--a lot more.  On the other hand, the hotel had free parking, Internet service and private baths.  We stayed for three nights. 

We went back to Seattle the next morning to see the rest of the city--the Pike Place Market, Underground Seattle, the original Starbucks.  The Pike Place Market is best known for the fish guys we've seen on television.  These guys play catch, tossing a fish approximately 20 feet to each other while bantering with the crowd.  Fortunately, nobody missed when we were watching.  This is a huge farmers' market.  As tourists, we planned to eat in restaurants, so we weren't about to buy any fish.  bud we did eat a terrific fish stew at Pike Place Chowder, one of the many small diners in the market.  The name says it all.

The symbol, or mascot of Pike Place is the iconic Rachel the Pig, a large bronze piggy bank, located next to the fish guys.  This is not only a fish market; they sell meat, fresh produce, baked goods, flowers and almost everything else.  It is a 3 story shopping mall, covering 9 acres, but the vendors are small businessmen.  The original Starbucks is across the street.  Unlike the original McDonalds, there is no sign or anything else to indicate the historical significance.  When we visited, a folk singing combo was performing out in front. 

Parking is at a premium in Seattle.  We were parked in a nearby garage next to the Seattle Art Museum and were committed for 22 bucks.  There was no point in moving the car, so we walked the mile or so down to the Pioneer Historical District.  There we booked a tour of "Underground Seattle".  In my experience, every city seems to have an underground, and Seattle is no exception.  However there are no shops, nightclubs, etc. there.  It is just the basements of the buildings.  To attract more customers, the brochure describes "lust, sin, sex, debauchery" in the underground tour. We were pleased as the guide, a stand up comedian, gave us a humorous and educational description of the history of the city. 

The basements were the original ground level of the city, but a fire in 1889 destroyed most of the buildings and they had to rebuild on top of the debris.  Much of the city had been built on literally sawdust which, in a rainy city like Seattle, turns into mush.  The city fathers decided to raise the street levels as much as 35 feet.  The result was that for many buildings, the second floor became the ground floor.  Our guide admired the modern plumbing of that era, specifically the recent invention at that time by Thomas Crapper--the flush toilet. 

The main industry of Seattle was originally logging.  The logs were cut in the hills and skidded downhill to rest at the lumber yard of Henry Yesler, who made his money shipping lumber around the world.  He sold the sawdust to the city for landfill.  People couldn't say no to Yesler, and he was elected mayor. The term "skid row" was originally "skid road" and used to describe this area of the city.  It was undesirable because the sewage from the homes on the hill was pumped down to the waterfront and sloshed around.  The city planners hadn't considered that the tide takes it out--and then brings it in.

Seattle was basically a small town until the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890's.  The Canadian government would not allow prospectors to go there unless they had 1 ton of provisions (to last them 6 months).  The merchants of Seattle then had their own gold rush--selling provisions to the miners.  the city became rich overnight. 

As we all know, government cannot operate without taxes.  The councilmen made a plan to find out the most profitable industry in town and levy a tax on it.   They didn't know which industry it was.  After some research, they found that the most profitable businesses were those of young single women who described their occupations as "seamstresses."  The most profitable "seamstress" of all was one Madam Lou Graham who spread her money around liberally among politicians and got herself elected to the City Council.  

The gift shop sells postcards with a photo of Ms. Graham and her "sewing circle", all in white dresses except for one in a black dress.  We learned that the one in the black dress was actually a male "seamstress".  Graham ran a "classy" establishment with extravagant furnishings, comparable to that the famous (or infamous) Everleigh Sisters in Chicago.  Every proper "man about town" could describe the furnishings in her establishment.  During the Panic of 1893, she "saved" the Puget Sound National Bank by making a large deposit.  She also bailed out other prominent businessmen with well timed loans, thus acquiring considerable clout at City Hall 

If nothing else, with all these seamstresses, the people of Seattle were well dressed.


The State of Washington operates an extensive ferry system plying Puget Sound.  It docks at several island towns including Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.  We picked up a ferry schedule, and upon talking to others in our hotel, decided to drive up to Anacortes, about 75 miles North of Seattle to catch the ferry to the San Juan Islands.       The ferry is economical--$6.50 round trip for seniors citizens like us.  Junior citizens pay double that. 

The Anacortes ferry fit in perfectly with our schedule, as we planned to visit my cousin Nancy and her husband Lee in Bellingham, near the Canadian border.  She had tickets for us to see Three Dog Night that evening.  We looked forward to meeting her, after 50 years.  My uncle Dave Suskin, her father, was a dairy farmer near Puyallup, Washington, far from my house in Chicago, and I had only seen him and his family a couple times when I was growing up. 

Normally, this would be an easy drive on the Interstate; however last month the bridge collapsed in Mt. Vernon, WA, right near the exit for the ferry terminal.  Despite this, we got to the ferry with 5 minutes to spare.  We parked our car at the terminal although we could have driven onto the ferry, but that would cost a lot more.  We didn't need a car on the island.  The ferry ride to San Juan Island was a little more than an hour.  It had a snack shop with sandwiches and breakfast food.  It's not a cruise ship, however--there are no planned activities.  The boat does provide jigsaw puzzles to pass the time.  We came back on a different boat, and it had different jigsaw puzzles.  We thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenery of Puget Sound,  They get a lot of rain, and the islands are green.

We docked at the picturesque tourist town of Friday Harbor, home to small shopkeepers, candy stores, ice cream shops, bookstores, and trendy restaurants.  /Some residents commute to the mainland or to Seattle, but it's a long commute--no traffic though.  They can amuse themselves on the commute with jigsaw puzzles. 


We sailed back to Anacortes and drove up to Bellingham, about 30 miles from the Canadian border.  We found our way to Nancy's house which is out in the country.  She gave us a grand tour of the town.  Bellingham stands in the shadows of Mt. Baker, over 14,000 feet high.  We got there in time to see the annual World Naked Bike Ride which I probably don't need to describe for you.  About one hundred cyclists race through the streets wearing nothing but athletic shoes.  the purpose is to promote cycling and to oppose fossil fuels.  They were accompanied by 3 (clothed) police officers.  My observation of that and nude beaches in my past experience is that most people who parade around naked, probably shouldn't. 

We took Nancy and her family to dinner at the Table Restaurant, a trendy place next door to the Mt. Baker Theater, a restored art deco theater that was once a grand movie palace.   I had a delicious gnocchi with Gorgonzola and red pepper sauce.   After dinner we went to the theater for a preview party with the featured act, Three Dog Night.  I had always though they were an Australian group, but actually they are from Los Angeles.  The group got its name from a magazine article about Australia in which it pointed out that Aborigines slept with their dogs at night to keep warm.  On especially cold nights, they would sleep with 3 dogs.

At the preview party for season ticket holders, the group sat at a table and fielded questions from the audience as everyone feasted on hors oeuvre's.   My cousin's husband Lee asked Jimmy Greenspoon, one of the original members of the group, "What's the deal with Jeremiah was a bullfrog?"  Greenspoon responded that they needed a song to fill out the album they were recording.  Songwriter Hoyt Axton came in and wrote the song.  The group thought he was crazy, but they recorded it.  When the song Joy to the World made it to Number One on Billboard,  they revised their opinion of the song. 

The concert was terrific, as Three Dog Night played all the songs we're familiar with, including  One, Joy to the World, Eli's Coming, Shambala, East to be Hard, etc.    The audience was rocking.  The young couple sitting next to us were jumping up and down in ecstasy.  We decided that they were high on something, so we let them be.   The acoustics left something to be desired, but the restored theater is beautiful with wall hangings and chandeliers. 

After the concert, we said our goodbyes and drove the hour and a half back to our motel near Seattle to prepare for the next leg of our trip down to California.  But first:


Although you can see Mt. Rainier from Seattle, it's about a 2 hour drive to get there.   Mt. Rainier, an active volcano, is one of the tallest peaks in the U.S. at 14,410 feet.  It used to be several thousand feet higher before the last eruption.  Normally the mountain is enshrouded in clouds, and we didn't expect to see much.  The day started out overcast when we left Seattle, but to our good fortune, it cleared up and the sun came out.  Mt. Rainier is a national park, operated by the Federal government. 

We were privileged to see this majestic mountain in all its glory.  It is completely covered with snow.  They get over 1000 inches of snow each year, and the mountain has 26 glaciers covering 35 square miles where the snow never melts.  On June 8th, when we visited, many of the roads were still closed because of snow.  Many tourists brought their cross country skis.  By the time we got to the lodge it was lunchtime.  After driving for an hour or so on narrow mountain roads without guardrails, it was a welcome break.  The chili in the restaurant was outstanding. 

The scenery in the park was breathtaking.  Besides our unbelievably clear view of the mountain, we saw numerous waterfalls, gorges and glaciers as well as dense pine forests.  This national park is not well known outside the Pacific Northwest, but it is certainly worth the visit.