Day 16: Sunday 21st
I woke fairly early -- about 7am -- needing the toilet, and about 7.15am got up to do my teeth etc. too. I came back and lay down again, as only Cordi had got up by then. Ten minutes later I got up properly, putting the breakfast things out and the pot on to heat before tidying my things. Breakfast was uneventful and we were on the road again by 8.45am. When we stopped at the local petrol station to clean the van, I suggested to Dean we see the falls that named the city... I am glad I did as they are huge... easily a quarter mile long the river falls over the edge at an angle. The lip of the falls is now I think concrete - it is too regular - but the effect is really impressive.
The plains of Idaho are really flat, and largely uncultivated. Weirdly, there are hills that pop out of the plains just as if someone had planted them - no preamble at all! All around the northern edge there are mountains, many with snow caps which seems strange when you are baking in the sun.
The first stop was at INEL to set the the EBR-1 experimental nuclear reactor, the first reactor to produce power for a town (four bulbs for an hour on Sep 20th 1951, then the city in Dec 1951). The guy who showed us around was really interesting. We spent over an hour there, and I could have spent longer, but the next stop was lunch at Pickles resturant in Arco, where most of the group had burgers of some sort; I had a "Crater Burger" with cheese, gherkins and chips which still had the potato skins on... a very good meal. The cherry pie for afters wasn'tso good being just a prepackaged one but it rounded off the meal well.
[Ed: we visited Craters of the Moon National Monument, near Arco, too. It is very worthy of its name! It's a pity I didn't note it because it is an awesome place, the result of recent (circa 2000 years ago) volcanic activity covering a large section of the plain.]
The long drive to Mountain Home where we camped I spent partly asleep. The Idaho plain is for the most part flat, and only a part can be farmed. The rest is left to scrub. Towards the end of the journey the road rises into hills with spectacular views. At one time I saw a rock formation which really looked as if it had been carved into the shape of a head, like those on Easter Island.
The Mountain Home KOA ground was very like the one at Idaho Falls, except that there was no swimming pool. The railway was close by too, and we were interrupted on occasion by blasts on the horn from passing trains. The evening progressed quite lazily, with people taking showers, catching up on sleep and filling in diaries until supper time, when Bruno made a very acceptable chicken curry with pineapple. After supper and washing up Dean collected another $30 for the food kitty then showed us some card tricks, which were pretty good, and then played blackjack for matchstick stakes.
Day 17: Monday 22nd
I didn't sleep very well, and was woken by a shout to get up from Dean, followed shortly after by a shake on the tent! Nevertheless we did get up reasonably quickly and were on the move by 8.30am. Today there is a lot of driving, past Boise and on to Oregon before stopping for the evening at Mary Hill. I was in the front today, and enjoyed the drive from Mountain Home through the valley of the Snake River. It is for the most part fairly barren; unless cultivated or next to a river the land tends towards scrub, with grasses and sagebrush dominating the plants. Occasional conifers - Lodgepole pine? - dot the scenery. The grass too becomes more gentle - less of the tussock grass and more softer varieties.
At the Farewell Bend service station in Hells Canyon we stopped for a coffee break, where I bought coffee and phoned mum and dad. When I left the building I found Julienne doing exercises, so I joined in for a few! We carried on down the road, going into the steep valleys the Snake River has carved through the Blue mountains. As the road goes higher, and heads north, the vegetation changes and becomes more lush, with forests of Lodgepole pine covering the hillsides.
Near Bakers Town we stopped at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center where the trials of the emigrants from the Eastern states to Oregon are brought vividly to life. I bought quite a lot in the shop - a quilt for Mum, a couple of postcards, a book on the early emigrant's experiences as well as the now obligatory "story" books. Oh well, there's not much time left now although I have a feeling I might have to get another bag for the return trip. Parts of the original trail are still visible here, and the trail centre is built on the top of a hill overlooking the trail itself. The centre includes films of actors replaying events from the past as well as static exhibits with sound commentaries. It was a very powerful exhibit that had me in tears more than once. We stopped there for about 1.5 hours and I could easily have spent 3 hours.
We carried on, however, and on the road near La Grande, we encountered a brief rainstorm which was so heavy it created huge puddles on the road in a minute or so, and at one point a huge puddle seemed to leap onto the windscreen of the van, blocking visibility completely for several seconds and frightening me badly. Shortly afterwards we stopped for the scheduled picnic lunch next to the river at Hilgard State Park just past the small town of La Grande, after which Dean decided to return to La Grande as he wasn't sure he could get to the next petrol stattion with what fuel was left in the van. The town is very pretty; just like the films of American suburbs, with wide grass verges, multicoloured single storey wooden houses and lots of trees.
Shortly after La Grande, we stopped at Pendleton to get food at Safeway. I elected to stay in the car at first, but here it was too hot for me, even with the fans on, so I went inside to join the others in the air conditioned supermarket. Shopping done, we carried on, travelling on down long straight roads through the Blue Mountains to the valley of the Columbia River. The Columbia is big. I was almost as impressed with it as with the Colorado at the Grand Canyon! There are roads and railways down both sides, and vehicles on the other side look tiny; The water behaves in places much more like a lake than a river, aided no doubt by the dam.
When we arrived at the nominated camping park, the Peach Beach, but it looked so awful as a camp site we decided to stay at the State Park next to it. Supper was made mostly by Pat and Julienne, who did meatballs with veg and fried potatoes, which was quite good -- it certainly satisfied Dean's craving for meat! I went to join Dean, Cordi and Bruno on the little river beach, which was very pebbly but clean, and we threw stones into the water for a bit. After a while I went back to my tent, worried about a hair visible in my camera and wanting also to be out of the wind for a while, which was more or less constant here. The hair proved to be on the viewscreen and was easily fixed, and I just lay there watching the world go by until supper was ready.
We had hoped to go up after supper to see "stonehenge" and then on up to Goldendale Observatory (just above us). "Stonehenge" turned out to be a concrete memorial to first world war victims in the county, fashioned as the builder thought Stonehenge would have looked when new. It had none of the spiritual experience of the original though. The sunset seen from the spur of the Columbia Canyon was good though.
We did find the observatory, but it was closed Mondays and Tuesdays, so we went back to a roadside viewpoint and watched the sunset from there before returning to camp and sitting round the fire for a while. I was getting tired by this time, and went to bed fairly soon after.