UTAH ROAD TRIP 2021
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
UTAH September 24th-October 3rd, 2021
Day 1 \ Day 2 \ Day 3 \ Day 4 \ Day 5 \ Day 6 \ Day 7 \ Day 8 \ Day 9 \ Day 10
September 24, 2021
This blog has been neglected for months. That's because it is a travel blog. No travel, no blog. For the benefit of those who may be reading this in some future decade or century, I am writing from the year 2021, September to be precise. Since January 2020 the world has been searching its collective wit for a way to deal with this COVID-19 pestilence. It's a deadly bugger and the USA is bugger central closing in on 700,000 dead over the past 19 months. That's why this blog has been moldering like a forgotten heel of bread in the back of the fridge. We had plans to visit Iceland, Germany, London, and various locations in Italy. All cancelled. We can't even go to our favorite haunts in Canada. But daylight is burning and we need to get our double vaccinated butts rolling. So we conjured up a plan for a road trip. We loaded the truck with fishing gear and a 10 ft boat. Our goal is northern Utah to investigate some trout ponds at a place calling itself Falcon's Ledge. After that we'll visit the hamlet of Dutch John and stalk trout in the Green River for a couple of days. First we plan to visit some old friends in the northeast part of Washington state. That will take us over the North Cascade Pass, through Winthrop, Twisp, Omak, Republic, Kettle Falls, and Colville. We will halt our progress in Chewelah for socializing, then push on to Spokane for the night.
Now let's focus on the present moment, Thursday, September 24. We are still on Lopez Island waiting for a ferry that will swim us away to Anacortes. The system is so far behind schedule that ferry service is like trying to hitch a ride on a tramp freighter to New Zealand. It will happen when it happens. We probably won't be loaded on the boat until 8:15. If we get to Anacortes by 9:15 pm we'll be lucky. We arrived in the queue at 5:15 pm. The trip from Lopez to Anacortes is going to be 4 hours today. For perspective, a non-stop flight from Seattle to New York would be about the same, time-wise. The gallery slaves just don't row like they used to. CK, my partner in crime, was planning to grab a bite of supper from Panera tonight but they will be shut by the time we get there, as will most other joints. She is normally The Picnic Queen but somehow dropped her guard here. All we have is some remnants of last night's birthday cake (it was our pal Linda's birthday) and two ripe pears. We will have to plunder a supermarket, I think, late. We're staying overnight in Burlington so we can get an early Friday morning start on our push to Chewelah. Unreliable ferries make this a necessity.
Our sleep in the Burlington Hampton Inn was short and stuffy. These buildings are always tightly sealed and, not wanting their clientele to suffocate unnecessarily, they pump air in through pipes and filters. It never feels quite right but it's better than sleeping in the truck. As is the custom in these places, they offer food in the morning. Well, kinda. The coffee, cereal, bagels, fruit, and juice are usually the recognizable bits but today they are serving something they call a cheese omelet with some sliced sausage. This is some rubbery, flubbery stuff that could also serve as a boat fender in a pinch. But I ate it anyway. When I'm on a Road Trip I expect to encounter Road Food and that carries with it certain risks to my culinary sensibilities. This won't be the last time. Never mind! Forward!
There's a 10 foot boat lashed to the rack of this truck like it was ready for interrogation by the Inquisition and I'm missing a tie-down strap. I lost it in Canada 4 years ago and I've been putting off replacing it. Today I need another one to tighten the rigging job and get rid of an annoying rattle it seems to be making. At the Auto Zone store I quickly acquire it but I spend an annoying amount of time dealing with the packaging. The straps are wired to a plastic mold that is bulletproof. The wire cannot be removed without wire cutters, which I luckily have. But even with a tool it takes 10 minutes of struggle to remove it. They put as much energy into engineering the packaging as they do the straps! It's a pet peeve. I really need serious tools with me at all times to get at the products they sell these days.
At last we head up to the mountains following the Mighty Skagit river on route 20. At Newhalem we see the first of three stairstep dams that pen the river up in large lakes for miles back through the hills. First the Gorge dam, next Diablo, and finally Ross dam which backs water up into southern British Columbia. The weather is gorgeous and we're seeing no big trucks or sluggish motor homes to slow us down. We make good time despite stops for sightseeing and leg stretching.
We stop in Winthrop with an idea for lunch. The first sandwich shop isn't selling sandwiches. On a Friday at 12:15 pm a shop in a tourist town has no sandwiches! This doesn't seem right but, on second thought, anything is possible in Covidorama. A block away there's a very retro-style filling station with dusty store full of candy, chips, soda, Kraft mac & cheese, and rusty souvenir license plates from nearly every state. They also have a functional sandwich kitchen. At least that's what it looks like at first glance. There are two fellows on the job there. One is helping customers, taking orders, handling the sales. We later learn that he is the father of the other fellow who is working the sandwich making station. The son-unit looks like he is mid 30's. He also looks like he samples way too much of the product. He's 305 lbs if he's an ounce. Dad-unit isn't that big but he's 200+. The son-unit is on the phone when we walk in. We hear his side of the convo which is clearly about completing some kind of transaction for which a check will be unacceptable. He just doesn't trust the buyer at all. We give the father-unit our order for two sandwiches. 5 minutes later the son is still on the phone pushing back on the idea of taking a personal check for this thing he's selling. At last he gets to work on our order but is again distracted by another local guy across the counter who wants to chat. The son stops preparing our order and takes up the chat. This goes on for a few minutes until the father reels him in and puts him back on task. I have a feeling the father-unit felt CK's icy glare bearing down on him in a motivational way from scarcely 4 feet of distance. We ordered mayo on our sandwiches. This was a mistake. The son-unit, you see, makes sandwiches the way HE would like them. He coated two sides of the bread with 1/8” of mayo edge to edge. These were the greasiest sandwiches ever made in the History of Sandwiches. The other parts of the sammies were fresh enough to be ok but the mayo portion sent it to Road Food Hell to be roasted and tortured forever. Luckily we travel with towels that we place in our lap when we do food to go. We needed them this time or we would have been wearing that mayo like a cheap suit.
Our fine weather continues as we crest a series of mountain passes on our way to Chewelah. Rainy Pass is 5,400 feet. Sherman Pass is 5,500. 3 others check in at 4,000 plus. The old timers who covered this territory on horseback and wagons had a lot of climbing to do. We cover ground in hours what would have taken them weeks. We find our friends in Chewelah at 5 pm, just in time for cocktails and pizza. Larry and Rachel have an elegant home in the shady pines above the valley. They were very gracious with their hospitality. I even got to watch a few innings of Mariners v Angels. 44 years, no Pennant. I've stopped worrying. Ha! From here we are an hour away from Spokane, our next sleep. Tomorrow morning we're out for another 6 hours of highway cruising. Our way point goal is Boise for another sleep before our last push into Utah.
September 25, 2021
We wake up at the Spokane Hampton Inn. This joint is better put together than the hotel in Burlington. We got better sleep. CK even gets a morning swim in their 24/7 pool.
The so—called breakfast is much the same. It delivers sustenance but the only flavors other than that of salt, black pepper, and fat is limited to whatever comes from the plastic packet of Tabasco sauce that requires a multi-tool to open. The rubbery eggs might serve as a heat shield for re-entry from orbit. The sausage lay piled on top of each other unable to disguise their shame. I couldn't face these chafing dish protein offerings. It's as if there's a group of food engineers trying to qualify for Master of Demonic Meal Prep at McDonald's. They need to earn cred in the hotel minor leagues first. From my perspective their success is inevitable.
I am distracted by an 8 year old girl fidgeting in front of the juice machine. “I can't decide what drink I want!”, she blurts toward the machine. It would have been fun to be a ventriloquist at that moment. To my left is a 9-ish year old boy struggling with the waffle iron. He's got it cooked but it is stuck to the griddle pattern. He tries to pry it off with a fork but it flakes apart. He attacks it with his fingers, half burning them with each touch. Eventually he teases it off the hot iron and he's left with a sad pile of busted waffle bits on his paper plate.
“This is the worst waffle ever!” He directs this complaint directly to the waffly rubble in front of him. His little sister hands him 4 plastic mini-butters. “This will fix it,” she offers, “You like butter.” The mother is standing next to me. We're both cracking up.
I settle for a couple of toasted bagels, peanut butter, a cup of yogurt, and coffee. I'm not getting my money's worth out of this 'free' breakfast but my guts might escape with less of an insult.
Today's route takes us west 50 miles, not south. You can't get to Boise from Spokane, apparently. We have to go to Pasco first. There's nothing for it but to get rolling. The boat is lashed to the rack like it was welded there so we can push the speed to 65 or so. It's a lovely, blue-sky day with no appreciable traffic. Cruise control is in order. We initially plan to gas up in Ritzville, the scene of an out-of-gas incident I was party to back in 1972. Our VW van was running on its reputation when it turned onto the freeway exit ramp. As we turned the corner onto the overpass the engine failed due to lack of fumes. With the van still rolling we slid away the side door, hopped out while it was still moving and physically horked it over the hump of the bridge. Miraculously a filling station was waiting directly at the other end of the overpass. We glided the van up to the pump with no power and perfectly out of fuel. It was hilarious. Getting off at this exit would have put me back at this scene after nearly half a century. I was curious to see how it had changed. But we missed it. Bah. Instead of stopping at Ritzville we stop at a mini-mart gas station at Lind. This place is special. It is the scene of the World Famous Annual Combine Demolition Derby. Yes. And here's video evidence.
As we pull into this gritty oasis there is a white truck next to the center pumps. A fellow is standing on a milk crate making what appears to be odd gestures with his arms as he stares into the truck's side window. I use the pumps next to him. As I'm filling the tank I realize that he's locked himself out of his rig. He's using fishing line that he's somehow got around the door and inside the truck. He's trying to manipulate the fishing line to unlock the door.
I finish pumping and cleaning windows, run inside to pee, buy some chips and drinks for lunch. The dour clerk-lady calls me hun as she takes my money and wishes me a good day. She is clearly happier than she looks. Back out to the truck we check tie-downs and drain water from the cooler. We are there 30 minutes. The guy with the fishing line is still working on his locked door. His fate is unknown.
Hours down the road we avoid the soft underbelly of the ingrown empire, Pasco, through a series of cloverleafs, connectors, and ramps. We have assigned an identity to the Googly female voice who guides us through the asphalt maze. Her name is Griselda. Griselda, Mistress of AI and she is our beacon in the darkness. When we cross the Mighty Columbia for the 2nd time today she cheerfully chirps "Welcome to Oregon!". We are now on the last leg to Boise, our next sleep.
We find a freeway rest stop for lunch. Here is where The Picnic Queen (aka CK) shows her hand. She presents a Safeway Deli chicken curry over garden lettuce from Lopez along with cherry tomatoes. I sprinkle some spiced Tostitos over it and there it is. A fine lunch.
150 miles later in Northeast Oregon, the Mythical Center of No-Where or possibly Now-Here we are in need of a pee break and gas up. La Grande is the label on this roaring bit of trucker culture. There are 20+ eighteen wheelers stacked up around here. Appropriately the PA is blasting Grateful Dead's 'Keep On Truckin' at volume 9 3/4. This place wants to sell us Subway sandwiches and DeLucca Pizza but we're just here for the rest room, petrol, and a windshield scrape. The PA blasts 'Fire' by Henrdix as I slide by the display rack of Twinkies. CK is back from the loo, the tank is full, and I go hunting for pix for the blog. The lineup of land freighters is impressive so I grab a shot. The PA blasts Edgar Winter doing 'Frankenstein'. I'm thinking that this place would give me the solid creeps after dark. We're gone with no more stops until Boise.
We find the hotl with the usual help from Griselda. Immediately we are reminded that we are in a foreign country. In the hotl lobby nobody is wearing masks. The top health official in this state is an anti-vaxx/masker who refuses to endorse any of the basic guidelines. After checking in we choose a sports bar for a quick supper of salad because I am still affected by food guilt caused by the Notorious Mayo Crime in Winthrop. Nobody is wearing a mask in the restaurant, either. It's fascinating to know that a health official is openly disinterested in doing his job. It's even crazier to see that people are following his lead. We are the only ones wearing masks.
Tomorrow we push on to our Utah reservation, a place called Falcon's Ledge.
September 26, 2021
We start the day at a Hampton Inn in Boise, Idaho. The room was fine, everything works and seems clean enough. CK had another swimming experience but she reports that the pool is way too hot to be really refreshing. We also must report that hotl breakfast is still hotl breakfast. Clearly the key is to avoid any protein that needs cooking. It may be safe to eat but it doesn't 'look' that way, you know? I made a photo of my selection but it is too much like the one I made yesterday and the day before. I can't allow this kind of tedium to invade the blog. Photo deleted.
We hustle out to the rig and get moving. It's a long day of driving between here and the fishing lodge, almost 500 miles. There's also the fact that we are passing through a portion of Idaho that is so desolate and empty that Griselda is paralyzed to silence even though her signal is 5 by 5. It's enough to stun the hardest boiled of hard boiled truckers. We make optimistic observations about the 'big-sky' awesomeness of the place until some road signs appear that thoroughly body-slam that idea to the deck. They go like this:
Warning: High Winds
Warning: Blowing Snow and Drifts
Warning: Blinding Dust
Warning: Various Atmospheric Violence That Will Kill You
Warning: Deer Will Attack Your Vehicle
Warning: Zombies Ahead
Warning: Liberals Go Home
Speed limit in Idaho is 80. That means the scofflaws give themselves the divine right to drive 95. 65 is our top. Even though we can go faster it wouldn't be comfortable to do so. As a result, these Idaho drivers are using us like a slalom pole. As they whoosh past us we feel their wake tug the truck toward the center line. And I had no idea that a Ford Focus could go that fast. It can. This epiphany has no correlation, I'm sure, to the fact that we rolled up on a freeway crash bad enough to close entire highway. The State Patrol shunted everyone off the freeway into farmland to take a 10 mile detour down to the next on-ramp, completely circumventing the crash. Of course everyone hit the gas and roared off at 95 mph again. YOLO! We aren't in America any more. We're in Idaho.
Griselda wakes up, excited by the prospect of crossing another imaginary boundary. “Welcome to Utah”, she whinnies. The speed limit is the same, the scenery is too.
We need gas and picnic supplies. Tremonton, Utah seems a likely spot. We hit a local supermarket. We instantly notice that we are the sole mask wearers. There are no 'mask-up' signs on the door, no acknowledgement of pandemic whatsoever. They don't give a rip. Shopping is odd, too. CK has to search for butter because almost everything in that section of the dairy case is margarine. We have no theories about how this is so. She wants a bite of lunch so she buys a packaged deli roast beef sandwich on wheat. Upon opening the clamshell pack she discovers a slice of wheat on one side and a slice of white on the other. This produces a wry chuckle. Amazingly, or maybe not, it is also bathed in mayo to the point of greasy absurdity. I got my sammie at Subway. I have influence on the process there. My mayo is under control.
The miles fly by and there's a fly in the car. It is superbly annoying. It taunts me as I chew my sandwich. It lights on the fist holding the sandwich. I stab at it with my free hand but it flits away easily. It's taunting me now after 6 more attempts. It regards me as a blockheaded, ham handed oaf who couldn't swat himself in the ass with a cricket bat. I can hear his little housefly voice. "Teee heee heee you can't catch meeeee!! Teeee heee heee you can't ca..." Got him. I crush his hateful body into the folds of my Subway sandwich wrapper, shove it deep into the plastic bag, and knot it shut to guard against zombie fly revenge. Undead flies are disallowed. Victory is mine.
The terrain begins to soften as we approach Salt Lake City. There is now shrubbery taller than 1 meter. Mercifully, we cut toward the east before we encounter downtown. We are climbing toward Park City. This zone is quite pretty. Makes me want to take up skiing again just to hang out here in winter. The last pass we crested was 8,050 ft. Woot. We higher than a cheap pot shop on Maui.
Eventually we arrive in Duchesne, Utah, the last settlement before our stop at Falcon's Ledge Lodge. It's an unremarkable place except for the fracking sites. This town is surrounded by dozens of them, if not hundreds. Ghost town status for this place is pretty much assured at some future date.
12 miles on we turn off onto a dirt road that takes us to the lodge. This is a multi-million dollar facility, all custom designed by hot-shot architects with many one-of-a-kind features. Our room has 15 foot ceilings and a bathroom that could serve as an extra bedroom. A tree trunk 4 ft in diameter anchors a spiral staircase that spans 3 stories. The game room has a billiard table. The kitchen is fully customized for gourmet meals for 40. And we are the only guests tonight. The entire sumptuous structure is ours. Supper is New York Strip with asparagus and potato prepared by Brandy, a recent graduate of a culinary school who is now head chef. We only ate half because we want steak left-overs for breakfast tomorrow. It's what we do. I could say more about the meal we enjoyed but CK forbids it on humanitarian grounds. Let's just say that we are in Utah. Some bits will not be comprehensible or digestible intellectually or physically.
Tomorrow my goal is to get the boat in a trout pond and wet a line. This has turned into an unexpected difficulty. Drat. Details in the next chapter.
September 27, 2021
Breakfast awaits us in the 'guest fridge' today even though we are still experiencing 'baronial manor' status as the only guests in this cavernous upscale fishing lodge. The cook can't be here this morning. After all there's only two of us to cook for. Scarcely a challenge. Our version is pretty good though: ½ of a baked potato and ½ of a New York Strip. The coffee tastes funny, though. I need to help it with a giant glop of Half & Half. As we are tucking into our leftover steak brekky, Darlene, the owner, rolls out of the kitchen door and introduces herself, 32 oz Big Gulp cup in one hand, car keys in the other, 1/3 of her dyed black hair gathered in a vertical pony tail centered directly on top of her head. I would have expected the owner to be a retired hedge fund manager or an eccentric orthopedic surgeon. Not. Perhaps we'll have a chance to tease out the history of this joint but not today. We ask about the ponds and she's sorry that they are out of order. A series of downpours hit them 10 days ago and turned all the ponds into something that looks like watered down chocolate milk. Totally unfishable. She goes on to describe a crazy hot summer, hotter than anyone can recall, odd storms that are out of season, and more that sounds like a research piece on climate change. There are other ponds in better shape down the road 20 minutes if we choose. She has a map and we take it. We've come a long-ass way and I mean to get my boat wet.
Navigation to this place is easy. Just get on 87 and ride it through Altamont, a tiny berg with a gigantic high school, avoid its speed trappiness, and look for the 'Six Lakes' sign on the left. Done. We apply the secret code at the gate and that works too. Nice. There are six ponds, just like the sign said. I'm looking for one that has some boat launch characteristics. We inspect the first one. I'm pondering the situation when CK helps me decide. She says that we should look at another pond. And she was completely right. The one we were looking at was not in an aesthetic setting. The next one was. And it had better fish action. Somehow we horked all of the gear out from beneath the tarp and got the boat off the rack. We are at 6,000 ft and my 71 year old bones are starting to feel it after wrastling boat, boxes, battery, trolling motor, and other fishing gear for 30 minutes. It's 9:30 by the time we push out onto the lake and already we're getting warm. An hour an a half later, with no fish, we declare it is indeed too warm to continue so back to the lodge for a siesta. This is another annoying disappointment. I should have thought that the end of September at this altitude would produce cooler weather. Tomorrow it might. The weather app mojo says partial clouds and a high under 70.
We double back to the lodge through tiny Altamont. The lodge has no wine for us, not even a beer. We stop at a mini-mart and I grab some Estrella Jalisco which looks like Corona with a different label. This was the best they had. The rest was all Coors Light, Budweiser, and Miller. Of course I was the only person in the store wearing a mask. Nobody said anything but the check-out lady had the dead expression, drawn lips, and stink eye for me. “Have a nice day”, she offered automatically. Covid is hunting these people. I can feel it.
Afternoon fishing back at Six Lakes. 5 rod bends, 2 fish to hand. Fly fishing and the process thereof is too dull to blog about. Anyone who wants to hear about this action in detail can let me know and I'll be happy to oblige. The ultraviolet was still beating us silly at 4 pm. I couldn't wait for the earth to turn a few more degrees and make the shadows long. We pack up about 7 pm and route back through itsy bitsy Big High School Altamont. I have to stop for an apocalyptic vision on the main drag. See photo.
Back at the lodge our supper has been set aside for us. I'm happy to drain a beer and call it good but CK is busy resurrecting the meal that was served an hour earlier. First course is French Onion Soup. But, of course, in these parts it is really Freedom Onion Soup. Just kidding. Not really. But hey, I must give Brandy, the Chef, some credit. In a land of meat & potatoes, biscuits & gravy, French Onion Soup is cooking out of the box. And it wasn't terrible. It was good, for all love. Main course was a very sumptuous pork chop stuffed with something, topped with something sauce. Mashed potatoes and roasted veg. Half of it will be breakfast. It's what we do.
Before turning in we stroll out to catch some starlight. The light pollution here is lessened considerably by the surrounding desolation. We are rewarded with an awesome Milky Way. Sorry. I can't make that photo. Yet. You'll have to do with your imagination.
Ciao for now.
September 28, 2021
We are enjoying another day that doesn't include 9 hours of driving. We're still at Falcon's Ledge, a fishing and hunting lodge in northern Utah. It's our last full day here as we'll be moving on tomorrow morning. But today all we have to do is eat, hunt rainbow trout, and take naps.
Today is special in a culinary way. Brandy, the chef, makes breakfast! Mini waffles, fruit, bacon, and eggs over easy. I used to make food like this for myself when I was young and full of hope. But these days if I have more than coffee and dry toast in the morning I feel like I have plunged into a guilt filled pit of depraved gluttony. I'm in the pit now but it feels kinda good.
I can report success in sleuthing out some of the history of this enormous lodge. It was built by “Nobody Can Recall” 25 years ago for the purpose of being a center for Falconry, a sport that centers on training birds of prey like falcons, owls, osprey, eagles, and the like as hunting companions, hence the name “Falcon's Ledge”. There are some bronze sculptures in the main hall depicting this sort of thing. Not surprisingly, this venture didn't have many enthusiasts. The property has changed hands 4 times since then. In this phase of its existence it caters to hunters and fishermen. The owners are a consortium of investors that own several properties with a focus on outdoor sport and the commercialization of it. That's all I know! I only feel the tiniest bit smarter. I'm sure I'd find out more if I were to hang out here for a week, but that isn't going to happen.
We are fishing again this morning at the Six Lakes property about 20 minutes away from the lodge. After 2.5 hours of no action whatsoever we break for lunch. Back at the lodge I polish off the remainder of last night's supper, pork chops and baked potato. I never eat a lunch as sumptuous as that but it seems the right thing to do when doing road trip. A short siesta is next and a bit of lazy reading. We're back out to the lake at 3 pm. There is a steady breeze and thunderclouds are growing in the far distance. We make note of that. The fish are active, thankfully, and we get plenty of action. We notice a particular mayfly on the water which calls for a Parachute Adams to be our fly of choice. We get 21 hits but most of them are short of the mark or last second refusals. Even so, we hook and land 5 in 2.5 hours. CK got two of them on successive casts. She had the biggest fish, around 16 inches. The wind is annoying and dislodges us from our anchored spot numerous times. Tim makes a note to obtain 10 lb block anchors. We must also make changes to an anchor line and correct dysfunctional issues with the oar locks. But this is what maiden voyages are for, I guess. Meanwhile, thunder stomps the ground over the far hills. We decide to get off the water and make it back to the lodge for supper. This is our last day here so we take extra time to hork the boat back on the truck and lash it down.
Supper. We arrive just as Chef Brandy brings it out. We are the only reason Brandy is on duty tonight. We are the only diners. And it's another baronial manor experience, dining just the two of us in a gigantic, richly appointed, empty space. There are actually two other people here but they are not dining. Our meal is cheese and broccoli soup followed by barbecued pork ribs with rice and zucchini. Dessert is cheesecake. I am totally sated by the end of the soup. Most of the rest of it is going the white box route toward tomorrow's lunch.
The two other guests are Mark and Elaine from Bountiful, Utah. They are very nice folks and ask about our day, where we're from (he had no idea what the San Juan Islands were or where), how did we like Utah, etc. Mark goes on to share fishing info about great luck they've had in Montana complete with specific locations. He shows photos of 7 pound rainbows he took on surface flies there. I take notes, gratefully. He gifts me some of these magic flies which look a lot like salmon lures, and thanks me for visiting Utah. I feel like I've met The Ambassador from the Beehive State.
CK calls me out to the deck where we sit in the darkness watching static lightning flash beyond the hills. I could do with a snifter of whiskey and this lodge is drier than Brigham Young's sense of humor. Why didn't I bring it?
The atmosphere promises rain tonight and tomorrow. It may rain Thursday, too, and that could blow up one of our fishing days at Flaming Gorge. We'll see.
September 29, 2021
French toast, scrambled egg, pork sausage, strawberries, and blueberries. This is our last meal at Falcon's Ledge Lodge. Shortly thereafter our goods go into the truck, we strap in, and engage thrusters for two hours of road time to Dutch John, Utah, our next sleep. As we button things down and fire up the truck, the expected rain hits. It isn't a downpour, thankfully. It's a gentle pelting with an icy breath in it as if winter is sending a polite calling card, a considerate reminder that the liquid nature of this moisture should not be seen as an indicator of the character of future precipitation. Bad weather fits our schedule just fine. This isn't a fishing day, it's a moving day.
Griselda the Googly is running on both our phones because they alternately drop signals probably because of too distant cell towers and shifting blobs of moisture in the air. Sometimes she speaks to us out of both phones. The effect is that of a bloodthirsty android axe murderer taking the time to taunt us before removing our heads for trophies.
We gas up in nearby Altamont at a Sinclair station which uses a Brontosaurus as its logo-mascot. We soon learn that this is an illustration of what comes next on our little road trip. About 30 minutes out of Altamont we pass through a substantial settlement calling itself Roosevelt. It has a golf course and a Burger King! The landscape looks rather lush compared to the rocky scrabble and pinion juniper that we've been staring at for days, it seems. It's a little oasis of grass and trees that looks familiar. But not for long. A few miles out of town the landscape returns to desolation but this time it is quite spectacular. We are getting into the Uinta Mountains, a sub-range of the Rockies. These peaks were once the bottom of an inland sea 500 million years ago in the Cambrian Epoch. Many of them are a rusty red color due to the iron oxide therein. As you could guess, there is a wealth of fossilized sea life in them thar hills.
As we advance there are several road signs announcing that we are in the presence of tectonic processes on a time scale that goes far beyond human experience.
Squid-like fossils here!
Site of an ancient tropical sea.
Sea urchins and trilobites here!
Dinosaur footprints. Go on the Dinosaur Walk!
Our curiousity grips us. We u-turn in the highway and backtrack to the Dinosaur Walk sign. It directs us off to a side road for 3 miles. We arrive at the trail head only to realize that the footprints are 2 walking miles away over rough and steep terrain. The weather is nasty. 41 degrees and raining too. Nope. But they offer an illustration of the critter, the Dilophosaurus, a.k.a. Double Crested Terrible Lizard. It was about 20 feet long, nose to tail.
As we cruise along we try to imagine all of this once being ocean floor but the rugged terrain at this altitude makes that vision extremely remote. There are some magnificent sandstone structures and cliffs striated with multiple layers of different stuff. At one point we are driving over rocky hills that were gigantic sand dunes on an ocean shore once upon a time. The scenery is spectacular. We are stunned. We had no idea that this corner of the world existed.
The vegetation changes to alpine trees and aspens as we approach the clouds. We cross over the highest point we can reach with a car, 8,458 ft. Now it is snowing. Not enough to stick on anything but those are white chunks we see floating past the windows. Two days ago I was being fried in the heat. Today, my tillie is about to freeze.
Eventually we arrive in Dutch John but Griselda the Googly doesn't know where we want to go even though we told her repeatedly. She insists, with her monster voice, that we have arrived but we are really in a deserted RV park. After a bit of investigation I figure out that we are ½ mile off the mark. We check in at the convenience store/country restaurant. The motel is 'out back'. CK declares that the room is nice and the kitchen is great. After the deluxe accommodations at Falcon's Ledge I know that she is being purposefully cheerful. This is a fisherman's bolt hole. It is clean but quite utilitarian.
I connect with our fishing guide by phone. He will put us in a drift boat tomorrow about 10 am and take us trout hunting on the Green River. I've only been on one guided excursion like this and that was 40 years ago. That was a fail. This one should be better.
Supper was at the resort restaurant. This joint has been here since dirt made its IPO. Unsurprisingly, it has a kind of mountain-man, retro vibe. This must be the best eatery in miles because reservations are seriously recommended. There is no music in the dining room but we hear it coming from the far corner of the kitchen. We're listening to Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Canned Heat, Ray Charles, and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs among other things. Sam is his real name. He is 84. He lives in Texas now.
I order taco salad because everything else on the menu looks like 1500 calories. This taco salad is in the running for 'Most Anemic Taco Salad Ever.' The lettuce can be spotted under the cheese and hamburger only with difficulty. Once found it is limp, greasy, and sad. It may have been fresh a couple of days ago but that's just a guess. The chips are only slightly fresher. I must make a note to myself: these kinds of places are all meat and potatoes. It's just what they do. I should never sample anything that doesn't conform with that formula. CK has chicken parm. I ask her how it is. I get an eyeball and a shrug. I don't know why CK orders dessert but she chooses peach cobbler with ice cream. It displays something that looks like a crust. As it turns out, looks can be deceiving. Thoughtfully, our waitress, Shay, leaves the ketchup on the table.
Tomorrow we experience the Green River for the first time.
Ciao for now.
September 30, 2021
No driving today. Today is an excursion on the Green River, a 5 hour float through the Flaming Gorge. We gulp a bite of breakfast in the resort eatery and prepare for our 10 a.m. meeting with Lance, our guide for the day. There was a spot of rain overnight and the air still has an icy hint in it. We layer up and bring the gloves.
Lance is a portly fellow, about the 270 lb range. Neatness is not his forte. He is wearing well worn bib waders and a dirty sweatshirt. The gray in his unkempt beard and equally randomized hair speaks of a man in his mid 50's. We ride in his car which is towing the drift boat. It's a compact hatchback, I didn't catch the make. This isn't the kind of car a river rat uses to trailer his boat. Later we find out that his vehicle of choice broke down and this one is an emergency spare. As we squeeze into the back seat the red sand crunches under our shoes. Various discarded flies, strike indicators, leader bits, broken plastic parts are stuck in the carpet. The headliner is filthy and the upholstery has a few holes. The windshield has a 3 foot crack. This thing sees plenty of hard duty, never the business end of a vacuum cleaner. Lance isn't chatty. His style could be interpreted as easy going, not very excitable, perhaps more than a bit jaded. He's been guiding over-amped greenhorns, over-equipped rookies, and cranky self-styled experts for years. He's seen it all. I imagine that this contributes to his low key, laconic attitude. At times he seems bored but we also have the sense that he's paying close attention.
Off we go in the car with drift boat in tow down into the canyon where we encounter the Flaming Gorge Dam and its reservoir. The amazing scenery resumes as the road crosses the very top of it. The boat launch is another descent down to the dam's 'tail waters'. This is the place where the Green River resumes its flow after having been held in the 91 mile lake above it. This is a spooky feeling: to know that KaFreekinKaTrillion tons of water are literally hanging over our heads, held back by a man-made wall of concrete.
Fishing gear loaded, life jackets donned, the moment comes to go floating. A drift boat like this is set up for 3 people. The guide pilots the craft from the middle seat. One fisherman goes in the bow, the other in the stern. CK wants the stern but I think it best for her to take the bow. It will be easier for Lance to keep an eye on her.
I've been a lake fisherman for decades. CK has spent several hours in a boat on lakes with me but her skills with a fly rod are (ahem) limited. My river skills are quite sad but we're here to learn and gawk at the scenery. Right away, Lance tears off the fly and leader that I've set up and replaces it with a double fly arrangement that I've never used. Basically, 5 ft down the leader a large fly with white fluff is tied in. This is mostly a strike indicator but it is also vaguely suggestive of a fat cricket or something like it just in case a deranged fish decides to mistake it for a nutritious bit of protein. Another 4 ft leader is tied to the bend of this fly's hook. At the end of this leader is a size 22 Parachute Adams. I never handle hooks this small. I'm not even sure I could thread the leader through the eye. We are completely dependent on him to rig our gear. Casting this setup is a new challenge for me. Having two flies on the leader changes the movement of the line and its rhythm. I create some epic tangles at first before I get used to it. CK gets a 45 minute casting lesson from Lance. Perhaps she will listen to him. She doesn't listen to me. It is an immutable law of the universe. The girlfriend never takes instruction from the boyfriend. (CK objects to this observation. She insists that she DOES listen.)
Lance points out the tiny size 30 Mayflies hatching off the surface, then we see fish noses and fins as they swarm around dining on the abundance. Our tiny flies are 4 sizes too big. Too big!! There are lots of fish around us but we don't hook any. We don't even get a polite visit. Gradually, as the fish ignore us we become more aware of where we are. The red sandstone walls of this canyon are now towering several hundred feet above us. The maples along the shore are electric yellow. There is no sound except water over the rocks. We bump over some rapids. This is worth it just for the ride.
Lance guides the boat to more fishing hotspots. We can see trout against the sandy places on the river bottom. Others are lazily slurping bugs on the surface. Our lines remain slack but we're getting awesome views of the river. About noon we pass other groups who have gone ashore and set up their small camps for lunch. We won't be doing that. Our trip is set for half day.
Our float is 7.5 miles of world class, unforgettable scenery and a thorough skunking in the trout fishing department. As we approach the take-out, Tim the Oaf creates another epic tangle with his leader. I failed to mention something earlier. These guides use barbed hooks which is weird. Catch and release is the rule with all the guides here. Why they don't pinch the barb off the hook is a mystery, because doing so aids in releasing the fish unharmed. Anyhow, back to Tim's titanic tangle of leader and double tied flies at the take-out. He reaches for the mess and its an awkward move. The hook of the large fly finds a home in the flesh surrounding the intermediate phalange of his left middle finger... barb and all. Ouch. Tim is sweating it a more than a little, positively certain that significantly more pain is in store. Obviously the hook needs to come out but that barb is buried in there. Double ouch. Lance calmly examines the situation. He takes a length of 40 lb monofilament and makes a quick loop. He fits the loop to the bend of the hook imbedded in my finger, then grips my hand tight. “Are you ready? I'm going to count to three.” He lies. There is no counting. He jerks it straight out by pulling on the loop. I didn't have a moment to worry about it and it scarcely hurt. There was more pain involved when I first stuck myself with it. Strange how our brains work. I congratulated his cleverness and got him to smile for the first time all day.
We are skunked but the day has been awesome. CK is very pleased with the experience. My finger is a bit sore but we both agree that Lance did a superior job for us. We give him a fat tip.
We are dining on leftovers tonight.
Tomorrow we float the Green River again.
Ciao for now.
October 1, 2021
We are near the village of Dutch John, Utah, just a spit and a hop away from the Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River. Our room here is the equivalent of a very small 1 bedroom apartment, plain, but with all the basic amenities. We are here to float the river and attempt to get some fish to grab the end of our fly lines. We took a 7.5 mile guided float yesterday. We'll do the same today but with a different guide.
Our guided trip starts at 8 a.m. when we meet Mr. River Rat in front of the restaurant. If we want breakfast we need to be there when the restaurant doors open at 7. We are the only customers. We've had several moments like this in Utah where just CK and me are alone in a space designed for a crowd. So far we haven't discovered any particular significance attached to this phenomenon other than a sneaking hunch that we may be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Breakfast done, we learn that our fishing guide for the day will be Benny. He rolls up precisely at 8 a.m. with drift boat in tow. Quick introductions all around and how are you today? “Ahm worn out.” This is an echo from Lance, yesterday's guide, who made it clear that he was plum tired of guiding fisherman. Too much work, too many customers, no days off, etc. These guys are burned out. Benny reports that he's had 3 days off since the beginning of the season in April. But this could be exaggeration. How can we tell? Because this first encounter is only the faintest trickle of a fire hose of Blarney that does not cease the entire time we are with him.
The first thing we must know is that he is famous. All the guides look up to him. He swapped flies and techniques with fly fishing legend Lefty Kreh. Celebrities are on his speed dial. He once scolded Kevin Costner for wading on the brown trout spawning beds at Little Hole on the Green. As he tells it, Costner seeks him out at the restaurant later that evening and asks for more advice. As a result, Costner becomes his customer. He invents his own flies and they are famous too. His credentials established, the rest of the day is a non-stop narration of his 4 generations of ancestors that go back to pioneer days in Wyoming but his father is really his step-father. His mother won't tell him who his biological father is. We hear about his politics and how Liz Cheney, who is now a Democrat, he says, is done in Wyoming, the only state where all the counties are Republican. We hear about his career as a welder but not just a welder but the best welder ever. All the welders looked up to him. He had celebrity welders on his speed dial. He caught a 7 lb brown trout at the age of 5. When he was guiding in Wyoming, fishermen would book his services five years in advance. Sports shows and conventions beg him to appear at their events. Fishing gear manufacturers are always asking him to rep their goods. We are with him for nearly 5 hours and he scarcely pauses for breath. It is a non-stop stream of consciousness, odd confessions, and self promotion with a kind of a gravelly, lazy western drawl that puts a soft edge on it all. With this gritty soundtrack in my head I'm trying to find a way to catch a fish. Lots of words are coming fast and heavy but we aren't getting a lot advice about how to fish the river or where to cast our flies. Several times I ask him to time-out a bit to explain things fishing related.
It's not all craziness. He dots in interesting information along with the Blarney. We learn about the various species in the river and which water conditions they like to inhabit, when and how they like to spawn, what is native and what isn't, what to do and what not to do in terms of river etiquette and conservation. We learn what scum holes and scum suckers are (basically Brown trout that like to hang out in slow moving eddies where the river flotsam gathers). He gives CK another level of casting instruction. She seems to be improving! No tangles, either!
All told, it is a glorious day on the river again even with Benny's continuous commentary overlying all of it. Weather is brilliant, leaves are in full color, wind is light (which is a blessing because the wind can really be wicked in the canyon), and I catch a rainbow! (Fish, not the colorful refraction of sunlight.) I cannot be skunked two days in a row, it seems. It's a beauty, fat, 18 inches, 3 lbs or so. This is one of the most expensive fish I've ever caught. In fact, I think it is the champ.
We dine in the restaurant tonight. We celebrate with steak. CK plunges in at the end with 5 layer chocolate cake.
Tomorrow we begin to wander back toward home.
Ciao for now.
October 2, 2021
Saturday morning and we wake up at Flaming Gorge Resort. We are packed and ready to go. All we need is a quick bite of sustenance in the resort restaurant. OJ for CK, coffee for me. I have a bagel sandwich with egg and sausage. CK has eggs over medium with hash browns & toast, the lamest toast ever. We're on the subject of food and can't get over our experience with Benny, yesterday's ultra-mega-chatty fishing guide. Benny spent a considerable amount of time talking about his favorite stuff, a cure-all worthy of the Hippiest Long Haired Hippy Liberal, fermented garlic & honey. It has fixed everything that was ever wrong with him. He eats it three times a day mixed with vinegar (but it remains unclear how much.) CK asks how he makes it. He buys a 50 lb sack of garlic bulbs, he says, and enough honey to cover all of it, then let it ferment, etc. At this point my confidence in his credulity is blown away like a squirrel fart in a gale. He tells of an aged couple who booked a full day scenic tour with him down the gorge. When he learns that they both have terminal cancer he shares with them his devotion to the garlic and honey thing. It cured them both, says he. They are still alive today sending all those Liberal Doctors into fits of disbelief! Benny is a classic sourdough, a character no doubt, and in many ways charming and entertaining. But his name should really be Barney the Blarney.
After brekky we are quick to button up the truck and move on. CK has her eye on some roadside attractions along our 5+ hour drive to Burley, Idaho, our next sleep. The first is Sheep Creek Canyon, about 30 minutes away from Dutch John. We find the sign pointing to a road winding off into some pleasant looking rolling hills. What the Hell we say and make the turn. A few miles on, Griselda the Googly loses her cookies and can speak no more. Neither can we. The landscape becomes a spectacle worthy of any Utah National Park. A panorama of vertical rock walls and natural amphitheaters of terrain frosted with trees showing off their prime fall colors. Our road descends from a high valley in steep switchbacks down to the yellow leafy creek. This makes the towering rocks even crazier. We feel like we've discovered a little secret. Bryce Canyon and Zion have nothing over the awesomeness of this place. There's the additional benefit of a lack of crowds meaning that CK and I have this zone pretty much to ourselves. We see only one other car. If you're in the Uinta Mountains of northeastern Utah, don't miss it.
Back on the highway, a two laner, we cross the Wyoming line, a fact that Griselda does not fail to announce. Shortly thereafter I have an experience that I've only darkly imagined prior to today. We're cruising at about 60 mph up a slight grade. Speeding over the crest of the grade ahead of us is an 18 wheeler in the opposite lane. Beside it is a mini-van in passing mode. CK: “I don't like the look of this.” We were closing on the mini-van at 120+ mph. Mini-van was hitting the gas with no regard for the impending doom. No way was it going to make it. I had to hit the brakes and swerve off to the shoulder as far as I could go. 3 seconds later the mini-van darted between our left quarter panel and the semi tractor with about a 2 foot clearance. And it was accelerating. This driver was barking mad. We're not sure about everything that was going on in that car but we're pretty sure it included tight shorts, wet seats, and fresh trust issues between the passengers and the pilot. We check our breakfast to make sure that it is staying put.
The landscape returns to stony, dry creosote bush and juniper. Soon even the juniper disappears and we're left with scrub no taller than about 4 feet. The highway takes us into some wildly eroded sandstone hills. Signs along the way refer to 'badlands'. We agree. This looks good for just about nothing. Some of these sand-papery hills are tinged green as if copper is involved. (Subsequent research by CK reveals that these formations are the world's largest concentrations of soda ash).
CK stops the car in what used to be a hamlet called Carter, Wyoming. I ask why and she wants pictures. This looks like a place that was once the refuge of recluses and even they abandoned it. Hard times.
The miles make us punchy. What does 4H stand for? As soon as a cell tower reconnects us with Google we see that it's for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. Boring! I thought it was for Happy Horses Having Hay.
The next roadside attraction on CK's list is a place called Fossil Butte. Griselda guides us to Chicken Creek Road, the address of the interpretive center. There's nothing nearby that suggests anything like a museum or park should be near. We question Griselda's commitment to accuracy but decide to soldier on hoping that fossils are in our future.
Follow the Chicken Creek Road
Follow the Chicken Creek Road
We're off to see the Lizard
The Terrible Lizard of Aw-Shucks I can't think of a clever ending for this.
A short glide on Chicken Creek Road brings us to a very well designed state park with excellent displays of fossils. This is the site of a large lake that had its day 52 million years ago when it enjoyed a climate much like our present day Gulf Coast. Today it is a high, cold desert at about 6600 ft. providing a mountain of treasure for rock-hounds and researchers. Some of the displays are very clever. My favorite is an interactive animation that brought the ancient fish to life. We bought a book for our young friends, 8 and 6 y.o., in Germany. “Who Pooped? on the Colorado Plateau, Scat and Tracks for Kids”. Those little stinkers deserve it.
More road punchiness. A sign in Montpelier proclaims the Butch Cassidy Museum. The Bank of Montpelier was established in 1891 as the first chartered bank in Idaho and became famous after Butch Cassidy and his Wild Bunch Gang robbed the bank on August 13, 1896. It is the only bank in the country robbed by these infamous outlaws that is still standing. We spend 10 seconds discussing whether we should go have a look but we just aren't curious enough today.
We're getting close to Pocatello. But I would never Pocatello. CK says she wouldn't either.
This just in: Southern Idaho is flat. That is all.
Burley, Idaho finally slides under our wheels just as the windshield wiper fluid runs dry. It has been doing yeoman duty keeping the bug guts from clouding our vision but we need a refill. We get that done and find our hotel which a nice view of a very placid Snake River. CK runs out for pizza and we spend the rest of the evening listening to the Mariners v Angels in a must-win game to stay alive for post season action.
Tomorrow we arrive at the southern border of Washington.
Ciao for now.
October 3, 2021
Burley, Idaho, is our starting point this morning on this Road Trip. I think my reasons for stopping in Burley would be to get fuel, food, or sleep on a journey to somewhere else. Otherwise I would just drive past it wondering, ever so briefly, how did a town sprout up here, of all places? In previous decades, before internet websites, answering such a question would require research in the local library and a visit to the Chamber of Commerce. I probably wouldn't do that without being bribed heavily. But all hail the 21st century and in the space of 10 minutes I can discover that 30,000 people live in and around Burley. It began its history as a waypoint for settlers on their travels to California and Oregon (kind of like what I'm doing right now, right?). A lot of potatoes are farmed here. Small wonder since the Snake River is a major resource. 2,000 people take part in the Spudman Triathlon, annually. Very a-peeling. And most amazingly, for me, it is the home town of Gary Peacock, legendary jazz bassist most known for his contribution to The Keith Jarrett Trio, one of my favorite jazz combos.
From here we veer off toward Hood River, sailboard center of the Universe. This will be about an 8 hour drive, give or take. That isn't much when I recall freeway grinds of 12 hours and 600 miles. But we can't take that kind of punishment any more and we're just plain lazy, too. We'll get there when we get there.
The landscape surrounding Burley is remarkable on two counts. One is its lack of anything resembling a hill. A speed bump in the road is enough to offer interest. Another is the Snake River which looks like a lengthy artificial lake. Just north of here is some of the bleakest, roughest territory on Earth, Craters of the Moon National Monument. Look it up if you like or better yet visit this place just for the jaw dropping desolation. I was there 40 some years ago. I'm sure it hasn't changed. As we move west the geology changes ever so gradually from featureless plain to the timbered hills of the Blue Mountains. But we aren't stopping for sightseeing, except maybe once at a roadside overlook. We keep on keepin' on because, honestly, our thoughts are on getting back to Lopez Island, our home base.
We began our road trip on September 24. Since then our route has taken us on a giant loop across the North Cascades to Chewelah, Spokane, Boise, Altamont Utah, Dutch John Utah, through southwest Wyoming, Burley Idaho, along the spectacular Columbia Gorge, and now Hood River, Oregon. From here we will find I-5 northbound after driving west a bit more, then creep back up to our corner of the world. We'll do some business in Stanwood and Mt. Vernon and then catch an early ferry to The Rock Tuesday morning. We've had a terrific road trip. Driving may not be our favorite thing but it is the only way to get to the places we wanted to go and see the things we saw. We floated the Green River, caught some fish, got out of our comfort zone and into foreign ones, visited some awesome country, and met some real characters. We should probably do this more often.
Thanks for following along with us. Until our next adventure....ciao!!