I love the West. I love being a Westerner. I love living in the West, despite our water shortages and other problems. I wouldn’t live anywhere else. I love our big skies, our tall mountains, our wide spaces. And let me tell you, I drove through plenty of wide open space today, just as Seth and Susan would have in my story, “The Way Home.” I crossed three state lines, two of them twice. That’s right, I drove through portions of Nevada, Oregon, and Idaho today. And until I neared Boise, I could have been in the same state. The high desert sagebrush plateau crosses many human boundaries.
Nevada, first. I love the state of Nevada, the “battle-born” state. It’s full of individualists, and that’s another thing I love about the West. We go our own way out here, and to hell with what anybody else thinks about it. On a road trip, one of the things I love best about Nevada is its casinos. For a person with a weak bladder, casinos are a godsend. And I say that without my tongue in my cheek. Why? Because I will guarantee you that any bathroom in any casino in the state is 99% of the time 99.5% cleaner than the bathrooms in either the convenience store or gas station in the same little podunk town. And you can pretty much find a casino once an hour or so. Nevadans will take any opportunity to build a casino: a crossroads, an oasis, or just the fact that there isn’t another one within 50 miles.
The other thing I love about Nevada is that when this state builds a rest area, there will at least be a vault toilet there. Now, I loathe vault toilets. I would rather pee on the ground behind a tree. However, when there are no trees, and not even a bush worthy of the name, a vault toilet will serve. I just shudder the whole time I’m in there. I can’t say I’m not glad to be done with vault toilets. I hope.
Another thing I love about Nevada is the speed limits. U.S. 95 North out of Winnemucca is a two lane highway, and the speed limit is 70 mph. Or was it 75? Other vehicles were flying around me like I was standing still. But at McDermitt, (after a bathroom break at the Say When Casino) I crossed into Oregon, and the speed limit dropped to 55 mph.
And really, that was mystifying, because an emptier place than the southeastern corner of Oregon which is bisected by U.S. 95 I have never seen. There is the highway, and a fence along it to keep out what? For 50 miles or so, I saw no cows, no ranch houses, no deer, no antelope, no hawks, and only one lone raven. I came to think that the fence was to keep people from running into the power poles on the other side of it. It served no other purpose that I could see. Beyond the fence and the power poles are mountains, sometimes drawing near the highway, sometimes receding. It is the loneliest place I have ever been, beating out even Highway 50, the loneliest road in America.
Finally, just past the junction of U.S. 95 and S.R. 78, the landscape changed. The road runs down into a canyon of oddly-colored, greenish-hued rock, and down in the bottom, there was water, and a ranch.
Along this stretch was also what Oregon calls a rest area. Believe me, do not pass up any gas station or crossroads store bathroom thinking that you can use the rest area marked on the map a little farther on. Chances are, resting is all you’ll be doing at a rural Oregon rest area. Not even a vault toilet, just a little shade cover and a place to park a couple of cars, and a garbage can chained to a post! Fortunately, there was a spot a few miles further with a small café, store, and RV park, called Rome Station. There were unlocked bathrooms outside the café. I think I will someday write a traveler’s guide to bathrooms in unlikely places all over the West.
There was a rock formation near Rome Station called “The Pillars of Rome.” I would have loved to have seen it for myself, but the sky was growing threatening, and I was worried about losing daylight. I don’t see well in the dark anymore, and my goal for the trip has been to be off the road by dark. So I didn’t go see the pillars. From Rome, the scenery becomes more dramatic, canyons and mountains and passes, and goodness I wanted to stay there longer. I drove through Jordan Valley and would have loved to drive out to the Jordan Craters, but 20 miles on a dirt road is not the mission of this trip in this car. I sure would love to come back with the Jeep someday. There’s a whole lot to explore out here. At the top of a pass, on a scenic overlook, I came across this sign.
Not far from Jordan Valley, I crossed into Idaho. It looked the same, until I descended from the mountains, crossing the route of the Oregon Trail, and into the wide valley through which flows both the Snake and the Boise River. Now I was in farm country.
I don’t always love what farming does to the land, but I love farmers and farmland. People have to eat, and we know so much more now about how to grow food with less impact on the land. I’m in awe of farmers, especially those who are abandoning the destructive practices of the past and going back to organic methods. The fields I drove past were mostly full of corn stubble, although I saw some hop plantations as I got closer to towns. At the junction of U.S. 95 and S.R. 55, I parted ways with Seth and Susan. They’d have turned east on their way home, on 55, for Boise. I kept heading north on 95 until I reached Interstate 84 at Fruitland.
And I chuckled the rest of the way through Idaho into Oregon, a whole three miles, because the speed limit on I-84 was 80 mph! For three whole miles, until the freeway crossed the state line, and then the speed limit dropped back to 65 mph, and boom, there was my exit to Ontario, where I’m spending the night. The Oregon state troopers must have a field day on that stretch of I-84 past Ontario.
Tomorrow, I head up to Pendleton, Oregon, to do some research for a different story. Stay tuned.