Summer Adventures 2014

Tuesday, 19 May 2015 15:30
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summerlead2Various trips around the country during the summer of 2014.

Not long after I got back from Arkansas and points east, I got offered a short professional gig back on the east coast—in New Jersey to be specific. I’d been more or less a road tripping hobo since I’d sold my company, but some former friends and clients had been calling now and then to see if I was interested in re-joining the workforce. A nine-to-five job (or round-the-clock, like the last one) still wasn’t particularly appealing to me, but I certainly wasn’t against doing the occasional gig, as long as it looked like it’d be fun and interesting and that I’d be working with good people. The job that came up was to rig and operate the “world’s largest claw game” on the beach in New Jersey for a Pepsi summer promo for their new “made with real sugar” soda product, and I’d get to do it with an old friend and former employee, Paul Sapsis. That sounded pretty great to me, and with the way the various events of my summer schedule were shaping up, it looked like being located on the east coast would turn out to be a good thing. With that in mind, I freshened the truck up again for a cross-country drive, packed up my stuff, and got back on the road.

Sunrise in central Utah

Unlike my last road adventures, I actually had a bit of a timetable for this one. I had to be in NJ for the start of the gig on a particular date, and that gave me about a week to make the drive across. If you’re in a real hurry, you can actually do a solo cross country drive in about two and a half days (ask me how I know), but that’s really not a lot of fun, as you’re stuck with just plowing across really boring interstate if you’re doing that. So, with my one week-ish schedule in mind, I decided to take Route 50 across for as much of the trip as I could. Some sizeable chunks of Route 50 are the old Lincoln Highway from back before the interstate system existed, and in many areas it’s a lot like what Route 66 is supposed to be, although there’s not a lot of “classic” Route 66 left. From home, I opted to pick up 50 in Montrose, Colorado so as to take a semi-scenic route northeast from Vegas through Utah (retracing my path from my deer encounter), up through Zion and Bryce and Capitol Reef, then east on Utah 95 to Blanding and Monticello and on into Colorado via various and sundry small state highways. I wasn’t stopping to take a lot of pictures this time, but that area has some of my favorite scenery in the entire country.

Someplace else in the middle of Utah, west of Capitol Reef Capitol Reef, one of my favorite national parks
Not really where you want to stop for gas anymore Cliff Swallows making their mud nests under typical desert skies

After crossing the Rockies, I made a quick pit stop in Colorado Springs (although that’s not exactly on Route 50) to visit a old friend for breakfast, then swung back south through Pueblo and then eastward into the Great Plains. The middle of the country east of the Rockies is vast and flat and almost completely devoid of landmarks, and Route 50 served as Main Street for town after town after town, which were each composed mostly of a stoplight, a post office, and a grain elevator. The highway continued alternately in and out of farmland and civilization, through Dodge City and Kansas City and on into St. Louis, where I stopped in at Pappy’s for some fantastic ribs again. After the big road trip, it feels almost like the country is just an extended neighborhood for me—I’m within a couple hundred miles of St. Louis? I should stop for some ribs!

New wind turbine blades waiting for a home in Kansas Aircraft bodies heading from the midwest to the northwest It takes a lot of bolts to attach a 150' turbine blade

By the time I got to Indiana, things were definitely feeling a little more ‘eastern’, with the cities coming more frequently and the farmland developing some hills and some color. I proceeded through the continuous chain of small towns of Route 50 until I got to just south of Morgantown, West Virginia, then proceeded northeast up into Pennsylvania to get a more direct shot at my eventual destination, Point Pleasant Beach, NJ. In a bit of unintentional coordination, I got to the hotel there about five minutes before Paul showed up as well, which isn’t bad timing for a 2800 mile, week-long journey.

Like most summertime beach gigs, we had to do almost all of the setup work at night when the beachgoers weren’t around, so after a bit of recon work (and some dinner) we met up with the representatives from the staging company to formulate a game plan. The basic idea was this: Pepsi wanted to kick off their new soda product for summer on the beach and in front of the public, and they decided to replicate one of those boardwalk arcade games where you maneuver a little claw/crane thing inside a box and if you’re good and/or lucky, you pick up a little stuffed animal or something similar. (If you’ve seen Toy Story, think “The Claw” and you’ll know what I’m talking about.)

In our case, the Claw set up was about 50’ x 50’ x 30’, and the ‘prizes’ were 4 foot diameter inflatable balls with prize tags inside, sort of like giant round fortune cookies. We had to set up the rigging and automation for the X, Y, and Z motion of the Claw as well as the open/close action, get it all working appropriately, and then operate it during the promo event. We had to wait until the staging company got the basic structure of the stage assembled, and then we put our stuff together above them. It’s always a pleasure working with somebody who knows what they’re doing, and Paul and I were able to get it all together quickly and stay well ahead of the staging work.

The Claw... Paul getting in a little exercise, and sporting the free "Pepsi" shades

The next day during daylight hours, we were able to get everything up and running smoothly as well as get some basic moves programmed, mostly for the post-grab pickup and return to the ‘home’ location to deliver the prize. The actual operation was to be done by members of the public audience (selected at random) using a giant joystick and pushbutton. That was sort of how we did it, but since the big cartoon joystick wasn't actually connected to anything, we ended up with me sitting under the stage with a remote camera view to watch the contestants move the fake stick around, and then I'd move the rig around with a real set of joysticks in as close an approximation of what they were doing with the big stick as possible.

Just a nice day at the beach Mission Control for the Claw. Joystick image is upside down so my brain doesn't have to deal with the mirror imaging.

Believe it or not, that all kind of worked out pretty well, and they handed out some good prizes; stuff like Yankees tickets and free pizza for everybody on the beach and similar summertime goodies. There was a great fireworks display over the ocean after we were done, and then it was time to pack it all up, which took us the better part of that night, but went off without any real problems.

The next morning, Paul and I got some breakfast and then parted ways, with both of us looking forward to the next wacky gig we’d end up on. I went down to the nearby seawall and got in a little fishing, and then got back on the road to Lancaster, PA where I’ve got a big old Victorian house. I figured I could spend some quality time there doing various much-needed renovations, hang out with my tenants (who do a nice job keeping the place happy and lived-in), and basically enjoy small town Lancaster for the bulk of the summer. In addition to getting some work done, it would be a good base of operations—I had things to do in New York and Boston during the summer, plus my mom only lives about an hour and a half away in southern New Jersey, so that was the plan.

The William Zahm Sener Residence, Lancaster PA. Also a giant home improvement project.

My first order of business in PA was to set up a decent wood shop and repair area in the basement so I’d be equipped to do all the stuff I was planning to do. The house is pretty enormous; three stories plus an attic and a basement, and about 6300 square feet of living space on a quarter acre city lot. It’s officially a Queen Anne, and it was built in 1885 by a prominent local businessman, and as you can imagine, it’s got a lot of character. However, being that old it’s also got an extensive list of needs for various repairs and restoration tasks, like sash repairs and gutter replacements and other things that tend to get a little worn out after 130 years.

It's nothing special, but it's home Making sawdust

After I got a decent shop setup going, I started out with putting screens in all of the bedrooms and baths where my tenants were residing. The house doesn’t have any air conditioning, so good airflow and ventilation is a must for keeping cool in the summer. Originally, the place had wooden framed, bronze screened inserts that snapped into a profile in the sash molding, and these were still in a big pile in the basement in various states of decay. Each window had a little brass number tag embossed on a tack on the sill, and the screen inserts had matching tags of their own. Apparently, it was a springtime ritual to go around the house and install all the screens in their appropriate places in anticipation of the summer heat and insect population.  Due to the level of decay of the original screens, I opted to build new ones from scratch using the same materials and techniques—new bronze screen material, new pine screen stock, and a duplication of the original joinery cuts used to make the corners and provide a recess for the screen. That involved making a few jigs to fool the table saw into thinking it's a better saw than it actually is, but that wasn't too bad. I figured if the originals had worked for over a hundred years, who was I to try to improve that? Plus, all new bronze screens would look really great from the street. With all that in mind, I set up my screen fabricating assembly line (51 windows in 11 different sizes!) and got to work. They came out looking quite nice if I say so myself, and my tenants were very happy about being able to open their windows without letting in the various crawly critters that populate PA in the summer.

The screen joint. A fancy way to get a good joint with a recess in the front for the screen. Joint together, but not assembled Finished joint next to one of the originals
Prepped stock for lots more screens My screen frame painting room Painted screens. I got the Sherwin Williams guys to match the original color.
Almost done--a frame getting its bronze screening installed A stack of finished screens. The bronze will eventually weather to a more brown finish.  

After the screens were done, I still had a number of projects to get on. To be honest, there are probably enough projects to do on the place to keep me busy for years, but I wanted to get a few specific ones done for several reasons: One, to improve the living convenience for the tenants, two, to give me an idea of how tough various jobs might be, and three, to make the house prettier. Stuff like the screens and getting the steam system in good working order for the winter fell into the first category, things like doing a complete window and sash repair/restoration fell into the second, and items like stained glass repair fell into the third. In between all of this work, I also got to know the Lancaster area and my neighbors there a lot better, and I was able to head out of town on various adventures.

Window frame/sash restoration. Huge amounts of dry rot, so it all had to come apart. Filling and rebuilding the damaged-beyond-saving parts with wood epoxy Restored and reassembled, complete with new metal weatherstripping (yes, you can still buy new metal weatherstripping). This is the interior side. The exterior side, with fresh oil-based paint. Nasty stuff, but it should last a long time.
The start of sill/sash repair for this window. This was the worst one in the house, so I started here. Some fresh millwork plus more wood epoxy to rebuild the sill Rebuilt and repainted Completed window, sill, sash, and hardware. One down, fifty to go.


Found one of the original screen doors in the basement and opted to restore it rather than rebuild it Stripped, old screen removed, rebuilding rotted parts with epoxy In place. Went with the natural wood finish rather than painting it since that old pine was so pretty. The hardware was really nice after I got about 10 coats of paint off of it



Last project of the summer: Restoring the stained glass transom window over the front door It was in pretty bad shape. Lots of broken glass, bad exterior finish. But beautiful white oak underneath. Stripped and ready for love Refinished prior to glazing all the old and replacement glass pieces back in
Nice grain Glazing the glass back in. Pale yellow stuff is reclaimed from an old window I found in Boston, blue and amber are a combo of originals and replacements cut from Wissmach glass, corners are original pieces. Finished! Middle was orignally all dark amber, but I like the light/dark better. A better look at some of the colors with the window in place

Lancaster itself is pretty great, and the house is located in a really good location to take advantage of it. A decade or more ago, the city was fairly run down and suffering from the same sort of economic hardship and devolution that Billy Joel sings about the nearby Allentown, but more recently it’s undergone a bit of a renaissance. Now there’s an arts district, a restored theater, plenty of really good local restaurants, and general local support and improvement for the things that have always been there like the historic downtown area. My house is within walking distance of pretty much all of it, and it was really nice to be able to walk down to the Central Market in the mornings and get fresh food for the day or visit any of a number of great restaurants and bars for dinner or just walk over and visit with the neighbors. It’s quite a change of pace from Las Vegas.

Throughout the summer, I had another gig working on “Ted 2” up in Boston, so I made the drive up there several times to do that, visiting with my brother’s family as well as good friends in the Boston area and Rhode Island along the way. My nieces (and family) from Northern California also came out for a week to visit with my mom in Sea Isle City for a little beach vacation, so I also went down and joined them for that. We had a great time hanging out at the beach, fishing and crabbing, and generally just having various little Jersey Shore adventures to wind up the summer. We also took a brief intermission in the summer vacation to head up to Mystic, CT and attend my brother’s US Navy retirement ceremony next to the USS Nautilus at the Submarine Force Museum, which was very cool in a lot of different ways.

Sunrise at the Jersey Shore Sandpiper prints More sunrise action
Moonset, sunrise More seaside OK, last Sea Isle postcard

Once my brother was successfully conveyed back to civilian life and the girls were done being beach bums, I headed back to Lancaster to wrap up a couple more projects before I drove back to Nevada. The neighborhood had an end-of-summer block party where we closed off Charlotte Street and set up food and games down the center of the street, which was a lot of fun. I got 2nd place in the pie contest against some pretty stiff competition, which I suppose isn’t too bad for a rookie effort. (I’m going for first place next year, so watch out Charlotte Street.) After one more week on “Ted 2” and a wrapup of prepping the house for winter, I got ready to make my return drive in the trusty Toyota.

We were thinking we should just leave this sign up all year. Note the spiffy looking screens on the windows. 2nd Place!

My general plan was to time my departure and journey so as to catch the best of the fall foliage southward through the Appalachians. I also had stops planned in Fayetteville, AR at Bob’s place to pick up a stroker crankshaft for the car, and in Corvallis, OR to pick up a correct year fender from Mike Spreadbury at Spriso Motorsports. I wasn’t on a schedule for the return trip, so I was free to wander pretty much wherever, which meant that a trip to Las Vegas that passed through northeastern Oregon made complete sense.

The first stop was back at Mom’s for a quick visit in South Jersey, then on down to Cape May to catch the ferry over to Delaware and begin the trip properly. Some of this was re-tracing my route from the big trip, but it was a pretty good route to begin with, so I didn’t really have a problem with it. I made a pit stop in DC to visit with a friend and get some dinner, then pointed the truck toward the start of Skyline Drive in Front Royal, VA. I figured I’d start at the beginning, wander on down to Waynesboro and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway, then follow that southward until it looked like a good spot to turn west. More or less, that’s what I ended up doing. However, truth be told both Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge can get a little boring. They’re both technically national parks, so while the road does wind through some beautiful scenery, it does it at a very slow speed limit and without any other kind of scenery to break things up. The fall leaves are beautiful, but hours and hours of them at 35mph gets a little old.

Back on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry A little local color in North Carolina
Fall color on Skyline Drive Same mountain, different direction
Stopped at a rural sawmill in Virginia for a tool demo. Nothing quite like heirloom-quality hand tools. Sunrise outside of Roanoke, VA

To spice things up a bit, I took a couple side trips on the way. I stopped in and explored Richmond, where I had a very nice Airbnb stay with a young couple who were fixing up a really great older home. They invited me to join them for dinner along with the parents of the husband, and I ended up helping out a little with the cooking as well as having a nice meal with a great group of people. The whole Airbnb culture really never ceases to amaze me.

I also stumbled across the Sidna Allen House, an impressive mansion built in 1911 by Sidna Allen for his brother Floyd, a wealthy landowner and politician in Virginia. He and his wife had only lived there a year when the “courthouse incident” occurred, an “affair [which] represents one of the rare incidents in American history when a criminal defendant attempted to avoid justice by assassinating the trial judge.” The whole thing is a soap opera of epic proportions, involving Floyd pistol-whipping a local deputy, making death threats against various circuit court judges and officers, and eventually being brought to trial. At the trial, the guilty verdict was read out, with an expected sentence of one year in prison. Floyd told the judge then and there “If you sentence me on that verdict, I will kill you.” The judge immediately sentenced Floyd to one year, and as promised, Floyd pulled out a gun and started shooting. When the smoke cleared, 13 people had been shot, six of whom died. The Allens were all arrested, and after a lengthy trial (this time with unarmed defendants), Floyd was sentenced to death by electrocution. The house itself was never occupied again, and is the focus of preservation and restoration efforts today. 

Hobbit stairs Blue Ridge The Sidna Allen House, Fancy Gap, VA

The main thing that brought me to Richmond was a plan to visit Caravati’s Architectural Salvage. As part of a little side project for the trip home, I had mapped out a few architectural salvage places in cities that seemed to be of roughly the same ‘vintage’ as Lancaster, as I had a short list of things I was looking for to help restore the house there. That little quest brought me to Richmond, Roanoke, Asheville, Chattanooga, and a number of other little spots across the country. I did find a few of the things I was looking for, as well as a few of the things I wasn’t looking for, like some really neat stained glass windows that needed restoration (and which I figured I’d use for décor in Vegas.)

While I was in both Roanoke and Asheville I stopped in and stayed with the same Airbnb hosts I’d met there on the big trip, and had a great time catching up with everybody (as well as having nice places to stay.) After Asheville, I cut back toward the Blue Ridge Parkway again, eventually ending my trip down the parkway at Cherokee, NC, on the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I got a spiffy riverside room on the Okanaluftee River (where the balcony was hanging right over the water) to spend the night, and the next morning started the westward leg of the journey into the Smokies, roughly following the Trail of Tears.

This part of the trip started appropriately at Clingman’s Dome, where giant elk were rutting in the fields surrounding the hills. After my deer incident, I’m generally wary of anything with hooves and antlers. I had seen elk up in British Columbia on the big trip, but I don’t think that encounter impressed on me just how enormous the things are. Given the choice of hitting a mule deer or hitting an elk, I’ll vote deer every time. Since they were rutting, there was also a lot of ‘bugling’ going on, which is sort of startling if you’ve never heard an elk make that noise before.

The view from my balcony in Cherokee, SC Mind the giant hormone-crazed animals Elk, doing elk stuff

The drive through the Great Smoky Mountains was beautiful, as you’d imagine it’d be at the peak of fall. I drove on some fantastic roads through the hills, with the occasional little side hike to check out some local scenery. There were mountain streams everywhere, all very beautifully surrounded by the fall color. I noticed that I was not too far from the famous Route 129, known to motorcyclists and sports car aficionados as “Deals Gap” or “The Tail of the Dragon”, and as I’d missed running that road in the Datsun, I thought I’d see how the truck liked it.

This is why them call them the Smokies Smoky sunrise Fog coming in
Morning mist in South Carolina Sunrise well underway in the Smoky Mountains Plenty of great scenery in the foothills
Crossing the SC/TN border, above the fog level Artsy-fartsy 'still vs. motion' photo. I need practice... More babbling brooks than you can shake a stick at

There was a little squiggly line on the map that cut through the hills from where I was in Pigeon Forge (home of Dolly Parton!) over to 129, and that looked pretty good. However, when I got there, it was a semi-rough dirt road, with a sign warning “High Clearance/ Four Wheel Drive Vehicles Required”. Using somewhat dubious road trip logic, I figured that if it showed up on the Rand McNally Atlas, it couldn’t really be all that bad, so I went for it anyway. Turned out that it wasn’t that bad, and it was amazingly scenic too.  There was lots of going up and down hills, through streams and creeks, around big rocks, and again, all right through the middle of fall scenery. There were a few other trucks and SUVs out there that were in fact both high clearance and four wheel drive, and they were actually a problem, as they were sort of just crawling along, especially going up the bigger hills. The strategy on that kind of terrain with a little two wheel drive truck on cheap all-season tires is a bit different. You can’t just rely on big torque and grip on all four wheels to drive you over whatever comes up—the name of the game in the little truck is “momentum.” That is to say, if there was a big hill in front of me, I’d best be hitting it pretty fast, as stopping halfway up was most definitely not an option due to the aforementioned lack of both power and grip. So, the general routine was to wait until the slow 4x4 trucks in front of me made it up the hill, give them a minute or so to get clear of the top, then hit that thing with a good running start and blast up to the top. I got a lot of strange looks from the 4x4 guys, but I’m not sure they knew what I was actually doing…they probably thought I was just some lunatic from Nevada in an old pickup (which is not all that far from the truth anyway.)

The mighty Toyota, climbing every mountain, fording every stream... Take that hill, private A little dodgy in spots, but most definitely a pretty drive
Tranquility base Lakeside Reservoir? Maybe.

After a few more miles blasting through the woods, up and down hills, and across creeks of various depths, the dirt road dumped out onto Route 129, which, as advertised, was a lot of fun. I don’t know that I’d agree with the level of hype that it gets as “one of the best roads in America”, as I’ve been on quite a few that were better as far as scenery and curves go, but it was definitely a good drive. I made sure everything was strapped down securely in the back of the pickup and proceeded to explore its cornering abilities, which are surprisingly good. My trip down the Tail of the Dragon concluded at Murphy, NC, and I headed westward into Tennesee from there.

It looked like Route 64 was the closest to one of the original Trail of Tears ‘migration’ routes, so I stayed on that, going through small southern towns like Winchester, Kelso, Pulaski, and Somerville. It was somewhat mind boggling that huge groups of Cherokee were marched this far, and I was only halfway there. I made a quick side trip into Memphis, as that was the best spot nearby to cross the Mississippi (as well as get some good barbeque), then crossed over into Arkansas.

I stayed on Route 64 coming out of Memphis until I got to Bald Knob, where I transitioned to a lot of rural two lane roads. My eventual target was Bob’s house in Farmington, which is up in the northwest corner of the state, and between me and Bob was the Ozark National Forest, which I really wanted to see. I do really like those little rural roads, so I continued zig-zagging across the state toward the mountains until I finally got into the Ozarks proper at Rupert. I drove through little places like Sand Gap, Cowell, Fallsville, and Dutton, and then cut northwest toward Farmington at St. Paul.

Stopped in for some provisions here Getting ready for Halloween

Bob was in good spirits when I got to Farmington, and he had the parts I was after ready to go. We hung out for a little while, but I had to get back on the road as it was still relatively early and I was looking to get into Kansas before nightfall. Since my second destination was way up in Oregon, I figured out a generally north-northwest diagonal route that’d take me through Kansas, up in to Colorado, clip the northeastern corner of Utah, go through Idaho Falls and the mountains into Boise, then Bend, Corvallis, down the California coast, then back to Vegas. Just your average Roadster Roadtrip detour, as usual.

Kansas is really flat. You don’t draw state borders as an almost perfect rectangle if there are a lot of geographic features to work around, and Kansas has pretty much just one geographic feature: Flat plains. Still, even though it’s often derided as a “flyover” state, there’s some good stuff to see in Kansas. When you’re on the east side of the state, there are dozens of great rib joints making that good Kansas City dry rub style barbeque, and throughout the middle of the state there are neat little farming towns everywhere. I wanted to get to Hutchinson, KS to check out two particularly interesting spots: The Kansas Cosmosphere, one of the best air and space museums in the country, and “Strataca”, one of the few places where you can check out…a salt mine. I know how that sounds, but stay with me.

Kansas sunset, post-corn harvest More Kansas sunset

As usual, it was a weekday and I was in the middle of nowhere, so I had the Cosmosphere almost entirely to myself, which was pretty fantastic. The Cosmosphere is in Hutchinson largely because there have been (and still are) a lot of big aerospace contractors located in the area, and it’s known both for its collection of various rare aeronautical specimens and its space vehicles and artifacts. The first thing you see walking in is an SR-71 in a very cool display position—tail up, nose down, and slightly banked, with the nose close enough to touch (which, naturally, I did.) After that, the artifacts are displayed in several walk-through exhibits in chronological order from the first German rockets from WWII up through roughly Apollo 13, with a few space shuttle items around for good measure. The facility is well known for its restoration shop, and it really showed in the artifacts on display. The German exhibit included a V2 cutaway, a completely intact V1 “buzzbomb” (the ramjet-powered ‘cruise missiles’ that rained down on London during the blitz; very few survived unlaunched), and many original engineering documents from Von Braun and his associates. There was also a surprising amount of Russian space hardware on display, including a complete Soyuz assembly and several artifacts from Korolev and other key Soviet designers and engineers. The last displays had the actual “Houston, we have a problem” Apollo 13 capsule, as well as the Gus Grissom “Liberty Bell” capsule that was recovered from the ocean floor in 1999 by a Jeff Bezos-funded project and restored by the Cosmosphere shop.

The Kansas Cosmosphere, with Redstone rocket out front Excellent SR71 display They removed the nose spike, but otherwise it's as-flown
WWII German V-1 "buzz bomb" X1 replica, first plane to go supersonic One of the Chief Designer's slide rules
Map showing the extent of the V1 and V2 attacks on Great Britain from Germany Important checklist for an X15 pilot. Too late to abort now! Looking up into the nozzle of a Saturn 5 J1 rocket engine
The Liberty Bell capsule, recovered from the ocean floor and restored Pad Leader Gunter "I vonder vere Gunter vent" Wendt's hardhat Backside of the SR71 on the way out of the museum

After geeking out there for a couple hours, I headed down the road a bit for a different kind of geeky experience—a visit to a salt mine. The Hutchinson Salt Company mine is a working salt mine that has been in operation from 1923 to the present. The salt deposits were laid down when The Permian Sea was isolated by tectonic movement and subsequently drained and evaporated (about 250 million years ago), and that layer is now about 650’ below the surface of the earth. It was discovered during exploratory drilling for oil in the early the late 1880s, and when they realized how much salt was down there, they changed their game plan from oil drilling to salt mining. Salt is still mined there, and there are huge empty caverns where it was taken out over the years—980 underground acres worth, or about 150 miles of it if they were laid end to end-- and now those areas are used for long term stable and secure storage of sensitive and/or valuable objects by the Underground Vaults and Storage company. The temperature and humidity are nearly perfect and always invariable, and the only way in is via a 650’ elevator shaft, so it’s both secure and stable. They’ve got stuff like valuable historic papers and records, movie props and costumes, old film and recording masters, and similar items that need to be protected from both theft and the elements. You need to wear a hardhat and a gas monitor to walk around down there (plus you take that aforementioned 650’ elevator trip in a distinctly not-the-Grand-Hilton elevator), but it’s worth it. It’s amazing to walk around in what’s basically a giant salt crystal—the walls, ceiling, and floor are all solid salt, with areas of clear pure sodium chloride streaked with patches of sediments and oxides that mixed in when the seas evaporated. There’s a guided and non-guided tour, but as I was again the only person there, I went for the non-guided and just walked around the cavernous expanse of the mine for a while before heading back to the surface.

Down in the salt mines, 650 feet below the surface The elevator to get down there
Ceiling, walls, floors...all ancient Permian Sea salt Some of the layers of minerals, dirt and other 'impurities'. The salt out of this mine was mostly used as rock salt/road salt.

Getting back on the road, I hunted around for a semi-direct route up to Corvallis, and decided to head up sort of north-northwest through Kansas into Colorado, then swing around to the north to avoid Denver, then head due west from there to Dinosaur National Monument, which I’ve always wanted to see. The weather was gray and overcast pretty much the whole way, and by the time I reached Fort Collins, it was actively snowing. This had two somewhat contradictory effects: One, the roads were kind of slippery, which can get pretty exciting in a little 2WD pickup truck with no ABS, but two, the snow-dusted scenery was gorgeous. As I got across the continental divide and down the other side of the Rockies, the snow subsided and the sun even attempted to come out for a bit. I figured I’d try to make it to Dinosaur and camp along the Yampa River on the Colorado side of the border (Dinosaur is right on the Utah/Colorado border), but when I got there (after quite a while on some fairly remote dirt roads), the campsites were a muddy, marshy mess. I wimped out on that and decided instead to cross over into Utah and spend the night at a hotel in Vernal. By now, it was fairly well past twilight but not quite dark, and that dirt road back to the highway required some caution. This turned out to be a good thing, as I encountered my first elk since the buglers in the Blue Ridge back in South Carolina. A small herd of probably thirty or so animals ran across the road at a pretty good clip directly in front of me, causing me to get on the brakes and briefly practice my rally driving skills. I didn’t hit any of them, but I did have flashbacks to that deer I hit with the Roadster…if that deer had been, say, four times the size that it was. Elk are HUGE. Like, ‘taller than my truck’ huge, probably a half ton or so of venison on the hoof.  Definitely not an animal you want to hit unless you’re maybe driving an Abrams tank, and even then they’d probably just shrug it off, pull you out of it, and beat you up for annoying them.

How big are the elk? This big.   Snow-dusted Colorado, crossing the Continental Divide Roadside waterfall

Vernal, UT was actually past the entrance to Dinosaur, but not by much. I grabbed some dinner at one of the local diners and then hit the sack, planning on an early day at the park. The next morning dawned bright and clear, which was a nice change of pace from the recent snow and rain. It was about a twenty minute drive back to the park, during which I stopped for a brief chat with and a warning from a Utah highway patrol officer about the amazing extra-legal speeds one can reach in an old Toyota pickup, but eventually I got to the park. Like I’ve found at most remote national parks on weekdays, I was the only person there, which, as usual, I thought was great. There’s a visitor center at the bottom of a large rock and sandstone formation, and guests are escorted up to the actual site of the dig by a ranger in a pickup. We waited around for a few minutes to see if anybody else would show up, and then I followed him up to the dig site.

You find the best stuff in the middle of nowhere  A little known (and now extinct) species of pink, long-eyelashed dinosaur  Utah has some of the best scenery in the US 

 Dinosaur National Monument is the site of one of the most productive dinosaur digs ever dug. Discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, the site was once a bend in a Jurassic-era river, and over the millennia, hundreds of dinosaur bodies washed into this bend and were held there in the silt and mud. This matrix eventually became rock, and was then uplifted to its present location when the mountains here were formed by tectonic activity. Douglass found this mother lode by stumbling across a giant vertebrae sticking out of the rock face, which must have made for a pretty exciting afternoon.  

The excavation wall Hundreds of partial skeletons in the rock Some were more complete than others
The texture kind of lent itself to black and white More black and white Big vertebrae

Many of the fossils were excavated and shipped back to the Carnegie museum in Pittsburgh (where they can still be viewed today), but the intention was always to leave a part of the excavation site exposed with the fossilized bones remaining where they were so that people could see the state in which these artifacts were found. In 1915, Woodrow Wilson declared the fossil beds a National Monument, and the rest is, as they say, history.

More desert roadway A not-as-intimidating elk Erosion in action

It was still fairly early in the day when I left Dinosaur, so I headed northwest toward Flaming Gorge National Park in Wyoming. The general plan was to cut across southwestern Wyoming, then into Idaho, generally over toward Boise, then to Bend for some beer. Flaming Gorge turned out to be gorge(ous), so I went for a short hike along the Green River, where I stumbled upon a shallow section that was full of spawning Kokanee salmon. A few minutes later, a crew of Wyoming Fish & Game officers showed up in a pickup on a nearby dirt road with a kit consisting of some buckets and nets and what looked like an early version of the ‘Ghostbusters’ Proton Backpack. I chatted with them briefly, and they invited me down to the water to watch their operation. They were there to count fish—literally to walk through the shallow creek in waders, use the ‘proton pack’ and wand to electrically stun the fish, net them into buckets, and then toss them into a pen to be counted by type and sex. It was sort of a fish census to see how well the Kokanee population was doing, as they’re endangered in many areas. Interestingly, the Kokanee are basically Sockeye salmon that have been separated by a slight evolutionary alteration—where the Sockeye live in both salt and fresh water, the Kokanee have evolved to only live in fresh. Otherwise, they’re exactly the same fish. Like the Sockeye, they’re “sexually dimorphic”, which is to say that they undergo some huge physical changes prior to spawning, sort of like if teenaged boys turned into the Incredible Hulk during puberty. The big hump on their back, the red coloration, and the weird long snout and hooked nose are all a result of this change; during the rest of their life they look like a pretty normal silver-colored fish.

This is why they call it Flaming Gorge Suddenly, big red fish Fish wranglers
There are definitely less enjoyable jobs out there Some very confused salmon You've been busted by the Spawn Crew
The handsome Kokanee Salmon Inspired by Lew Zealand, the boomerang fish muppet Fish jail

I watched them tossing salmon around like guys at a Seattle fish market a while longer, then got back on the road. I wanted to make it up to Redfish Lake before nightfall, since that was where I was planning to camp for the night. The weather report was good, and I’d heard the area was very pretty, so off I went. I made a brief pit stop in Ketchum to pick up some warmer clothing, since I was only traveling with summer stuff and it was supposed to get down into the 30s (F) that night in the mountains. The road out of Ketchum took me north out of town, into the Sawtooth Range, and up to Redfish Lake.

You’re probably sensing an “off season” theme here by now, but when I got to Redfish Lake, there was only one camping area still open, and I was the only guy in it. I had also picked up some groceries and firewood in Ketchum, so I built a fire and had a little lakeside steak before watching the sun set over the water. As the night went on, the moon came up, and the temperature went down. I wasn’t sure how cold it was (it turned out that it had gone down to 19F, or about -7C), but it sure felt colder than what the forecast had called for, and I didn’t really have the equipment with me for that kind of cold. I put on whatever other layers I could find to stay warm, and I figured if it got too cold I could always jump in the truck and turn on the heater, but I eventually settled into a sort of semi-warm equilibrium and fell asleep.

Redfish Lake, ID These pictures are all kind of the same, but it was a really nice sunset More sunset. Mountains in the back are part of the Sawtooth Range.
More Redfish OK, one more Long exposure (20 minutes) by moonlight. Streaks in the sky are stars.

The next morning was bright, clear, and frost-covered, and I was still pretty chilly, never having gotten truly warm during the night. However, through a huge stroke of luck, I stumbled onto a natural hot spring not too far out of Stanley, Idaho by noticing the thick clouds of steam it was causing in the morning chill. After a brief hike back to the springs, I did a quick temperature check, found it to be at roughly “hot shower” levels, and then stripped and got into one of the pools. The springs were actually farther up the side of a hill from the pools, but the water was running down and forming little waterfalls over the pools before it subsequently ran into a nearby creek, which was perfect for a morning shower and warm-up. I stayed in the water until I had the outer consistency of a warm prune, then toweled off, got dressed, and headed for Boise, much happier and warmer.

Aspens outside of Stanley, ID Hot springs running down the hillside
The springs ran down the hill, over a ledge, into pools, then into a creek. Note barren post-fire hillsides. Hot spring selfie

Other than a quick Starbucks stop, I didn’t really hang out in Boise much. I had made a hotel reservation in Bend, so I still had a pretty decent amount of driving to do that day. Eastern Oregon is fairly unremarkable as terrain goes, mostly flat and brown, so I won’t bore you with the details of how flat or how brown it is. Bend was a welcome sight after that drive, though.

Serious signs of the drought in the west Not everybody got their boat out Waterlines

I dropped off my stuff at the hotel and headed to a spot that I’d hit on the big trip, the Deschutes Brewery. They make some very tasty beers there, and they have a great restaurant as well, both of which I took advantage of. I had looked for my prior Airbnb host too, but she was no longer listing on the site. I bopped around Bend a bit, stopped in at REI for a little re-stocking, took a little walk along the river, and then headed out the next day toward Corvallis.

If you were to draw a north/south line through Bend, it’d mostly demark the separation between the “brown” part of Oregon (the east) and the “green” part of Oregon (the west). I went out westward into the green part through Sisters, which is a quaint little town in the foothills of the Willamette National Forest. I stopped there and had a very good breakfast, with the added attraction of that morning being some sort of “wear your pajamas to breakfast” day for a local women’s book club, so that was pretty entertaining. Route 242 out of Sisters takes you up into the lava fields (which I’d driven into from the opposite direction on the big road trip), and that was impressive as always. Once you come down out of the mountains, it’s a gorgeous drive along the Blue River into Eugene, where I took a quick jog north up to Corvallis to pick up my fender.

Coming back from a hike, some helpful fellow travelers had left me a couple cold drinks A well defined waterline Out in the lava fields
A little lava education Why the lava fields look all crumbly on top Lavascape

I’d met Mike at the Datsun Roadster meet in Solvang during the previous year, and that was where he mentioned he might have a correct year fender for my car. We’d stayed in touch since then, and coordinated a pickup there on my trip home from PA. Mike builds great “conversion” Roadsters, where the original engines and transmissions are swapped out for more powerful modern units, usually Nissan SR20 or SR20 turbo motors. I’m obviously a big fan of the reliability and utility of the old stock motor, but an extra 100 horsepower and a modern engine is a pretty attractive option as well.

We hung out for a while in his garage and talked Roadsters and Datsuns in general, and I signed his garage door where he was starting a visitors wall. After we got the fender tucked away in the back of the truck (and he refused payment for it—this is getting to be a trend among Roadster guys,) I struck out westward in anticipation of one of the better drives in the US, Route 101 along the rugged Oregon coastline. I hit the beach at Waldport, but sadly (and not surprisingly, this is Oregon after all) the weather was pretty cloudy and overcast, so I missed out on any good sunset opportunities. I wandered southward for the rest of the evening until I hit Coos Bay, where I stopped for the night.

Classic Oregon coastline  It was a little cloudy, which is another way to say "it's Oregon"  Kind of a black and white day 

Thankfully for my sightseeing happiness, the next morning was bright and clear, allowing me lots of good views of the amazing Oregon and northern California coastline. I made an obligatory pit stop at [Thor’s well] where huge surf continuously pounds the rocky shoreline. The area is also home to “Thor’s Well”, which I have yet to actually locate in person, but I’m on the hunt. Next time I’m up here I’ll find it.

Near Cape Perpetua Some big surf Big swells Sunset waves

I stopped back in to visit my friend from the big trip in the Rio Dell/Eureka area, which is always a good time, then continued southward through the enormous redwoods to Rockefeller Forest, where I stopped and gawked at trees for a while. It’s still hard to wrap my brain around how huge those things are, and always awe-inspiring to stand at the base of one and look up…and up…

Serious trees Details Looking for Ewoks

I popped back out on the California coastline near Westport, where I caught a very nice sunset and did some photographic experimenting with long exposures and very dark filters. I then made the twilight drive down to Mendocino, stopped in for a little coffee, and continued down to Occidental to hang out with my lovely nieces for a bit.

California coast sunset near Mendocino More CA coast

From there, it was old territory I’d covered many times before—south down to the Bakersfield area, cut east past Lake Isabella to Death Valley (because I seem to have developed an allergy to I-15 or something), then across the pass to Rhyolite and Beatty in rural Nevada, then south into Vegas and home, making another successful meandering trip across the US complete.

Once I got home, I (literally) got my house in order, then fixed up that stained glass window I’d picked up back east and hung it as décor, which looked great. Finishing that project provided some room in the garage, and so I began my plans for the next adventure. After some brief contemplation, it seemed like a springtime trip up to Alaska would be fun—I could catch the melt-off swollen rivers and waterfalls in the national parks and through British Columbia on the way up, get to Alaska when the weather was relatively nice, then come back down the west coast again to complete the round trip. First, though, I had to make use of all those parts I’d picked up and fix up my deer damage…

The stained glass I picked up in Asheville Repaired, restored, and decorating the house in Vegas Time to get to work... 

Next: Some Datsun restoration work…


#1 Monkeygym 2015-05-23 21:33
Once again, Scott, you have photo and word documented a spectacular jaunt around the country.
How's China?

#2 admin 2015-05-24 00:27
China is OK, but I'm looking forward to getting home. There's plenty of work still to do on the car, plus I'm probably doing another road trip back east for the summer. Eager to get started on both. :-)
#3 Mom 2015-05-24 04:30
What a fun and interesting blog to read. As always job well done. I also want you to come home. :-)
#4 chickline1 2015-05-24 05:47
Tell me again...exactly which decision(s) you made that led you to be able to live this life.......I need to be able to figure out how to duplicate.
#5 laceytrynn 2015-05-24 09:11
Amazing writing and photos, well up to the standard we've all come to expect - I love this blog! Looking forward to seeing you "back east" in a few months!!
#6 cmfisher4 2015-05-24 22:36
As usual, a great post. Funny, though, to have seen you in person well before this post. Good job posting it from China, though! The wife is still convinced that all of your pictures are photoshopped!
I hope that fender gets an honored location somewhere in the garage, as I'm sure it will.
#7 admin 2015-05-25 04:01
Tell me again...exactly which decision(s) you made that led you to be able to live this life...
Mostly just lucky. I'm doing my best to make the most of some good circumstances, though. :-)

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