A wander ending at a seat of government

Street art

We rolled away from our hipster hotel on wet roads in light rain, headed for the ocean and points north.

Cloud on West HIlls

As we climbed the West Hills, we found the clouds, and more moisture, still with temps well above freezing.

Coast range snow

All the info we had suggested that the higher elevations of the coast range would still be above freezing. Fortunately, the predictions held, although we could see plenty of snow on the trees and along the road.

Rainbow coast

We stopped for a nosh in sunshine, and the mixed weather yielded a rainbow!

Columbia bridge

As we continued north, we crossed the mighty Columbia. Two sections have arched bridges, and the colors are slightly different shades of green. I have no idea why…

Tidal flat mud

The next section of road crossed and skirted many rivers and creeks headed for the ocean. The tide was out and we saw many waterfowl and a few herons. And mud.

Olympia Wash capitol

I cannot explain why, but I wanted to see Washington’s capitol. Rain had returned, but we risked melting to roll down the window and take a couple of shots. Almost no traffic on this Saturday evening. We saw a few bits of snow along the curbs, indicating that the weather has been colder. We are happy it has tempered; we are happier to tolerate rain than ice.

Learning curve, more

Snow car

The ice was over wet-snow, and once loosened, came off easily. Thankfully.

Bridge etc cropped

So, we headed out to familiarize ourselves further with this technological wonder. We speculated that ice on an exterior sensor was triggering the parking-assist, which kept beeping at us. Then, we discovered user error as some button over on the driver door somehow got poked; after disengaging, great!, no more beeping. The learning curve….

Deer OR

Under the bridge (right in Portland) above we discovered four deer browsing. Otherwise the area was sparsely used, so good place for wildlife….

Portland street scene

The traffic and perhaps some de-icing meant the downtown streets were quite passable.

Charging port reveal

We tried electric charging in two different parking garages. The first time was a breeze. The second time we goofed somehow. The charging station accepted the plug-in, but somehow we didn’t trigger the flow of electricity. More study needed….

Caribou kitchen

The Guru found us a lovely French restaurant for a celebratory late lunch (yum). We took the caribou rack over the door to the kitchen as a good omen. [Long story.]

Beverages and more

Pink coffee

In this luxe (for us) boutique hotel, the coffee is made by the cup—from the grinding forward—in a bath of pink light. The perfect consumer must be tech-oriented and younger than we are…no?

Streetcar trolley

We headed out in the cold wind, with complementary trolley tickets from our hotel to get us out of the weather as we moved via electricity toward downtown.

EFA spine

Our goal was to wander the many aisles of Powell’s Bookstore. The rooms are color-coded. We spent considerable time in Purple, Red, and Pearl. I can’t remember the color of the room where I found this title. I don’t know why I photoed this. Something to ponder, I guess.

Peppermint tea

We took the street-car the long loop to return (using same tix), and even crossed the Willamette twice. I chose this for my first afternoon drink. Hands-down, the best mint tea I’ve ever had. I couldn’t say that I perceived that I was smelling a fine Oregon mint farm as I smelled the tea.

Beer tasting

Our hotel has a complementary cocktail hour. Yesterday it was wine, a choice between two whites. Today, it was Ten Barrel products. I had Honey Bear Rye Barley Wine (I think that was it). Never heard of this or similar. Tasty. So, that was my second afternoon beverage.

Moroccan rest

As we were on the trolley returning toward our hotel the precip shifted from little flakes to huge flakes, and we knew we were in for it (as predicted by the weather-oologists). We ate a half block away (both icy and slushy underfoot) at a Moroccan restaurant—a cultural learning experience and very tasty. We chose lamb and fish entrees. I’m still full. The dessert, baklava of course, came with a different mint tea that neither of us fancied—I think because it had a touch of rose water in it.

Two headlines

Pass in sun snow

Today could easily have two (obvious) headlines.

One degree

The first would indicate that the powers that be reopened the interstate (actually, last night), and we drove through in glorious sunshine and fine road conditions. (Whew!) Despite the bone-chilling temp.

Columbia barge MtHood

Finally, we descended to the level of and met up with the Columbia, which is a major and navigable river even this far inland—thanks to a dam/lock system and terrific water flow. The tug is burning some diesel to push those barges upstream against considerable current. Note Mt Hood poking above the cloud layers in the far left (“above” the power plant).

Columbia RR bridge

Traffic crossing the river between Washington and Oregon is also substantial. Note another tug-and-barges just upstream from the railroad bridge also plowing against the current. Note that the snow is persisting at elevation on the tree-free round-crested peaks. Still, it’s MUCH warmer at river level as we continue westward.

A new car

Here’s the second headline: A new car!

Old new vehicle

Edited out of this photo is how filthy old-Prius was from crossing the pass. The sand they put down was fine (so it stuck) and very dark—dramatically ugly on a white car. Soooo. Well, that’s not really the reason…but we nabbed a Prius Prime on our way down the Columbia. It’s metallic grey outside and black that looks almost very dark grey inside. Its EPA estimate is quite high because it is not only gas-battery like the old one, but it also has a 25mi range in plug-in electric miles. This means it can be electric for doing around-town errands, but it’s still suitable for driving long distances…like from sea to sea (or similar).

We are so pumped.


Motel view

View out motel window, well after dawn. Ruh-roh. We did online chores and let the snow taper off before heading out.

Sharing valley w RR

When we got out of town and on the open road, we even found sunshine melting the bits on the road, even though the temps remained below freezing. Good sign: trains are still getting through.

Snow over next pass

Hmm. In the next valley, snow on the next ridge, but only wet road here. Great LTE, so quick check of DOT website on road conditions…bits of red ahead on the pass, but no closings. Crossed most of the valley, and whoops, orange cones across the road, and all traffic must exit. We crowd into a handy truckstop along with many other travelers, and get a bit to eat and listen to the chatter. Word is that they’re clearing highway-type flotsam/jetsam off the road. We have hope that we’ll get through before the temps begin to drop.

Road closed x2

I finish my meal and head to the restroom. Sign over cash register says it all. Traffic cams show lines of semis on the highway along our route over the pass. We figure they’re trying to get the accumulated vehicles out and don’t want more arriving. We will not get through tonight.

Fortunately, this town seems prepared for just this situation, and there are several mom-and-pop motels. We are in one, very handy next to the Burger Something drive though. Walls are thin and the TV is not a flat panel, but heat, electricity, and wifi are working fine. We are recharging and hopeful. Movie time?

Mountains and malpaís

Red canyon

Before we headed to breakfast, we checked on road closings, and our route was to be open at 8am. The timing worked for us. Sure enough, WYDOT’s website indicated “our” highway was open at 8:05. Off we headed! This is Red Canyon. Guess why?!


At high elevations where there had been more snowfall, we saw several of these beasts. Fortunately, the sun was working in our favor, too.

Crows carrion

After days of seeing raptors cruising the skies, today we saw crows, eagles—bald and I’m not sure what, and magpies busy breaking down roadside carrion, but only a few hawks—still cruising above.

Kemmerer snow pile

We lunched in Kemmerer, at the only place that was open—yummy, BTW. I found the snow “removal” pattern interesting. I figure the plan was to remove the berm from the middle of the road. I have seen a central berm left in the middle of the street for all winter, but only when the road was about four lanes wide (in the summer).

Malpais roadside

Much later, we drove through malpaís, old lava flows that generally had little water and were tough to traverse. Mal país, or bad country, is a great name for this terrain.

Wind generators

As the sun set, we watched these blades turning at a stately pace, and were glad the wind we had yesterday—gusts, we were told, up to 50/60mph—did not haunt us today.

Plains to mountains


So, the agriculture in the high plains revolves around cattle farming, seems to me…usually black angus or these herefords—both mostly polled (a genetic mutation that renders them hornless).

Mill loading chute

Along with the natural grazing, there’s plenty of hay growing and baling, and a demand for grain, mostly grown where there’s irrigation. Some irrigation is from creeks/rivers, but mostly the water seems to be pumped up from the aquifer below (essentially non-renewable). Here’s a cattle loading chute and an elevator (grain storage).

Tank pigs

To make the plants grow, these tanks supply fertilizer or herbicides…I’m guessing mostly fertilizer. Go ammonium nitrate!

NPlatte again

We continued to climb westward toward the Rockies, crossing the North Platte again and again before we diverged from it above Casper. Yes, ice—not thick, but it’s pretty cold and the sun, which seems strong in the car, is rather weak out in the wind.


We’ve been looking for these four-foots, and finally found some, often gathered in fairly larger herds, some browsing and some resting. We also saw what we are pretty sure were mule deer; these were loners or up to a trio—not the large groups that the antelope have formed.

Side canyon

I read about a canyon in a Craig Johnson/Longmire book, and we checked it out…just an up-and-back side trip. The railroad was on the other side, and we saw a few fisherman. A sign indicated we should watch out for mountain sheep, but we saw zero. Here’s a side canyon opposite us.

Tunnel icicles

It was cold enough that the tunnels had interior icicles (that word is difficult to spell if you don’t do it very often). The train’s tunnels were only as large as they needed to be. I suppose that’s true for the highway (engineers are parsimonious in design, no?), but they didn’t seem so rigidly rectangular as the railroad ones.

Crooked hwy sign

Now, we’re up against the Winds, and it is windy, and as we approached town we could see that it was snowing in the higher altitudes…that’s snow making that grey-blue obscurity above the sign. (Is that our motel?) We hear we may get a bit of S tonight, but not much accumulation. We bought new -30°F windshield wiper fluid and topped off our reservoir, so hopefully it’ll tolerate the low temps—ATL fluid is limited to +32°F (save the environment!).

I noticed these photos tend to be very horizontal—that’s the way it is out on the plains. Now that we’re approaching the mountains, the vertical has rejoined us.

Changing light, landscape

Maize mountain

We started out the morning in a cloud of lightly blowing S (you know the winter “S” word…); however, the temp was just above freezing, so no driving problems. Whew. Farther along, the S stopped and we found a mountain of maize. We saw upwards of a dozen of these as we drove along. We discussed several theories about what the kernels were destined for…I’m still partial to the bio-fuel one. Sometimes the maize mountains were carefully covered and had a central device for removal. Those we thought may have been for corn syrup or oil, or perhaps animal feed. I’m guess all is subsidized by our tax dollars. Very green. Hah!

Full empty coal

From a bridge, we saw full coal cars headed for power plants for winter heating, and empty ones deadheading back to the Powder River area for refilling….

NPlatte ice

On this crossing of the North Platte, we could clearly see a skim of ice, as Canada geese pivoted above (not in this shot, though).

Chimney rock

Someone suggests this feather is called Medicine Hat, but I didn’t bite. (Say: Chimney Rock.)

Low light tree

Late in the day, the sun came out fully, and I found the effect of the oblique angle stupendous. Yay for cottonwoods! (And the train tracks stayed with us all day.)

River and city

Distant MO river

We headed down by the river, the Missouri—that seems like it should be the Mississippi to me when you look at the size of the catchment…. That’s it off to the right. Look at that broad floodplain past the channel….

Indian Cave minipano

And next to the river, in an unusual bluff, a cave—or a kinda-cave—carved by nature in soft stone, perfect for carving by humans, too. The few petroglyphs the native peoples left are eclipsed by dozens of carvings added in the recent past—including this summer, I daresay. [Apologies for the grotty color; I tried to correct it, no luck—not my specialty.]

Downtown GI

We wound up in Grand Island’s downtown (the real, old downtown, and not the highway strips and mall area), where everyone was gearing up for Main Street Xmas (or something like that). Love the fingernail-moon witnessing.

Meal stories

Red utility trucks

We were driving along and feeling the beginnings of “time to figure out a lunch spot,” and did online research, and made a pick. The way the roads were, we drove past the place (right over there, on the opposite frontage road), then had to loop back to the…place (combo grocery and café—sounds strange, I know; it was only a little odd). Of course we eyeballed the place—especially looking to see if it had many customers—almost always a good sign. As we drove past, the vehicles were numerous and 75% were red trucks like these two. Turned out a utility crew was relocating, and had stopped for lunch. And their order, by something like 40 line-dudes (or whatever their job descriptions were—I didn’t see any lady utility-workers), was in front of ours. Which was really, The Guru’s steak, as I had the all-you-can-eat sah-lahd. Anyway, the waiter/cashier took pity on us for the long wait he could not fix, and charged us $6 for everything. All because of the red trucks. (Well, the people they carried.)

Supper club pillar

That was mid-day. For our late-day meal, again we searched the area likely to have a real restaurant (not a chain place) at the right hunger-point. Came up with an old-fashioned supper club kind of place. Just look at the decorative detail in the main dining room! …Famous for their fried chicken (good, very crunchy) and for their gravy. The gravy was as rich as dessert. Cream? Certainly. And butter. Salt, too; not shy about any of those…. Yum.

I realize I haven’t mentioned b’fast. It was not special, and had no memorable qualities. The pre-scrambled eggs were hot, there were biscuits, oatmeal, and sausage patties. Coffee: choice of decaf, gourmet, or bold. See—nothing special.