Heading North

Interstate HWY 70 between Denver and Palisade, Colorado is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve driven. There are deep, colorful canyons, even as pine forests rise on the mountains above. The Colorado River and its tributaries run alongside.

The road is a civil engineering feat that won awards for design and consideration of natural beauty, wildlife, and environmental issues. Construction over Vail Pass included fencing to prevent wildlife from crossing the highway, and directs the animals to several underpasses. One underpass is landscaped to coax the deer to follow it.

The highway crosses the Continental Divide at the Eisenhower Tunnel. The elevation is 11,158 feet and is the highest point on the U. S. interstate system. There’s a seven percent grade over seven miles, and the tunnel is 1.7 miles long. A boring device was used to create the tunnel; not explosives. It’s quite impressive to approach and drive through.

Heavy rain in July caused mudslides to inundate I70 at Glenwood Canyon. It was reopened about a week before I drive there. Large green nets are strung beside the road to capture any wayward debris that may fall.

A train runs on the other side of the river. Our courses run parallel to each other until Palisade, the “Peach Capital of Colorado.” It’s peach season and that’s my favorite fruit.  I check in at the Dreamcatcher B& B, and then go out to take in the area. I stop at the Mt. Lincoln Peach Co. fruit stand across the way. The peaches are golden with a red blush, and I can smell the delicate sweetness of the fruit. I want to buy a flat to bring with me, can I pick them up I the morning? Can half the flat be white peaches? Laura, the young woman who runs the store, says yes. I buy a peach to enjoy after dinner.

There is little traffic on the road, only an occasional truck laden with crates of peaches. I stop at Colterris Vineyard Tasting Room and buy some wine for my son and walk through the orchard, row after row of trees laden with beautiful peaches.  The overlook is across the river from Mt. Garfield, part of the Book Cliffs. There’s a hiking trail that’s only two miles to the top, but is challenging, climbing two thousand feet in that stretch. Will I try it next summer, when I come back for more peaches?

I’m up early the next morning and go for a walk in the yard. I’m entertained by a pair of hummingbirds darting around the feeder.

This is the first time I’ve stayed at a bed and breakfast on my journey. It’s homey and comfortable. At a motel or an Airbnb, one retains a certain anonymity, but it’s nice to meet new people and hear about their travels over coffee at breakfast. Julie, the host, is a wonderful cook. She serves a delicious vegetable omelet made with fresh eggs from the hens running around the yard.

We talk about the problem of poverty and hunger when food is abundant in farming areas. Julie says there was a time that high school classes didn’t start until the peach harvest was done so that teenage students could glean the fields as well as earn some money; now the last fruits are left to fall, are machine gathered and left to rot in heaps. It seems to me that there is an industry in need of development here.

I stop at the fruit stand and expect to wait while Laura puts my order together, but there’s a flat of twelve perfectly ripened peaches, half white fleshed, with my name on it. I am pleasantly surprised by the great service, and charmed by Laura’s sweet personality. I also buy some Olathe corn and I’m on my way.

The beauty of the southwest continues to astound me with great vistas and canyons of colored layers of sandstone. I enjoy the drive until the outskirts of Provo, Utah, where the traffic is heavy and the freeway becomes multi-laned. The worst part is the air pollution. I’d noticed many vehicles, usually trucks. spewing black smoke as I drove through Arizona, Colorado, and Utah.

Utah has some of the worst air quality in the U. S. Winter inversions cause eighteen days of pollution above National Ambient Air Quality Standards; in the summer ozone and lakebed dust impact air quality. This summer, wildfire smoke caused Salt Lake City to exceed federal standards for particulate pollution sixteen times. Utah has a contradictory response to poor air quality. In 2015 the state offered a $1500 credit for clean fuel vehicles, and in 2021raised registration fees on the same vehicles.

To make the problem more complex, the Great Salt Lake is drying up. It is ten feet below its average level and the exposed lakebed is a source of toxic pollution. Not only is it an air quality issue, it points out the pressing problem of water. It isn’t merely drought conditions. The diversion of water from upstream sources for agricultural and residential use doesn’t leave enough water to flow to the lake.

Three gnomes have taken up residence under the tree in front of Anna and Steve’s house. I arrive late in the afternoon, on time to go to soccer practice with Anna and her two boys, five year old Wren and three year old Dashell. It delights me to watch them at play and brought me back to the days when I sat on the sidelines watching my son learn the game. I’m happy to reconnect with Anna. I watched her grow up and now I get to see her parent her children.

After dinner, Steve grills some of the peaches I brought from Palisade for dessert. How can something so delicious become even more delectable?

As twilight deepens, we go for a walk in the charming, tree lined neighborhood. We look at the gardens along the way, full of flowers, and ripening tomatoes and squashes. We see insects and birds. Wren and Dashell know where all the special places are. I look for Venus. She’s glorious in the night sky.

The truck stop outside Twin Falls is a massive complex. They have every type of gasoline imaginable on a lot full of pumps with huge semi’s, an assortment of other trucks, RVs, campers, boats, an assortment of outdoor toys and accessories, and the cars that haul them, all filling up.

The landscape is barren here. I turn onto HWY 93 and approach the Perrine Bridge, a truss suspension bridge 486 feet above the Snake River. The Twin Falls Visitor Center is on the other side with a Tesla Supercharge in the parking lot. I plug Freedom in and walk along the trail to view the bridge and the river below. The Snake River is the largest tributary of the Columbia River, the largest north American river that flows to the Pacific Ocean.

The bridge is a popular Base Jumping site, the sport a bit extreme for my timid soul. Less than two miles to the east is the spot where Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River Canyon on his Skycycle X-2 in 1974. He didn’t succeed because of a parachute malfunction.

I check in at the Fillmore Inn. Denise is a delightful host, and I love the room I’m assigned. The bedroom is cheerful with light coming through the windows, but secluded behind high brick walls. There’s an alcove with a desk where I can write, the shower is large and there are lots of fluffy towels. On the table are two large flourless peanut butter cookies in a cellophane bag, tied with a ribbon. I’ve been foregoing desserts, but decide to nibble a corner of one cookie. It’s delicious, and nibble a little at a time over the next few days.

I shower, put on the nicest clothes I have, and go for dinner at Elevation 486. It’s crowded and short staffed, like so many places I stopped along the way. The service was slow, but the food was good. Having spent a portion of my life as a waitress and understand the pressure the entire staff is under. I enjoy taking in the view with a glass of prosecco while I wait for dinner to be served..

Afterwards, I walk along the rim of the Snake River. All summer there’s been a thin pall of smoke across the southwest from the fires on the west coast. The smoke is thick tonight. I don’t know if it’s an accumulation from all the fires, or if there’s a newer one.

Breakfast is in the dining room. Denise has set tables appropriately distanced.  There are two couples and myself. She introduces us, noting that one couple is on their honeymoon, and serves breakfast. Within a heartbeat, the man who is on his honeymoon raises his voice to say grace, his wife’s head bowed, their hands folded in prayer. He proclaims that his God is the only living God, and that all other gods are dead. He even names a few. There is stunned silence. Denise offers more coffee and goes around filling cups. The honeymooners eat quickly and leave, never addressing me or the other couple.

Denise starts a conversation. The other couple live in Palo Alto. He’s from Switzerland; she’s from Greece. They both work at Stanford University, he as tech support, and she in cognitive therapy of the psychology department. We talk about travel and places we’ve been that we enjoyed the most.

As I pack to leave, I think about what happened in the dining room. I’ve met all sorts of people from varied backgrounds on this journey, but this was the most uncomfortable moment I’ve experienced. I didn’t mind that he wanted to pray, I wouldn’t even have minded if he had invited us to join him. What bothered me wasn’t merely the imposition of his beliefs, or that his belief was the one and only way, but the denigration of any belief but his. It saddened me deeply to witness this, a blatant example of what divides this country: my rights and beliefs are more right than your rights and beliefs.

It’s my wish, prayer if you will, that we learn to communicate better with each other, to build a bridge to understanding. We all want the same thing; to live happily with our families and friends, peacefully with our neighbors, shelter and food to eat, and a purpose in life.

Before I leave Twin Falls, I stop at Shoshone Falls Park. This waterfall on the Snake River is 212 feet tall, one of the largest natural waterfalls in the U. S. and is fed by Rocky Mountain snow melt. The flow varies depending on snowfall and the fact that the river is diverted twenty miles upstream to irrigate a half million acres of farmland. The dam upstream from the falls also diverts water to the hydroelectric plant that generates electricity for Idaho Power.

Because of its height, the falls mark the upper limit of fish migration, including salmon, steelhead and sturgeon. This spot was a major food source for local Native Americans, the Shoshone Indians.

It’s beautiful along the Snake River. This is another place I would like to revisit.

I stop in Baker City and visit John Simpkins who graciously allows me to visit him at his studio, even though we’ve never met. John is one of the many friends I’ve made on Facebook. Over the years, he shared his paintings in progress with daily posts. It was interesting to see his process, to watch the paintings develop, and see the finished work.

His latest work, Chaya, hangs on the studio wall. It is even more amazing in life than the photos on Facebook. There is a red ball in the picture that looks flat in photos, but here it has dimension and seems to pop off the canvas.

You can view John’s work at www.johnsimpkins.com. There is an online virtual exhibit called elephant in the room where you can see his art. It’s worth the visit.

The Baker City historic district seems to be lost in time. I love the architecture of the older buildings. I have dinner at the Geiser Hotel and return to the motel.

I spend the evening looking for someplace to stay over the weekend. I want to go to Sequim, WA but everything is booked. I look for the halfway point between there and Yakima. Cle Elum seems to be closest. The neighboring town is Roslyn, where the TV series Northern Exposure was filmed. Fortunately, accommodations are available in Cle Elum and I’m excited to visit Roslyn.

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