Yellowstone High Country

In June, Yellowstone National Park was devastated by flooding from torrential rains and rivers full from snow melt. Roads and bridges washed away. Visitors were asked to leave, some needed to be evacuated. The park was closed for a week so that damages could be assessed. Some entrances have reopened, but the northern tier entrances are still closed, having sustained the greatest damage.

A few weeks ago, I saw a post on Facebook by Silver Gate Lodge in Montana. They are one mile from the closed northeast entrance to the park, and it’s had a severe impact on tourism, the source of their livelihood. Please come, the post said, offer what you can afford. I called the next morning, thinking that they’d be booked by then, but to my joy, they had availability.

It’s a twelve hour drive to Silver Gate from Castle Rock, too long a drive for me to make in a day. I decide to spend the night in Sheridan, WY, at a KOA Campground, a safe way to solo tent camp for the first time, and a baby step toward my ultimate goal, to be able to camp in Mother Nature’s arms.

It takes seven hours to drive to Sheridan, from the congestion through Denver, detours for road repairs, and two twenty minute stops to charge Freedom. I enjoy those stops at three hour intervals to get out and walk.

My favorite songs come in and out of awareness as I watch the landscape roll by. I enjoy being the only car for miles, the road a long tongue licking the horizon, as puffy white clouds drop shadows like drapery over the mountains. The rolling hills are pale yellow, baled hay in rolls along the roadside. There are herds of black cows grazing. Every so often there is a metal sculpture on a butte: a bison, a cowboy on a horse, and then a dinosaur, on the other side of the road, oil rigs pump its remains out of the ground.

I also see billboards that make me think, Wyoming! Land of Exclamation Points!!! The campaign slogan for a gubernatorial candidate is, “Fossil fuel, yes!” Liz Cheney’s opponent proclaims, “Ditch Liz!” And, in case you are hungry, a roadside market offers, “Beef! Hogs! Lamb! Wild Game!” I’m not kidding!

Sunset at KOA Campground, Sheridan, WY

From Sheridan, I drive HWY 14 through the Big Horn Mountains. I think it’s probably the most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken, and just when I think it couldn’t possibly be more beautiful, it is. Sometimes there are majestic sandy colored mountains with magenta veins running through. Then I see a hazy valley below of pastel pink, tan, and yellow-green, with strands of turquoise running though. I descend to the valley and learn that those turquoise strands seen from above are the Big Horn River. I wish I were an artist to paint what I see of color, shape, and texture….

Silver Gate, Montana is one mile from the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It’s a block long on a two lane highway, cradled in a valley along the Absaroka Beartooth Mountain Range. On the southeast side of the road is the Trading Post and the Log Cabin Café. On the right side of the road is the Range Rider Lodge, and the General Store, where I check in to Silver Gate Lodging. I’m greeted by Katie, a young woman who radiates a zest for life. She gives me the keys to the School House Cabin, and all the information I need to be comfortable during my stay.

After I settle in, I walk around to get a feel for this beautiful place. I’m filled with awe looking at the majestic mountains. There is an outdoor fireplace and one of the other guests is feeding logs into it. There are six other people there, from the Carolinas and upper Michigan. Everyone is friendly and we chat late into the evening.

There is a pleasant chill to the evening air, and it’s quiet. There’s no noise pollution from traffic, and no light pollution from city lights. I put my head on the pillow and fall into a deep, restful sleep, the best night’s rest I’ve had in a long time.

*No cars are allowed into Yellowstone National Park, but you can walk or bike for six and a half miles into the park, then the road drops off, having been washed away during the floods six weeks ago. A thirteen mile round trip hike is a stretch for me, but I walk as far as I am able to see as much of this beautiful landscape as I can. The entrance to the park is blockaded to vehicles, but park rangers are on site, and Loren greets me as I walk through. She instructs me on care to take around wild animals. She says bears attack only when surprised and will move on if they hear someone approaching. She suggests that I make noise or sing as I walk. I’m thrilled. No one ever suggests that I sing.

Soda Butte Creek wends its way below the road. It’s a beautiful shade of blue-green, and the sound of water rushing over rocks is soothing. There’s an abundance of wildflowers in bloom, fanciful flowers that look like a faerie garden. I sing and hum from time to time, to keep the grizzlies at bay. I hope to see some of the wildlife that live in the area, but see only a chipmunk and a deer, both too fast for me to capture on camera.

Bannock trail to Bridal Falls is heavily forested, with cabins tucked in among the pine trees. I cross the creek where the road washed out from the floods. Mother Nature has healed herself, and wild roses and wild strawberries are in bloom. Only what was created by human hands remains damaged and in need of repair or rebuilding.

I walk deeper into the forest, breathing the fragrant pine air, enthralled by the beauty of the flowers, and the birds singing to each other as they flit about the trees, then realize that I’m walking away from the mountain, the source of the waterfall. Tolkein said, “Not all who wander are lost,” but I’m a wanderer who tends to get lost… in the beauty of what surrounds me, in the moment. I turn around and cross the creek again where the road washed out. A resident drives up on an ATV and stops to chat. He says I just passed the trailhead to Bridal Falls on the other side of the creek, and that a mother moose and her calf have been seen grazing in the area.

Hoping to see mama moose and her calf, I cross the creek again and find the trail marker amid the debris from the storm. The path is strewn with fallen trees and limbs. After clambering over a few, I decide this isn’t a hike to do alone.

The General Store is the gathering place early in the morning or in the evening because that’s where there is internet connectivity. It’s been wonderful disconnecting from the outside world, still, it’s good to be able to communicate with family and friends a few minutes a day. I seek out a table on the side of the store where there is some shade. Hypatia and Leslie are sitting on one end, happy to share the space with me. We start talking and I feel as if I’ve known them forever. Hypatia is a ceramicist and Leslie is a chef. They are both from Georgia and I love their soft southern accents. Hypatia’s brother, Henry, is the owner of Silver Lodge. I say that I would love to ask him some questions for my blog. She corrals her brother, and she and Leslie are off to pick rhubarb from Henry’s garden to make a cobbler for dinner.

Hypatia and Leslie

I carry my camera around, adjusting the lens for shots of the mountains, of buildings and streams, and close ups of flowers. Now, talking with Henry Finkbeiner, I feel as if what I’m experiencing here is coming into focus, and he is the heart of the picture.

Henry is a soft-spoken man. He says that his grandparents brought him to Yellowstone when he was ten years old. The experience made him a lover of nature. He says that the ecosystem is larger than himself, and separation from it is illusory. When talking about Nature he says, “Our only job is to love Her back.” Henry believes the meaning of life is to be a kind human, and to participate in a positive way.

In 2000, he bought Whispering Pines, across the road from Silver Lodge, to use as a summer camp for underprivileged children, to introduce them to the joy of being in nature, and to act as a mentor. It worked well, but the groups he worked with found it difficult to get the children here.

Later, Henry bought the General Store, Silver Gate Lodge, and the Range Rider Lodge. He realized that he could be a mentor to the young people he employed by creating a community for them to feel involved. It appears to be succeeding. His employees are upbeat, friendly, and helpful.

He gives me directions to Silver Falls on Mineral Mountain and lends me bear spray to carry. He says, “It’s like taking Prozac. You probably don’t need it, but it makes you feel better.”

Henry Finkbeiner

On Mineral Mountain, Silver Falls streams more than one hundred feet over a limestone cliff face. I hike up through alpine meadows and over scree. As I photograph the stream that flows into Soda Butte Creek, a family passes me. Nearing the falls, I hear them laughing. I stay at a distance to photograph the falls, so they can have privacy, and the joy of being a family in this marvelous place.

Terry Ward came to Yellowstone years ago and never left.  He’s a manager at Silver Gate Lodge, and is known as Terr Bear and WBB (World’s Best Boss.) He gives me a tour of the Range Rider Lodge. The lodge was built in 1937 and opened in 1938 as the Gorham Chalet.

They had just hosted the annual Hemingway Conference. Ernest Hemingway and his second wife, Pauline, lived at the L-T Ranch in neighboring Cooke City from 1930-1939. They came to the Royal Wulff Tavern every Saturday night for dining, dancing, and drinks. Some Hemingway memorabilia is in the lodge.

I ask Terry about the recent floods. He says it started with rain or snow every day since the end of May. By June twelfth it rained five inches a day and didn’t stop. Water ran down the roads and visitors were asked to leave. Soon, everything was under water and the employees were mandated to leave.

“We drove against the water until we came to a slide on the road, The kids (the employees under his management) moved rocks and trees to make a lane for cars to get through. Two days later, the southeast side of Silver Gate was covered with mud. Trucks carried out mud a foot deep. Within four days, it was cleaned up.”

Because of clean-up efforts, Silver Gate looks pristine, as if the floods never happened, but repairs to some personal residences, businesses, and roads are ongoing.

Terry Ward

Every evening, I hope to see starry skies and the Milky Way, but clouds mask the heavens, and some nights it rains. I’m rewarded when I wake pre-dawn one morning to see Venus shining in all her glory. Alone in front of the General Store, sipping a hot cup of coffee, I watch the sky brighten with the approach of the sun, and listen to the birds sing their praises to the new day.

Even though I didn’t see the wildlife I’d hoped to see: moose, elk, bison, and bears, or star filled skies every night, my stay in Silver Gate was magical. The air was fresh. The days were warm, and the nights were cool. The landscape filled me with awe, and Mother Nature arrayed herself with garlands of glorious flowers. It was so quiet that my thoughts slowed down, and time became meaningless. I did have solitude, but the other guests, residents, and employees of Silver Gate were warm and friendly, and I never felt alone. I will go back, and next time my stay will be longer.

The navigation system routes me back to Sheridan via HWY 212, the Beartooth HWY. It reaches an elevation of 10,947 feet. There’s a delay due to road repair work, but the drive provides spectacular vistas, as well as frightful hairpin curves with nothing but metal railings between you and all the way down. I see a bear cross the highway. It’s the biggest thrill of all.

*A recent news update states that major construction repairs on the Northeast Entrance Road to the park has begun.  Hikers and cyclists will still be able to go as far as Warm Creek trail head, two miles into the park. Repairs are projected to be completed by October 15th. These repairs are temporary, and alternatives are being considered for the permanent reconstruction of the Northeast Entrance Road that have the least impact on the environment, are most resistant to natural disasters, take advantage of unimpacted existing road infrastructure, and are the most expedient and cost effective.

On the Road

“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
                        from On the Road, Jack Kerouac

I moved to Oregon to be near my grandchildren when they were toddlers. It was a joy to watch them grow up, and a delight to see the wonderful young adults they’ve become. My last week in Oregon I spent as much time as I could with them and friends who are dear to me. They are an interesting mix of people who helped me walk the path of life, sharing laughter when life was happening as one would wish, and giving encouragement during the rough patches. I will miss them all, but it’s time to move on.

Wanting to see a part of the country I’ve never been to, I take Highway 90 across Washington, through Idaho, and into Montana. I spend the first night in Ellensburg, WA, a charming community along the Yakima River. It’s an agricultural region, and the main crop is hay and other forage, ninety percent of which is shipped internationally. It is also the home of Central Washington University. I love the architecture of the town, a mix of Italianate from the time of its establishment, to Art Deco of the 1930s.

I have dinner at the Palace Café. From the front window I see the Davidson building down the street, under a bright blue sky. A dark cloud hovers along the side street. It begins to rain and the wind kicks up. There’s a flurry of whiteness outside. For a moment I think it’s a blizzard, and then realize that it’s petals from the flowering plum trees drifting in the wind.

I want to spend the weekend in Coeur d’Alene, ID, but accommodations are too expensive. I stay in Spokane instead. In the morning I drive to Coeur d’Alene. When I arrive, the Women’s March for the Right to Self-determination is in progress. It’s a cold, dreary, misty day. Women of all ages march, some are pregnant. Men march with them. They chant, “My body, my choice.” The truck in front of me has an American flag flying from the tailgate. The man driving it sticks his head out the window and shouts, “If you have a baby in your belly, you’re supposed to keep it!” He turns left and zooms off.

People across the street shout, “Murderers!” In one hand they hold an American flag, in the other, a picture of Jesus.

Now I’m behind a car with California license plates. We stop at a red light. A woman from the non-marching side of the street screams, “Go back to California you #%^&*@!

I find a place to park, but by the time I walk back to the main throughfare, the parade has passed. Only the flag toting, Jesus-picture-carrying-mob remains. In the store windows are signs, “Idaho Wild & Free. It seems ironic to me that people who pride themselves on personal freedom, would deny others the freedom, and right, to make decisions that affect only their personal lives.

I walk to the lake. It’s beautiful but looks forlorn, or maybe it’s me who is forlorn. I get in my car and drive back to Spokane.

On the TV in the lobby of the hotel where I’m staying is breaking news of a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York. I’m heartsick. What’s become of this country? Why can’t we be civil with each other? Why can’t we just get along? We all want the same thing, to be able to sustain ourselves and live peacefully in our homes, the love of our family and friends, to have pleasant interaction with our neighbors, and that includes the world at large.

I spend the rest of the day walking along the Spokane River on the Centennial trail. The river is running high and fast from the spring melt; the trail is beautiful and peaceful, with touches of whimsy.

A River Runs Through It

Missoula, Montana surprises me. I imagined the weather would be cold, with clouds hovering over an old western town in the heart of a city of modern buildings, and filled with cowboys. When I arrive, it’s sunny and seventy-two degrees, and I don’t see any cowboys. It’s Sunday and the town is quiet, but restaurants are busy. Even though it’s the second largest city in Montana, it has a small town feel. It’s home to the University of Montana. I’m told that it’s graduation weekend, but there are no signs of celebration.

I have dinner at a restaurant on the river, then walk along the riverfront trail. I cross a bridge over the Clark Fork River, the river that runs through it, and walk around the Hip Strip. People are sitting at outdoor tables in front of bars and restaurants. There is a line to the corner of families waiting their turn for ice cream at the Big Dipper.

Bicyclists ride by and I watch someone in a kayak playing on Brennan’s Wave, a manmade whitewater wave. I cross the river again at the Higgins Avenue Bridge, and then walk in the opposite direction, back to the motel where I’m staying.

The sky becomes overcast. I’m disappointed because I’d hoped to see the full moon rise, and watch the Flower Blood Moon eclipse.

Every fifteen minutes, a train runs behind the motel I’m staying at. It isn’t just the clickity clack of the wheels on the railroad tracks all night, but also the whistle that blows as it passes my room that startles me and makes sleep impossible. I get up and search the internet for different accommodations. What few rooms that are available are well over two hundred dollars a night. When I started planning my trip in February, I was shocked that prices were sixty to eighty dollars a night more than last summer, but they’d increased even more in the past few weeks. I decide to leave in the morning.

I’d planned to stay a few days to hike the Lolo trail and explore more of the surrounding wilderness. During my journey last summer, I realized that what I really want to do when I travel is to camp in the arms of Mother Nature. I’m working on building the courage to camp solo. When I’ve conquered the hesitance within, I will re-visit the Missoula wilderness.

Big Sky Country

The sky is big in Montana, and it is more than blue, it has a tinge of violet, and appears to curve above me rather than at the horizon. Driving beside sparkling streams, the mountains seem near, yet far off. They aren’t gently rolling and crested, but jutting and oblique, and purple, not verdant. My eyes feast on the beauty as I drive across the state. I wish there were places to pull over to take photos.

When I left on my trip, I was warned that Montanans drive fast. The speed limit does go up to eighty miles per hour, and slows down to sixty-five when passing by towns. I stay in the right lane and I’m surprised that Montanans do, as well. It seems the left lane is used as it’s intended, as a passing lane. Drivers stay well back, there are no bumper huggers, and if they want to pass, they don’t cut in front after passing, but put distance between the vehicles before returning to the right lane.  Yes, they drive fast, but I think Montanans are the politest drivers I’ve encountered on the road.

Billings is the largest city in Montana and the most industrialized. I spend the night and then take HWY 25 down into Wyoming. It is more rolling than flat. I hope for a glimpse of the Grand Tetons, but it’s too far east of them. I promise myself to visit Yellowstone National Park in the fall. ***

I spend the night in Casper and I’m up early, eager to get to my destination.

“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”

                        From On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Denver is a big sprawling metropolis with a heavily trafficked, multi-laned freeway system. It reminds me of Los Angeles, the center of a spiderweb of outlying suburban areas. Castle Rock is one of those suburbs, a half an hour south of Denver. It’s seventy-eight degrees the day I arrive, the next day it’s eighty-eight. The temperature drops to twenty-six degrees overnight and a foot of snow falls.

It’s good to be with my son, Paul, and daughter in law, Heather. I’m adjusting to fitting in with a newly formed family as well as a new environment. I join a writer’s group to meet people, hike in the beautiful mountains surrounding Castle Rock, and watch my new life unfold.

***As I write this, all entrances to Yellowstone Park are closed. An unusual amount of rain and spring snowmelt caused severe flooding of rivers, eroding roads, collapsing bridges, and sweeping homes into swiftly running streams. The greatest damage is to the northern entrances to the park. Until damage is fully assessed, those portions of the park may be closed for the rest of the season.

Forest fires have swept New Mexico since early April. The Black Fire in southern New Mexico has consumed over 3212,00 acres and is only 47% contained.

Because of severe drought conditions, Mendocino County, CA is running out of water.

It seems the weather is becoming more and more extreme. Extreme conditions mean extreme actions must be taken to bring humanity back into balance with nature. We need our political leaders to stop bickering with each other and work hand in hand with leaders of industry to focus on resolving these serious issues, and as individuals, we must live lightly upon the earth. I don’t like thinking about the consequences unless we act swiftly and soon.

Mercy, Mercy Me

“Mercy, mercy me,

Things ain’t what they used to be, no no

Where did all the blue skies go?

Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east…”

Marvin Gaye

I went inside my heart to see how it was. Something there makes me hear the whole world weeping.


I return to Oak Grove to look for a place to rent, and get off the road for the winter. It feels good to be back to the familiar, to know how to get where I’m going, and take my secret shortcuts to get there. Although everything is the same, it seems different. There’s a yellow pall across the sky from a fire somewhere, and it looks as if everything is covered with a layer of ash.

I go for a walk along the Willamette River. I’ve never seen the river this low. The land bridge to Elk Rock is completely exposed. Pine trees are filled with dry, brown needles, not a few here and there, but whole limbs.

Later, I walk around my old neighborhood. Yards are dry and dusty. The leaves on trees are curled and crisped, as if burned, from heat and lack of rain. It’s a tinderbox. A careless fire and a strong wind, and all of this would be gone in moments.

My body trembles. I can’t breathe. I crumple to the ground. I feel as if I’m going to die here, under a pine tree, gasping for breath, on a patch of dry pine needles. I think of once mighty rivers running so low that they are rivulets, and leaves on trees that are scorched from the heat, and the smoke from fires that have swept across the west that shroud the night sky, and I cry,

chest heaving,


wet and salty


 If only these tears could fill the rivers and water the trees. I want to save the world but I don’t know how.

In the past year, a firestorm swept through a large portion of Oregon that came too close for comfort to where I lived. Five months later, an ice storm brought down limbs and whole trees on power lines throughout the Willamette Valley. Some areas were without electricity for weeks. I felt fortunate to have been without it for only four days.

Mid-June it’s one hundred fifteen degrees in the Portland area for a few days. There’s a wildfire in Oregon, another in California. Lake Powell is so low; it seems a trickle between its two great banks.

Everywhere I go, roads are being re-paved, and new roads are made with black asphalt. Why do we continue to use it, when it absorbs the sun’s heat and then radiates it back at the end of the day where we live, making it uncomfortably hot, creating a demand for air conditioning, putting a strain on energy grids that, in many areas, are powered by dammed rivers that are reaching dead pool levels?

Through Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, I notice many vehicles, usually trucks for small businesses, spew black exhaust. There are floods in Germany. Sardinia is on fire. It’s one hundred twenty-four degrees in Sicily. Because there hadn’t been enough rain, the people of Ireland are told to conserve water.

Flooding devastates the city of Zhengzhou in China, and the fires in Oregon and California are out of control. A shroud of smoke hangs over the night sky.

In Abiqui, there are dramatic storms with sharp lightning strikes and booming, rolling thunder, followed by downpours. In the morning the earth is dry, as if the rain had been a figment of my imagination. The Rio Grande is reduced to a stream by the time it reaches Albuquerque.

Sicily is on fire. And then Greece. And Calabria. Torrential rains flood Japan.

It seems there is a weather disaster somewhere in the world every week. I don’t understand how people can deny climate change. Do they not pay attention to how the Earth has changed during their lifetime? I don’t understand how they can excuse the climate chaos that is happening as simply another earth cycle.

I don’t know if it’s minutes or hours that I’m on the ground, weeping, my mind replaying all the things I’ve seen and heard over the summer. Earth is compromised. What will there be for our grandchildren?

I don’t know why I feel personally responsible to make changes beyond the daily things I do to live lightly upon the Earth. Words are all I have to offer to encourage people to make changes in their lives to help Earth’s healing process, and to our local, national and world leaders to make the sweeping changes that will make the greatest impact. Even though I have much to say, words fail me.

When there’s not another tear left, I get up and walk back to the room where I’m staying, picking pine needles off my arms and legs, and out of my hair.

It takes weeks to find a rental. Aside from the outrageous cost of rent, most places want a lease for one year. I plan to be here only until spring. Friends tell me that Waverly Greens has short term rentals. It’s easily accessible to everything I do, and it’s near the Willamette River for walks. By mid-October, I settle in for the winter.

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 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.