Suddenly we’re in Oregon.
It’s the high country, and there’s snow everywhere. The air smells like onions. No wonder. It’s the Ore-Ida plant. Ore-Ida (for Oregon and Idaho) is based at the border in the town of Ontario, and the largest producer of frozen potatoes and onions in the US at 600 million pounds a year.
We take a few selfies, send some promised texts and photos to friends and family, then we’re on the road again. We still have a full day of driving ahead of us.
music is “Sheets” by Damien Jurado, here
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Leaving out of Boise, we head north with the wind, and follow the Snake River all the way to Oregon along the Oregon Trail.
Just before the state line, a double rainbow appears. It’s a natural mirror of the man-made one we saw back in St. Louis, this one a true gateway to the west. Emily takes it as a very good omen, the best welcome sign she could have. She is dancing in the driver’s seat.
Even in the dark we can see this is a different landscape. (I say “we,” but Emily is sleeping.) Hills are rounded, not craggy like the mountains we just left. Valleys are broad pans, and the highway undulates through them. Everything bears the mark of those biblical floods pouring out of Utah. It’s an empty landscape, scoured bare of people, too, apparently. The one gas station we see in the distance – a single light glowing in a nimbus on the otherwise dark prairie – is closed. We need gas again, soon.
This is the approach to the Snake River Valley: a wide, flat, elbow shaped plain, the dominant feature of southern Idaho. Though a river runs through it, as did those those epic Old Testament scale floods, it is not just another alluvial valley shaped by water.
No, that’s not what made it. Massive terrain altering floods not good enough for you? Ok, how about this: Multiple super-volcano super-erruptions. BAM! ‘at’s what I’m talkin’ about.
down to Utah
Averting vehicular catastrophe in Wyoming, we’re entering a region of the country rife with past catastrophes – both human and geological.
The Wasatch Range forms a rampart between Salt Lake and the rest of the world. Contrary to common sense, we don’t go up into the mountains; we descend into them. From Evanston, and then in the mountains themselves, we’re winding down narrow canyons beneath the peaks, and the road drops steadily over 3000 feet.
Like a walled medeival city, there are few ways through the mountains to the Promised Land of the West. Gates are small, obscured, and fortified against ingress. All supplicants are channelled into easily defended chutes like livestock.
Just beyond the border with Utah, we enter the first chute, the mouth of Echo Canyon. For hundreds of years, pilgrims have funneled through this spot – bowed their heads, shuffled their feet, and prayed. Places through here have ominous names: Devil’s Gate, Devil’s Slide, Hells Gate, etc..
crossing Colorado and Wyoming – ground blizzard in Wyoming
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