Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Keep Portland Weird

New York has the Statue of Liberty, St. Louis the Gateway Arch and San Francisco the Golden Gate Bridge.  So what is the icon for Portland?  The Portlandia sculpture, if you could see it for the trees!  It's perched above the entrance to The Portland Building, but the canopy of the trees lining the sidewalk hide this piece of public art from--well, from its public.

Her muse is also on the Portland city seal.  Thus, you might think there would be postcards, T-shirts and coffee cups emblazoned with her likeness, but you would be wrong!  Raymond Kaskey, the artist who created the statue, the second-largest bronze sculpture in the world after the Statue of Liberty, holds the copyright and he has said that he has no interest in ever selling the rights to the city.  What a missed opportunity for Portland's tourism industry!

Still, after lengthy negotiations, Kaskey did allow the producers of the television comedy, Portlandia, to show it briefly in the program's opening scenes.  And if you are still alive 70 years after he dies, you could use it freely since by then it will be within the public domain.  

That's just one of the quirky stories our tour guide Eric told us to prove the weirdness Portland claims as its own.

Joining his crocodile of followers as he led us in a walk around downtown, Tim and I felt as if we'd been dropped into one of the comedy sketches from the TV show Portlandia.  That's because Eric not only knows his city of Portland, he shares it in a series of silly stories and little known trivia that kept us laughing as we got introductory look at the city through his eyes.

The tour began at Pioneer Square, affectionately called the living room of Portland, according to Eric.   Once the site of a school for 250 students taught by three teachers--now that's my notion of crazy--in the early days of the town's existence, this public space in 1969 was on track to become an 800-car parking garage before the Portland Planning Commission rejected the proposal, calling for a public plaza instead.  The community rallied to the idea, buying bricks personalized with their names for $100 each to pave the plaza and purchase this parcel of land.  Of course, there are some facetious engravings, including one for Elvis but that's just one more manifestation of the weirdness of Portland's hipster culture.  Nowadays, a Starbucks, incidentally the first one to open in Oregon, anchors one corner and serves coffee to weather-weary Portlanders. 

I can't recall all of Eric's stories, but a few did stick with me.  Benson Bubblers, the iconic, four-faucet drinking fountains which continually spurt water, were gifted to the city by lumber baron Simon Benson.  These were his attempt to wean the thirsty lumbermen in his employ from consuming alcoholic beverages during their breaks by offering clean drinking water as an alternative.  

You can tell which of the now ninety fountains found in the downtown is one of his original 20 by the engraving around the rim.

Mill End Park, dedicated in 1948 as the only colony for leprechauns west of Ireland, is the smallest public park in the world according to the Guinness World Book of Records.  Planted squarely in the center of the median strip of SW Naito Parkway next to Portland's city's waterfront, the garden, complete with a miniature park bench, thrives in a former streetlight's foundation, the light being removed after it was involved in numerous traffic accidents.

Then, there's the Voo Doo Doughnuts craze.  Customers wait in line as much as an hour to sample a creation fashioned not by bakers but by doughnut artists.  

These doughnuts--do not insult them with the spelling "donuts"--offer distinctly weird combinations such as Bacon Maple bar, a maple glazed topped with a strip of bacon or the chocolate-frosted doughnut filled with raspberry jam "blood" that oozes from the pretzel-staked heart, the Voo Doo Doll.  Of special interest to beer drinkers here in Brewtown--but sadly, thanks to the FDA, no longer available--was the Hangover Doughnut with its topping of aspirin sprinkles.

Weird, huh?  Yes, we thought so!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The End of the Trail

Deschutes River State Park

Following the Oregon Trail as Tim and I have done these past few weeks has been an awe-inspiring journey.  It's given us a deep appreciation for the bravery and hardiness of the pioneers who endured the dangers and hardships of the 2,000 mile trail.  Now we are on the final leg of their journey.  Somehow, they had to travel through the gorge of the Columbia River, a wild, raging torrent before today's eleven dams tamed it.  But before they could begin, they had to ford its tributary, the Deschutes River.

As we've come to realize, river crossings were extremely difficult for Oregon Trail emigrants and the Deschutes was no exception.  John McAllister, an emigrant of 1852, warned "danger attends the crossage here...many large rocks and at the same time a very rapid current."  Casualties were common, but Tim and I had no problem, thanks to the safe passage afforded us by Interstate 84, a route that overlays the Oregon Trail.

Nonetheless, while we camped at Deschutes River State Park, it was easy to picture the pioneers' plight.  Listening to the mournful cry of the railroad locomotives whose nearby tracks, too, ran along the old Oregon Trail, I couldn't help but feel that sound was a lament for those souls who died here.

Barlow Cutoff by William Henry Jackson

Rather than hazard a raft trip down the Columbia River as so many other emigrants had done, the Barlow party in 1845 opened the first overland route through the Cascade Mountains, a route that traversed the south side of Mount Hood.  Others followed their way and arrived safely at Oregon City, the historic end of the Oregon Trail.  Tim and I had planned to visit the interpretive center there, but since we've been to similar museums along the way, we decided to give this one a pass.

From 2004-2010, The Freshwater Trust planted 118,000 trees along the Deschutes River to protect native fish and improve water quality.  We appreciated the shade, especially knowing the emigrants were not so fortunate.

Ninety-four percent of those who traveled the Trail reached their destination, but about 20,000 emigrants died on the way.  The fear of death was something they lived with every day.  One out of every 17 people who started the journey died enroute.

But for those emigrant families who survived the treacherous Columbia River, they would find their grueling ordeal at an end.  Three hundred and sixty acres would be their reward when they arrived at the fertile valley of the Willamette River, a basin that today is home to two-thirds of Oregon's population.

"We all felt that now, our journey was ended.  The cattle had been unyoked for the last time; the wagons had been rolled to the last bivouac; the embers of the last campfire had died out; the last word of gossip had been spoken, and now, we are entering a new field with new present experience, and with a new expectancy for the morrow."  Ezra Meeker, 1852

Our reward will be the Dawntreader's safe arrival in Portland.  We have reservations there for four days at the Columbia River RV Park on the northeast side of the city.  Neither Tim nor I have ever visited the Pacific Northwest so we, too, are entering a new field with new expectancies.  We have high hopes.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Three Island Crossing

When pioneers entered present-day Idaho on the Oregon Trail, many had already traveled more than a thousand miles.

The way was littered with abandoned wagons, dashed dreams and graves.  Still, a great deal of the pioneers' journey remained ahead, and almost immediately, the emigrants faced new obstacles, chief of which was the Snake River.

Near what is now Glenns Ferry, Idaho, the emigrants had a difficult decision to make.  They could attempt the treacherous Three Island Crossing to reach a shorter, easier route north of the Snake River Valley, or they could stay on the rough and dry southern route.  About half of the emigrants decided to cross the swift, deep river here, using the three islands as stepping stones.

Three Island Crossing by William Henry Jackson

"Husband had considerable difficulty crossing the cart.  Both the cart and the mules were capsized in the water and the mules entangled in the harness.  They would have drowned, but for a desperate struggle to get them ashore.  Then after putting two of the strongest horses before the cart and two men swimming behind to steady it, they succeeded in getting it over."  Narcissa Whitman, 1836
Three Island Crossing State Park

Realizing that we needed to push on if we hoped to reach Portland by the middle of July, Tim and I bypassed Fort Hall and several other Oregon Trail milestones in Idaho to spend two nights at Three Island Crossing State Park on the outskirts of Glenns Ferry.

The bottom photos are a replica of the ferry.

Gustavus Glenn in 1869 constructed a ferry here to assist emigrants across the river.  I wonder how much business he had, given that was the year the transcontinental railroad was completed.  But undoubtedly, there were those who couldn't afford a train ticket, plus the freight to ship their possessions west.  I hope they had the money to pay for Glenn's ferry.

We enjoyed our stay at Three Island Crossing State Park.  With over 80 campsites and a small museum, the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the park is a green oasis kept that way by the rangers who turn on the sprinkler system with great regularity.  Daily, we dodged the spray as we walked the lower loop and then the upper loop on the cliff overlooking the river.  The contrast between the park and the rough desert terrain next to it is striking.  It's amazing what irrigation can do.

Because we had a rest day here, we drove our car along a portion of the Oregon Trail Back Country Byway.  

Wagon ruts were clearly visible in several places, proof of the pioneers' arduous journey.  

High atop a bluff was the Three Island Overlook, the best view of the three islands.  This must have been the vantage point William Henry Jackson recalled when in later life, he painted his watercolor of Three Island Crossing.

Today, the Snake River Valley is home to more than 50 wineries. The Crossings Winery just beyond the park's boundary, was too close for us to resist.  Tim and I tried several of its award-winning wines before we finally agreed that Passion Peach Sangria was our favorite.

Certainly, that decision was trivial to the life-or-death one the emigrants faced here at Three Island Crossing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fort Bridger

“I have established a small fort, with a blacksmith shop and a supply of iron in the road of the emigrants on Black Fork of Green River, which promised fairly.”

That was how Jim Bridger, mountain man, described his new venture, a trading post, in a letter to would-be Eastern investors in 1843.  

Fort Bridger by William Henry Jackson

"Fairly?"  Bridger understated his case.  His Eastern friends should have jumped on his business proposal.  Not only did the location promise “fairly,” it became one of the main hubs of westward expansion used by trappers, Indians, emigrants, the U. S. Army, the Pony Express, the Overland Stage and the Union Pacific Railroad.  

It was here that the Oregon Trail turned northwest while the Mormon and the California trails continued on their way. 

Tim and I expected Fort Bridger to be a bigger town.  After all, the fort was Wyoming’s second largest post after Fort Laramie, but the city limit marker noted a population of only 345 people.  Our campground, suitably named Fort Bridger RV Park, and the fort seemed to be the sum total of the town.  That was convenient.  In no time, we'd hooked up our RV, the Dawntreader, to the utilities and meandered over to the fort, all in time for the 2 p.m. tour.

Our tour guide Kim was a fifth generation inhabitant of the area and very knowledgeable about its history.  Of great interest was the Utah War (1857-1858), a conflict whose history was new to me.  Mormon settlers, determined to separate Utah from the United States thereby creating an independent nation where they would be free from religious persecution, blocked the army’s entrance into the Salt Lake Valley.  Scorch and burn was their militia’s strategy to hinder the soldiers as they approached.  They stampeded the army’s horses, set fire to their supply wagons and tried to burn the whole country before them.   Approximately 126 civilians were killed.  In the end, negotiations between the United States and the Mormons resulted in a full pardon, the transfer of governorship from church President Brigham Young to non-Mormon Alfred Cumming, and the peaceful entrance of the U.S. Army into Utah.

A sculpture of Jim Bridger

But I digress--back to the fort whose ownership had fallen into dispute.  Mormons claimed that Jim Bridger sold the flourishing property to them while Bridger argued that it was stolen from him while he was back in Missouri.  Regardless, the post passed to the U.S. Army in 1858 and served as a military outpost until it was abandoned in 1890.

Early the next morning, Tim and I, too, abandoned Fort Bridger.  We had a six-hour trip ahead of us before we would reach our next campground.  Skedaddle, Dawntreader!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sweetwater to South Pass

After crossing the Platte River near Fort Casper, the Oregon Trail pioneers faced the steepest, roughest, driest and most dangerous stretches of the Trail.  Tim and I wondered, too, if the highway we meant to follow would be accessible for our RV, the Dawntreader. 

Notice the cutoffs after South Pass

When I mapped out our route six months ago, I checked Rand McNally’s Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas, an atlas that highlights trucker routes (those with no low-hanging bridges) in yellow, and thought we could go this way.  But now, looking at it again and seeing the towns few and far between, I worried about what might happen if the Dawntreader failed us.  Would we, too, be forced to walk until we could find help?

Luckily, my fears did not faze Tim; he intrepidly turned west and we found the highway to be a good, though lightly travelled, road.

As we drove through the sage-covered territory, my job as navigator was to watch for the marker indicating the turnoff for Independence Rock, so named because trail tradition held that reaching this milestone by the Fourth of July meant the emigrants would arrive safely in Oregon before early blizzards blew. 

I almost missed it.  I wasn’t expecting it to be at a rest stop, but upon reflection, what could be more fitting than for the highway crew to construct a rest stop in the same place the pioneers stopped. 

Dwarfed by the hills to the west of it, Independence Rock looks like a great stone turtle and marks the beginning of the 100-mile climb up the Sweetwater Valley to South Pass.  

Just as they did on Register Cliff, many pioneers left their names carved or painted with tar on the face of Independence Rock, too.

“Thousands of names are engraved and painted by all colors of paint.  I can compare it to nothing so [much] as an irregular loaf of bread raised very light & cracked & creased in all ways.”  Daniel Budd, date unknown
“Names! Names!  Are everywhere upon its surface to be seen.  Names of the young & the old, of the man & his gentle mate, of the learned traveler & the yellow ideaed gold hunter.”  Charles B. Darwin, 1849

Independence Rock by William Henry Jackson

Indeed, I should have recognized the rock from Abigail Scott’s description in her diary, dated June 29, 1852:

“We came twenty miles.  The water (of Sweetwater River) is clear and palatable but is warmer during the day than the water of the Platte.  Independence Rock is an immense mass covering an area of, I think about ten acres, and is about three hundred feet high.  My sisters and I went to the base of the rock with the intention of climbing it but we had only ascended about thirty feet when a heavy hail and windstorm arose obliging us to desist.  Immediately after leaving Independence rock we came in sight of the well-known Devil’s Gate five miles ahead of us…”

Climbing the rock seems to be an irresistible challenge to the young, irrespective of the passage of centuries.  I watched a family of teenagers scale it to the top.  If you look closely at the photo above, you may see them.

Devil’s Gate is clearly visible from the Independence Rock.  It’s a 370-foot high, 1,500-foot long fissure chiseled over the centuries by the Sweetwater River, a river that earned its name for its taste.  French-speaking trappers in the early 1800s called the river “Eau Sucree,” meaning ‘sugar water.’  Emigrants also noted its sweetness, a welcome contrast to the alkaline streams they had encountered to the east.

“Who can gaze on the Sweetwater’s passage through the mountains (called Devil’s Gate) without feelings of the livest emotions?  It is grand, it is sublime!  Fifty feet of a chasm having perpendicular walls three hundred feet high yawning over the gulf below.  He must be brainless that can see this unmoved.  Here memory will dwell.”  John Edwin Banks, 1849

We were unable to get close to Devil’s Gate--it’s now a museum run by the Mormons--but the highway pull-out had placards worth stopping to see.

Our plans called for spending the night at Twin Pines RV Park about seven miles south of Lander.  When we checked in, the owner mentioned several local sites to see.  

We were intrigued by her description of the natural phenomenon within Sinks Canyon State Park.  There the Popo Agie, a rushing river, flows out of the Wind River Mountains and through the canyon.  

Halfway down the canyon, the river abruptly turns into a large limestone cavern, and the crashing water “sinks” into fissures and cracks at the back of the cave.  The river is underground for a quarter mile until it emerges down the canyon in a large calm pool called “The Rise” which is filled with huge trout.  

The Rise

It's hard to see, but those bubbles in the lower left photo are the river as it rises.  The river then continues its course into the valley below.  

Hiking through Sinks Canyon

We found the canyon interesting not only for its geological wonder, but also for its great hiking trails.

One of our challenges on the road, not faced by the pioneers, is finding access to the Internet.  This was especially troublesome at Twin Pines RV Resort where not even our 3G phones could find service in the desolate territory of central Wyoming.  So I typed rough drafts for several blog posts using a word processing program on our laptop; then, we stopped at McDonalds in Lander so I could use their free Internet wifi to upload them.  Problem solved!

Leaving Twin Pines the next morning, we planned to stop at South Pass City, a historical mining district and now a Wyoming State Historic Site.  However, when we turned onto the marked gravel road, we had serious misgivings about the wisdom of this detour.  After traveling a couple miles, Tim determined that this side jaunt was not necessary so he pulled the Dawntreader into a wide spot on the road and we made a very scary U-turn.  

Returning to the highway, we found South Pass (elevation 7,411 feet), a nearly imperceptible hill that straddles the Continental Divide only a few miles ahead.  West of here, the pioneers would have a parting of the ways and head off in differing directions, on differing trails, to their final destination and fortune.

“After getting fairly on the top level of the Pass we halted, to gaze for the last time on the eastern hills and valleys of the Atlantic slope…I was soon brought to ‘a sense of my situation’ by three lusty cheers, given as a sort of adieu to our friends before descending into the valley of the Pacific.”  William Kelly

Not to be outdone, Tim and I echoed their cheers as we, too, drove down the pass.