All posts by Steve Stern

The Big Trip (Part 1, going east) with pictures from a little trip

Michele getting out of the sun at Bruneau Dunes State Park near Moutain Home in the Snake River valley.

Michele has a Cousin’s Reunion in Beaufort South Carolina starting on October 7th -weather permitting, it now seems – and we are going to drive there. We have taken up calling it the Big Trip – with apologies to Emily Gordon and Kumail NanjianiIt – and it will be the first time in years that I will be a tourist – in the best possible sense – seeing new places. It will also be the first time either one of us has ever driven across the country. The trip in the acompaning pictures is a drive from the Snake River Valley in southern Idaho to Interstate 80 near Winnemucca in northern Nevada and was part of our trip to see the eclipse. The eclipse trip also became a shakedown run for the Big Trip. Now that we are Googling routes and packing, the Big Trip is more real and I am getting very excited.  

We started our drive south to Winnemucca in the Snake River Valley which was scoured out by the sudden draining of the Lake Bonneville. It is estimated that about 1,200 cubic miles of water, drained out in a couple of weeks, lowering the Lake Bonneville level by exactly 351 feet. The small remaining remnants of Lake Bonneville are now The Great Salt Lake.
Heading south, towards Nevada, we pass Bruneau Dunes State Park near the hamlet of Bruneau and Jumbo’s store which advertises beer, bait, and bullets,
as we climb out of the Snake River Valley onto the Owyhee Plateau where the main industry seems to be growing hay.
As we travel south, into the Great Basin, the sky, which had been smoky from fires in Canada, clears.

My little sister, Paula, has just turned 75 and one of the most anticipated parts of the Big Trip will be spending four days at her place in Albuquerque NM, celebrating her Birthday. On the way to Paula’s, we’ll stop at a couple of our usual stopping towns, Barstow CA and Flagstaff AZ. Leaving Albuquerque, going east, however, we will enter what will be new territory for us so any suggestions, including change of stopping points, would be much appreciated.  

After leaving Paula’s, our thinking is to stay at Amarillo TX for our first night out. It is about a four-hour 15-minute drive or about six hours if we stay off of highways. We definitely want to see the Cadilac Ranch and we hope to go for a hike in Palo Duro Canyon which is billed as the second largest canyon in the U. S. (but, seems in pictures, similar to and smaller than the Snake River Valley). 

When we left the Snake River Valley, we were east of Boise so to get west to Reno, we have to keep cutting through mountain chains that are running north/south.
Going through the Independence Mountains, we ran into aspens at about seven thousand feet.I am reminded of a comment by John McPhee in “Basin and Range”, in which he talks about each high mountain chain being like an island with its own micro-environment seperated by desert..
Driving west, we go through a basin, then over a mountain, and then another basin.
We pass deserted homesteads, each one an abandoned dream.

From Amarillo TX to Tulsa OK is about five and a half hours on highways or about six and a half by backroads going through Gutherie, the first capital of Oklahoma, and now an outdoor museum and tourist destination   We are planning on spending two nights in Tulsa for no particular reason except that it looks interesting, is reported to have some great art deco architecture including a semi-deco 1929 Frank Lloyd Wright house, and a hot music and restaurant scene although, in reading about various cities on our route, everyone has a downtown revival which includes a hot restaurant scene. Our next stop is Bentingtonville AR, only two to three hours away, depending on how much highway driving we do. Bentingtonville is the home of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the depository of much of the Wallmart fortune so it should be fabulous. The building was designed by Moshe Safdie, the Israeli architect who we know of because of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore, which is the backdrop for the Singapore Grand Prix (although Safdie is a well-known architect, it does make one wonder why an Israeli architect would be used for a museum of American Art).

Michele shoots a self-portrait.
In northeastern Nevada, like southern Idaho, hay seems to be the biggest crop.
Only 91 miles from Golconda, we pass a sign that made us both chuckle. (BTW, I have no idea where Golconda is and only a vague idea of where we are except we are on Nevada highway 226.)

From Bentingtonville, the next jump is to Memphis TN and it is a long jump, a little over five hours on Highway 40 and six and half hours off the freeway. Since we left Albuquerque, Memphis is the only city we had already been to (we stayed there in 2008, on the way to Shiloh Military Park as part of a trip to meet a couple of Michele’s cousins that turned into a pilgrimage to a couple of General U.S. Grant’s Civil War battles). The upside is that Memphis has a great music scene and our favorite barbecue joint (so far) but, the downside is that we have already been there, done that. The next two nights we will stay in Chattanooga TN which I just found out is touted to be one of the “Top 45 Places to go in the World in 2012” by the New York Times. From there, it is only six to seven hours to The Cousin’s Reunion in Beaufort SC.

Cutting across a small basin in the Great Basin. People complain that driving across Nevada is boring and I can’t fathom why. As an aside, when I Googled “fathom’, the example they gave was “he could scarcely fathom the idea that people actually lived in Las Vegas”. End aside.

As we get close to Interstate 80, the landscape opens up, then it is only an hour and a half to a stellar Chines restaurant in Reno.

Two days before I wrote this, Trump gave a speech at the United Nations that was just nasty. He just seems to be a lout, to his very core. Now he is our President, both the Chief Executive and the Public  Face of The United States. But researching for this trip has left me feeling much better for our country. As the Roman Empire collapsed, the cities in it, like Florence or Arles in France, continued to prosper as islands of civilization, and, as much of our country seems to be convulsing towards Trumpian dystopia, all the small cities we Googled for the trip seemed to be growing islands of tolerant Secular Humanism (with interesting food).

Pictures from a Saturday afternoon

Last Saturday, Michele and I went to the Inaugural Industrial Arts Horsepower Car Show and Street Fair in the old – for lack of a better word – industrial part of San Carlos. The alleged car show wasn’t much, a large number of Camaros and Mustangs, a heavy spattering of crome covered 50s and 60s cars that reflect Detroit at its most flamboyant, and several hotrods, one similar to the five-window deuce I had when I was 16 or 17.  The biggest surprise, however, was the change in this part of town. It seemed so Silicon Valley and au courant, I remembered it as a flyover area – so to speak – that was a combination of light manufacturing – actually, it was more like light fabrication – commercial sales places that sold stuff like piping or forklifts, and construction companies like plumbers. Under that memory is a deeper memory, of the legendary Lenkurk Electric Company and Lennart Erickson. The details, and probably the truth, has been sort of lost in my mythic past but Lenkurk was the biggest, flashest, company around, they made electrical stuff for the government, some of it secret and Lennart Erickson was an eccentric genius who even had a round bed with a fur blanket. I read now that Lenkurt Electric Company was a microwave and telecommunications company, it was started by both Lennart Erickson and Kurt Appert and it had about 4,000 employees.

We had a beer from a brewery, Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company, that is now in a building that once housed Varian Associates and, later Tesla Motors, it is now set up for parties. After wandering around for a couple of hours, we ended the day wine tasting at The Russian Ridge Winery, one of the eight local wineries.


Lightening last night; fire today

Yesterday’s twilight brought weather that was very strange; maybe not for lots of places, but for our little corner of the world. It was dry and hot most of the day, then – in the early evening – it clouded up and started to rain with big fat rain drops like it sometimes does in the Sierras after a hot day. With the rain, came thunder without lightning, although, intellectually, we knew there must be lightning somewhere and the sunlight was hiding what was going on just over the ridge. That evening, when we went out for dinner, the rain had stopped, the temperature dropped 30 degrees, and there was lightning everywhere. On the way home, we could see lightning sweeping across the bay and over the Fremont Hills. It was also warmer again which lead us to hypothecate that the temperature drop was from evaporation as everything was dry again.   

This morning we got several ALERTS on our phone – cell phones, not on the vestigial land line, we noticed – that there was a fire in nearby Bear Gulch and several roads were closed. Cal Fire started bringing in equipment but it was sitting in a meadow close to our house but far from the fire. Driving to Marin, the radio said that ten acres were burning, on the way back, they said fifty acres and a couple of helicopters had joined the Cal Fire trucks. Now, in the evening, the skies are clear, the temperature has dropped from a high of 90 to 75 and the helicopters are still flying. 

We saw Lucky Logan and I saw a part of me I don’t like.

Michele and I saw Logan Lucky last night. It is a heist movie, similar to Ocean’s Eleven in concept and fantasy, except that it involves rednecks from West Virgina rather than a nattily dressed Frank Sinatra or George Clooney (take your pick at which Ocean’s Eleven you prefer). The redneck part is the rub. In one of the first scenes, the hero, played by a very scruffy Tatum Channing, is laid off – for insurance reasons – from the shitty job he got after he was laid off from the coal mines. When he goes to pick up his daughter from his divorced wife, I fully expected him to be violent. I didn’t expect the well dressed Danny Ocean to be violent but this guy was a redneck, a laid off coal miner, and, at a deep level, I thought of him as a violent, white, Trump supporting, loser. He wasn’t of course, any more than Danny Ocean was and seeing my own prejudging, my own bigotry, was not fun even if it was enlightening.   

Once I got past my bigotry, the movie was a fun, if lightweight, romp. 

Taylor Swift, Donald Trump, and the advantage of being a performer

If you didn’t follow the Taylor Swift Trial a couple of weeks ago, I understand. A celebrity’s trial has to be one of the lowest forms of news, but, if you weren’t following the trial, you missed an epic performance by Ms. Swift (and I mean that in the best possible way). Very basically, the guy on the right, DJ David Mueller, groped Ms. Swift – in the middle, for those of us who might not know her – and she complained to his boss (or her mother complained, I didn’t follow it that closely). He was fired and, after a couple of years, he sued Taylor Swift for 2+million and an apology. She countersued for $1. In the ensuing trial, Taylor Swift pretty much destroyed the prosecuting attorney and the jury ruled in her favor after a very short deliberation. To quote CNN, who says it better than I can,