Our Interstate System: The General's Plan
I-80 looks like a long gray ribbon with multicolor stripes of cars & trucks winding up down the hills of Nebraska! The Challenge magazine published by Pilot Travel Centers had an article on the origin of our Interstate system. In the summer of 1919, just after the end of World War I, a convoy of 81 military vehicles left from the zero milestone marker on the edge of the White House's South Lawn, met the Lincoln Highway(soon to be known as U.S. Highway 30) in southern Pennsylvania and slowly made it's way west. Destination: San Francisco, California!
The mission of the convoy was to move from the Atlantic shore to the Pacific to better understand the challenges the defending American Army would face if the US were ever invaded and military troops and equipment needed to be moved quickly from one place to another. As the colonel glared at the military transport truck lying on its side like a beast of burden with a broken leg, one of dozens of accidents that slowed the progress of the convoy, it was clearly showing him just how vulnerable America was to invading armies.
The rules of the mission: The convoy would proceed under "war time" conditions as if an invading enemy force had damaged or destroyed roads, bridges, railroads and tunnels. The troops were under orders of self-sufficiency; they had to seek out their own housing, food and water. No supplies would be provided to them. There were more than 300 soldiers and officers including a young lieutenant colonel from Kansas by the name of Eisenhower, who went along as an observer "for the adventure of it." What Eisenhower witnessed shaped his view of the relationship between national defense and America's road system!
This convoy covered 3,251 miles in 62 days averaging speeds no faster than 6 mph and covering about 52 miles a day (We do at least 500 miles a day delivering motor homes). The convoy suffered an average of one accident every 14 miles on wheel-rutted roads that meandered across vast sandy plains or perilous mountain trails used by pack trains and horse-drawn wagons. It damaged or destroyed 88 bridges because of its weight
In 1943 Eisenhower was promoted to supreme allied commander in Europe during World War II. While in Germany at the end of the war, he observed Hitler's autobahns and was impressed with the efficiency of the well-designed and constructed German road system. Nearly four decades after his observing the convoy across the US, Eisenhower signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 creating what is now known as the Interstate Highway System! (He was not the first person to conceive of a national highway system nor did he design the system, but he championed a feasible plan and saw it through to fruition.)
The 47,016 miles of the Interstate Highway System equals only 1 percent of America's 4 million miles of roads, but that 1 percent handles 25 percent of all vehicular traffic annually!
- The Platte River is bank full.
- Crops look good, so good the deer are having a feast!
- Grain elevators dot the horizon and the sun reflects off the roof of the metal grain bins.
- Flat plains with farmers making hay on the irregular shaped edges of their circle irrigated fields of corn.
- Occasional flocks of wild turkeys feeding in the fields and pastures.
- Grass & tree covered sand hills in the distance give us the feeling of driving through a valley.
- The panhandle of Nebraska: rolling hills, pastures with cattle grazing, wheat fields with a yellow tint as it is ripening, occasional corn fields, cellphone towers, electrical transmission lines marching into the horizon, and wild flowers blooming in the pastures and median all under the wide open large blue sky!
- Prairie dogs sitting beside their mounds.
- Several large cattle feed lots growing steaks and burgers for us.
- Oil wells & storage tanks
The rest stop at Pine Bluffs, Wyoming features the High Plains of Archaeology Museum with a trail featuring sites and artifacts from historic Wyoming. We are trying to make many miles today so did not check it out after we ate our lunch in the shade beside a picnic table. Sunny with a huge blue sky and 80 degrees. Through the windshield:
- Snow covered mountain peaks on the horizon.
- Rigs set-up to drill for oil and natural gas.
- Irrigation systems are spraying water even as we drive under a very dark rain cloud!
- A semi on the frontage road hauling Ag Water--for cattle? for crops?
- You know you are in the wilderness when the Interstate has signs telling you how many miles to the next services!
- Strong side winds makes for both hands on the steering wheel and a noisy ride.
- Antelope grazing in the pastures.
- Climbing higher. Snow melt has pooled into ponds and streams keeping grass pastures green.
- A variety of wild flowers blooming--splashes of white, orange, yellow, blue and purple!
- Tall wooden snow fences standing like soldiers in company formation at attention waiting for the "blizzard" battle.
- Tall white windmills lined up on the ridges with blades spinning in the wind.
Back on that long, winding grey ribbon of I-80! Light rain this morning as we drive past open pit mining for a variety of minerals and over the continental divide. Through a tunnel. Flocks of sheep grazing. Snow banks in cliffs on north slopes of mountains. Driving through Evanston we see spring flowering trees (lilacs and ornamental pear) in bloom. Also tulips and iris. Spring is just coming to this area!
Over the corner of Utah
The last time we were on this road we were driving early morning in the dark with a full moon. New landscape for us: mountains are green with grass and shrubs with rust colored rocks protruding from the sides. Hazy in the distance as we drive into rain. Interesting pattern as a small spray of water from the wet pavement trails each car & truck. The grey ribbon of Interstate winds through the valley beside a Railroad track and a stream with fast moving rapids. Awesome!
The Wastach Mountain Range has snow covered peaks. The clouds are sliding up over the mountain tops as we drive in and out of rain.
We can see the Great Salt Lake reflecting the blue-gray of the cloudy sky as we turn north. Out of the city into a valley with pastures, hay and small grain growing. Dairy & cattle ranches, small businesses and small towns nestled at the foot of the mountains. The valley widens. Scattered ranches on the horizon. Acres of green pastures, tilled fields & wheat stubble. A shepherd's covered wagon is parked on the side of the mountain. Small rectangular shaped wagon with a rounded metal roof and a horse tethered beside it. Flocks of sheep in the distance. Past the exit for the Golden Spike Natural Historic Site at Promontory, Utah. This is the place that the East and West Railroad tracks met.
North Into Idaho
New signs along the road: Deer Migration Crossing, Dust Storm Area (we did see one on the other side of the road blowing away from us!) and Game Crossing! Through the windshield:
- Blue skies with white fluffy clouds float above us as we deal with the wind.
- Acres & acres of just tilled irregular shaped fields as they lay across the contour of the rounded side of the mountain slopes.
- The fragrance of new mown hay!
- Fields of potatoes being irrigated.
- Potato planting & harvesting equipment and storage buildings.
- Over the Snake River--we will cross it several times!
- Canals are dug at intervals through the countryside to move water from the river to the irrigation systems.
- Large dairies have acres of "compost"--not fragrant--manure being aged to be bagged and sold for gardens!
- Black rocks in piles and emerging from pastures must be volcanic rocks left-over from the volcanoes in the area.
- Exit sign for the US Ecology Waste Site. Their website states," Idaho’s Grand View facility in the Owyhee Desert, treats and disposes hazardous waste, non-hazardous industrial wastes and low-activity radioactive material. The site's arid climate, deep groundwater, and favorable geology plus a state of the art multi-layer landfill liner system help ensure permanent waste isolation."
- Exit sign for The Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Three Island Crossing State Park on the Snake River at Glenn's Ferry. Oregon Trail immigrants knew this place well. It is one of the most famous river crossings on the historic trail. It was used until 1869 when Gus Glen constructed a ferry 3 miles upstream.
- Pilot Travel Center Sign at Mountain Home--our stop for the night!
This is like a traditional Jim & Shirley "road trip" only in a motor home as we turn onto the two lane highway driving through irrigated fields of onions, potatoes, hay, wheat, corn, and alfalfa in the valley at the foot of the mountains. A beautiful "quilt" in a variety of shades of green each outlined by the shallow irrigation ditches as we look down the valley from the highway! Through the Windshield:
- Sign indicating that we are driving on the Oregon Trail.
- Through the town of Vale. A stop on the Oregon Trail. The sides of the buildings have a mural depicting this stop.
- Sign: Snow Area as we climb up a mountain pass, Vines Hill Summit. If it was winter we would have to put on chains to get through the snow.
- Sign: Open Range--this is public land--As taxpayers we own it!!
- Sign: Loose Gravel--not a good sign for new motor home deliveries because it usually means some rock chips. But in the mountains this is the way they fix highways. Only short distance this time.
- Thanking the Lord for a beautiful sunny day and very good road curving around the mountains beside a fast running stream. Imagining what it would be like to be walking it or riding in a covered wagon!
- Small village of Juntra. Several old cement block buildings, one with a metal jail cell behind it. A small brick church with a few houses, a restaurant and a motel.
- Sign: Drinkwater Pass and Stinging Water Pass. Wondering what those names mean??
- Corner posts for fences are a wire-fence cylinder filled with rocks.
- Beautiful wild flowers scattered over the countryside like a rainbow! Shades of yellow, white, red, & blue.
- Empty hay sheds waiting at the end of the fields for bales of new cutting.
- Eagles flying.
- Training stables & horse ranches.
- The Paiute Indian Reservation.
- Following a semi-load of bagged onions heading to market.
- Lilacs blooming all over the town.
- Regular gas is $4.00/ gal.
- Oregon Experimental Range is 16,000 acres used by the U.S. Dept of Agriculture. Their mission is to develop agricultural and natural resource strategies that maintain or enhance inter mountain forest and shrub ecosystems. Currently they are researching the integration of beef cattle, range-land, wildlife, and watersheds. Your tax dollar at work!!
- Snow covered Cascade Mountain peaks ahead on the horizon.
- Pine Mt. Observatory exit. A place to go in the evening and watch the sky.
- Acres and acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management----Oregon Badlands with ATV and OHV trails, shooting range, ancient junipers, volcanic vistas and sand underfoot. One area had roads to several reservoirs and lakes.
- We missed a corner in Bend, but found our way through. Passed a sign in the parking lot--Local Morels for Sale. No price was printed!
- Our two lane road now has little dots beside it on the Atlas--scenic, but not for fast traveling! We discovering what it is like to drive a motor home through the mountains!
- Exit to High Desert Museum
- Exit to Newberry National Volcanic Monument with information on the volcanoes in the area. A few miles south is the Newberry Crater with lakes. No time to stop.
- Through the Winema National Forest with tall pine trees, meeting logging trucks, road construction stops and piles of black lava rock along the highway.
- Driving along the edge of Crater Lake National Park we see snow banks. The roads leading into the Park are closed and covered with snow!
- A call to the dealer gave us permission to park in their yard and check in the next morning. Another wrong turn making the dealers sign a welcome sight along with a motel a few blocks away!
Back in the Saturn on a beautiful clear sunny day breathing in clear mountain air and again trying to find our way. This time to get out of Medford! The city is beautiful with huge rose bushes in the median. Finally on Hwy #238, a scenic winding road, with pine covered mountains, going west. Strawberry fields with red ripe berries, grapevines, pear orchards, hay & vegetable fields, blackberry hedges with white blossoms growing wild along fences and flowers, flowers, flowers!
Found Hwy 199 south to the coast. Another two lane road with dots beside it on the Atlas! Tree lined with tall pines, snow covered peaks in the distance, small towns, and logging trucks. Across the border into California winding through the Siskiou Mountains with 20 mph curves, rocky ledges, tall pines and fast moving rivers.
Reserved a room at the Econolodge in Crescent City. Turned north on Hwy #101 to follow the coast into Oregon. Smith River, CA is the Easter Lily Capitol of the world. Acres and acres of them growing between Smith River, CA and Brookings, OR. This area has rich soil and temperate weather making the "White Gold Rush" industry that provides 90 percent of the world's Easter Lily products.
The ocean is beautiful blue with white foam hitting the huge rocks along the coast. One area has farms where the farmers look out one window with an ocean view, walk across the room and view their pastures and fields. Sign: Olives for sale. Huge azalea bushes in bloom. Wild flowers, including blue spikes of foxglove, green fennel, and blackberries, are abundant in the ditches.
We stopped at the parking lot above the Whaleshead Beach, named from the shape of the rocks protruding from the water along the coast. (The rocks are called "sea stacks." They are super hard and withstand the erosion that breaks up the other rocks.) Walking down the path surrounded with a lush growth of plants and flowers, to the black sand(because of the lava rocks in the area) covered with drift wood. The wind was blowing fog in across the tops of the trees. Awesome!
Nearly every place a creek or a river flows into the ocean there is a place to see the ocean and often a beach for you to walk. Bicycle trails are available and even marked in the city. Flashing lights warn when a cycle is in a tunnel or on a bridge.
The fog was limiting our visibility so turned around, stopped at The Apple Peddler for our supper. Would highly recommend it for fresh and tasty food. Clam chowder was excellent. Back south to Crescent City with the fog rolling in for the evening.
A foggy damp morning to drive along the coast. Stopped at several beaches to walk and watch the surfers ride the huge waves. Heard the fog horn on the lighthouse that we could not see. Listened to the roar of the surf. Found many sand dollars laying on the beach. In and out of fog as we drive past and through the Redwood forest. Very tall pines with a reddish bark that turns to gray. A lot of decks and siding standing!
Signs: "Tusnami Hazard Zone" are scattered along the highway. "Deadly Sneaker Waves & Hazardous Surf" did not stop the surfers!
An Adventure as we head home:
Found a road, Hwy #36(with dots in the Atlas!) to take us East away from the ocean and toward Iowa. When you are in the mountains there are not many choices going your direction! A motel reservation in Redding was a wise move because it took us 5 hours to drive the 150 miles! An adventure!
- The sign stated that this two lane road was not recommended for semi's.
- Herds of Brown Swiss and Guernsey cows graze in pastures.
- Winding our way through small towns and rural areas with pine covered mountains in every direction.
- Wide and narrow valley views.
- Through a forest of Redwood trees. We could reach out our hand and touch the trees as we passed.
- Did meet some logging trucks and one semi load of hay bales.
- Constant curves, climbing and coasting down the mountain with up to 10% grades. Some places no center marking.
- The few small towns had populations of 50 or less with no gas stations.
- Some road construction that we had to stop and wait for.
- A couple of shifts in the road that could have been caused by an earthquake.
- Spectacular views!
- A two lane road with no ditches or shoulders as drive beside ranch fences and front lawns in the towns.
- Black volcanic rocks are scattered in pastures and yards.
- Pretty vistas as we climb higher.
- Park is closed because of snow.
- We did stop at Vista Point in the Lassen National Forest. We could see the snow covered volcano peak in the distance.
- Ponderosa and Jack Pines grow in this area. They grow a whorl of branches around the trunk each year. Count them for the age of tree. Six mature trees have enough lumber to build a house.
- Snow covered peaks in both directions.
Back on I-80, that long gray ribbon that extends from coast to coast! Wind is blowing dust off one of the "dry lake" beds as we travel the 40 mile desert on the California Trail West that runs from Loveluck to Reno. It was a horror for wagon trains, but it was shorter. It was so hot that they would travel at night. The loss of livestock and lives were tremendous. There was no water available in this area. We stopped at a Rest Stop that had as its source of water one "old fashioned" hand pump, no grass, but did have shade built over the picnic tables.
- Large bank of clouds spotted ahead. How far? Very hard to judge distances in the mountains.
- An open pit mine.
- A reservoir of turquoise water spreads out along the valley floor making a "recreation" area. It was created with a dam on the Humboldt River.
- Processing plants for the minerals mined in the area & electrical power stations are scattered thruout the mountains.
- Spent a frustrating night at the Super 8 in Elko. Phone service for local calls only and cell phone cut off as trying to make reservation for next night.
- Sunny cool drive continues past mining company headquarters and supply depots. Some mines in this wilderness could be gold mines because Nevada mines the most gold in the US. Not large nuggets, but flakes that need to be processed from the rock.
- West Wendover has huge casino/hotels rising up from the desert in a stretch beside the interstate. Nothing green. Just rocks and concrete!
The Great Salt Lake Desert stretches out in front and all around us. No green. Only white sand with occasional areas of water from the snow melt. Exit to the Bonneville Speedway. Exit to the Utah Test & Training Range and the Dugway Proving Grounds. Large piles of salt at the Morton Salt company.
Great Salt Lake on our left is a beautiful turquoise with snow covered mountains as a back drop. We heard on the radio reports of flooding in areas of the city due to the unusually large amounts of snow in the mountains and saw water on the shoulder of I-80. Past the world's largest open pit mine, Bringham Canyon Mine has been mining copper since 1906.
Winding thru the Parleys Canyon. Every mile is a "Kodak Moment!" Some green grass, shrubs, trees and covered with wildflowers with signs pointing to recreational areas. Always another range of mountains in sight with a pass to get over or a valley to get through! Like life?? God provides strength and wisdom for both experiences when we trust the shed blood of Jesus for our faith!
Back to Hwy#84 north--rewind scenery!
This is where we took #84 North into Idaho on way out so we can "rewind" our scenery!
About an hour west of Rawlins, WY we were stopped by an accident up ahead on the interstate. A semi tractor and the mechanics truck helping it were both burning. Traffic both ways was stopped for over 2 hours while they let it burn. It was so isolated it took too long to get fire engines to the area. No one was injured, but the semi was just a small pile of steel along the side of the road. What do you do for 2 hours stopped on the Interstate? We visited with the people waiting with us and checked with the motel to be sure we had a room!
Gabby's restaurant in Rawlins is the popular place for the locals to go. We picked the wrong item from the menu. Our chicken was so small you "almost had to take the egg shell off before frying it!" We looked around and saw some awesome pastas and burritos! The rain cloud that had been threatening moved to the east and gave us a spectacular rainbow to view out of the restaurant window. The bulletin board had a schedule posted for Friday night movies in the local park. A costume contest for the theme of the movie was included!
Finished our trip on the long gray line thru Nebraska, past the metal sculpture of a wolf howling to the sky on the butte above the town of Potter, NE, a stay in York, under the Arch that spans the interstate, and across the flooded Missouri River into Iowa. Even in a fog Iowa is looking great. The lower gas prices are welcome after the $4+ out west. Interesting to see the blades of the windmills disappear in the fog and then reappear. The metal pheasant sculptures near mile marker 50 welcome us back.
We do miss the clear mountain air! So thankful for the opportunity to enjoy our adventure and so thankful for our home on the Prairie!