Friday, September 27, 2013

Day 72: Fernley to Sunnyvale

Re-entry into California is always a let-down. The Sierras are pretty and the forest looked healthy, but once you hit the valley, the scenery along the freeway is all outskirts of towns and dry hills. The suburbs are so built up that the only place we could find for lunch was deep in some shopping center.

We arrived home at 3:30 under a sunny sky. It's not like I was panting to get home; I could travel indefinitely. We were relieved to see our house intact, and the yard didn't look too bad.

But the feeling of triumphant homecoming was cool. There should have been a brass band and welcoming speeches, but the experience was entirely internal. Dan noted that our odometer read 24,682 which meant that we drove a total of 11,134 miles on our trip. We had set a pretty big challenge for ourselves, but we took it slowly, and we achieved all our aims without breaking a sweat. We toured full-out for 72 days without a day off, and maintained our health throughout, thanks to very careful monitoring of diet and wine. We stuck to our schedule without any changes. We met all of our objectives, weather permitting, and added a few unplanned activities. We didn't have any major losses or injuries. Every day had some interesting activity. Most days were filled with art, fun, and good food. It's an incredible privilege to get to spend so much time just enjoying what the world has to offer.

Captain Dan and Blogger Jan
at the Duke of Edinburgh, Cupertino
May, 2014

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Day 71: Elko to Fernley, NV

Just outside of Elko is the California Trail Interpretive Center, recently established using a combination of federal, state, and local funding. Though it is located more or less in the middle of nowhere, the quality of its displays is exceptional. The purpose is not just to show the history of the California Trail, but to imagine the trip from the travelers' point of view, so that the tourist gets a vicarious experience of venturing across inhospitable deserts.

In the plaza were excellent bronze sculptures depicting various types of pioneers. Here's a guide extolling the wonders of the wilderness.

Here's a young mother at the start of the trip.

Imagine packing for such an expedition.

Some displays combined very nicely painted dioramas with costumed manikins and artifacts to set the scene. At it's best, the journey was a giant family camping trip.

But everything was strange. You had to bargain with wild-looking people to get what you needed. And what did you have to trade under the circumstances? Nothing but trinkets, possibly your own precious things that you had hoped to have with you in California?

This was nothing compared with the harshness of the desert. How will you go forward if the ox that was pulling your covered wagon dies?

Some of the pioneers also lost their lives. This is the grave of an eight-year-old. What a touching exhibit.

Time to hit the road. The scenery in Nevada is attractive, in a barren, raw way. Most of the state is high desert that is ridged by even higher mountain ranges. We spent the day looking at rugged land scantily clad with a gray fringe of vegetation, surrounded by mountains in ever-changing configurations. The view was dominated by the sky and the weather, which went through all manner of changes. Wind buffeted the car. Long roadwork projects reduced the freeway traffic to one lane, but there wasn't all that much traffic.

For lunch we stopped in Battle Mountain at a Mexican Restaurant called El Aguilar Real. It looked pretty funky from the outside but it was surrounded by cars. The joint was jumping. There were work groups and family groups having a noisy good time. We both had a large bowl of fabulous albondigas soup.

Then it was back to the highway, the headwinds, and the mesmerizing clouds.

Fernley is one of our regular stops on these long journeys so we know it pretty well. We headed first for Starbucks for a latte. Then we picked up some Diet Coke. Next we stopped at Subway for a veggie delight chopped salad for my dinner.

Dan has a tradition of eating at China Chef in Fernley. He reported that this small cafe was pretty busy, lots of diners as well as takeout customers. The food was okay, not special. He had stir-fried shrimp with vegetables.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Day 70: Salt Lake City to Elko, NV

Visually, the trip from Salt Lake City to Elko was stunning. All day long in every direction the sky put on a spectacular display of clouds and weather phenomena.

We drove down out of the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains and past the Great Salt Lake under a dark lid of clouds that reduced the scene to shades of gray and tan. With intermittent showers, we crossed desert lands ringed by dark mountains.

We passed a puzzling sculpture that is shaped like a tree from a distance but turns out to be a bunch of croquet balls on a very tall rack. We did not stop for a photo, but I grabbed one from the internet.

File:Metaphor The Tree of Utah.jpg
Metaphor: The Tree of Utah, 1986
by Swedish artist, Karl Momen
Internet grab

We stopped at Bonneville Salt Flats Rest Area for photos. The sun was shining but the wind was blowing so hard that Dan could hardly hold his heavy camera steady and the flat iPad wanted to sail away.

On a previous trip, Dan and I had spent a night in Wendover, Utah, and on our way out of town he noticed a sign for an historic airport with a museum. This trip we took the time to check it out.

During World War II, heavy bomber crews were trained at Wendover Army Air Field. It was quite a large operation employing up to 20,000 personnel, with 3 paved runways, 7 hangers and 600 buildings including barracks, mess hall, hospital, library, gymnasium, swimming pool and chapel. Presently it is a small civilian airport, which claims to be "The most original operating World War II Army Air Force Base in the USA!"

Part of the airport office is used to display memorabilia and models of the airport from World War II. One of these was a model of the Little Boy Atomic Bomb which was dropped on Hiroshima. It's weird to see something explained that used to be so secret. The reason it was there is that the crew of the Enola Gay, the plane that carried the bomb, was trained at that airport; there was also a model of the Enola Gay.

Little Boy Atomic Bomb Replica

Model of the Enola Gay

To add color to the scene a group of Red Hat ladies was also touring the museum; with respect to desert winds, most of them wore red headbands or caps.

Time for lunch. Right outside the airport I noticed a freshly painted Mexican Restaurant, that appeared to be converted from a double-wide mobile home. Maybe this was a new business where young people still had enthusiasm. We decided to give it a try.

Los Compadres Mexican Restaurant

My intuition was right. The food tasted like home-cooking, with a very personal flare, and it was incredibly cheap. Except for one take-out customer, we were the only ones there. The only staff we saw was our waitress, a sweet-faced Mexican girl.

From Wendover to Elko there was a spectacular cloud show over the desert.

The Best Western Elko Inn has a nice large pool with water warm enough to walk into. Both Dan and I had a swim; it was a great way to end the day. Only one other family was there, and they were reserved.

I stayed in, but Dan had dinner at The Star Hotel. Dan says that it is the best Basque restaurant in the United States. The food was excellent: soup, salad, bread, beans, then wonderful baked lamb, green beans and french fries. For dessert Dan enjoyed perfectly made flan. He was seated with an engineer from Toronto who worked in the local area supplying equipment to the warehousing and mining industries; they had a good conversation.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 69: Red Butte Garden and the University Art Museum

After a few days that were mostly traveling, it was time for a break. In our previous visits to Salt Lake City, we have found we prefer the university district because it is attractive, and it has tour sites nearby that we like.

Our first objective was a botanic garden that we had visited once before, Red Butte Garden. The beauty of this place is the Wasatch Mountains, which rise up like a wall right behind Salt Lake City, so that every prospect has a wonderful mountain in the background.

It is such a large place that we decided to take a guided tram tour. Big mistake.  Our guide/driver had more personal opinions and stories to share than knowledge about the garden, and we were pleased when she finally allowed us off the cart.

This is not the sort of garden that wows you with a lot of exotic plants. Start with the fact that the climate is dry and windy. Add in budget cuts requiring reduced water usage. As a result, the mission of Red Butte is to educate youth on conservation issues, and to inform adults on gardening appropriate to the area.

This means the garden features drought-tolerant plants—oleander, rabbit bush, very familiar stuff, and plants that are sometimes considered weeds. These are landscaped into attractive gardens.

Fragrant Plant Garden

The loveliest flower bed had been designed by a group of artists; it used ordinary plants but their arrangement made that bed very attractive.

By noon the clouds were gathering and the wind was rising, so we decided to move on.

There is no food service at the Garden, but the Natural History Museum of Utah is nearby, and they have a cafeteria, so we decided to eat there; our chicken salad was pretty bad, but it was quick and cheap. This museum is probably quite interesting, but we wanted to tour the art museum at the University of Utah, which was not far away.

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts has improved since our first visit in 2002, and we had a good art experience there. The collection is small and eclectic, but it gives a hint about the art in various periods.

They have several good paintings from the Netherlands in the 1500s, which is quite early. All of them feature parties of some sort.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, 1564-1638
Dance Around the Maypole, c. 1630

For me the big thrill was two lovely paintings by Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun, right at eye level, with no glass. That was enough to make the visit worthwhile.

Elisabeth Vigée le Brun, 1755-1842
Portrait of Princess Natalia Ivanovna, 1797

Elisabeth Vigée le Brun, 1755-1842
Princess Eudocia as Flora, 1799

This painting popped out because of its striking technique. The artist is unknown but the work was done in the late 19th century in France. The artist faithfully copied the composition of a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Hiroshige, but he used a highly textured brushstroke, like that of the Impressionists.

Unknown artist, French, late 19th C.
The Whirlpool Naruto. after Ando Hiroshige, early 1890s
File:Hiroshige Wild sea breaking on the rocks.jpg
Ando Hiroshige, 1797-1858
The Whirlpool Naruto
Internet grab

Turning to American art, I have a weakness for moonlight scenes. Ralph Blakelock specialized in them and this is one of his best.

Ralph Blakelock, 1847-1919
Silvery Night, late 19th c.
Since the museum is in Utah, many paintings depicted the Western landscape and the lives of Indians and cowboys.

Walter Ufer, 1876-1936
Greasewood and Sage, 1930s

In the sculpture gallery, there were some humorous ceramic works. This self-portrait by Robert Arneson depicts himself holding his breath until he turns blue; don't try this at home.

Robert Arneson, 1930-1992
Breathless (Self-Portrait in Blue), 1976

They even had a section of Asian art. Here's a small statue of "The Mother of all Buddhas." It seems appropriate to depict a mother as having four pairs of hands and three faces, since a mother has to play so many roles at once. Actually, each pair of hands is making different symbolic gestures about peace of mind and generosity of spirit, which is also appropriate.

Ushnisavijaya Buddha
“The Mother of All Buddhas”, no date
When we got back to the car, we found a ticket on the windshield. Parking for the museum is free, if you remember to sign in. Oh well. We made a small contribution to the museum; admission was free.

For dinner we went back across the busy boulevard to the Boulevard Bistro. Dan had an excellent steak. I had roasted beet salad. We liked the service and ambiance, and we enjoyed the experience.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Day 68: Cheyenne to Salt Lake City

446 miles, 7 hours estimate on iPad mapper

Although we usually like to keep our driving day around five hours, the way towns are spaced out in Wyoming, we couldn't avoid a seven-hour drive today.

Cheyenne is on the east side of Wyoming, so the route to Salt Lake City, I-80, crosses most of the state. The country is high desert: very dry, very little vegetation or habitation, flat but crossed by ravines.

Within minutes of our getting on the highway, we passed a large warning sign that spelled out in lights:


Dan slowed down a little and stayed in his lane. The wind buffeted the car broadside from the south as we headed west, with occasional gusts that gave us an extra bounce. His knuckles grew white from gripping the wheel.

The lighted highway warning signs kept appearing, but the car held the road. For about an hour, the sky was dark and rain kept the wiper flip-flapping. In the distance, we could see that the sky was lighter, and we were heading toward a patch of blueness. Eventually, the blue sky expanded all around us, and the clouds traded their threatening grey for jolly white.

But the wind continued to blow, with even stronger gusts, according to the highway signs.

                                                 HIGH WINDS. GUSTS AT 50+MPH.

The sky was dark and heavy and rain kept the wiper flapping. This went on for about an hour, but we could see the sky lightening ahead, gradually getting a little blueness, the blue sky expanding and the clouds doffing their threatening grayness for jolly white puffs, and then we were out of the storm, except for the wind, which had gusts up to 50+ mph, according to the signs.

The highest mountain pass was about 8600 feet. We crossed the Continental Divide.

To break up the day we stopped in Rock Springs for a nice lunch at the restaurant in the Best Western Outlaw Inn. We had stayed there on a previous trip. They appeared to have the only good restaurant in town, and there were plenty of locals there to give us hope. In fact, the food was excellent. The vegetable beef soup was exceptionally tasty, and meaty enough to make a meal. We both had the sole and a double serving of fresh oven-roasted zucchini.

Then it was back onto the windy highway.

As soon as we got into Utah the earth got red and started rising in rough cliffs, reefs and other formations. We stopped at a view spot in the Wasatch mountains, just outside of Salt Lake City. The wind had finally died down enough that we could walk around and take pictures. It was beautiful.

We felt relieved and triumphant when we finally got into Salt Lake City: seven hours of driving in high wind!

Our Hampton Inn is just through the Wasatch mountains, in the foothills above Salt Lake City, with views of the mountains all around us. For dinner we walked across the busy Foothill boulevard at great risk to dine at a restaurant called Boulevard Bistro. The food was good and we liked the hip ambiance—not raucous hip, but cool, like art deco.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Day 67: North Platte to Cheyenne, WY

Our motel happens to be adjacent to a Veteran's Memorial. It is an inspiring example of a community project. It commemorates the veterans of wars in the 20th century.

20th Century Veterans Memorial

A broad walkway is lined on both sides by bronze life-size sculptures representing each branch of the armed services; and not just a generic representation, but a portrait of an actual person, with a plaque telling their achievements and service. Above each statue waves the flag of that branch of the service.

U.S. Coast Guard

Pvt. 1st Class, Robert B. Lowe, U. S. Marine Corps

The sculptures are surprisingly good; two sculptors are prominently identified; there may have been others.  Walls lining the walkway are composed of bricks representing hundreds of service people, and sometimes their families. A register out front lists the location of each stone.

A brick relief sculpture by Jay Tschetter, an artist whose work we saw on our previous visit to Lincoln, has scenes from all the major wars in that century.

Vietnam War  by  Jay Tschetter  (detail)

Outside the main memorial complex--an afterthought--is a memorial to the USO Canteen in North Platte, where thousands of soldiers had a taste of Midwest hospitality as they transited through the town. It has a lovely portrait sculpture of one of the women who led this effort.

Canteen Lady  by  Sondra L. Jonson

The donors of every sculpture and every brick and every other feature of the complex are identified; it is a true community effort, executed with great care and good taste.

Both Dan and I spent some time photographing the monument this morning. It was a beautiful crisp morning with just a few clouds. A large pond nearby gleamed in the morning sunlight.

On the way out of town, we stopped to have another look at the South Platte river. On the local level marker, it was only up one foot, but the water was moving with great energy and had ripped up some trees. We later heard that the river had peaked at almost 14 feet at the official marker, but we didn't find out when that was. We talked to a fellow from the Nebraska Department of Roads who was watching the river. He was worried about some uprooted trees that were floating toward the bridge; if they get hung up on a piling, the water's flow gets interrupted and it backs up over the land.

We drove along the South Platte river quite a long way and we saw many flooded fields. The river doesn't have one well-defined chanel; it sprawls in a lacy pattern. We were stunned by how close the water came to the road, but it was only deep enough to create a swamp.

We had another short straight drive today. Towns are rather few and far between in Nebraska and Wyoming. You find yourself making some hard choices. I thought we might see the Wyoming State Museum in Cheyenne.

That doesn't mean we didn't see any art. At the Ogallala Westbound Rest Area we found an excellent sculpture by an artist unknown to me. I was surprised to see such an interesting and delightful work in this setting.

Up/Over by Linda Howard

Soon after, the river turned south toward Denver, and we continued straight.  The land gained in elevation, and became flatter and more arid. The sky dominated everything. As we headed west dark clouds were gathering ahead of us. In the upper levels the clouds were gray and forbidding, but in the lower levels, they were watery blue and rain was streaking down. The cloud cover protected our eyes from the Western sun.

The rain didn't start until after six o'clock, long after we got ourselves installed in our room at the Holiday Inn. It was too late to see the museum, so we did a little creative work—editing photos, writing notes, etc.

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant. The quality was pretty good. Dan has this thing about eating steak on the road, though he rarely eats it at home. As Captain and driver, he uses up a lot of energy so he craves protein. No potatoes or bread though; instead, a double order of veggies. I had a hamburger patty and a salad.