Preliminaries--Car, tent, mapsÉ.
(from letter) We are in the middle of a car-purchasing flurry. Learning about trade-ins, limited-slip differentials and the pros and cons of car air conditioning. This last point was brought up for first reading , and since the day was hot and damp, it passed easily in both houses. So as far as things are now, we shall probably buy the Rambler Classic 6--it has large wheels, 127 HP, limited slip differential, reclining seats which adjust individually, emergency blinkers and three-speed automatic transmission, besides that wonderful air conditioning. We traveled around town, trying out different cars, and compared the merits of Jewish and Christian salesmen, finding the latter somewhat more honest.
The model 1962 car that came from a factory in Kenosha was sky-blue, and its automatic transmission was activated by buttons on the dashboard. The front seats folded down, but the resulting platform was too uneven to sleep on. It also had a dashboard clock which looked fine but was extremely inaccurate--a mechanical clock powered by a small spring, and whenever it ran down (about every ten minutes) an electric motor connected and wound it up again. Cars still lacked seat belts, but ever safety conscious, we bought a pair of gray lap belts manufactured by the Rupert Parachute Company.
We planned to use it on our delayed honeymoon--a cross country trip in August-September, stopping at major national parks (and in Chicago to see uncle Albert and Hilda). In hindsight, it was rather foolhardy to set out in a new car without testing it for a few months, but we had only one serious spot of trouble, when the brakes gave out
16 July 1962
We also bought a tent of light canvas, a "draw-tite" 8' square tent, too low to stand up in. And we bought an icebox. Again, we did not realize what a hassle would be camping anew every night, and cooking some dinner on the Coleman stove we bought, together with a Coleman lantern. But we were young, and it was an adventure.
On the weekend before this letter we tried it out, going to upstate Maryland with Paul and Rose Nakada. The tent was fine but cramped; but the nice weather turned to rain showers:(letter to parents in NYC)
Agenda of our big journey: Chicago (Bert and Hilda), Mt. Rushmore, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone, Grand Coulee Dam, Mt. Rainer, Seattle's 1962 world fair, Olympic Park, Crater lake, Mr. Lassen Park, Virginia City (Nevada), and then home. The car has passed its 1000 mile inspection, we have collected maps and hope for good trip. We also bought a roof carrier, a tarp to cover it, a set of camping cookware, and promised Karen Lowman some pebbles from the Pacific Ocean.
Leaving the Washington area brought our one and only accident, 45 minutes from home. I was driving, and thought I heard the tarp over the roof carrier flapping loose. I therefore turned onto a paved lane at the entrance to a shopping center and waited for the light to turn green (that was before "right turn on red" became legal). When it did, I turned, and so did a woman to the left, who hit our car. No great damage, but the police who were called wrote me a ticket, for turning from the shoulder. I argued that it looked like a turning lane, and the black color of the surface (from dripping oil and tires) suggested people regularly turned there.
After we came back, I decided to fight the ticket, and months later, after a delay, stood before a judge. Few people fight traffic tickets, because court sessions can waste a lot of time: you go if a lot of money is involved, if you are under arrest or on bail, or for the principle, like me. The policeman who wrote the ticket came out and read the charge, "turning from the shoulder of the road."
---Did it have oil marks, suggesting that many cars had used it? "Yes, it did."
---Doesn't it suggest that many cars use it as turning lane? "Yes, and that's why we were told to police that intersection."
---Your honor, it looked to me exactly as a turning lane, and I thought it was one.
Later Audrey drove (she's a better driver than me) and I sat on the back seat, folded down the passenger seat, placed on it a typewriter bought at a pawn shop (wooden box, ca. 1927) and wrote. First, I wrote to the insurance company, describing the accident--still have the carbon in a binder where we collected carbons, maps, pictures, publicity and other mementos of the trip. Then and later on the trip I regularly wrote the parents and kept carbon copies. Audrey added comments at the end, and after we passed Ohio wrote "this is the furthest west I have ever been."
We are now about 600 miles from home, Audrey is driving while I sit in the back seat and the typewriter is resting on the backturned front seat. This Rambler--whatever one may say about its squeaks and clunks--is a very convenient vehicle for distance travel: not only can you lie down on the seat after you crank down its back: you can also jump across this bed to the rear seat and sitting there use it for a table--say, to prepare sandwiches. We travel strictly a-la Americanaise: an ice chest sits in the rear, a Kleenex box on the dashboard, and what Audrey calls a "barf bag" hanging from the window, to receive banana peels and other oddments. This turnpike seems endless. You never get the impression of getting anywhere at all, even when the speedometer says 65, for the scenery is always the same, and one has rarely any contact with the country one passes thru.
I continue about 300 miles to the west, approaching the Mississippi from the Illinois side, which is surprisingly hilly. This is highway 20, two narrow lanes, and--oops, the big truck which has been blocking the road and our view for the last ten minutes has just moved out of our way, not soon enough for Audrey. Meanwhile, back on the road, we are passing Galena which now proudly poses as the place Gen. Grant came from. I believe he actually was quite a failure in his town, but who'd remember, anyway? He wasn't too much as a president, either, I am told, just a very determined soldier. His memorial in Washington was so grandiose that a mere circle in town wasn't good enough for it, so it was given a special nook beside the Capitol where most of its visitors are pigeons. We travel on rte 20, here called Grant's highway, and just read a warning of a rough road ahead. And it is.
This is moo-cow country, where the corn grows high as an elephant's eye (boy, what imagination!) and roadside billboards sell hog food ('sends them to market faster'). Signs beside cornfields also advertise the seed used ('Pioneer 349' seems favourite) and white diamonds painted on the road help police planes nab speeders. The pilot times your passage between two diamonds, radioes to a highway cop who flags you down, and you pay the court clerk, no traveller's checks, please. Is the technology really worth it?
We saw Bert and Hilda, I do not have time for details of our meeting but it was timed well, no one was late and we all had a good time at the Fred Harvey restaurant built on an overpass across the toll road, which allows that passengers from both sides to be served. Hilda and Bert were both in good spirits, they promptly took interest in the more intimate questions of our married life ('Say when', 'What are you waiting for?'). We took some color pictures together, and then some more in black and white (with the Kodak) in case the color ones did not come out, kissed and waved off.
Apart from this, not much has happened till now. I received a ticket outside Washington and I would like very much to go to court and plead not guilty, for the whole thing is based on an inadequately marked strip of road. That would be two months hence, meanwhile I'll report to the AAA and hear from them what they consider best.
We've just passed through Dubuque, crossed the Mississippi and are now in Iowa. The river here is not too large, about as wide as the Potomac near Washington and just as muddy. Dubuque is an old town with new neon signs, luckily the highway just skirts it so there is no way of knowing, at first hand, how badly congested its main street is We hope to camp tonight in Backbone State Park (what a name!) unless the weather is too rainy, or if we cannot find it.
I used to think that New York drivers are about s bad as one can find. In their natural element, this may have some truth in it. But one thing you discover very soon: the further west you get, the faster and wilder the traffic. Those winding farm roads (oops--federal highways) have speed limits around sixty and traffic very often zooms at sixty five.
There is actually very little to see. Barns with lightning rods along the ridgepole, four or five of them. Signs: "Said Farmer Brown--who's bald at top--I wish I could--rotate the crop--Burma Shave." Pigs and sheep browsing in the farmyards, so dirty one can only tell them apart when passing close. Audrey sees odd formations under far clouds--it's nothing but rain showers, but she has never seen this kind before. More signs: "Melons, 1/4 mile". Old farmers chugging home in equally old automobiles. A small towns with signs "Speed electrically timed." Another sign: Chicken Pizza (chicken with pizza? Chicken in the pizza? Chicken or pizza? Heavens knows, we did not stop). Will I be glad to see those mountains, still a thousand miles ahead!
The Rambler is doing very well. I cannot recall the brakes squeaking, but then again we've hardly used them. The windshield is full of squashed bugs (said the bug to a friend caught by a windshield, "you'll never have the guts to do that again"), and our radiator would be like that too but for a wire screen bought in Indiana. The air conditioner is a wonderful gadget, even if it spits out condensation droplets and drips like a puppy dog. One really gets to appreciate it, especially especially when we stop to sample the clean rest rooms of [the] American Oil Company and have to breathe outside air for awhile.
Well, so much for today. Greetings from your children in far Iowa. Audrey asks to convey her personal regards.
Near Coeur D'Alene, Idaho--25 August 1962Dear Parents
Originally I intended to write down everything, all our impressions of this trip, so you could be with us at least in spirit. However, between driving, preparing sandwiches in the rear seat and also just plain fatigue, I just didn't get to it. Now some time is available, on this superhighway winding between green mountains and blue lakes (very green and very blue) in the Idaho panhandle. You can just picture me, in "Genuine Levis" bought in Missoula to spare my good trousers from abuse, sitting on the rear seat of the Rambler with the typewriter perched on the upturned back of the front seat, clacketting away between hasty peeks at the scenery.
The first night out of Chicago (see previous letter) we camped at Backbone State Park in Iowa. We did not know the short route to that Park and did not take it: our arrival therefore coincided with that of darkness and of hordes of insects. Because of the latter we were grateful for the former: food tastes so much better if you cannot see all the things that fall into it. That night we caught a big thunderstorm, or rather it caught us: I never saw such bright lightning before. Thanks God the tent is really waterproof.
Next day we sailed right across Iowa into South Dakota, ending at a town called Chamberlain and occupying one of the last available motel rooms there. This part of the journey was very much like going from Rechovoth to Be'er Sheva (southern Israel), stretched over a whole day, starting in rich farm land and ending in a semi-desert. There is not much to see on this stretch, and if you are driving, you better not look anywhere but the road. The speed limit in either state is 70 m.p.h. and few people go slower than that, on two-lane highways which are not always top quality. A visitor is much tempted to do likewise. We stayed about five mph below the limit (Angels who watch you--While you drive--Generally retire--at sixty five--Burma Shave) and were constantly trailed or passed by impatient drivers. We might have yielded to temptation, except for the fact that this is a brand-new car and it is already taking quite a beating even without excessive speed.
On the fourth day out the surroundings changed. First we entered the Badlands National Monument, which has a highway running through its length. To me it was scarcely new: the scenery around S'dom (and probably Jericho, where you have been) is quite similar--perhaps even more striking in some respects. Audrey, of course, was all eyes. Essentially it is an area of soft rock eroded to deep gullies and fantastic pinnacles, many of them given equally fantastic names by the park. This was the first instance of what now seems to be a general rule: when traveling, make sure not to miss any National Park or Monument, for they are all worth seeing. Commercial attractions are almost always overblown, and they spoil the countryside for many miles ahead with ugly bill boards. National Parks strike you first of all with the good taste in which they are designed and by the courtesy of the rangers. If Lindblad is ever interested in hiring someone with infinite patience towards the traveling public and still able to smile, let them look for a former national park ranger. Preferably one from Yellowstone--but I'll come to that point later.
From the badlands and their surrounding countryside--no goodlands by any standard--the Black Hills rise rather abruptly. I do not know why they are called black--unless that refers to the forests covering them, which give them a dark texture--and they are certainly not hills but a very rugged mountain range. This was the first we saw of the western mountains, and it didn't take long for Audrey to admit that 'now she knows why so many people are crazy about the West.' We stopped briefly in Rapids City to visit a delightful Indian museum, where we also bought moccasins and other souvenirs (from a Sioux woman who told us her son was going to study medicine in the east) and then turned into the mountains, towards Mt. Rushmore. Well, we saw it. You stand there and gape at George, Tom, Abe and Teddy, and after a coupled of minutes you have seen enough of it and you elbow your way back to the car through the milling tourist crowd. But you also see other things which you never expected. . The mountains are lush green, unlike the plain from which they rise, very rocky--many mountains, in addition to Mt. Rushmore, are topped by stark granite outcrops, enough to carve the faces of all presidents and vice presidents, give the time--and the road runs wildly among them. I was reminded of the "seven sisters" on the road to Jerusalem [the old road with interlocking curves like those of Lombard Street in San Francisco] except that this one was worse, so much that trailers were routed onto a different road. At one point the road makes almost two complete circles, using wooden trestles; at another it passes a tunnel so narrow that our car barely seemed to fit (would a Cadillac make it?). In short, breathtaking for both the driver watching the road and to the person sitting besides her watching the scenery.
When the sun went down we were just leaving Custer, S.D. (where we bought food at a Piggly-Squiggly supermarket), when--surprise!--a police car comes behind us, red light flashing, and flags us down. The door opened ("But officer, I was going at the legal speed") and out came the sloppiest looking cop I have ever seen, loose shirt and even looser holster, like the ones cowboys carry on TV. "Sir" he says, smiling widely "one of your headlights is out. Why don't you go down the road to the garage you've just passed and get it fixed?" Were we relieved! First because the policeman was friendly after all, secondly because the stone which neatly broke that headlight missed our windshield, which is much more expensive. So we turned back to the garage, where we got he headlight replaced on a somewhat "do it yourself" basis (the man on duty made this clear by the way he fumbled with the light). The replacement bulb we got seems to have been the only one he had.
It was past nine and quite dark when we made it to Sundance, where we had a reservation. We had quite a long chat with the motel owner, an ex-cowboy who is planning to sell the motel and go back to cows, a business he likes more; we also got, as a souvenir, a paper mat which has to be seen to be appreciated. By the way, Sundance gets its name from Sundance Mountain, just outside the town (population 908), a big chunk of rock on which the Indians performed their sun dance, a lengthy and rather painful occasion for all concerned. The present inhabitants of Sundance are Christians, so they put an electrically lighted cross on top.
Devil's Tower, Yellowstone and Grand Coulee
In the morning we drove to Devil's Tower, a peculiar volcanic structure located nearby--I believe you have the postcard. We walked around it (very few other visitors did), studying it from all angles and shooting pictures as if our uncle owned Kodak. Then we drove straight through the Wyoming prairie--and after all the things the white man has done to it, it is still a prairie--to Cody, a tourist city just outside Yellowstone Park. Among other attractions Cody has a Rodeo every night, which Audrey (being more steeped in television) insisted on seeing. Well, there is really not much to see. We watched a calf roping contest, in which a calf is let loose and races across the field, with the cowboy after it and trying to lasso it. Sometimes the calf makes a home run, usually however it is caught up short, after which the cowboy dismounts, pulls it down by its tail or otherwise and hogties it with the lasso, the whole thing being timed by the judges within a tenth of a second.. The calf meanwhile moos piteously, but nobody cares for that. Then they had rides on bucking horses, rather brief events: if the rider manages to stay put for eight seconds, he has passed the test and is picked up by another rider, the so called pickup man. The judges give points not only to the rider for staying put, but also to the horse for bucking hard; therefore to win you need a horse that is neither too wild nor too mild. On the whole, the horses were much less violent than those one sees on TV, and indeed, hardly anyone got thrown off.
Next morning we drove down into Yellowstone, expecting bears, people and natural wonders, more or less in that order. Well, there are bears in Yellowstone, even though we found them much less brazen than we expected, on the whole panhandling very shyly. Wherever they did, there was of course a traffic jam, with some people stopping to feed them (which is illegal) and others stopping to photograph those people feeding the bears (which isn't). Since traffic from both directions is generally involved and there are only two lanes on the road, a traffic jam is easily created. We saw bears several times and have pictures to prove it; we did not feed them, however, because we have (especially Audrey) certain prejudices about wild animals bigger than us, also because we did not want to be shown out of the park (and fined), and because we were somewhat short on bread and other food.
We shared the park with many tourists, especially around the main attractions, the Grand Canyon (cut in yellow stone, as anyone can see) and the Old Faithful geyser. Yet, it is very easy to get away from them and be alone with nature: very few of the tourists stray far off the highway. The lower falls of the Yellowstone river were surrounded by sightseers; yet the upper falls, a mile away, were totally deserted (the access road was being repaired!) and just about as impressive. We had the place all to ourselves, I could have necked with Audrey in complete privacy at that little Niagara, or throw her in maybe, with no outside interference.
When the ranger told us he did not think we could cover (never mind see) all Yellowstone in one day, I did not believe him. Actually there is enough in Yellowstone to fill a whole vacation. In a one-day visit, all one can hope to see are the highlights--the Grand Canyon with its falls, Old Faithful and maybe a few small geysers and falls beside, which is more or less what we did. One day, we hope, we will have the time to go through it more thoroughly--swim and boat on the lake, climb Mt. Washburn and visit the northern half of the park which we have not touched at all. It is God's own country, a huge park (half the size of Israel, or maybe more), with excellent facilities--roads, stores, hotels.
Grand Coulee dam was an unforgettable experience. I do not mean here the sight of the huge dam (biggest concrete structure in the world, we were told) with frothy water spilling over the top: those are impressive too, all right. However what really leaves a mark on you, and gives you the creeps, is the atmosphere of our visit to the dam. Remember 1984, RUR--Big Brother watching you, machines running the world? That's Grand Coulee. When we first arrived, we stopped and parked the car at an overlook close to the dam, well above it. There were quite a few tourists present, and a few stepped over the guard rail to get a better view for themselves and their cameras. I did, too. Suddenly a voice boomed out from behind us: "Will you please step behind the rail?" We looked and nobody was there--only two loudspeakers on high poles. I guess someone was watching us with binoculars from across the river, but it did give us a creepy feeling of being observed and tracked.
Very well. We went down to a small building marked "Visitor Center" where two live people were on duty, although they did not seem to be doing much in particular, when the same voice boomed out: "You are invited to a self-guided tour of the powerhouse. Please follow the green line in your car." We went out and sure enough, there on the ground was a green ribbon leading us to the powerhouse. No staff seen inside, only except a few dozen tourists, but a button on the wall said "Stop no. 1." Someone pressed it and a voice came out from behind explaining to us visitors all about the history of Grand Coulee. The voice then asked us to move to the nearby elevator to reach Stop no. 2 at the top of the dam. We did, saw ta great view from the top but, again, none of the people tending the dam. Stop no. 4 was the generator room--nine huge machine whirring in their casings and no one attending. A lot of tourists, of course. Stop 5--the turbine room--is reached by an elevator in which you are requested not to press any button--it knows the way. The same elevator (again, press no buttons, please) takes you to stop 6, the control room--a long empty corridor with one wall covered by dials and buttons. At each stop, of course, you press some button and the same voice comes out of somewhere in the wall, explaining the scenery (was the voice we heard at the overlook also a recording?). Finally, at stop 8 we actually saw the people running the dam. There, in the central power distribution room, were two rather bored looking individuals, badly shaved, too. One gets the impression they would have preferred playing scrabble were it not for the crowds of tourists staring at them through the glass doors. That much for Grand Coulee.
Well, I started telling about Yellowstone. It is quite a park, a world in itself. They even celebrate Christmas on August 25, and we saw the place all decorated for the occasion; on December 25 the tourists are gone and the park is barely functioning. We rounded off the day by visiting the geysers and joining the crowds in watching Old Faithful squirt. By noting the length of the previous eruption, rangers can predict when it is going to blow again, and one of them is generally at the spot a few minutes earlier, giving explanations to the crowd and providing an excellent comparison figure for people photographing the geyser. Old Faithful is generally on time; it would be a terrible thing if it wasn't, for a hotel and a big dining hall have been built overlooking it, and as a matter of fact a whole tourist village has been constructed nearby. We watched a few more geysers--Little Squirt, which is just what its name implies, Riverside which shoots at an angle, and others. Then we hurried to the campsite and pitched tent.
Boy, was it cold that night! I know no measurements, but it was generally estimated to be around 20 degrees. Water left outside froze in a thick layer, and we wondered about people who did not fill their radiator with antifreeze (we did) or did not follow the ranger's advice to drain it. The insulation of our sleeping bags and blankets was barely sufficient and we hardly slept. The experience, we later found out, was shared by many others in the campground
In the morning we drove out to Montana, with a side trip to Earthquake Lake, created in 1959 by an earthquake, which had causedf the old road to disappear into the lake and then pop out again. The landslide which created the lake is awe inspiring at close range, and so are the big trees dislodged from the mountainsides and looking from the road like a heap of matchsticks. Nineteen people remain buried somewhere under the slide, and one of the big boulders on top of it is inscribed as their memorial. We drove away before it could quake again.
Well, dear parents, let me sign off now, as we are approaching Eugene and I believe some navigation is due. It was so good to hear your voice on top of the space needle [at the Seattle fair]! When I get time again, I'll try to tell the rest of the story--and you just wait until you see the slides!
Thos "chipmunks" here are named prairie dogs, which had a huge colony next to Devil's Tower, a big tourist attraction. They were constantly popping out of their tunnels and diving back. One is portrayed on the back of the post card, sent with a 3c stamp, with caption "THE PRAIRIE DOG They live in colonies in underground burroughs".
There was much more, but without notes memory gets hazy. All the way, I kept worrying about the roof carrier, secured by four hooks to the roof gutter, and finally near Spokane, speeding into a stiff breeze on a straight road, we heard an awful clatter and stopped at once, in the middle of wheat fields. But all that fell were the cooking pots and pans, blown off because a corner of the tarp became untied. We searched the shoulder of the road and found everything except for the big frying pan, which had covered the top of the set and therefore was probably the first to go
We stopped at Mt. Rainier, at the Paradise visitors center. The road to the mountain was green and scenic, with rushing streams, tall trees and a memorable box canyon. But Paradise itself was snowy and foggy, all one could see was white--plus the visitor center, and the cars and tourists around it. Audrey and I then decided to try climbing above the fog. We climbed and climbed, occasionally meeting tourists on their way down, and gradually got surrounded by whiteness except for one brief glimpse into a valley, to a distant glacier below us. From time to time, whistling sounds cwere heard, from the hoary marmots which live on the mountain. After a while, getting nowhere, we turned back and drove to Seattle, from where Rainier was seen much better.
Seattle and Crater Lake
The Seattle fair was like a wonderland, with pavillons of many nations. The memories already get mixed up with those of the '67 fair in Montreal, but we still have the souvenirs--a cat carved in the Phillipines out of monkeyood (Audrey chose carefully among the many cats sold there, seeking the cattiest looking), also a mug and a set of bookends, all carved of wood. And as told above, we called the parents from the top of the space needle. I think we stayed in campus dorms, and the meeting of the APS I no longer remember at all.
From Seattle we took a ferry across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula, ocrossing a floating bridge and climbing up to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park. This area is famous for its rain forest, so naturally, the sky was cloudless. Indeed, it seemed a rule that no matter where we went, natives were likely to tell us "the weather is very unusual for this part of the year." As a result, the mountains facing us stood out gloriously, a maze of peaks among which, it seemed, one could easily get lost.
Audrey saw a soapstone Eskimo carving in the gift shop for $32. I balked at the price and bought a Haida model totem instead--and still regret not listening to Audrey. I think we camped that night west of the mountains. In the Hoh valley national forest: smoke was rising from the forest, but the ranger was not concerned, "they are probably just burning some slash." Some of the Pacific shoreline was prettily sculptured (with a background of tall trees), and I waded out and picked up a promised pebble for Karen Lowman.
To cross the Columbia river we headed back to the main road--Hwy. 101, I think--and then south and east to Crater Lake national park, where we camped for two nights. We drove all the way around the spectacular crater rim, below was a blue lake with a piney island in the middle--"Wizard Island"--so named because it has a central young volcano shaped like a wizard's hat. It was created about 1000 years after the big volcano at this spot collapsed and produced the caldera which now holds Crater Lake, about 6000 years ago.
We reserved that evening a spot next day on the boat which the park maintains on the lake. No stream feeds the lake, no valley connects to it, all its water comes from snowfalls, which reach a phenomenal depth. Of course, to get to the boat one had to walk to the dock, a trail descending a few thousand feet in constant switchbacks ("one mile going down, five miles climbing up). The boat gave as close a view of the crater as one can get. It circled "Phantom Ship", a volcanic islet, also approached a dead tree uprooted and tossed into the lake, still floating with its branches up, preserved by its sap and the cold water. And we spent a good half hour, maybe more, on Wizard Island, which provides a good example of the way life recaptures a pile of rocks formed by the volcano. The island has barely any soil, just moss and some grass plants, and its vegetation consists of struggling pine trees which somehow have sprouted among the boulders.
And the water is indeed cold. I had brought along a swimsuit, and this was the first opportunity to use it. I ducked behind some rocks, changed and jumped into the water; Audrey later said, I jumped out almost as quickly, "it was like a film run in reverse." The water was still icy, and later she showed me how the concessionaire at the boat landing kept soft drinks cold by simply putting them in a bag and lowering that into the lake. As far as I know, no fish live there.
From Crater Lake we drove down Rogue River, which is wild and rocky, then through some strange landscape, full of reminders of volcanic activity; a small perfectly shaped cinder cone rose not far from the road. We stopped at a small town called Weed, and since it was Sunday, nothing was open--not even the police station and jail, just a note on the door with a phone numbers. Outside it Mexican workers loitered in the shade--not much to do in Weed on a Sunday, though we did use the laundromat. Then we struck inland towards Mt. Lassen National Park, site of the most recent volcanic activity (1918) in the 48 states (Mt. St. Helens only erupted in 1980).
One reaches the national park through a parklike forest--sparse Ponderosa pines in a rather arid setting--and we camped among pines and bushes, on the slopes of Mt. Lassen. The road affords a fine view and many hot springs, including the region of "Bumpass Hell," but it has few other attractions. We pchose it mainly in to avoid the crowded parts of California (tight schedule) and head for Nevada.
Nevada 4 Sept. 1962
Right now we are driving through central Nevada, about which the less said the better. It is a long way to Salt Lake City, and I have not the faintest [idea] where we shall spend the coming night. We have come a long way from Seattle: through the Olympic national park, the rain forest, Crater Lake, Mt. Lassen (a not quite extinct volcano) and Virginia City. All these were impressive and interesting places; however, let me skip most of them and write about Virginia City, especially since Audrey (who is driving right now) asked me to record my impressions while they were still fresh. So many impressions!
A few facts first--facts read off colorful leaflets while the car was speeding down to Reno and we were wondering whether it was at all worth while to make a detour to Virginia City. In 1859 a man named Comstock found a rather rich mineral deposit in the hills east of Reno (later called the Comstock Lode) which eventually produced 700 million dollars worth of gold and silver, a city of 30,000 and about a dozen millionaires. Around 1870, Virginia City was the richest town in the continent (so they say), full of Victorian Chintz (much of which is still there), three churches, seven breweries and a cemetery in which 82 people were buried before they came to one who died of natural causes. Mark Twain was the editor of the local paper (it still appears) and was also robbed there, one dark night, of his watch and money. That much we read about the past.
As the richer deposits were worked out, the city lost its prosperity and most of its population, the opera house was converted into a gym and mining finally stopped in 1942 due to the war, and never started again. With its 500 or so inhabitants, it is practically a ghost town, widely billed as a tourist attraction, and as we approached it we wondered very much whether we were just walking into another tourist trap.
We arrived just as the Rambler's brakes faded, and pulled up in front of the town's only garage just as the owner was rolling down the shutter. Luckily, it was the afternoon of Labour Day, and we arrived just about the time when the last of uncounted thousands of holiday tourists left. The day was pretty hot and very dry, and Main Street was not too crowded. You get one look of Main Street and know this is the place--all buildings look just as they did 70 years ago--wooden walkways, bars crowding each other, big signboards which are neither neat nor clean nor new, most of them inviting the tourist ("generous slots"--"big jackpots"). The bars are for real, as we later found out, and the only time most of them are closed is when an election is held. Each of them has a bank of slot machines taking anything from a nickel to a silver dollar and paying (in theory) anything from ten cents to a new M.G.; considering the multitude of stony-faced people feeding them coins--mostly nickels--with mechanical persistence as they pull the levers, these are the main attraction of those places. Then we started looking for a place to stay and this is how we met Florence Edwards.
Florence Edwards was one of those characters that make life interesting. Imagine a little lady 65 years old and extremely agile for her or any age, never quite sober and occasionally quite high, talking with a shrill Boston accent. Further on, try imagine the Silver Dollar hotel which she runs (I was very much reminded of "Pension Hagelberg" on Abyssinian street in Jerusalem)--an extremely old building where every room has a name, not a number, which is never locked furnished with an assortment of antique furniture of which no two pieces seem to match. When she goes to bed she hangs out a notice for prospective customers to choose a room and please leave the money on the table before they leave in the morning. And imagine us two strolling in, looking for a place to spend the night. The lobby was quite empty--no people, just the most amazing collection of chairs, rockers and overstuffed chairs, on one of which a brown-white cat was laying on its back. Later we discovered another cat, a big gray tom, and eventually two other cats as well. Then Mrs. Edwards discovered us , coming from the kitchen and asking us why we did not ring the cowbell hanging on the wall for that purpose.
She sent us upstairs to choose one of the rooms, none of which--we found--had a bathroom and none of which Audrey liked. So finally--and because, as she said, she liked us--we got the special room, the 'balcony room' (with bathroom and even radio, approx vintage 1935) for the trifling sum of $10. I hope the photos of that room will come out. It had a white canopy over the bed (which itself was excellent), and a fancy chandelier which did not work, electrically or otherwise. A balcony overlooked the hills and the mines, and the room had three rocking chairs (all different) but no window screens.
After we paid, Mrs. Edwards advised us to go out and see the main attractions before they closed down, and we did. The Opera House, of wood and in bad need of paint and repairs, probably did not show many operas. It has a stage tilted towards the public and a dancing floor mounted on railroad springs to absorb the impact of the miners' style of dancing. There were old placards on the walls and newspaper clippings, from which we learned than Gen. Doolittle worked there as a miner when he was a boy. The lady selling admission and postcards was rather communicative--we were the only visitors, anyway.
Seems like the town had trouble with wild motorcycle riders from California who planned to "take the town apart" and frightened off quite a bit of the Labor Day trade. The town could not stop them very well, and since--as the woman told us--the whole state police of Nevada amounted to 37 troopers, a large fraction of which weres in Las Vegas--many deputies were sworn in and posted in the bars with .38-s and shotguns by the time those hundred-odd motorcycles finally arrived. There was no trouble--the town policeman made them leave the cycles quite a distance out of town, so they could not have made a quick getaway--but trade suffered on what would have been the city's busiest weekend.
Then we went to the local museum, very well done and displaying a lot of interesting mining instruments, newspaper clippings, minerals and diagrams. It also had a biggish Siberian husky dog, not part of the display and luckily very friendly. We saw a slide show and then returned to Florence, who promptly invited us across the street for a few drinks. They make them strong in Virginia City, and the glasses are generous. Audrey had two whiskey sours and begged a lot for a third, which she did not get. I had a Tequila Margarita cocktail which is about as much as I can take before dinner, or maybe slightly more, while our landlady got high on plain bourbon. I believe this is her daily ritual.
She told us how she had received a good Boston education, excelling in Latin, how she had money and two rich husbands How she traveled twice across Gobi, in a Dodge, back in 1927. How she was going to travel--jet--to Katmandu a year ago and had all arranged when she had a stroke, forcing her to give up both the trip and any drinks in excess of two per day (the last point may or may not be true. This morning she went to get a quick one, I believe, before the bars closed at eight for the Nevada primary elections). She told us how much she liked us, and hated the run-of-the-mill tourists who had no class (unlike her). She got generous and gave a free overnight room to a wandering musician, who started playing a musical saw behind us. She also bought him beer and pretty soon he told his story--wandering around Europe, a marriage with a German girl which did not come out right and so forth. He played all kinds of odd musical instruments, generally in accompaniment to the juke box, and then we left for dinner at Sharon's, where had a wonderful "chicken fried steak", a western specialty which as we found contains no chicken, and also got an ashtray as a souvenir (legally--no swiping).TO HERE
There, and anywhere in town, we found prices reasonable and sometimes rather low. The breakfast we got today at "Sawdust Corner" (displaying a table where three different owners have committed suicide after losing all their possessions, and offering an egg in your whiskey sour for breakfast) we had the best breakfast yet for the money, and even the gas is cheaper than in Reno. Then we went around, playing old music boxes and cast iron devices in which you can see (for a dime) moving pictures produced by flipping a stack of pictures (you have to turn a crank). They also have player pianos, as well as real honky-tonk pianists in the bars. Those pianists generally have a hat for collections besides them and a placard "the rent is due." Then we went to our room and had the first shower in 4 days (since we camped out 3 nights). Talk of feeling born again! We chatted a bit with Mrs. Edwards, watched her cats eat supper off one of the tables, saw a drawing which an artist of "Holiday" made of the place for an article in which it features (it includes all four cats and we have a copy! ), watched the stars from the balcony (it gets cold fast after sundown!) and then went to sleep.
Well, we are now approaching Utah and I shall be brief about the rest. Today is primary election day and Mrs. Edwards went to vote early--just when the polls opened at 8 A.M. She voted for Hank Greenspun for governor, because she attended a very good steak dinner in his honour. I believe he is Jewish (apart from the name) since the radio at one point mentioned (a paid political announcement by his opponents, I believe) that he had at one time been charged with smuggling arms to Israel [1948?]. She also persuaded a 79-year-old lady who works for her in the hotel--widow of one of the miners--who has never voted before, to go and vote for the same candidate. That woman indeed went and voted, but became confused at the machine and now it is not quite certain whom she voted for. We had our car fixed by the only garage in town (the other one went out of business only yesterday), and then, unfortunately, had to leave. It was a ball while it lasted.
Dear parents, we are close to Bonneville flats now, where the fastest motorcars race, the sun has just set and pretty soon we should be looking for a motel. We are both feeling swell, and enjoying every minute of it. All the best to you, and love.
Audrey added: Hi--
Just to ease your minds, we found a place to stay right on the Nevada-Utah border, with the "Last Chance" gambling casino in Nevada and us in Utah, so what remains of our ever-dwindling cash is safe. This motel advertises "the biggest swimming pool in Utah," and has slightly garish furnishings, but also a large and comfortable bed--where I am going next. Love... Audrey
I think we stopped briefly in Salt Lake City to visit the Mormon Tabernacle hall, but then headed straight home.
Home Again, Home Again
(Zanesville, 12 September 1962) So here we are on the last leg of our journey, we hoped to be in Greenbelt by tonight and now are wondering whether we'll really make it, since we are now sitting in the local Rambler garage and the car has an unidentified leak somewhere in the cooling system. Actually we expected to get home only on Sunday; however, we have cut the trip short by four days on account of bad weather. Originally those four days were earmarked (if you can earmark days) for seeing Colorado, but on entering the state we were greeted by low clouds (becoming fog as the car climbed into them), by drizzling rain and forecasts of snow. We camped one night near Montrose at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and had rain practically all that night. We also had our camp visited that night by deer and cows, but that was incidental. In the morning we went to see the canyon--2000 ft deep and at the narrowest only 1400 ft wide--but all we saw was a wide channel between mountains, filled with clouds--so we moved on in search of better weather.
Somewhere between Salida and Leadville I turned around and gave up, persuaded partly by Audrey's insistence, partly by the solid sheets of rain ahead. Later we heard from other tourists (next to whom we camped in Illinois) who stayed a day longer and therefore had to leave, that indeed it snowed in the mountains (and in Denver too, for that matter), and that the touring roads were closed until next year. We sometimes wonder whether the car would have made it anyway, since the engine showed a complete loss of pep in the high mountains, and one pass we had to cross in low gear at a creeping pace, while other traffic whizzed by.
Well, the car seems to have been fixed, so I'll continue later. Maybe we'll make it to Greenbelt after all.
There lines awere written a few days later in Greenbelt, and things are already disgustingly back to the old groove. We would be happy to see you here [the parents] on Rosh Hashanah or at some other time--but let us discuss that over the phone first. Right now Audrey is in bed upstairs and slightly sick, while I'm not exactly a picture of health myself: maybe it's just a letdown, after our exciting trip. Looking back, it was no trouble at all, and far from losing weight, I came back with a few extra pounds. The house is in good shape--our neighbor took good care of it--although now, of course, it is in a big mess with maps and souvenirs cluttering up the place.
To sum it all up, it was an impressive trip. After living in the tightly crowded eastern seaboard, one realizes how immense this country is, and how sparsely populated, for the greater part. The mountains in the west are higher, much higher, the lakes bluer (and colder), trees taller and older and have a personality compared to which the Maryland forests are weeds that 'just grew.' Yet other parts are utterly useless desert, and some of the west is so old and shabby that one wonders why it is considered the young part of the nation. Seattle a slight disappointment! Of course we made it a point to visit was many national parks as we could manage. Among many tourist "attractions," they alone maintain high quality, except maybe in the matter of, for in this case anywhere you must be careful of genuine Indian work made in Japan or New Jersey. We tried to meet people as well and came home with addresses scribbled on odd pieces of paper, I hope I can track them all down--campers, other tourists and so on. Now we are home and it is quite a letdown.
Well, I hope to hear from you soon, by mail if possibe. The car is pretty beat up, by the way, it is in the garage for complete overhaul. Thank God the Rambler warranty is still in effect.
Preliminaries--Car, tent, maps...
16 July 1962
Indiana Toll Road, 19 August 1962,
Near Coeur D'Alene, Idaho--25 August 1962
Devil's Tower, Yellowstone and Grand Coulee
Seattle and Crater Lake
Home Again, Home Again
Author and Curator: Dr. David P. Stern