Western Folklife Center: Elko, Nevada

Located in Elko, Nevada, a gold mining & railroad town located off of Interstate-80, is the Western Folk-life Center is designed to promote the cowboy heritage and way of life through their songs, storytelling, poetry (for those who don’t know, Cowboy Poetry is THING) and artwork. It is also the location for the yearly (approaching its 35th anniversary) National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and competition…. six days of poetry, music, dancing, workshops, and exhibits all of which are based in tradition but focused on the modern/rural West.IMG_4677

IMG_2765You first enter into the gift shop, which constitutes almost a quarter of the space, and actually has quite an impressive collection of items. IMG_0078Around the outer edges of the store you’ll find areas devoted to Cowboy poetry, music, and art, as you expect….IMG_0077Plus some handicrafts, including beauty products and other ranch produced handicrafts…. but the entire center of the shop???IMG_0076Jewelry! Lots and lots of jewelry — cause well… profit margins…. alongside the gift store is the art gallery. The guy in charge told me that they always have visiting exhibitions in this space… which switch out every few months. While I was here they had an exhibit about the art of Basque sheep herders (a different sort of cowboy) — and their art forms, including carvings, some of which date back to 1900, that are carved into local Aspen treesIMG_4720because these tree will ultimately die, a married couple had gone around collecting rubbings of all the ones they could find. IMG_0080

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This was followed up by a small display about Basque improvised Poetry. Here they give them a topic and they have to come up with a poem on the subject … which was won by a woman for the first time last year

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Then there was a permenent display, of the movie why the Cowboy sings…. only its the 16 minute version

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Looking online I found the PREVIEW of “Why the Cowboy sings” (1.24 min)

As well as the Full 56 min movie — but no 16 minute version

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After this the docent showed me their western bar… it was not specially made, they found it in a mining camp in a tent and brought it here

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Some examples of Cowboy poetry:

This website shows last year’s “Best of the West” show, which is a yearly performance at the Poetry Gathering, which exhibits some of the best of modern Cowboy music. While this video on the event, gives you an idea of the full breath and depth of it:

Cemetery in a roundabout: West Des Moines, Iowa

Currently situated in the middle of the intersection at South 88th Street and Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines, Iowa (not far from I-80), lies the Huston Family Cemetery. It was named for James B. Huston, the patriarch of one of the first families to settle in Dallas County (in the 1840’s) and the LAST person buried at the plot (in 1889). The cemetery is unusual in that it now sits in the center of a roundabout in what was once a rural area, but that is no only about a mile away from a Costco, and as there’s already been one instance of a drunk driver driving through the site, it might end up being moved — although there is some talk of moving the roads instead.

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The area which I’m fairly sure was completely rural a few years ago (like the other grave in a middle of the road I visited in Indiana) is to the graveyards detriment being developed REALLY quickly, according to the locals I spoke to … so much so that — like I already said–  there’s a Costco about a mile directly down the road (with a gas station, which I filled up at).

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The Huston Cemetery consists of 19 graves that date back to the late 1880’s, and are located near to The family’s original home — which is still standing nearby. The home is HIGHLY historical, as it was once a stage-coach station, a tavern, the local post office AND a stop on the Underground Railroad. The family patriarch, James B. Huston, was the first attorney in Dallas County (where the graves are situated)

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According the city’s website, the first two former slave girls, both named Harper, who apparently had “died on their way to freedom” were the first individuals buried there — although this is conflicted by a report from another site, which claims the two girls were part of family that was on its way to Kansas to become part of John Brown’s raiders. They were followed by James Huston’s wife, Nancy Hill Huston, and six of their children, all of whom died young — so there’s a sad story to be told from these stones.

 

 

Route 80’s Little America Travel Center: Little America, Wyoming

I have always really loved the Little America Travel Center just off of Intestate 80 west of Green River, Wy; and I have stopped here many times over the years. When I first discovered it, it had been recently renovated and stood as an oasis of green in the desert of western Wyoming, serving up decent food at very reasonable prices. It USED to be impressively shiny (ultra clean bathrooms, everything worked, etc) … it isn’t anymore — but the food is still cheap, if you can get any

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The original building
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The “newish” building… I didn’t take pictures of the bathrooms because mom’s were changing babies in there, but their roomy and have powder rooms

That said something has happened to it. The bathrooms aren’t AS well maintained as they used to be, and this part of the travel center was understaffed — or at least that staff that was there was less “motivated” to do anything other than their assigned tasks, so that point of sale counter for stuff from the store had TWO people working the cash registers (but standing there doing nothing)….

 

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…while the cash register/kitchen for the food area, with its $0.75 ice cream cones ($1.55 if you get the bigger waffle cone), $2.95 grilled cheese sandwiches and it’s $5.75 1/3 lb cheese burgers… i.e., where all of the customers were going… had only one open register and an understaffed kitchen…  so that those lines were impossibly long… etc etc.

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During the time period I was there, the line extended out the door

I talked to the two staff members working the essentially unused counter, saying I had intended to get my lunch there, but not with such a long line… and they suggested that I cross the parking lot over to the side of the travel center that handles the truckers — in this case a completely separate building from the one that services automobile traffic (check out the length of the line below, it averaged zero to three people)

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So I did ….only to discover a smaller building — less tourist junk, and more stuff truckers might want to buy — like a rotisserie chicken …  with a grill line that averaged three people in line maximum instead of 20-30 — with only slightly different food options (the auto side was had fancier options, and stuff for kids, like chicken strips and potato wedges…  but what was offered was at the same prices

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When I tried to pay for my grilled sandwich the tap mechanism did not work, and the girl who was working there made a snide comment about how “it was old is just like everything else around here.”

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That said, the serving size for the waffle cone ice-cream on the trucker side seemed to be twice as big as what they were giving out the customer side

Iowa 80 – The World’s Largest Truckstop; Walcott, Iowa

On interstate-80 in Walcott, Iowa, you’ll find Iowa-80, which is about four times larger than the average truck stop and as such is advertised as “The World’s largest Truckstop” (their’s no verification to their claim). That said, while its primary focus is on the diverse needs of truckers, it is definitely worth a stop to the average automobile driver on the Interstate 80 … if only because of some of its surprising attributesIMG_2527I used to drive through this truck stop on a semi regular basis back when I lived in San Francisco… and always used to be highly amused at the diverse selection of goods

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This is the doorway automobile drivers first walk through, and it’s goods aimed at tourists

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A large section of the “tourist” area is devoted to veterans and their families, and has pro-military bumper stickers and a display of military medals. IMG_2530

Many years ago I bought a collection of a different (and funnier) version of the “when it has to be destroyed” bumper sticker — which I STILL have on my car — only the original version was a variation on the FedEx advertising campaign, “when it absolutely positively has to be there overnight“… I was sad to see this newer version of the sticker had removed the world “overnight” and hence destroyed the joke.IMG_2543.JPGOn this same level of the store you’ll find their 24-hour all you can eat buffet restaurant, “Home cooking” (with ala cart options), a HUGE food court with a wide selection of fast food options (plus more shopping choices and a game room) — but none of this is the surprising parts… for that you have to check into the levels of the place (and its multiple floors) that cater to the truckers.

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So for instance, while showers and a public laundry are normal services at truck stops (in addition to what this sign shows there’s also a TV lounge and a library upstairs, again, kind of normal for truck stops), what I’ve never seen before is one with a barber, dentist and chiropractor before… and I’ve stopped at more than a few over the years … nor have I seen one that has a theater with a constant stream of movies (although in this day and age that’s much easier to pull off than it was the first time I stopped here, over 20 years ago). While I was there they announced that the movie resident evil was going to start playing in the upstairs movie theater.

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Then if you walk towards the Truckers entrance to the building (on the other side, and down a level), you’ll find another GINORMOUS super-store that has everything the discerning truck owner might want from basic comfort items that anyone who spends a lot of time in their car might want, to the ones someone who actually sleeps there might need:

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multicolored lights and the obligatory sexy lady to put on your truck…. what’s kind of cool is that door of that yellow truck (which I SHIT YOU NOT, is sitting on a rotating floor — look at the ground beneath it, that continually ROTATES) is left open so that anyone can climb up and sit in the truck if they like… including children — although I didn’t see anyone actually do it.

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One of the cool things they have down there is a customization “while you wait” shop that can make anything from bumper stickers to customer embroidered hats or shirts with any image you bring to them as photograph.

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Also, if you have the time, in a seperate building BEHIND the Truckstop, you’ll find a museum dedicated to Trucking — I didn’t have time this trip, but intend to go there next time.

Echo Canyon Welcome Center Rest Area, Canyon & Trail; Utah

I don’t normally bother stopping at Information Centers, but Echo Canyon is a one of the most historically important locations in the westward expansion of the United States. It’s a natural pathway/pass located about half way between the grasslands of Wyoming and the Great Salt lake desert of Utah. This was a route used by (progressively) animal migration, Native Americans, the wagon trains, the Mormon pioneers of 1847, the stage coaches, the Pony Express, prospectors, the railroad (who still uses it today), the countries first transcontinental telegraph line, The Lincoln Highway and today Instate 80.

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The pass, looking eastbound, railroad tracks on the left, I-80 on the right

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This is one of the nicer rest stops on I-80. The bathrooms were clean, and there was a nice but a bit steep up-hill walk to the monument that will get your blood pumping after a long drive, and teach you a bit of history.

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What’s interesting to me is the condition of this sign about The Road to Zion (along side the building itself, bottom of the hill) — one of the historic to America trails that I’m increasingly interested in traveling along. To put this in some sort of context for folks who are unfamiliar with the church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, i.e., the Mormon Church — is a wide collection of independent church groups that trace their origins to a man called Joseph Smith in the late 1820’s. The nickname for the group is derived from their adherence to the Book of MormonMormon being the name (I THINK) of the Latter-day Saint/narrator (??) of much of the text (I’m not Mormon nor have I any sort of expertise about the religion, so forgive any mistakes I’ve made or feel free to correct them in the comments). Anyway, the largest/richest segment of the church — and the part most politically recognized, is the one that owns the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City — and is also a politically powerful demographic (so that on numerous occasions Mormons have campaigned, albeit unsuccessfully, for the office of President of the United States — with Mitt Romney being the most recent). As such, they arranged (and rightly so) to have their migration trail included as one of the very first recognized trails of the National Historic Trails System… only to have the above sign placed at strategic locations all along said Mormon trail to Salt lake… only ALL of these signs have turned out to be highly NOT-archival (i.e., covered with a plastic coating that degrades rapidly in the elements); and all of these signs are at this point between difficult and impossible to read as result, let alone photograph; and every one of them says the same generic thing — none of the ones I’ve seen so far say anything specific about THAT locations’ specific importance to the trail… other than it’s part of it. What I don’t get, is why the church hasn’t offered to pay to have them all replaced with something better and more meaningful.

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This is so far the ONLY sign I’ve seen offering up any discussion of Eisenhower’s involvement in the instate system of highways

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The pass, looking west bound

It is also a favored spot for train enthusiasts,

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My pics of the rail-line that also passes through the gap

as is shown by this video I found on YouTube:

 

 

 

Thunder Mountain Monument: Imlay, Nevada

The Thunder Mountain Monument was NOT a place I found via a  road-tripping website, rather it grabbed my eye while driving from Elko to Reno, Nevada on Interstate-80, causing me to dive out the very next exit and doubled back — good thing I did

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The place is kind of impressive, and reminds me a great deal of Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden in Summerville, Georgia According to wikipedia Thunder Mountain was declared a Nevada State Historic Site in 1992

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Passed these two on my way out of the monument and back to the highway… asked if I could take their picture and she said, “sure, he loves to ham it up for a camera”

Golden Gate Bridge & Muir Woods: San Francisco Bay area, California

Hello from SF. After Pennsic I spent the last two weeks road tripping across America on I-80, in large part so that I could attend the 50th wedding anniversary of two dear friends (and former employers) of mine, up near the north/east end of Maine county (north of San Francisco). I had booked an Airbnb up as near to the venue for the party as possible, a local restaurant called Rancho Nicasio (apparently they’re popular for weddings too) — which I have got to say put on an impressive event.. and then made plans to stay with various friends who lived down in the south bay (which is about an hour and a half drive south of the party).

The next day I intended to take advantage of that location and go to Muir woods, which was one of my favorite places back when I used to live in Marine, only to discover that just a few months ago they instituted a reserved parking rule. You now have to book your visit 90 days in advance!!!! Either that or you have to do it 5 days in advance which means you’ll only get access to the handful of spaces that they’ve held back. The night before I got on-line and found that ALL the spaces were booked up till 4:30 in the afternoon.

That said, APPARENTLY, probably because Muir woods was someplace I went to every few weeks back before iPhones were even a product (I think I was still using palm pilot back then) — I do not have any digital photos of the place:

So instead I was like, “oh, I’ll just stop by the Golden Gate and get photos there… but normal daily fog (especially in summer when the air is hot and water is cold) had rolled in a bit early and very thickly (it was just noon, usually it wouldn’t be quite this thick till 1 or 2pm)… so I didn’t bother taking the time to pull over, and this was all I managed to snap:

IMG_5024 So I am posting photos from a 2005 visit (which apparently I do have a few of — would have taken them with a digital camera) but back before the selfi was a thing:

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Jesse James Historical Site, First Train Robbery in the West: Adair, Iowa

Located a short distance off of Interstate-80, in Adair, Iowa, is a monument dedicated to the very first documented heist of a moving train in the west; this occurred on July 21, 1873. The thieves in question were the notorious gang of outlaws led by Jesse James.

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Road is to the far left, then the 2nd road is the off ramp, then the memorial

The memorial is located near the top of a low hill, along side an off ramp type road, so that tourists don’t block traffic or cause accidents.

I found this short segment (2.5 minutes) of a longer “Biography” documentary about Jesse James, that focus on this train robbery… or you can read the explanation I found at the site:

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Both sources make the point that this was sort of learning experience for the gang, in that their actions, jerking a rail out of place, resulted in a derailment of the train and the two needless deaths of  Engineer and the fireman, plus injuries to various passangers… i.e., they ultimately decided this method just made it harder than it had to be.

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Along with the explanation of the robbery are some posters talking about local wild plants and a bit about the town.

Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge: Paxton, Nebraska

Located just off of Interstate-80, Ole’s big Game Steakhouse and Lounge,  is a taxidermist’s heaven with over 200 big game trophies that has been Paxton, Nebraska institution since 1933, and one that almost gives Cabela’s a run for its money (in its attempt to be a monument to death).  It is the endeavor of a local guy, Rosser “Ole” Herstedt, and stands as both a restaurant and a showroom for 35 years worth of his hunting expeditions to every continent. Any spot on its walls not taken up by a dead animals is covered with photographs and mementos brought home from his world-wide safaris.  Ole is now retired, and the resturant is now under the ownership of some guy called Tim Holzfaster (according to their brochure); that said, the food is… meh.

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The moment you walk into the restaurant the first thing you see is the Polar bear, which is posed as though it just killed a seal pup. And every one of the pieces comes with a little plaque telling you where and when it was killed (and what it is).

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Along the right wall of the place (from where you enter) there’s a full bar, with a little gift shop selling branded itemsIMG_4045

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Note the Rocky Mountain Oysters: otherwise known as testicalsIMG_2412

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I ordered the chopped buffalo steak, a sweet potato and cowboy beans (which I was told are like baked beans but with barbecue sauce)….and a sarsaparilla

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Based on taste, chopped buffalo steak was mixed with beef, and had way more beef than bison…. and, on top of that it had the fat ground into it…  so it was really really fatty (under the steak was actually a POOL of the crap)… thus utterly defeating the health benefit let alone the flavor value of Buffalo, so I don’t suggest it.  The baked beans were tasty as was the roll… However, my server – who admittedly was towards the end of his first week of working there and as of yet hadn’t tasted most anything that was on the menu (which is kind of part of the job, but is on the heads of the ownership to make sure he was given the chance). When I tried to talk to them about that they clearly didn’t give a shit… so ‘customer service’ isn’t their priority.

All said and done, go for the circuses, but unless you’re getting food that really basic, and your expectations of that food aren’t very high… you might be disappointed if you eat there.

Bonneville Salt Flats; Wendover, Utah

The world-famous Bonneville Salt Flats is located just west of the Tree of Utah as you travel west on I-80. It is one of the few places on the planet so flat and large that you can see the curve of the planet, and so deadly that not even the simplest life forms of our planet can sustain themselves there.

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The  Bonneville Salt Flats is another place I’ve driven past on numerous occasions, but never bothered to take the time to stop and see until this visit. I discovered there are two ways to see the place… the first is the a rest stop on the north side of Interstate-80

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The second option is to enter into the park itself to where the the measured mile is located, which is where the cars race. To get there, you go to the next exit west of the rest stop. There you will find a Sinclair Truck stop, that sells a collection of Bonneville Speedway t-shirts, along with the normal truck stop selection of goods

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and that, besides the obligatory gas, has something highly unusual for a truck stop…. a cafe that serves Indian food!!!

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I was so amazed when I spotted this, that I stopped to order some lunch. I ordered Sag Paneer, one of my very favorite foods, Tandoori chicken, and garlic Nan… the waiter told me that the wait for the chicken was going to about half an hour… so I told him I’d be back… and headed out to see the speedway

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This picture was actually taken on the way BACK to the truckstop

From the truck stop you drive down Leppy Pass Road, taking the curve in the bend onto the Bonneville Speedway Road (a two lane black top road along side which you’ll find a lot of people parked in campers)

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As was this one… (note the mountains)

For some reason the map won’t embed the map, so follow this link to show the spot of the final location: https://goo.gl/maps/qSFXak8XWEP2

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IMG_4628.jpgWhen I got there I was told that there was actually a race going on, and it would cost $20 to go out on to the salt flats… I told her I actually had to get back to the gas station because I had ordered lunch… and could I just take photos for now of the entrance way, and then come back after I had eaten (at which point I would pay to enter the area). She said yes, and directed me where to park.IMG_2372IMG_4629

After these photos I headed back to the cafe and had my lunch…. I also ordered a sweet lassi to drink with it.

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All of it was very tasty, but unfortunately the cook had undercooked the chicken thighs (my favorite part of the chicken too)… so he took it back in to have it cooked some more, and the chef for some reason opted to deep-fry it, meaning I still couldn’t eat it (not allowed deep-fried food).

And that’s when I suddenly had an urge to go to the bathroom (as in I really needed to poop all of a sudden). While there, for some reason…  I had the very bad luck of getting seriously sick. I was sitting on the toilet, pooping, and that black veil dropped in front of my eyes warning me that I was about to pass out. I put my head between my knees, started shaking and sweating really badly (as in heavy drops of sweat were falling off my forehead onto my glasses)… while sitting in what I knew was a cool room. I tried to stand up a few times and almost passed out each time, forcing me to sit again, and put my head right back between my knees… I tried pulling my pants up, but didn’t have the strength to do it. I was forced to ask a complete stranger to help me get my pants up. She, however, didn’t speak english; so, I asked her to please get someone who could — she spoke enough to understand that. It took her a while but she brought a guy from the shop, who translated to her what I wanted, while asking me if he should call 911, but warning me that the hospital was very far away and it could take them 20 minutes to get there. I told him not to. She helped me, and then I staggered over to the sinks and held on to them, still shaking horribly. She opened the faucets and started splashing my head with cool water, which actually helped.

When I started to feel a bit better I staggered over to the restaurant, paid my bill (poor guy must have thought I’d run out on it), sat at a table and put my head down on it and just stayed like that for about 20 minutes…. then with baby steps I got back to the car… guzzeled water I had there and waited for my head to clear so I could drive the almost 2 hour drive… I was actually pretty proud of myself all things considered

As such, I was only really able to glance at the salt flats before forced by illness to head directly towards my next hotel where I could rest … because to quote The Bard, “discretion is the better part of valor” —Henry IV, Part I, and while I am aware he meant it as a joke, I prefer its idiomatic usage, because it has a great deal of truth to it.