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End of the Road, For Now

You, road I enter upon and look around. I believe you are not all that is there. I believe that much unseen is also there.

--Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road

Here serves a temporary wrap to the recent U.S. 12 Adventure. Beginning on a quest to travel the highway that runs from Detroit, MI to Aberdeen, WA, it was a mission accomplished. Along with unplanned side trips and a different return route that included visiting several areas that we had not previously experienced, all in all it was a journey of 6,413 miles in 25 days, crossing and recrossing 19 states. After the mad dash across Interstate 80 during the last four days of the trip we felt in need of a giant shoehorn to pry us from the car seats. R&R at home has been appreciated.

One aspect of the U.S. 12 drive was the heat. After leaving Ypsilanti early on July 1st on a misty pre-sunrise morning the temps rose slightly as we crossed Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Once crossing into South Dakota the temp moved through the 90s, and when we drove into Mobridge, SD on the 3rd of July the temp hit 103...and then 104 the next day. These triple digit temps stayed with us across S.D., North Dakota, and Montana...104 in Missoula. Of course it's "dry heat" but once over 100 it's damn hot! Once we we moved through the thick forests of Idaho we saw the mid-90s and that's pretty much how it stayed until getting to Aberdeen near the Pacific Ocean in NW Washington. It was quite mild along the coast (even cool in WA and OR), but once we headed inland the 90s returned for most of the return trip. The moderate temps that we found on returning to Michigan have been appreciated.

A couple observations along the way...the further west you go, the weaker the coffee gets. Being kind of used to a stronger brew, either at home or at many of the fine local coffee brewers and servers in the Ypsi/A2 area, the morning Joe needs to be a bit heavy duty. Coffee at restaurants, to put it mildly, was very mild...whether in small towns or bigger. What you do see are drive up coffee huts that sell shots of espresso so you can load up your Americano-to-go to be as strong as you need it (ours was always a shot plus, no matter the volume). Another thing, in Oregon you can't pump your own gasoline...apparently it's against the law. The first time to experience this was in the small town of Detroit, OR. There's only one gas station, at the edge of Detroit Lake, with just two pumps. When I got out of the car I noticed the pumps were the older mechanical type with no slot for payments. A woman appeared from the front door to say that she would pump the fuel and I needed to announce if I was paying by cash or credit card. I thought, OK, why not. The second time was at a national brand station, and after getting out of the car a young man rushes up to help with the sale and pump the fuel. He tells me that it's against the law for drivers of passenger vehicles to pump their own gas; he even takes the credit card from my hand and inserts it into the pump and operates all the prompts at my direction (before and after pumping the gas). This station had at least 3 attendants jumping around pumping gasoline. Since this day's drive had included some rather dusty stretches of road and I noticed a drive-through car wash at the station, I got in line after the fuel up. As I was looking at the panel to check out the various levels of cleaning, another gentleman appeared asking to help out. It appears that you can't operate a drive-through car wash either. He took my money and went to a panel inside the building to process and sent us on the way through the washing. We wondered if they had an attendant inside to help us with the bathroom (they did not). Not sure if tipping is proper for this required service (I did not). Perhaps I could get used to this if they did a good job of cleaning the windshield.

The unfortunate aspect of such a trip is that you find real gems, some unexpected, at which you’d like to spend a few days to explore in greater detail. The Oregon coast and Redwood National Forest come to mind. I could see a week at Rockaway, OR with long daily walks on the never-ending beaches as a good thing. There are many hikes available within and near the Redwood National Park that include the California Coastal Trail that would be interesting to explore with a few more days in the area. Having a couple days at Lassen Volcanic National Part, at a time later in the summer when the roads and trails have been completely cleared, would enable further exploration of the park.

And certainly, an extra day at Crater Lake National Park later in the summer when snow has been cleared from parts of the East Rim Road to fully drive around the crater. Extra time would also allow hiking down to the lake's surface to view the rim from the water level as well as boarding the boat for a cruise around the lake and short hike on Wizard Island. I still am in total amazement at the natural creation that is Crater Lake.

But here are no regrets on what we might have done -- only observations in passing. This was an incredible drive, giving the opportunity to view so much of the eclectic landscape that is the United States...all new to us. And, a very important part of that landscape is our national park system. These beautiful and varied tracts of land, some including vast wilderness areas, must be preserved for all generations as there is indeed nothing comparable on the planet in any other country. We can only save them once.

Not all the incredible experiences were encountered in nature. Although most people were friendly along the way, we met two wonderful people that turned into extended conversations. Both were mentioned in prior blogs but deserve a follow up blurb in this final U.S. 12 report because of the impressions they made.

First was meeting “hybrid metal artist” John Lopez in Lemmon, SD. Our attention was grabbed by a likeness of a cowboy riding a dinosaur set under the sign for the Grand River Museum. After examining this amazing sculpture, we were lead into a tour of the wonderful Museum that featured more sculpture by Mr. Lopez, including the powerful sculpture depicting the struggle of mountain man Hugh Glass who was mauled by a grizzly bear not far from Lemmon. Glass survived the attack and made it back to civilization. The movie “The Revenant” starring Leonardo DeCaprio is loosely based on the story of Glass. There is a photo of this sculpture in the Gallery.

We were directed to the gallery of Mr. Lopez on Main Street where a long conversation with the artist began. This developed into a formal interview that I recorded and will edit into a video profile on John Lopez and his art in the near future.

Another unforgettable conversation occurred at the Whoop-N-Holler Museum and Ranch near the town of Bickleton, WA (pop. 88). Bickleton is a town with a short main street that includes the Post Office and Market Street Café & Grocery that is a combination lunch counter and general store. It might be off the beaten path but you can get a scoop of real ice cream whenever they’re open. Across the street is the Blue Bird Inn, billed as the longest continuing operating bar in the state. A new owner has it looking spiffy and serving up a variety of food and beverage.

Following a twisty 2-lane up and over and around rolling hills of various hay and wheat fields out of Bickleton, there is no clue as to what awaits you at the “Whoop-N-Holler.” This Museum and Ranch is the home and life long collection of Lawrence and Ada Ruth Whitmore and is more of a walk through time of automobile and ranch equipment as well as an incredible collection of cultural and historical artifacts. Sadly, Lawrence passed away last year but after we had a wonderful tour with their friend David we got the chance to talk with Ada Ruth and it was apparent that we did not learn all the stories from David. Hearing about Ada’s life growing up around Bickleton, meeting Lawrence and their getting married when she was 17 and he was 19 (her affection for Lawrence remains as strong as ever), building a family of five children, and how they amassed their collection of stuff was very entertaining.

At 87 years young, Ada has a story for every item that comes up in conversation including details of how and when it was acquired along with individuals who played a role in the story. She opened her house to us for a very personal tour that was delightful.

Lawrence had collected a large group of antique cars, trucks, and farm equipment but you can’t really say it’s a classic museum because many vehicles are probably in their final resting places scattered about the ranch. But it might be the only automobile museum collection where you have to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes as you step around the exterior exhibits.

A group of vehicles are housed in a barn away from the weather but they are jammed together so close it’s hard to view details beyond the front exteriors. But it’s a treat nonetheless. One that is buried in a side barn that is impossible to see, and would have been fun to examine, is the Studebaker that Lawrence and Ada had when “courting.” We heard a story though.

David gave us a tour of the Treasure House that has an amazing display of items from days gone by. He give us a demo of a fine piece of furniture that houses a Murphy bed, played a song on an Edison cylinder phonograph recording, and played a record on an Edison record player. Eventually these videos will be posted on the Gallery page. We also toured “Aunt Ernestine’s kitchen.” One building we didn’t have time to stick our heads into was the 1900 Fairview one-room schoolhouse that was moved to the ranch many years ago. On a follow up phone conversation with Ada a few days ago she told me that the schoolhouse was originally located 7 miles from their ranch and was ultimately owned by a local gentleman who was in need of water. So Ada and Lawrence traded access to their water for the schoolhouse and it was moved to the Ranch. As I said, Ada has a story for every item.

Much of the collection of antiques was acquired via inheritance as well as personal collecting. It seems that Lawrence had several close family members who had no offspring but had homes and related stuff…when they passed away all the household stuff came to Lawrence and so their collections continued to grow. The Whoop-N-Holler name supposedly came from the antics of the children of the Whitmores…it’s quieter now except for the wind, but stories by Ada make it an exciting place to visit.

I will continue to add photos to the Gallery page that will include a few raw video clips. As time allows I will also make some short videos of specific locations encountered during this trip.

It will take a bit of time to sort the photos, edit the videos, and reflect on just how much we experienced on this trip. One thinks it might be unimaginable that another long trip would happen anytime soon. But things will settle down and life will begin to be mundane…then the itch for the Wild Road will return. Who knows were it will lead but I’ll leave off with a quote from another writer:

The urge to travel feels magnetic. Two of my favorite words are linked: departure time.

--Frances Mayes

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