Traveling the Goat Trail
Reminiscing on a Recent Road Trip
“Connecting Idaho,” is a much misused term. Idaho is shaped like a pear shaped person. All of the weight is in the south. To most Idaho politicians, connecting Idaho means linking Ontario, Oregon in the west with Pocatello via Interstate 84 and I-86 in the east. It also means linking Pocatello in the south to Montana in the east, via Interstate 15, which, of course also connects with our capital, Salt Lake City. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.) For the rest of us, there is “The Goat Trail.”
Back when the U.S. government built our highway system, US 10 and US 95 were major routes. In the case of long forgotten US 95, it stretches from I-8 on the Mexican border to Eastport on the Canadian border. I recently traveled most of Hwy 95 and 93 while on a recent road trip. While US 99 has all but disappeared, along with Route 66 and other main routes of the olden days, (pre-Eisenhower Interstates) US 95 is still the only way to get from southern Idaho to the north without going through Washington or Montana.
For my trip south to Wellton, Arizona, which is a small town just east of Yuma, Arizona, I didn’t utilize Hwy 95 to begin with from my home in North Idaho; instead, I diverted to Ritzville and drove down to I-84 at the Tri-Cities, thence over the Blue Mountains on the Oregon/Idaho border. I then drove east to Twin Falls, down US 93 through Ely, Nevada. Terminating 93 at Las Vegas, I joined US 95 for the rest of the drive.
Las Vegas is a city best avoided for us country hicks. Traffic is heavy 24/7 with no place to stop to check directions. Henderson offered some respite and driving across Hoover Dam was a trip. All of those pictures showing the looming presence of that high dam appeared to be photo exaggerations. The dam looked small when crossing it, and other than the great canyon it spanned, it wasn’t very wide.
Most of the drive south in Nevada was much of the same nothingness for miles. There are a few historic sites, such as Yucca Flats, site of the first Atom Bomb test and proposed storage site for nuclear plant spent fuel rods. The beginning and the end. Yin and Yang. This is where it started this is where it ends. Kind of reminiscent of putting the Genie back into the bottle.
Other than the long drive south through Nevada on US 93, I was back on US 95 when leaving Lost Wages. I would, other than a detour to central California to see family, be on US 95 for the rest of the trip, starting at Winnemucca, Nevada. There were some notable sights heading northeast on I-80 though. The first was Donner Pass of the Donner Party infamy. For those of you who were asleep in class, this was the infamously trapped wagon train that was snowed in at the pass during the winter of 1846-47. It looms 7,227 feet above sea level, so close, yet so far away from the lush Sacramento Valley, just a few impossible miles to the west. The emigrants died and there were stories of cannibalism of the frozen bodies by survivors. Of the 87 in the party, 39 died and 48 survived, after several rescue groups brought provisions to them.
Reno, Nevada popped out of the mist, after descending along the Truckee River out of the higher country. For most of the rest of the way I would be in high desert. During the route from Reno to Winnemucca, I passed the Senator Fumaroles. These were a series of steam vents in a straight line paralleling the freeway. A crack in the rock there showed many steam plumes over about a mile of terrain. It was quite remarkable. Salt flats appeared so white, it looked pure enough to set the table with. All along this stretch were mines, either active or played out. Nevada boasts more precious minerals and metals than the rest of the country combined.
Winnemucca, the gateway to Idaho and rejoining of US 95, was achieved painlessly, but it was the last time. Starting up US 95, one encounters Oregon and the Jordan Valley after about 80 miles. After entering Oregon, “The goat trail,” started to live up to it’s name. After traveling for what seemed forever, passing through Burns Junction the town of Jordan Valley appeared at the foot of the troublesome Mahogany Mountains. There, US 95 started living up to it’s name. Oh, and did I mention that for all those miles, Oregon had a 55 MPH speed trap ... er, limit? Finally I descend into the Treasure Valley. A quick jaunt across the floor of the valley and I’m headed for Lewiston, right? Huh-uh. Every town along the valley floor through Caldwell, Nampa, Payette and other forgotten names felt it their civic duty to treat travelers to their downtown cores. It would appear that Sandpoint is not the only sinner here.
Gigantic mountains, tiny valleys perched along the little salmon river were vague shapes in the pea soup fog encountered in the hills of the Panhandle. New Meadows, Riggins and points north, I was nearing home and leaning on it some. Up the Lewiston grade and straight through, the new bypass from Worley past the Coeur d’Alene Casino open, as near as I could tell, still in dense fog. The fog lasted all the way to Bayview, 18 hours after departing Manteca, California. Maybe we should leave the goat trail alone. It might stop or at least slow the northern migration down a bit. Gee, it’s great to be home.