Crossing The Plains 6/18 – 6/24

Sidney, Nebraska:  Population = 6,287, elevation = 4,308 feet, average January low temp = 10.9, Average July high temp = 88, average sunny days = 229, annual snowfall = 41.3”, annual rainfall = 18.8”, air quality index = 97, water quality index = 40, comfort index = 40

From Cheyenne, our route leads us into Sidney, Nebraska.  We are past the Rockies and the land is becoming flatter, more covered with grass and crops.  Occasional pine studded hills and ridges pop up here and there.  I keep insisting that the scenery is flat and boring and Marylu, who was born and raised in Sidney, keeps pointing out the hills and bluffs and rocky outcrops.

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On the way to Sidney

In Sidney we are staying with Clint and Diane, Marylu’s brother and his wife.  This used to be Marylu’s parent’s house so it was build to accommodate the parents and 8 children.  The house is large and comfortable and has a swimming pool outside.  Clint has just retired so the next day he and Diane are heading off to Omaha, where they are picking up an RV and continuing on to Vermont for a well-deserved vacation.

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A cool pool on a hot summer day

We have a mission in Sidney.  In August there is going to be the 50th class reunion for St. Patricks high school.  Jan from Cheyenne and Marylu have been planning a scavenger hunt for their classmates.  We are scouting the sites.  “Remember the old Five and Dime?  OK, it is something else now, but the building is still there.  Take a selfie in from of it and text it back to the Hunt Master.“   At least that is the plan.

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Was that the 5 and dime? Or was it across the street?
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The Cabela house and museum of big game trophies

My mission is to see everything on the Trip Advisor list of things to see in Sidney.  There are 5 things.  Have a classic burger at the Silver Dollar, and the tour is complete.  The week is hot and steamy so most of our time is spent just hanging out around the pool with Marylu’s sisters, niece, nephew and wife and babies.  Throw in some beer and BBQ and it makes for a nice relaxing visit.  Many thanks to Clint and Diane for graciously letting us use their home.

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Part of Historic Downtown Sidney
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Commemorating the Pony Express
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Best burgers in town

Hot Springs, SD  Population = 3971, elevation = 3,504, average January low temp = 11.1, Average July high temp = 89, average sunny days = 229, annual snowfall = 35.1”, annual rainfall = 17.2”, air quality index = 99, water quality index = 40, comfort index = 59

The road to Hot Springs runs through more of a variety of scenery.  Lots of flat farmland, speckled with cattle or blanketed by wheat or corn.  There are distant ranges of high hills, growing darker as we approach South Dakota.  There are areas where the ground is tossed up in mounds, as if there were gigantic gophers at work out there.  The prairie rolls on, mile after mile, to the far away horizon.  But wait, what is that over there?  Stonehenge?  No, it is Carhenge!  A student of the original stone circle duplicated it with vintage cars, spray painted grey.

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Why is it so bumpy over there? Everything else is flat.
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Can’t make it to England? Try Nebraska for Carhenge.

Hot Springs looks like it could be an interesting little town.  The historic old buildings downtown are built of the same limestone that graces the cliffs nearby.  A little river gurgles through the heart of the town.  Big hills surround it, covered in dark pines, with outcroppings of dark granite poking through.  Our time is limited but we do manage to take in the Mammoth Site.  Roughly 26,000 years ago, a huge sinkhole opened up then filled with water.  When mammoths and other animals came to drink they fell in and could not escape so their bones became part of the jumble of bones at the bottom.  The site is unique in that it is a working archeological dig.  The building covers a solid block of limestone that they are slowly chipping the fossils out of.

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Classic old buildings along River Street in Hot Springs
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The Black Hills start just West of Hot Springs
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A mammoth skull slowly emerges from the rock

Pierre, SD  Population = 14,115, elevation = 1,728, average January low temp = 6.1, Average July high temp = 89, average sunny days = 217, annual snowfall = 31.6”, annual rainfall = 18.8”, air quality index = 97, water quality index = 33, comfort index = 39

The road to Pierre is really boring.  If you love the wide open, mostly flat landscape here, more power to you, but I am not impressed.  Good place to raise cattle but not a fun or interesting drive.  Pierre is the second smallest capitol city in the USA, following tiny Montpelier, Vermont.  The capitol building is beautifully decorated with murals, marble, and terrazzo tiles.  The exterior dome is clad in copper that has aged and weathered to almost black.

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Far horizons in South Dakota
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The state capitol at Pierre
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Interior detail of the capitol

Next up: Sioux Falls, SD

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Crossing the Rockies 6/12 – 6/18

From Salt Lake City, Interstate 80 climbs up the Wasatch Range, the Westernmost range of the Rocky Mountains.  For most of the day, we climbed steep grades up over passes, through valleys, ever higher and higher.  The foliage faded away, replaced by scattered specks of brush.  Mountaintops took on cowls of gleaming snow.

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At about 5,000 feet, the landscape was mostly desert, sand, and rock.  We were passing high plateaus.  Big flat plates of land are edged with sheer banded cliffs where they drop off into a writhing topography of rifts and folds.  Sudden columns of rock erupt randomly from otherwise flat land.  A word of warning to the traveler: fill up the tank and empty the bladder before this trip.  There are no towns, no rest rooms, no gas stations.

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Rawlings WY:  Population = 8344, elevation 6823 feet, average January low temp = 12.6, Average July high temp = 84, average sunny days = 227, annual snowfall = 51.9”, annual rainfall = 9.1”, air quality index = 98, water quality index = 71, comfort index = 70

At about 6,000 feet, the land levels off again and we rolled on through a land where the most scenic thing you see are the clouds floating over it.  Gradually, a few hills appeared and rocky prominences sprouted up.  We were a little over halfway across the Rockies.  The day was wearing on so we stopped for the night at Rawlins.  The Western Lodge is quaint but comfortable, with an actual sofa in the room where we could sit and watch TV.  Dinner was at Buck’s Sports Grill, a fun saloon / restaurant with a funny menu, huge portions, sports TVs, and stuffed deer heads.  The burger topped with BBQ pulled pork was more than enough for us to share.

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Downtown Rawlins

The next day we moved on.  We were soon driving through a narrowing valley with more snowy mountains rising around us.  Large hills with rocky outcrops appeared, gradually melding with rolling hills and plains.  We were descending through a gap in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.  Ahead of us lies the High Plains.

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The Front Range of the Rockies

Fort Collins, CO:  Population = 133,058, elevation = 5,005 feet, average January low temp = 13.5, Average July high temp = 85, average sunny days = 237, annual snowfall = 47.2”, annual rainfall = 15.1”, air quality index = 67.6, water quality index = 100, comfort index = 62

Our journey over the next couple of weeks was becoming more complicated, as it involves meeting friends and family and arranging schedules.  Fort Collins was a good halfway point with Denver so we stopped there.  Fort Collins lies along Interstate 25, the main artery that connects the Front Range cities together.  During our brief stay there, we took a quick peek at the town.  Just past a beautifully manicured college campus, we found a friendly brewery, the Black Bottle, with some fine brews and good eats.  The next day we ventured into the Old Town district, an area jam packed with fine and funky restaurants and brewpubs.  Old Town has plenty of parking, but it is all full, even with the herds of people on bicycles plying the streets.

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Black Bottle Brewing makes a really good stout
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Old Town Square

Cheyenne WY:  Population = 54,937, elevation = 6,123 feet, average January low temp = 15.5, Average July high temp = 83, average sunny days = 236, annual snowfall = 55.2”, annual rainfall = 15.2”, air quality index = 97.5, water quality index = 36, comfort index = 65

Cheyenne is home to Jan and Les, hometown schoolmates and longtime friends with Marylu.  They have graciously invited us to stay with them for a few days.  On our first day there, they both have commitments, so we were free to explore Cheyenne.  This is the state capitol, but the building is being updated so it is closed.  Undeterred, we moved on to the stately St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral.  We were lucky enough to happen in as a gaggle of young school kids were getting a tour, so we got a little extra history.

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Wyoming state capitol, closed for renovation and updating.
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The Cathedral of St. Mary has a unique structure over the altar

Next stop was the Historic Depot, where the Trolley departs on tours of the city.  Our boisterous and enthusiastic guide regaled us with tales of the city; railroad tycoons, gunslingers, cowboys, and ladies of the night.  The city is full of Wild West history and buildings, mansions and bordellos, saloons and boarding houses.  The people of Cheyenne are proud of their wild and wooly history and there are several museums to preserve it.  Their annual Frontier Days celebration has been going strong since 1897.

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Our tour guide on the Trolley tour of Cheyenne

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Historic old saloon and bordello
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Stagecoach

Les is the consummate sportsman and his knowledge of the area is encyclopedic.  He and Jan took us for a tour of the area.  At Buford, the smallest city in the world (elevation 8,000 feet), we found the Tree In The Rock.  At Vedauwoo, we saw tall knobbley hills with rock climbers and rappelers assaulting the face of Turtle Rock.  Along Happy Jack Road, we passed Curt Gowdy State Park.  All along old Highway 30, back to Cheyenne, we spotted antelope grazing on the rolling hills.

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A very improbable tree
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A great cliff to climb or rappel

Many thanks to Jan and Les for their wonderful hospitality and delicious cooking.  It was a pleasure sharing their unique home for a few days.  I loved gazing off into what I called their “100 mile backyard”.

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A back yard with an endless view

Next up:  Crossing the Plains

Salt Lake City 6/5 – 6/12

Population = 190,884 (part of the SLC-Ogden-Provo Metro area with 1,153,340), elevation 4,280 feet, average January low temperature = 26.7, Average July high temperature = 90, average sunny days = 222, annual snowfall = 50.7”, annual rainfall = 11.4”, air quality index = 10.3, water quality index = 68, comfort index = 66 (indexes run 1 – 100, higher being better)

The highway from Boise to Salt Lake City leads through the broad, flat, and to my mind, desolate Snake River Plain.  The farms run out, the towns run out, vegetation runs out, even phone poles run out.  Not the middle of nowhere, but on a clear day you can probably see it from there.  Eventually, the mountains start to close in; the Sawtooth range to our right, the Wasatch on the left.  The Sawtooths soon drop off and there seems to be a haze over the landscape.  Great Salt Lake?  We’ll get a closer look later.  Up ahead though, we are seeing snow capped mountains springing into view with tall buildings gathered about their toes.

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The Snake River Plain is pretty, well… plain
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Salt Lake City rising up to meet the mountains

Salt Lake City was founded in 1847 by Brigham Young and his group of Mormons, who were looking for a place to practice their religion freely.  Drill down into Wikipedia for the history and beliefs of the Mormons; it is a strange and fascinating story.  The city is built around Temple Square, the heart and source of the city.  The Square contains the Temple, Tabernacle, Assembly Hall, Visitors Center, and several other museums and offices.

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The Church Office Building
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The Assembly Hall

The Temple rises tall and stately out of the Square but can only be entered those with a temple recommend.  A detailed model of the interior in the Visitors Center reveals much of the interior detail to the public.  This a unique building with many symbolic features.

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The Temple

Of course, we had to visit the Tabernacle.  The exterior of this building has a plain metal roof, making the whole look like a hockey arena.  Inside, the decor is simple and elegant.  What is amazing is the acoustics.  Our first visit was for a organ recital and the organ master demonstrated by turning off the microphone then ripping a pice of paper.  From about 150 feet away, it sounded like it was at arm’s length.  He continued speaking while turning around and his voice sounded the same whether facing toward us or away.  Then he launched into a medley  of classical and original works on the massive pipe organ.  By the time he launched into the uproarious finale, the place was rocking and my bones were rattling, awash in an encompassing flood of sound and energy. Whew!!

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Pipe organ recital at the Tabernacle

Later in the week we went back to the Tabernacle again to listen to the Choir practice.  Conductors aways seemed to me to be mere figureheads, glorified musicians waving little sticks to keep everyone on beat.  During the practice session though, this guy would single out and correct parts of the orchestra or choir on tone, pitch, or pronunciation.  He knew exactly what everyone up there should be doing and was coaxing it out of them, little by little.  Finally, satisfied with the piece, the full orchestra and choir, 340 voices strong, ran all the way through it and blow the roof off the Tabernacle.  To be there for that is not to hear it, but to be carried away by the storm of it crashing around and over your body.

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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra

The rest of the city is laid out in relation to Temple Square, in an odd system that takes a while to get used to.  Let’s say you want to go to Fiddler’s Elbow for a buffalo chicken pizza.  The address is 1063 East 2100 South.  To break that down: 2100 South is a street that runs East and West, 21 blocks South of the Square.  1063 East would be between 1000 and 1100 East streets, which run North and South, 10 and 11 blocks East of the Square.  Got it?

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Navigating Salt Lake City takes some getting used to

Salt Lake City is also the capitol of Utah.  The Capitol building lies just North of the Square, on a hill with a commanding view of the city.  It is another example of the marble palaces that politicians love to build for themselves.  This one is beautifully decorated with paintings and colorful marble detailing.

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The dome of the Utah State Capitol
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Grand staircase in the Capitol

We were advised that the Great Salt Lake was hardly worth the trip, but we had to go see it anyway.  Interstate 80 runs about 20 miles West from the City until it hits the shoreline.  Or what used to be shoreline.  Several years of drought has moved the waterline back about 500 to 600 yards or more.  The lakeside park we stopped at was practically vacant.

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Marylu at the shoreline, the water way out there in the distance

Our next foray was a lot nicer and much greener.  The Red Butte Garden and Arboretum lies on the East edge of the city, at the end of a canyon.  This is a classic garden where the plants are arranged for beauty and neatly labelled.  Many of the species have been adapted by the scientists at the U of U to grow here.  The paths meander through areas dedicated to medicinal use, fragrance, and herbs.  One especially beautiful area has a rose garden surrounding a courtyard where wedding are frequently performed.  Just down the hill is an amphitheater where big name bands give concerts.

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A blaze of glorious flowers at Red Butte
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The Rose Garden is awash with the heavenly fragrance

Marylu is a big fan of cathedrals so we had to go and see the Cathedral of the Madeleine.  This is the only Cathedral in the USA under the patronage of St. Mary Magdalene.  It was completed in 1909.  To me, it is a great example of the ornate style of architecture that so many Catholic structure encompass.  Love the stained glass.  Kind of an interesting counterpoint to the relatively understated decor of the Mormon temples.

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Inside the Cathedral

Salt Lake City is a big city with everything a big city could want; art, culture, food, scenic beauty.  It runs a bit hot for me in the summer.  And it has strange laws.  Beer on tap, for instance, can be no stronger than 4% ABV.  To get stronger, you have to buy it in the bottle.  Sorry, that does not make any sense to me.  The lawmakers lean to the right around here, but there seems to be a lot of counter weight to the left around the city and away from the Square.

Next up:  Crossing the Rockies

Boise, Idaho – Marylu’s Views

Boise, Idaho (May 31 to June 5)

Alan does such a thorough and well-written summary of our travels, that I’ve neglected posting anything myself.  Instead of a narrative, I’ve decided to add some photos with just a few notes sharing my perspective.

I chose this as my first picture because the clouds are great, some of the city is visible below, and it shows a notable Boise landmark.  The 60 foot tall cross at the top of Table Rock, has an interesting history.  The Junior Chamber of Commerce had it built and installed in 1956.  Due to continued controversy over its religious symbolism on public land, the Chamber of Commerce purchased a small piece of land surrounding the site in 1972.

Table Rock Monument, a Boise Landmark and Reference Point
Table Rock Monument: Boise Landmark and Reference Point

Throughout the city, and even here on Table Rock, most of the utility boxes have been painted.  Graffiti or art?

Table Rock Art Work
Table Rock Art Work

Hiking on Table Rock provided many scenic shots. Unfortunately, part of the mountain is being actively mined.

The rolling hills don't quit. As my daughter says: "It stretched your eyes."
The rolling hills don’t quit. As my daughter says: “It stretches your eyes.”
Table Rock Hiking
Table Rock Hiking
Alan Contemplating
Alan Contemplating the Big Picture

When we’re in a State’s Capitol city, it would be a shame to miss a chance to take a tour.  Beer later, I promise!

Boise Capitol
Boise Capitol
Promised Beer - Whew!
Whew! Promised Beer

On with the tours.  Off to the Basque neighborhood for music, food and beer, of course.

Mural in Basque Neighborhood
Mural in Basque Neighborhood

Visiting the Raptor Center –

Catching a rare breeze
Catching a RARE Breeze
Hoo you lookin’ at?

Then to the zoo, another hot day –

Looking for shade at the zoo
Looking for shade!
Posing at the Zoo
Posing at the Zoo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beer time, but I left this hitchhiker behind –

Hitchiker
Hitchhiker with Wings

Goodbye Idaho, it was fun.

Capitol Dome Tourists
Capitol Dome Tourists

Until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boise ID 5/31 – 6/5

Population = 205,671(part of the Boise-Nampa metro area with 664,422), latitude 43º37’, longitude 116º12’, elevation 2846 feet, average January low temperature = 22.1, Average July high temperature = 90, average sunny days = 206, annual snowfall = 19.8”, annual rainfall = 11.7”

From Walla Walla, our trail leads South, passing into Oregon again.  The valley with its lush, verdant farms and vineyards gradually gets narrower.  The mountains get closer and higher and gain caps of snow.  We cross over ridges and coast down into valleys.  Finally we cross over the Snake River and into Idaho.

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Farm land, flat and sweet, with lots of water
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Passing through a valley with snowy shoulders

Our rental is in the Southeast quarter of the city, so we drive across most of the city to get there.  Along the way, we can see how the city has grown, slowly and organically, over the years.  Downtown is a mix of classic old and stylish modern.  Close to downtown are the classic little craftsman homes of the 1920s and 30s, a little further out, the story-and-a-halfs from the 1950s, and finally the big barn, hipped roofs from the 80s.  There are bike paths mixed in everywhere, with lots of spandex geeks barreling along them, ignoring cars.  The Boise River runs through the town and large swatches of riverside are forested greenways with paths and parks.

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Parkcenter Blvd runs along the river from downtown to the burbs

The downtown Visitors Information Center has a lot of good information for us so we grab an armload and hike over to the Boise Brewery to sit and sort.  The beer is fine and the brewers are fonts of advice on where to go and what to do.  We find out that on Wednesdays, all summer, there are free concerts with beer and food in what they call Basque Block.  The Basque settlers created their own little community here with a museum, restaurants, and a community center.  They also host a pretty good party.  The night is warm and the crowds get thick so we retreat to the coolness of a Basque restaurant for beers and huge sandwiches, heavy on the bacon.

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A few of the many labels Boise Brewery has brewed in the past
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Close off the street, start up the band, pour the beer. Summer!

Boise is the state capitol, so we go take a look at the building.  Politicos always build themselves huge marble temples to work in and some are quite handsome.  This one is about medium sized, as capitals go.  It has the usual columns, dome, and chambers, as well as some nice artwork.

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My new office building
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Looking up at the Capitol dome

We have heard that the best view of the city is from Table Rock, so we set off to find it.  My little map of Boise shows some roads that enter a clump of curly cul-de-sacs.  After a few twists and turns and backtracks, we find a dusty dirt road leading up the hillside.  At the top is a big parking lot and a long path to cliffside.  Table Rock towers over the city and from here, the entire valley is visible, from rugged mountains to shimmering river.

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The view from Table Rock goes on and on

Boise is the home of the World Center For Birds Of Prey so, bird lovers that we are, we have to go take a look.  The emphasis here is preserving and propagating raptors, especially the rare and endangered ones.  The guide shows us a kestrel and leads us through the exhibits.  One of the exhibits is, surprisingly, a study of falcon hunting by the nomads in Saudi Arabia.

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A big, bad, bald eagle
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The Arabic Nomads were among the first to hunt with falcons. Nice tents too.

After a long, hot day of sightseeing, it is Beer O’Clock again, so we run over to the Garden City part of Boise.  This is supposed to be an area of fine older homes with beautifully maintained gardens.  And lots of breweries.  Our approach is down the main street, which is not really very garden-y and very busy with Friday rush hour.  We do find some breweries though, and re-wet our whistles.  At the Payette Brewery, they tell us about the new one that they just opened, so we have to go take a look at that one too.  This is an industrial sized brewery with a huge taproom and nice patio.  The band is setting up for the Friday concert and the food truck is cooking up pub grub.  I invest in a nice Belgian triple and a waffle bowl filled with pork, peppers, chili, rice, and cheese.  Life is good.

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It’s the Friday night concert at Payette’s
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What evil genius designed this massive, messy goodness?

Last day in Boise so how about the Zoo?  The Zoo Boise is set into a big urban park along the river.  They have a great variety of animals here, everything from butterflies to giraffes, prairie dogs to ostriches.  We hear a great whooping and follow it to a cage where an orangutang(?) is doing a full Tarzan acrobatics performance on the trees and vines.  Amazing to see such agility and strength in a creature that looks like it was built of pipe cleaners.

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Tearing up the vines and trees
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These two were snuggling when we arrived. Cute couple

Boise is a great American city, big enough to have a diversity of people, cultures, homes, jobs, bars, breweries, and restaurants.  You can see live theater, concerts, dance, comedy.  There are parks and rivers and trails galore.  It is also just big enough to get traffic jammed at rush hours, but not gridlocked.  It has all four seasons to enjoy / deal with.  Not the city I am looking for, but still, probably a nice city to live in.

Next up: Salt Lake City

Walla Walla WA 5/26 – 5/31

Population = 31,731 (with suburbs East Walla Walla and College Place about 45,000), latitude 46º3’, longitude 118º19’, elevation 978 feet, average January low temperature = 27.8, Average July high temperature = 89, average sunny days = 188, annual snowfall = 19.3”, annual rainfall = 16.8”

From Tacoma, the highway East rises through the Cascade Mountains.  The lush green carpet of tall trees and flowers gradually runs out.  We pass through a broad, flat valley of low crops.  We rise again and the trees become mostly pines, until they too run out and the land is just speckled with low shrubs and grasses.  At Yakima, we are surprised at a rest stop to look back and finally get our first glimpse of Mount Rainier, peeking through the misty air.  We descend into the Walla Walla Valley, between the rolling Palouse hills and the Blue Mountains.

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Interstate 90 climbs up the Cascade Mountains
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Yakima WA, with Mt. Rainier peeking over the horizon

Downtown Walla Walla is compact, quaint, and inviting.  The buildings are older but most have been restored beautifully.  The pace is leisurely, the traffic slow and yielding.  The walkers stroll past shops and restaurants and settle into sidewalk tables for a sip and a bite.  The boulevard trees are tall and in full bloom on this early summer day.

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Downtown Walla Walla

It is Memorial Day weekend so we are hoping for a little celebration, but there is none.  But the Farmer’s Market is open on Saturday, starting off the new summer season.  We admire the fine handiworks, produce, and food as we stroll through the stands.  A food stand serves up a chicken onion sausage sandwich that is hot and juicy and laden with the famous Walla Walla sweet onions.

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The Saturday Farmer’s Market at 4th and Main

Later in the day is the Mule Mania Rodeo in nearby Dayton.  Why not?  We saddle up and make the drive over to the fairgrounds.  The road to Dayton passes through farm country and the land looks soft and cushy under layers of new crops bursting out of the soil.  Different plants have slightly different colors, making stripes and patterns on the hills.  We get to Mule Mania just in time to see the Roman chariot competition.

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Farms along the road to Dayton
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The Mules haul ass through the pylons

Not much doing on Sunday so we do some exploring.  We are lucky enough to contact the owner/operator of the Museum of Unnatural History, who agrees to show it to us.  Strange, inventive, imaginative, obscene, and hilarious.  We love the funny little dioramas, odd collages, weird statues.  And (bonus!) our host, Gerry Matthews, used to be the voice of Sugar Bear for the Sugar Crisp cereal commercials.  He humors me with a jingle in his best bear voice.

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Hmmm…

What else to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon?  Walla Walla is in the middle of wine country.  On our first visit to downtown, we noticed a lot of winery tasting bars.  One of the bartenders (winetenders?) told us that there are 29 wine tasting bars in Walla Walla and over 140 wineries scattered around the valley.  I am mostly a beer drinker, but this being wine country, I have to give it a try.  Three tastings of 5 or 6 wines each add up quickly.  We totter out of the last winery, Marylu clutching a very expensive bottle of Viognier from Charles Smith.

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Swirl, sniff, sip, repeat
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A nice comfortable spot to taste wine

In keeping with Memorial Day tradition, we decided to go see some history about the men and women who settled the land, built the cities, fought the wars.  The Fort Walla Walla Museum has all of that and more.   They have uniforms and military equipment from every war since the fort was established in 1856.  They also have civilian clothing, farm equipment, and homes from the several periods.  It is an interesting and varied display and a great way to spend a Memorial Day.

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A sailor’s uniforms from WWII
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Steam powered and steel wheeled tractor

I wasn’t expecting much out of Walla Walla.  It was a convenient stopping point on our route.  Having been there though, I find I really like this town.  It is a town unto itself, not a city that is a part of another city.  It is big enough to have everything, yet small enough to not be crowded.   The nice old craftsman homes on tree lined boulevards make up peaceful neighborhoods.  This could be a sleepy little farm town in the middle of nowhere, but then there is all that wine everywhere.  The wine seems to add a bit of culture, a feeling of comfort and leisure to the downtown terroir that makes it such an inviting place to hang out.  Add Walla Walla to the short list.