Friday, December 14, 2007

Land Rover


I have wheels!

(Well, I always had wheels in the form of BABs, my motor home, but now I can actually get around town without having to worry about where to park.)

The Land Rover is finished. It has taken almost four months, but it's done. And, it looks and runs great!

Shane Ballensky, owner and operator of Rover Hybrids in Redding, California, converted a 1994 Land Rover Defender 90 series from a gasoline V8 to a diesel 4 cylinder. Why? So I could run vegetable oil as fuel. Gasoline engines can't run vegetable oil, so we replaced the gas engine with a diesel and created a one-of-a-kind eco-friendly, good-lookin' expedition machine.

Now, some of you familiar with Land Rovers may say, "Hey, wait a minute...".

Yes, it's true... Land Rover did build a lot of diesel Defenders for other countries, but they're hard to find in the States. Also, the Land Rover diesel engines can't compare to the torque, horsepower, and reliability of the Cummins 4bt diesel engine that we put in. It was a lot of work, but well worth the effort.

And, if you're interested in the details, I'll be publishing an article about the conversion sometime in the next couple of months.

In the meantime, Shane will be finishing up the veggie conversion on the motor home, and if all goes well, I'll be back on the road by the first of the year!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Today's Top Headlines...

Today's top headlines!
(these are real headlines, folks, pulled from today's news stories.)


German ministers say Scientology unconstitutional


Cremator dumps half-burned bodies to save fuel

And, the best headline of the day...

Eco-friendly kangaroo farts could help global warming

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Latest publication -- RV Life Magazine

RV LIFE Magazine

I haven't been doing much photography while I'm here in Redding, but I have been working on my articles. I'm not sure when it will come out, but RV Life Magazine will be publishing my first article soon. In the meantime, the editor, Mike Ward, has written an article about my Vanishing America project:

By clicking on the image above, or on this link, you can see the online version of their magazine, which can be viewed like a PDF file, complete with page navigation. The article begins on page 6, and continues at the bottom of page 7. There is also a collection of my images on page 14.

Yeah, I know... Me, Me, Me. But, I'm excited, dammit!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

KOLD, Tucson...

Here is the latest TV interview. This one was done by KOLD, channel 13, in Tucson Arizona.

5 for 5 Friends

Can you name 5 friends? 5 best friends? Do these 5 friends fit the following criteria?

  1. Friends for at least 5 years;
  2. Friends you haven't seen for at least 5 months but
  3. have seen several times within the last 5 years;
  4. Friends you have spoken to in the last 5 weeks;
  5. Friends who would list you as one of their 5 best friends.

It doesn't matter if you email this to everyone. There is no curse that will befall you, nor will spamming your friends with it make you rich. But it is important.

And tell your friends they made the list. They'll appreciate it. That's what friends are for.

-2007 Holt Webb

Friday, November 23, 2007

Broke Down Engine...

(with apologies to Bob Dylan)

Back to "normal"...

I've gotten so accustomed to being in Redding, that it's almost like a second home to me.

After a week of dealing with engine problems on BABs (my motorhome), I'm finally back in Redding, at Rover Hybrids, awaiting completion of the veggie conversion on the Land Rover so we can begin converting the motorhome.

So, here's the brief story of what happened after I left Tucson:

After a long drive from Tucson, I spent last Thursday night at Mono Lake Park. (I prefer to drive during the day, so as to avoid any chances of hitting deer, rabbits, coyote, etc. while driving at night.) Friday morning, I had engine problems. The symptoms pointed to the fuel system, but I didn't have the tools, nor the knowledge, to attempt the repair myself, so I called a tow truck. The first truck that AAA sent me was too small, so I had to call another truck. The bigger truck wouldn't be available until the next morning, so I spent another night at the park.

Fortunately, during this time, I had plenty of heat, water and food, so I was comfortable, if not happy, during my breakdown.

On Saturday, I arranged a tow with a bigger truck, who wasn't able to reach me until midday. They towed me to the nearest authorized service center, which happened to be two hours away in Sparks, Nevada. We arrived well after dark.

It being a weekend, the service center was closed, so I stayed in my motorhome in their parking lot until they opened on Monday. I still had some food and water on board, but was running low. Thank goodness for the Mexican restaurant across the street!

Monday, the service center replaced a filthy fuel filter and sent me on my way with a working engine! Two hours later, on two-lane Highway 44, in the middle of Lassen National Forest, I broke down again... with the same symptoms as before. It was already dark, so I spent the night on the dirt shoulder of the highway. The temperature got down below 30F at night, but I had propane for heat and food to last a couple of days, so I was comfortable.

The next day, a Tuesday, after removing and cleaning the fuel filter myself (yes, my fingers were numb in the cold), I called for a tow truck and they hauled me the two hours to a service center in Redding. I spent the night in their parking lot, and they got to work on the problem the next morning. Their solution was a bad fuel pump, which they replaced, and the motor has been running fine since. I got back to Rover Hybrids Wednesday night, tired and almost out of supplies, but back "home" nonetheless.

Today, I'm going to drain some fuel from my tank to see if there is any debris in there that could be causing the clogged filter and failure of the fuel pump, then take BABs in for her regular scheduled service on Monday.

This whole time, I didn't get any work done due to being on the phone arranging tows, making appointments at service centers, and being out of cel service or in a garage bay where I can't get a satellite signal. I was, essentially, in a sort of minor "survival" mode. You know... first things first... Get the problem solved, then move on. Well, the problem is solved, and now I can move on. The website will be ready soon, the Land Rover will be ready soon, and I'll be a happy camper once again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Breakdown... part deux

So, Cummins in Sparks, Nevada replaced my fuel filter. Good thing, too. It was nasty. You should be able to look into one end of the filter and see out the other side. Not this filter. No light could pass through it at all.

So, they fixed the problem and I was able to hit the road last night.

I made it about 2/3 of the way back to Redding when the problem started up again. I had to pull over to the shoulder on Hwy 44, in the middle of Lassen National Forest and spend the night.

This morning, I called a mechanic in Susanville, about an hour southeast of me. They're going to bring me some tools so we can remove the filter and clean it. That should be able to get me to Redding where I can have the tank drained and cleaned.

Right now, I just have to sit tight and wait. It's cold up here. There's frost on the ground.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Get your kicks...

What a week!

(click on any image to view it full size)

As many of you know, I spent a little over a week in Tucson attending a seminar and shooting near Davis-Monthan Air Force base, home of the famous Airplane Graveyard.

Leaving Tucson, heading back to Redding, I tried to stay on Route 66 to infuse my soul with a little highway history. Never having traveled that historic highway, I was quite impressed with what I saw. Granted, I only drove a small section of 66 from Flagstaff to Barstow, but it gave me a taste of what it must have been like to travel the country during the courtship days of its love affair with the automobile.

Little towns were scattered along the route, some dead and
empty, and some turned into tourist traps complete with gunslingers and donkeys, trying to make something out of what remained of their glory days before Interstate 40 took it all away.

Route 66 is a Nationally designated Historic Highway, and I suppose the DOT intends to keep it that way. With I-40 getting the bulk of the DOT's maintenance attention, Route 66 becomes sort of an afterthought. It's asphalt pavement
ran the gamut from patched and tolerable to crumbling away, and many sections of it nearly shook the fillings out of my teeth.

It's one redeeming factor is its beauty as a road. This two-lane artery into the heart of America's past ranged from winding
serpentine paths barely large enough for the RV, to long, beautiful straightaways that disappeared into the horizon.

Along those winding turns and long stretches of blacktop are the towns that served as rest stops for the traveler heading to the eden of the West Coast. The towns that drew me away from that mesmerizing highway are not the tourist traps with "antique" signs and t-shirts, but rather the places that are forgotten, the places where a hardy few still eke out a living, and the places where empty buildings stand as a reminder of better days.

One of those places was a town called Amboy. Located in California, southwest of Vegas, in
the Mojave Desert, Amboy is one of those little towns that had once had a life, but lost it when the interstate came through. It was an important stopover on the way to the coast, but now sits as nothing more than a quaint photo opportunity for those creative souls with cameras.

From time to time, people will stop in Amboy to take snapshots of Roy's Motel and Cafe, a Route 66 icon, built as a stopover for motorists traveling the highway during the glory days of the motor camp.

Back in the '20s, hotels could be found in most
cities and vacation destinations, but when it came to traveling the backroads of America, roadside motels were non-existent. If you had to spend the night somewhere during your trip, you either slept in the car or set up a tent.

Enter the motor camp... For only a few dollars, the four-wheeled traveler and his family could stay the night in a cute little cabin or cottage complete with all the amenities of home. Over time, the motor camps gave way to motels, and another page in history's great book was turned.

Amboy never had a chance to grow much beyond "stopover" town, but it grew big enough to have its own school. Now deserted and abandoned, Amboy School sits right next to Roy's Motel, preserved by the dry desert climate and the absence of time.

(I have to ask the question... is there a difference between deserted and abandoned? The dictionary says they mean the same thing. But do they? Does one imply that people are coming back? Can one empty place be both?)

The desert landscape of
the Mojave helps to define the solitude of the Amboy schoolyard, where laughing children have been replaced by tumbleweeds and empty chairs. As you walk through the halls of the buildings, you find textbooks and book reports, some boxed up as if to be moved, and the rest scattered across counters and floors like the last day of school, when, as students, we would empty our lockers and throw our papers in the air in triumph of making it to another summer. But the boisterous laughter bouncing through the halls is gone. The only sounds are the breeze blowing through the open doorways, mice scurrying behind the bookshelves, and the echoes of children playing in the schoolyard, as their voices are carried off by the wind.

The drive back to Redding from Tucson was great, until...
Thursday night... I pulled over at a park next to Mono Lake to rest for the night. The next morning... engine trouble. The RV had been running fine this whole time, then, all of a sudden, this problem pops up. No warning signs whatsoever. Friday morning I called AAA, Winnebago, Freightliner, and Cummins to help either solve the problem or find a tow to a service center. As it turns out, the engine needs to be diagnosed by a Cummins-certified technician (who hooks it up to a computer), and the nearest Cummins-certified service center is near Reno, Nevada, about 3 hours away.

It took most of Friday to arrange a pickup with AAA. But, the first tow truck that they sent me was way too small, despite them having the size and weight of my vehicle in their notes. So I sat for another day, trying to arrange a tow. I ended up having to call a tow service in Sparks, near Reno, and make arrangements on my own for them to come out and get me. For whatever reason, AAA couldn't do that for me. Nine hours later I'm in Sparks, Nevada waiting for the Cummins service center to open up on Monday.

Fortunately, I still have power, fuel, heat and food, so at least I'm comfortable while I wait. And, as I've mentioned in previous posts, there is good to be found in every situation. And, as if to prove that point, every delay that I encounter has opened another door for me and my project.

I wonder what door this will open...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

5 for 5 Friends

Can you name 5 friends? 5 best friends? Do these 5 friends fit the following criteria?

  1. Friends for at least 5 years;
  2. Friends you haven't seen for at least 5 months but
  3. have seen several times within the last 5 years;
  4. Friends you have spoken to in the last 5 weeks;
  5. Friends who would list you as one of their 5 best friends.

It doesn't matter if you email this to everyone. There is no curse that will befall you, nor will spamming your friends with it make you rich. But it is important.

And tell your friends they made the list. They'll appreciate it. That's what friends are for.

-2007 Holt Webb

Airplanes in the Desert

(click on any image to enlarge it)

I'm just sittin' out here watchin' airplanes...

(with apologies to Gary Allen)

This has been fun. Hot, and lots of work, but fun! The planes here at ARM (Aircraft Restoration and Marketing) are in various states of disrepair (having been decomissioned by the military) and are either restored for private use, sold for parts, or scrapped and melted. It's an interesting place -- especially if you like exploring the ghosts of history.

Many of the aircraft here currently are test planes, but there are some that have seen combat. There is at least one C-130 cargo plane with numerous holes, or "wounds" patched up all along its side, ranging from the size of a marble to the size of a basketball. And, there are a couple of military versions of the DC-3, like the one pictured above, whose interiors, cockpits, and electronics are coated with dried mud and debris. My fantasies may be running away with me, but it's fun to imagine that this aircraft's last days might have been spent in the jungle swamps of Southeast Asia where it sat undiscovered for decades before it was finally returned to U.S. soil. That's the kind of feeling this whole place gives me... a fantasy world of dramatic air battles fought in the skies over a hostile world 10,000 feet below.

Now, don't go getting all crazy thinking tha
t I enjoy war. I don't. I would never want to go through the hell that soldiers in wartime go through. And, regardless of the political reasons behind it, I respect them for having the courage to be there, fighting for people like me. But like most young boys (remember, I'm a kid at heart), I also enjoy the drama and hardship that forges heroes out of otherwise normal human beings. And, it's this "hero scenario" that I imagine as I enter the cockpit and climb into the pilot's seat, or stand in the jump door ready to parachute out behind enemy lines. When you walk amongst these icons of freedom, the imagination runs wild. These planes are the real deal, not just some product of the Hollywood dream factory. Real men and women likely fought and died in these aircraft. And it's awe-inspiring to walk among the ghosts of those heroes.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

From Route 66 to the Airplane Graveyard

I'm having FUN now!

On my way to Tucson, I stopped at one of the abandoned parts of old Route 66, in Ludlow, California, just east of Barstow. Ludlow isn't necessarily vanishing... it still has a cafe, gas station, garage, etc., and caters to the locals as well as the truckers that pass through, but right next to the thriving
businesses lies a reminder of the pre-Interstate days when Route 66 was the only highway crossing the United States.

This little section of Ludlow has (or should I say "had") everything the traveler would have needed: A cafe, garage, gas station, RV park, and a motel. Now the shells of those once thriving businesses bake in the desert sun, waiting for progress to spread from LA to Flagstaff, and from Flagstaff to LA, to meet in the middle, clear the debris and start anew.

From Ludlow, it took another two days to get to Tucson (remember, I'm taking my time to "smell the roses"), and find my way to the "home base" of my Silver Wings series. We're still working on getting permission to photograph at the Davis-Monthan AFB "Airplane Graveyard" in Tucson, but I won't be short of subject matter while I'm waiting. Ben Cooke, one of
the team members at Arlene Howard Public Relations got me something almost as good as the Graveyard itself. Ben was able to get me permission to shoot at Aircraft Restoration and Marketing (ARM), a yard right next to the Air Force Base, who specializes in restoring or scrapping decomissioned military aircraft. As I pulled through the gates, the local country radio station was playing a new song by Gary Allen titled, Watching Airplanes. How's that for good timing? You can hear the song on his website,

ARM has have numerous planes on site ranging from the huge C130 cargo carrier to little reconnaissance jets and the famous Air and Sea Rescue Grumman Albatross. And, Linda, who manages the site is so helpful, she is willing to let me wander the grounds on my own and doesn't mind if I climb onto and even into some of the aircraft.

Of course, they require that I sign a waiver releasing them from liability if I hurt myself, but that's a no-brainer. Between me and you, if you knowingly walk into an area where you might get hurt, and you do get hurt, you've nobody to blame but yourself. As they say on the farm, "If you're man enough to wrestle a bull, you're man enough not to cry about it when he stomps the crap out of you."

So, with my hardhat on my noggin, and my cameras in hand, I'll be getting up tomorrow at the crack of dawn to make the most of the desert's beautiful sunrises.

Let's go shoot some planes!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Inventors wanted!

Any inventors out there?

I do a lot of videotaping while on the road. And, much of that is tape of me hiking, biking, shooting, scouting, driving, etc. I have the driving part nailed down with a dash cam and a camera mounted in the passenger seat pointed at me.

What I need now is a simple, hands-free device that will hold a small camcorder pointed at me. I'd like to be able to talk into the camera while I'm hiking.

It has to be lightweight, small, comfortable, and, most importantly, "stabilized". And, by "stabilized", I mean that, as I walk, camera movement (ie. bouncing up and down and side to side) has to be minimized. If you've ever watched a bouncy home movie, you know what I mean.

The camera can be mounted to my side or my chest. Doesn't matter. A quick-release for the camera would be nice, too (ask me for the specs).

Depending on the quality of the product/design, we can talk money, we can talk marketing, or we can talk a combination of the two.

Send me an email:

Travelin' to Tucson...

The American Society of Media Photographers is having a seminar titled, The Business of Fine Art Photography" in Tucson this week, and I'm going! Since work is still being done on the Land Rover, I figured this is a perfect opportunity to make some headway on this project -- from the business end. And, on top of that, Tucson is where the U.S. military's "Airplane Graveyard" is located, and that's one of the stops on my journey.

If you're not familiar with the Airplane Graveyard, it is essentially a repository for the military's decomissioned aircraft located on a vast acreage of Davis-Monthan AFB Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). If you type in Davis-Monthan AFB
into a Google Maps search, then click the "satellite" button, you can see satellite shots of the thousands of planes waiting to either be pieced out or sold for scrap.

View Larger Map

I'm hoping to get permission to walk amongst the planes so I can flesh out my Silver Wings series.

It's a 15 hour drive from Redding to Tucson, but the combination of the seminar and the Air Force Base being in the same vicinity was too tempting to pass up (not to mention that I'd only be sitting around in Redding waiting for the conversion to be done).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Catch-up time...

Howdy, Y'all.

You may have noticed that there haven't been any posts in the past few days. Well, that's because I'm here in Redding again while Shane and I are finishing the Land Rover conversion and beginning on the RV conversion.

I've also been spending a lot of time editing images I shot in Oregon, putting together a "promo reel" for some interested TV producers, and working on getting my website ready.

My friend, Jim Evans, has been working with me on a fantastic website that will ultimately have galleries, blogs, videos, an interactive map, links, resources, and numerous other goodies. And, it is looking great! Phase one should be ready to go live in a few days. I can't wait!

Oh, and to all my friends referring to me as the next Clark Griswold... I love you, too. ;-)

"She's a beaut, ain't she Clark?"

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Responsibility of Ownership...

(Click on any image to view it full size.)

Back to Redding...

It was a whirlwind tour through Oregon, so many beautiful things to see and so many perfect examples of Vanishing America. I will definitely be back before this journey is complete.

There are a few things worthy of mention from my drive back to Redding.

1. The wild mustangs will have to wait a week or so until I get the Land Rover prepped and ready to tackle the off-road trails necessary to reach these elusive creatures. (This may take a little while -- the Rover isn't finished yet...)

2. There were so many abandoned and deserted buildings along the way, that I could have spent months documenting them all. And, they're not just in Oregon. I've seen them in California, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, and Georgia, and I'm sure they can be found all over the country. I hope that as I photograph them, I can get a glimpse into their histories and their heydays. Gas stations, hotels, barns, and even churches top the list of buildings that stand alone as progress passes them by. I look forward to being able to tell their stories.

3. The most obvious example of the changing American landscape was to be found in the numerous lakes and streams that, for lack of proper rains and improper water management, have dried up or are in the last throes of life as a source of water. I know this is happening all over the country (even my hometown of Atlanta may be out of water soon), but it seems to stand out all the more when the parched landscape left behind glows white with the cracked salt of the western lakebed.

As I sit pondering the past three weeks, I find myself confident in my ability to capture interesting images, but unsure of how I feel about this changing country of ours.

People have often asked me if I’m an environmentalist. I’m not sure how to answer that. I love Nature. I love to see the massive forests, the wide-open plains, the tree-lined and snow-capped mountains, the swamps and wetlands, the sweeping deserts, and the diversity of the seashore. I love seeing such a vast array of wildlife in their natural habitats, from the tiniest shrew burrowing into the warm earth, and the herds of elk grazing the highlands, to the largest grizzly catching its lunch in a run of spawning salmon. And, I adore the idea of this land as it was two hundred years ago, teeming with uncountable forms of life.

But, that bountiful landscape is only a memory. When humans began to significantly populate this country, Nature was forced to take a back seat while we shaped the land into something more suitable to the way we wished to live. And, it will always be that way. As a very dear friend of mine noted, "Human beings have to come first. Otherwise, we'll become extinct." That may be an oversimplification, but I believe the intent is correct. We put ourselves at the top of the food chain in order to survive. But being at the top of the food chain comes with responsibility.

For, as long as we’re kings of this mountain, as long as we're in charge, we’re changing the face of our nation to meet our needs -- for good or bad, right or wrong. We continue to grow, and we have to continue to accommodate that growth.

In my travels to big cities and small towns, I've talked with people from all walks of life, and have gotten opinions as varied as the species on this earth. But, regardless of who a person was, or where they lived, one common thread ran through the pattern: Management. More specifically, management of the natural environment. In essence, we can continue to grow as a nation, without destroying the planet or restricting our personal freedoms, by managing this land we call our own.

It's very difficult to do, but there has to be balance in order for both man and nature to thrive. And, since we’re the ones taking over, we must be the ones to take that responsibility. We must be the ones to manage the forests so they don’t go up in uncontrollable wildfires. We must be the ones to manage the herds and their range so they don’t overpopulate and destroy their lands and themselves. We must be the caretakers. Not zookeepers, but caretakers.

Long ago, we decided we wanted this country as our own. Well, now we must take responsibility of ownership.

And, as I continue on my journey, I'm constantly exposed to new ideas and perspectives, and listening to other people's opinions, and keeping an open mind, are two of the greatest advantages to making Vanishing America a successful project.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Wild Mustangs...


It was cold in Pendleton, Oregon last night at the Wild Horse Casino (now there's a coincidence). Beautiful, but cold. This is the first time I've seen frost on the grass since I've been on this trip. Winter's a-comin'.

The drive from Pendleton down Highway 395 to Burns (Wild Mustang Country) was spectacular. It was all High Desert with gently rolling hills and yellow grassy plains, sprinkled with a variety of trees -- some still green, but others showing off their beautiful fall colors.

I'll have to make this trek again, in a smaller vehicle, for there were several towns would easily be missed if you so much as blink an eye. And, that's not much of an exaggeration either. One little "town" had only 5 buildings: an empty church, a barn, two houses, and what looked like a garage. Were there room to stop, you'd see some great shots of a truly Vanishing bit of America. But, as it was, the town was so close to the highway, there was nowhere to pull off without getting the RV in the shot. Definitely a stop for next time around.

Most of the little towns weren't this small, though, but they were small enough to get that "Mayberry" feel. This town, on the left, was all by itself in the middle of this huge valley off the 395. There wasn't another town for miles. It seemed so isolated, but yet, so cozy, nestled in among the hills.

Tomorrow, it's off to the BLM lands (Bureau of Land Management) to track down some Wild Mustang herds. Keep your fingers crossed. This could be something special...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Wind Power

On my way through the small town of Arlington, Oregon, I stopped to take a peek at something some folks call clean energy and other folks call an eyesore.

I'm talking about power generating windmills. If you've ever been in Southern California and driven to Palm Springs, you're familiar with the hundreds of elegant white towers pacing the rolling hills of California's High Desert. Even if you've never been to Palm Springs, most of you are familiar with the image: essentially a giant fan on a stick. If you've ever wondered what they're for... well, in simplest terms, they take advantage of the desert's high winds and convert that wind into electricity.

Wind farms are a booming business as America looks for alternative energy sources to reduce our dependence on petroleum. To a lot of people, they're clean, relatively quiet, and much easier to look at than smokestacks and oil rigs. But not everyone shares that opinion. Some folks see them as a blight on the once beautiful rolling landscape and as a danger to bird migrations and nesting habitats.

Either way, as an artist, I find them intriguing -- Beautiful white towers, each with three delicately turned blades, standing tall and proud over the landscape, as if they know their purpose.

I can't argue their merits or their faults. But, like most other forms of alternative energy, they have their pros and their cons. And, like many things in life, sometimes you have to give a little in order to get a lot.

The Dalles, Arlington, and Alpharetta...

I was born in a small town...

... And everywhere I go, smalltown life
fascinates me. Seeing these small towns along my travels reminds me of how simple life was as a child growing up in my own small town.

Looking in the windows of this old building, do you wonder who worked there? What they looked like? Do you wonder what they did there? How long ago was this building used, and for what purpose? What color was it?

Looking at the image on the left, you can see the building is right up against the train tracks. Was it always like that? And, is there a story that explains the lone shoe by the entrance?

Rod Steward said, "Every picture tells a story, don't it?" What stories do these images, these buildings, tell us?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Columbia Gorge... Part 3

(Click on any image to view it full screen)

Driving an RV on the Gorge...

Yesterday was gorgeous (no pun intended. Really). And, I spent the entire day driving the RV along the Historic Columbia River Highway from Bonneville west to Troutdale, and then back east to Multnomah Falls.

It's a lot easier said than done, let me tell you. It’s best to do it in a car or on a motorcycle, but I had to do it in the RV. It’s about 25 miles of two lane blacktop that traces the original Oregon Scenic Highway laid out just after the turn of the century. In most places, it’s simple winding backroad. But, in some places, it gets very narrow. Some of the old bridges were actually too narrow for the RV and a car to pass at the same time. It got pretty hairy. And, to top it off, on one side was sheer rockface, and on the other – sheer cliff (often without guardrails). One wrong move, and you’re either shearing off chunks of the Columbia River Gorge or you’re sliding down it into the river. It’s a pleasant drive… in a car. But in an RV… it's not for the faint of heart.

But, believe me, even in the RV it was worth every hair-raising second. The views are spectacular, the bridges are incredible, and the scenery includes some of America’s most beautiful waterfalls – right along the highway. And, that’s what it was originally built for. As Highway architect Sam Lancaster stated,

“Our first order of business was to find the beauty spots, or those points where the most beautiful things along the line might be seen in the best advantage, and if possible, to locate the road in such a way as to reach them.”
Well, kudos to you, Mr. Lancaster. You accomplished your goal with resounding success.

Of course, I met some great people on the way. What would this trip be if I didn't make new friends. At Multnomah Falls, I met a fantastic couple from the LA area who came up here just in time to escape the fires raging through Southern California. (If you guys are reading this, you'd better email me. I have a couple of pictures for you!)

You know, sometimes I feel bad, keeping the cats cooped up in the RV the whole time. But, I can't really let them out to roam on their own. That's how pets get lost or get run over (or, if you're in coyote country -- eaten.) Have you ever seen a cat on a leash? Well, that's the only way the kids get to go outside. Reggie does a pretty good job on the leash. I can't "walk" him like I could walk a dog, though. He has to explore at his own pace, in his own direction. So, I keep him tethered and just follow along like a good daddy.

After the sun went down, I popped in to a nearby RV park, made a fire, cooked some
soup, and had a very relaxing evening. I can still smell the smoke on my clothes...

Today was another great day. A beautiful, warm, sunny day, just like yesterday, to hike and take in all the v
istas that I could. I made the drive from Bonneville east to Hood River and on to Mosier (population 430), to see the Mosier Twin Tunnels. These tunnels were part of the original Historic Columbia River Highway and were built sometime around 1920. There are actually inscriptions carved into the rock from when a group of travelers got trapped in the tunnels during a snowstorm shortly after they were built. When the new freeway came through, the tunnels were filled in (fortunately, they weren't destroyed, like some of the other tunnels along the route.) They were recently restored (and fortified, of course) to further the extent of the Historic Highway and are used today as part of a walking and biking path that runs from Cascade Locks to Mosier. The pathway runs along the ridgeline overlooking the Columbia River, so the renovation included steel gating to protect ambitious thrill seekers from getting hurt. But, if you peek through the gates at certain points in the path, you can still see the stonework stairs that were part of the original road. Now, don't misunderstand me here... Oregon protects it's beauty, but it also allows people certain access to that beauty. Otherwise, what's the point? The gates don't cover the whole stretch of the pathway. There are numerous places where you can walk out to a vista point (or, if you're brave, even to the very edge of the cliff looking over the freeway a thousand feet down). And, that's what I did. Well, I didn't go to the very edge. I'm afraid of heights. But I did get within about 5 feet of the edge. That was as close as I dared, and even at that distance, I was still uncomfortable. Uncomfortable? No. Scared is more like it.

Tonight I'm in a town called The Dalles. And, tomorrow, I head east to Arlington to see the windmill power generators on the Gorge.

How do you like the Gorge so far?

(Forgive me if the fonts seem mismatched and the photos don't line up right. Blogger is a very powerful tool for writing blogs, but it still has some bugs.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Columbia Gorge... part 2

Yesterday was a GREAT day, and today is looking even better.

Oregon's Historic Highway

I got out on the bike and toured a few miles of the 1930s stretch of the Oregon Historic Highway, across from Bonneville Dam. It's an easy ride -- paved, with gentle hills -- and the views are spectacular, as is the old bridge and tunnel work along the way. Everything was still wet from yesterday's rains, so the every tree, every fern, every tuft of moss was glistening in a verdant green you'd usually only see in a tropical rain forest. It was beautiful. Mere words can't describe it (well, at least my mere words). Hopefully, these images will help convey the splendor of God's country. (Click on each pic for a larger view.)

Today, with nary a cloud in the sky and the sun bathing the Gorge in its warm glow, I'm going to do a little more exploring along the western stretch of the Highway and then head east to Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods, and if I have time, I'll continue on to Mosier and Hood River. Heck, I'm feeling adventurous... I might even try to climb down to the base of one of the bridges that overlook a waterfall. Someone get me a rope...

I almost forgot! I do have a neat little side story...

As I was re-shooting some of the images at the Dam, I noticed some fishermen by the banks of the Columbia using a very unique method to get their line out into the water. Usually, with your typical rod and reel combination, and a heavy sinker, you can cast a line out fairly far. And, the longer the pole, the farther you can cast. But, there are limits. Even the best can only get their bait about 1/3 of the way across the river.

But Gene and Chuck, with the engineering genius of Gene's Uncle Howard, have managed to cast their bait over 2/3 of the way across the river, putting them in touch with the deeper water fish that a hand-held shore cast just can't reach. The Slingshot, as the guys call it, is essentially that, a giant slingshot made from steel tubing and rubber hose that launches their bait (with line attached, of course) off into the heavens. A special spool off to the side keeps the line from getting tangled and from yanking the rod off into the water with the bait. Oh, it's fun to watch, and every time they go out, tourists and fishermen alike stop to watch the launch. I was lucky enough to capture a sequence of images showing the launch of the bait (and the 16oz lead weight), and to sit and talk with some genuinely friendly folk.

(sorry about the image alignment. Blogger has its limitations, too.)