Portland Trip: Day 1 – Denver to Boise

August 23, 2014

I packed the car last night. Everything went together just like in the dry run. But after I was in bed I thought of something I should bring that wasn’t on the list. Not just once but twice. Still, I managed not to think of taking a bagel out of the freezer for breakfast, but if that’s my biggest oversight I’ll be in good shape.

According to plan, I backed out of the garage promptly at 5:00am. Wanting to minimize my time on the Interstate, I got off I-25 at Ft. Collins and took US 287 to Laramie. The sun made its appearance about the same time I crossed the border into Wyoming. It was cloudy but not really overcast. The clouds were in layers, the lowest draping themselves over some of the hilltops.

I entered Laramie at about 7, looking for fuel and breakfast. I was pretty certain that if I went up the main drag I’d find somewhere to eat. There was nothing. I gassed up at the Safeway and ended up grabbing something at Wendy’s before getting on I-80. I sat at a window seat and watched people look at the car. She never fails to draw a crowd.

I’d have to say I’m pretty spoiled when it comes to scenic roads. So it should be understandable that I find the views along I-80 in Wyoming pretty boring. There’s really nothing interesting to look at until about Rock Springs where the geology changes a bit. To offset the boring scenery, or perhaps because of it, the speed limit is often 80. Typically, I’m happy going about 5 over the limit, so I ended up running most of the tank of gas at 85 or so. Instead of my expected 35mpg, I only got 28.

After fuel and restroom at mile 68, my route takes me off I-80 and onto US 30 at mile 66. Heading up US 30, there’s not a tree to be seen anywhere. The place is dense with oil production sites, all painted brown in an attempt to blend into the background. I’m amused that each has its own little solar panel. It’s a four lane highway much of the way through here. After a while, the oil production is gone, to be replaced by coal strip mines. They’re not really visible from the road, but a couple hillsides are nicely terraced, obviously reclaimed coal mines.

My next stop was in Cokeville for food. A couple miles out of town I saw a sign for a diner that looked promising. But when I came upon it, there were no cars in the parking lot. My first thought was “how good can they be if they don’t have any customers?” In retrospect that probably isn’t fair. Cokeville’s not a very big place. Instead, I grabbed a piece of pizza at the Pilot station. The pizza is from the convenience store – their restaurant is closed down. But it was actually a nice piece of pizza.

The weather had cleared up when I got on US 30, so I had some sun. But by here, the sky was filled with scattered clouds, some producing rain. I started going through these little squalls periodically. Never more than a few miles wide, they never caused me to turn the wipers on more than intermittent.

Before long, I was back on the super slab, northbound on I-15. The plan was to spend the night at Blackfoot for an early start with a quick stop at Craters of the Moon. This clearly would be suboptimal. I arrived in Blackfoot promptly at three. Way too early to bed down. So I fuelled up again, talked to three more guys about the car, and headed west on US 26.

In spite of the Snake River flowing through this valley, I find it very much like the San Luis valley. The native vegetation is much the same. It’s a bit denser here, and there is quite a bit more irrigated land than there.

I soon started seeing signs for the EBR-I Atomic Museum, a national heritage site. Miles from anywhere, I see a block shaped building a mile or so off the road. This is Experimental Breeder Reactor I. This was the first power plant in the world that produced usable electricity from atomic energy. This was Dec. 20, 1951. It was made a National Historic Landmark by LBJ in 1966.

The place was not at all what I expected, with the possible exception of the control room. Everything else was much smaller than I figured, although I can imagine the evolution from this early setup to something that would fit in a submarine. Very cool. And in spite of it being in the middle of nowhere, I was not the only visitor.

I spent about forty minutes there and when I returned to the car it was starting to rain again. By the time I got to Craters of the Moon, it was raining heavily. Perhaps I should have stopped at the visitor center anyway, but it was really coming down hard now and I had no idea how long it would last. So when a couple of bikers passed me, I let them get a bit ahead of me then matched their speed.


We had a nice little run, interrupted by some light traffic. They weren’t going that much faster than I’d have gone on my own but it was nice to pick up the pace a bit. Sometimes they went quite a bit faster than I expected, given the conditions. There was the occasional puddle of standing water. Again, the storm was fairly localized. Within twenty minutes we had gotten out from under it and the road was only damp.

This section of road around Craters of the Moon reminds me a lot of the area around Grants, New Mexico. The terrain, vegetation, and geology look quite similar to me. The lava here is blacker, perhaps, which makes me think it’s more recent.

US 20 and US 26 run the same route from Blackfoot past Craters of the Moon. Shortly after US 26 makes a right turn, the riders pulled over. I waved at them an continued. The weather had returned to the small, light squalls. I was back to my 5 mph over the limit. Traffic wasn’t heavy and slower cars were easy to pass.

Here I passed a red Honda. At least, I think it was a Honda. All identifying markings had been removed. It was red with black accents and darkly tinted windows. After I passed him, he matched my speed, following quite closely. Soon he downshifted and blazed by me at about 90, whereupon he slowed down again. I passed him a second time and he continued to follow me quite closely for quite a long time. He was being a bit of a butthead.

For the most part, both 20 and 26 were straight, flat roads. The valleys here are wide with flat bottoms. Sometimes the highway ran along the side thus twisting to and fro a bit. But long stretches were more centered in the valleys and the road has long straight stretches. Finally 26 started bending around the terrain, rising and falling. I ran into no traffic; my pleasure was uninterrupted. It was, however, short. I soon found myself at the junction with I-84.

Again the speed limit is 80, but here there is much more traffic than in Wyoming. The sky had cleared and I was feeling a bit warm for the first time today. I don’t think it was ever much over 60 all day, and often quite a bit cooler. But approaching Boise it was sunny and warm.

I pulled into the Kopper Kitchen at 7 for a Cobb salad and iced tea, found a cheap but clean motel and looking forward to a much easier day tomorrow than originally planned. I was happy to stop and see whatever sights I found along the way, which wasn’t much. With fuel and food breaks and a short museum visit, I was on the road 14 hours and covered 845 miles. Certainly more seat time than I planned, but it will allow for quite a bit of leisure tomorrow.

Much of today’s route was along segments of the Oregon Trail. I can only imagine the hardships involved in making this trek a century and a half ago. Pack up all your worldly belongings in a covered wagon, hitch up a team of oxen, and make your way through these inhospitable hundreds of miles taking a day to go as far as I go in ten or fifteen minutes.