Posts in: 2010s


What time is it, really? Our laptops, checking in with the atomic clock, updated their times automagically. So when I looked at the bedside clock, it should have been an hour later than the computers.

But they were the same. Had the bedside clock synchronized itself, too? Apparently. What a world.

By the end of the day, we will have set our clocks back twice: once for daylight saving time, and once for passing from Mountain to Pacific. Won’t shorten the miles, however.


As we leave the urban sprawls behind us in the east, the sky is once again a fact rather than an implication. 

I have been delighted and relieved to see Venus as the morning star most mornings this week. And at night, there are more than about sixteen stars visible. Actual constellations, rather than broad asterisms. I have been able to keep track of the Moon’s phase without the use of a widget on my computer.

I may even be able to get my telescope out after six long years, dust it off, and look again at the icecaps on Mars, at Jupiter’s moons, at Saturn’s ears…

Names on the Land

My bring-along book for this trip has been the majestic Names on the Land, by George R. Stewart. I won’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this man, but there have been several aspects of our world that he was directly or indirectly responsible for.

In 1941, he wrote a novel more or less from the point of view of a massive storm quite similar to the historic storm of a few weeks ago, sweeping in from the Pacific and raging across North America. In this novel, called Storm, a meteorologist is tracking the storm and in a moment of whimsy begins to refer to it as Maria (pronounced Mahr-ya). Soon after the book was published, the Weather Service introduced the convention of naming hurricanes not by the longitude & latitude at which they were first observed, but by a woman’s name.

Stewart was a native Californian and wrote many books of history in which the vast, the geologic, the global, is examined by focussing in on one small facet of the world. He wrote a study of US Hwy 40; of the final skirmish of the battle of Gettysburg; and many studies of various aspects of the westward migrations to Oregon and California throughout the 19th century. He also the definitive book on the Donner party’s plight, called Ordeal By Hunger.

His main concentration, however, was on names, both place names and given names.

Names on the Land has long been among my very short list of favorite books, and it has been of special interest this fall as we drove around the Hudson river valley in September, and now on this long drive into the West.

We watched, for example, as towns ending in -ville blossomed then gave away to -burg and -burgh as we drove through eastern Pennsylvania. The German settlers after the Revolutionary War were simply mad for -ville, and tacked it onto practically every town they settled in the last decades of the 18th century. Indeed, the new country was nuts for all things French, since they had played such a critical role in supporting the Colonies.

Another name that got tacked onto seemingly every county and town during those decades was that of General Washington. So, a town with a name that might otherwise sound a bit clunky and unimaginative, such as “Washingtonville,” very clearly reminds us of a time when our new country was bananas for our French allies, and swept up in a giddy adulation for a national hero the likes of which has hardly been matched since.

We also marvelled to read that a single summer’s expedition of several Frenchmen looking to discover the mythic river Missipi gave us the following names: Wisconsin, Peoria, Des Moines, Missouri, Osage, Omaha, Kansas, Iowa, Wabash, and Arkansas. No other expedition has had such a high success rate. Lewis & Clark, for instance, named everything in sight, of course, but the lag between their journey and the later migrations allowed nearly every one of their names to have faded. On the other hand, De Soto had travelled far more extensively than practically any other explorer of any age, but he apparently didn’t bother to name so much as a single creek or sandbar (or the Mississippi, although he was certainly the first European to see it and attest to its existence).

Those Frenchmen themselves left their own names (or others paid them the honor) all over my home region: Jolliet, Hennepin, Marquette. And another explorer, de la Salle, named the entire Mississippi watershed to honor the Sun-King with a single line in a letter home: Louisiane.

The French expedition indeed discovered the river, and sailed down from roughy what is now Stillwater to somewhere south of St Louis, but they failed to nail down a definitive name. In fact, it consistently bore three names among the seven explorers: the illiterate boatmen persisted in referring to it in the Indian style; Marquette called it “Conception” for the Immaculate Conception; and Jolliet called it “Buade” after one of his patrons back home in France. How “Mississippi” stuck and prevailed over not just the other two (admittedly shitty) candidates, but over the literally dozens of other names it bore, is a tale for another time.

Tonight, we are in Boise, Idaho. The name “Idaho” was almost the name for an earlier state. Other candidates for that territory were Yampa, Nemara, San Juan, Lula, Arapahoe, Weapollao, Tahosa; the “non-barbarian” candidates were Lafayette, Columbus, Franklin. The finalists, however, were Idahoe [sic] and Colorado. The latter won. But “Idaho,” without the final e, became a pet project of a California senator named Gwin, who thought it was an awful pretty name. He started shilling for it as the next few territories lined up for statehood and rechristening, including the Arizona territory, and it finally stuck on the western portion of the Montana territory. In reading the congressional record as the senators bickered about the relative merits of “Idaho” and “Montana” as names, you are reminded that the one thing Congress has consistently excelled at is whipping itself up into a furious and laughably righteous lather.

It is curious, too, that it took so long to name a state after Washington, given how consistently ape-shit Americans of all political persuasions have been for him over the years. That story, too, is for another time.

To dinner, and thence bed.

Rock Springs

Twelve hours on the road, ten hours driving. The headwinds dropped, the land levelled out, and we maintained much higher speeds for longer stretches. Today was much more like our old roadtrips, and giving ourselves an early evening yesterday was a big part of today’s success.

More massive windmill farms. More pickups driven by cowboy hats. More mountains. Then no mountains. The Rockies tack north and west up the continent, so after our first brush with them, they disappeared again for most the afternoon and evening. Southern Wyoming is flat but gently rolling, with vast panoramas opening out at the most surprising moments. We were usually around 6000 feet above sea level, and we crossed the continental divide twice (or maybe we crossed two of the continental divides once each, I don’t know for sure).

It’s unlikely we’ll have another day tomorrow like today, but if we do, we could be in extreme eastern Oregon tomorrow night. We have options. As I keep saying: as long as we don’t arrive more tired than when we drove away last week; just as tired is fine.

Tomorrow morning: breakfast in Little America at a sprawling and deliciously kitchy travel center, where we’ll buy some goofy postcards.


As we drove north to pick up I-80 outside Cheyenne today, we finally returned to a familiar roadbed after many days on I-70 (which we had only driven on once before, and then only much farther east). But we couldn’t quite remember how familiar I-80 was. So we began counting it up, and eventually ran up a tally of most of our long roadtrips.

This is what we could remember:


  • Minneapolis to PDX via 35, 80 & 84; PDX to MPLS via 90 & 94.


  • MPLS to NYC via 90/80, down from upstate NY.


  • Scotland: counter-clockwise, starting and ending in Glasgow.


  • Feb: MPLS to PDX (but we may have flown, not driven).
  • Aug: MPLS to Charlottesville, VA.
  • Sep: MPLS to Winnepeg.


  • June & August: MPLS to Salt Lake City and back, twice.
  • Sep: MPLS to Santa Fe, NM


  • Jan: Santa Fe to Phoenix, to LA, to San Francisco, then back to Santa Fe.
  • March: Santa Fe to MPLS and back.
  • May: Santa Fe to Naples, FL.
  • June: Naples to MPLS, then MPLS to SLC.
  • Aug: SLC to MPLS.
  • Sep: MPLS to Upstate NY & NYC.

Those roadtrips in the 18 months between June 2003 and September 2004 totalled just under 19,000 miles. That’s an average of 1,000 miles per month . . . And this is the sixth time we’ve driven on I-80 between Cheyenne & Salt Lake City.


We are in Salina, Kansas, hoping to make it somewhere near Denver. After a few days on the road, we have better on-the-ground numbers of our daily progress, what we do, what we can do. And, with great sadness, we have decided the California leg of our journey will have to go. After Salt Lake City, we’ll bank north onto I-84 and head straight for Warrenton. (But we comfort ourselves in knowing that the Bay Area is a long weekend away now, rather than a costly transcontinental flight.)

Pictures tonight.


Hello from a Starbucks in Independence, Missouri. We are making both better and worse time today than yesterday. Better because the roads are smoother, straighter, flatter. We also topped up Hestur’s tires because they’d been looking low. It’s much more reponsive now, and we can maintain higher speeds. Worse because there is a high wind cutting across the highway, and with less to break it, we’re weaving around a bit.

And because we are really quite tired. Every now and again, as we drive along, we get a flash of the “big picture,” and we remember that 2010 was really kinda rough. And then with the push to get packed up . . . Well, let’s just say we fall dead asleep at night and have to stop every two hours or so during the day.

Well, we’re done with our mochas: it’s time to hit the road again.

Day 1 (part 2)

Well, we made it. Cambridge, Ohio. Our first really full day of driving. Too much of it after dark, however, so we’re planning an early departure tomorrow so we can pack it in not long after dark tomorrow evening. We want to make it as far into Illinois as we can; St Louis would be ideal.

Pictures? Amusing anecdotes? Are you kidding? Maybe tomorrow.

Day 1 (part 1)

We only made it as far as eastern Pennsylvania Saturday night, and we decided to stay two nights and really rest up. We really needed it. The truck needed a little repacking, and we needed lots of naps.

The Martin Guitar factory is just up the road in Nazareth, so we’re going to go up there to snoop around for a while before hitting the road around lunchtime. There are guided tours every day, too. They allow photography, so expect a few pictures.

We’re aiming for eastern Ohio for tonight.

Sur la Route

We made it: we got on the road with a van packed literally to the roof.

Did we say we’d hit the road by 10?

Well, we did.

10 PM.

It is three in the morning. We are in Bethlehem, PA, at a Comfort Inn (there was no room at the manger).

That bad joke is about all I have energy for. We plan on sleeping in, so look for more lively accounts of recent events (and more bad jokes, no doubt) tomorrow.