Friday, May 30, 2008

Sunday Scribblings - "Curve" Writer's Island - "Extravaganza" 6/1/08

The initial response I get when I tell people I am originally from Idaho is invariably “oh, potatoes.” (That is if I am speaking to someone geographically savvy enough not to confuse Idaho with Iowa and start discussing corn) I guess identifying with potatoes is better than the other things Idaho is infamous for, Aryan Nations, the Ruby Ridge massacre, and a Senator Larry Craig's men's room reacharound. I will pause for a moment while the unfamiliar google these entries. Idaho is perhaps the most joked about state north of the Mason Dixon Line (I hope you don’t have to google that line of demarcation). Here are a few of my favorite Idaho jokes, though old:

This is the reining Miss Idaho
Why do most college football fields in Idaho use Astroturf? To keep the cheerleaders from grazing
What do you call a beautiful woman in Idaho? A tourist
Idaho is the only state with two capitals: Spokane and Salt Lake City. This is funny because neither is actually in Idaho but Spokane is the center of commerce for the northern part of the state and Salt Lake City is the location of the Mormon Church headquarters, which governs southern Idaho. That is a really funny joke if you can find Idaho on the map.

Anyway, you get the idea that Idaho is not the cultural center of the Universe. Well, that is not what my blog is about. The Sunday Scribblings prompt this week is “curve” and the Writer's Island prompt is "extravaganza". This is what I came up with:

Idaho is that weird shaped state that resembles an intoxicated person attempting the letter “L”. The north and south have very little in common, not even a time zone. I think it is important at this time to say that I am from northern Idaho. Potatoes do not grow in northern Idaho. It is all mountains and rivers and lakes and beauty, while the south is, well……potatoes. Northern Idaho is called the "panhandle". That is not because we hit up Washington and Montana for loose change, it is because of its narrowness.

It is nearly 500 miles from a very defendable border 50 mile border with Canada to the desolation that is Nevada and Utah. But you can't get there from here. Amazingly, due to terrain, there is only one highway that links the north and south without venturing deeply into Montana. It is US Highway 95. I did not say Interstate. No way. It is a mostly 2-lane highway that we motorists share with wildlife and stray domestic animals. Or at least it was when I lived there. It weaves its way over and around mountains. Real mountains. Not the hills passed off as mountains in the Appalachians. As you can see by the map, that 500 miles is not as the crow flies. Unless he is a crow with a very poor GPS.

The most hazardous stretch of Highway 95 was the 10-mile stretch dropping into the town of Lewiston driving south from Moscow. And dropping is the operative word here. It dropped 2,000 feet and included 64 turns. Many of these turns were hairpin curves with a surely fatal drop should a driver fail to negotiate one. Dale Earnhardt wouldn’t have exceeded 30 mph for much of the ride. Couple the dangerous road with the fact that snow and ice add an infinite degree of difficulty through the winter months as well as the probability of meeting an out-of-control logging truck on a narrow switchback.

There was a weekly extravaganza witnessed by the citizens below as headlights disappeared only to reappear in places there was no pavement. There were unrecoverable vehicle carcasses of failed attempts littering the valley below as well as sections of guardrail missing or severely disfigured marking departure points of those “getting air.” Though there were many other curvaceous stretches of US Highway 95, none could match the Lewiston Hill. I do not have numbers to support this claim but I am fairly certain there were more fatalities on this stretch of highway than the rest of Idaho’s portion of US Highway 95 combined.

I have been down that grade as a passenger of many school busses piloted by white-knuckled drivers and cars driven by chemically enhanced college students.

And your reward for making it to Lewiston was to be greeted by the foulest stench you can imagine from the pulp mill that was located there. I am fairly certain the EPA has probably curtailed that operation due to the pollutants.

The Lewiston Hill road was replaced with a straighter, much more user friendly highway in 1979. An extravagant gesture by a state that spends so little on highways that the only time potholes are filled is by ice in the winter months. I have only been down it a few times since then, but it is not nearly as exciting. Last I heard, the old road was still open for bicyclists and brain-dead tourists coming to Idaho to see potatoes.


danni said...

such parallels to the journey of life as i read your post!!! - the twists and turns, sometimes treacherous switchbacks, never ending pot holes, but when you are able to look around as you go, the beauty of nature as evidenced by your pics --- i really enjoyed this post - thank you

Robin said...

I've always gotten a chuckle out of that potato picture.

My husband's aunt and uncle lived in Moscow for a few years back in grad school. They remember it quite fondly.

Pinehurst in my Dreams said...

Lewiston Hill pictures do not give any indication of the thrilling experience one had by travelling over it - especially in the back of a school bus on winter roads. The arial pictures show a serene road that snakes through a gentle grassy hill. The ride was horror. Rapid descent and unending switchbacks on a narrow two-lane with an icy surface. The guard rails were too short to hold back any craft to challenge their boundaries.

I think Lewiston Hill was the first place many North Idahoans learned how to pray. . .

Stan Ski said...

Quite an education for me, knowing practically nothing about the place. The photo's are a great advert for visiting, and even the potato is tempting.
I scrolled down to 'holding the sun' - these pictures were fantastic.

Inland Empire Girl said...

I wish I would have had this post to teach Idaho history. Since Grandma West lived about 40 min. east of Lewiston in Orofino, you can guess Pert swerved those curves as we turned a bit green in the back seat. Hard to tell if it was Dad's driving or the "Pooh Pooh" mill as we called it that made us car sick.

Jan said...

I actually scared the cats with the whoop I did on seeing that Miss Idaho (potato) picture. That was priceless. I LOVE reading your stuff. Dave Barry had nothing on you...:-)


Greyscale Territory said...

This is a fantastic insight into Idaho beyond the travel guides. Just loved it! And, for the record, as I am in Australia, I had no idea about the potato connection!


Rambler said...

but I have heard Idaho is extremely beautiful

Constance said...

Greetings from a fellow fringe-state - Wyoming. At least your state has a shape!

Enjoyed the insider's look at Idaho. And doesn't Driggs belong to us??

Eaton Bennett said...

Great post! Being and Aussie I know very little about America and soak up all the information given in blogs by people actually living in interesting places. Love your photos, your part of the country is beautiful.

texasblu said...


We moved from Texas to SE Idaho four years ago - I'm STILL in culture shock!

And you are so right - we travel North whenever we can for the breathtaking views, b/c Snake River Valley ain't got nothin but potatoes!!!!!

That being said, we like it here. Not bad, for a desert - I do miss the lush green of SE Texas though! ;)

JBelle said...

Lewiston in the summertime; nuthin' like it!

b said...

Hello Idaho...Ontario, Oregon here. Or at least used to be Ontario. Love the pictures and jokes. My favorite do they fix a pot hole in Idaho? The put a sign with an arrow pointing to it. Sad but true!

Myrtle Beach is a long way from home. We are in Portland getting ready to move to Arizona...a secnd Idaho of sorts.


Redheels said...

Loved your pictures and your post.

That road is a little scary. I sometimes daydream when I drive. Daydreaming on that road could turn into a nightmare!

pia said...

That was an amazing cornupica of facts about Idaho. I'm guilty of only thinking about potatoes, Ruby Ridge, white supremacy etc

It looks and sounds beautiful and fascinating

What brought you to Myrtle Beach--I know car and/or plane, but...

Thanks for the welcome.

Anonymous said...

Well, you must be one of those young whippersnappers who was born after the Winchester Grade and the Whitebird Grade were improved. Back in the olden days (40's & 50's) the Lewiston Hill was the best of the three. To get to Southern Idaho from Genesee (home) you went down the Lewiston Grade, then up the narrow winding Winchester Grade, then down the much longer, shaper switchbacks of the Whitebird Grade. If you got car sick, it was a nightmare.

myrtle beached whale said...

My travel memories begin in the 1960s so I never experienced the original Whitebird or Winchester grades. Must have been really wicked in that conestoga or stagecoach. Lucky you had Sacajawea available. That stretch was still pretty wicked even after road improvements, particularly in the winter. Flatlanders have no idea.

tumblewords said...

Honest, MyrtleBR. This one is screamingly funny and spot on.