Sunday, May 19, 2024

Second honeymoon, day 2

On Day 2 of our second honeymoon, we woke up to more rain. This was the snatched glimpse of the Snake River as we re-crossed it back into Idaho.

The only reason we were heading back into Idaho was because we were still following Hwy 95 south, and it was only a few miles away from looping into Eastern Oregon.

We passed this store front that startled us both.

Idaho Puppy Company? Really? As it turns out, yes. Here's the website. Kinda gave me the creeps, but whatever.

Along this last Idaho stretch of Hwy 95, the road took us through a series of quiet, charming farming towns. It was Sunday morning and looked like it. As the crow flies, we were only about fifty miles from the huge (to us) city of Boise, but you'd never guess it. Hwy. 84 is the busy east-west thruway that goes through Boise, and it's like Hwy. 95 (north-south) just gets ... forgotten.

Fine with us. This is the town of Parma on a quiet rainy Sunday morning.

A few miles outside Parma, we were startled to whiz past what seemed like an extraordinary pocket of serious wealth, completely at odds with the humble farming towns we had come through. The property has vast manicured lawns, expensive fencing, and a fancy entrance gate. The landscaping alone, we speculated, was a full-time job for more than one person.

We didn't stop, but we caught a glimpse of the name: Tree Top Ranches. Further research revealed the operation involves horse breeding and race training, among other enterprises. If the tone of the linked article are anything to go by, this wealthy family is well-liked in the region because of their "philanthropic efforts and involvement in the community."

We were still in the Treasure Valley, so the land was very flat. The occasional overpass yielded the best opportunity for any kind of vista. (That's the start of Tree Top Ranches on the right.)

In parts of the area, hops are a huge crop. It was like passing through a vineyard for beer-making. The trellises are huge, something like eighteen feet high.

This is the sleepy hamlet of Homedale. Remember, still Sunday morning, still quiet.

After Homedale, the land became far less populated and more agricultural. We were heading for the low range of hills called the Owyhee Mountains.

We were just noticing this pretentious pile on a hill...

...when all traffic (including the oversize load) came to a stop due to road construction.

Once past the traffic slowdown, we climbed through the Owyhee range. They're treeless and dramatic in places.

The summit had to be ground out of sheer rock.

On the other side, however, the views were spectacular.

Don, being a geologist, notices stuff like these rock layers.

This side of the Owyhee range is vast, wild, and undeveloped, except for Hwy. 95 slicing through it.

Or so we thought. A closer look revealed a house below us. Someone had chosen to live in this remote spot.

Here's the gate leading into the property.

Besides, as remote as these hills seemed, we saw range cattle everywhere.

Once over the range, we entered Eastern Oregon. The landscape became dominated by the ubiquitous sagebrush, which would accompany us for virtually the entire trip.

We hoped we were getting out of the rain, but no such luck.

We were entering the territory of vast road vistas.

We also saw dustings of snow not too far away.

It being Sunday morning, we hadn't yet found a place to stop for tea/coffee. However I knew of a spot in the tiny hamlet of Jordan Valley in Eastern Oregon (having stopped there before while traveling to or from seeing my parents).

Jordan Valley is where Hwy. 95 takes a sharp (90+ degree) jog. It has about 190 people and, this being Sunday, most seemed to be at church.

However the Rockhouse was open.

I stopped here for the first time a year ago when Younger Daughter and I were traveling, and there was a literal line of customers out the door. This little place has it all: Great tea and coffee, books, toys for kids, maps, trinkets and tourist stuff, things to look at, local gourmet specialties, etc., all topped by extremely friendly service. Highly recommended.

Outside the building is a signboard with distances to various locations.

It even had a sign for our next destination: Arock (more about that shortly).

At the top of a rocky outcrop on the edge of town, we noticed this star. No doubt it's lit up at night, either at Christmas or possibly year round.

There's something charming about Jordan Valley. It's tiny and isolated, but somehow gives off good "vibes."

Our next stop was the above-mentioned Arock. While researching possible places to see on the trip, Don stumbled across this minuscule spot, located three miles off the highway, and was astounded to learn this unincorporated dot on the map has its own post office. That alone was enough to trigger his curiosity, so we decided to pay it a visit (even though the post office would be closed).

The three-mile drive to the post office took us past a variety of homes, farms, and ranches.

Arock itself was quiet and deserted – not surprising, considering the weather and the day of the week – but seemed a snug enough place.

We passed a school...

...a church...

...a community chapel...

...and of course the famous post office.

After viewing the loose collection of farms and homes in the region, we better understood why a post office was here. Arock is vastly isolated, and doubtless some sort of central location for mail delivery was needed.

We turned to leave town, and were greeted with the site of a huge (or may two huge) burned tree trunks that almost had a statue-esque quality to them:

We also saw this beautiful stone building, now falling into disrepair, that may be part of the hamlet's Basque heritage.

On the way out of town, we passed a park with this prominent monument to Orville "Pete" Fretwell, clearly a well-loved member of the community.

So although there is nothing to "do" in Arock (if you're just passing through, as we were), it's clearly a well-maintained and vibrant little community. Good for them.

By this point our coffee and tea was finished and we were getting hungry. What was harder was finding a place to stop for brunch. We made it down to Rome, Oregon, which has exactly one amenity: Rome Station. But what an amenity it was! Like many businesses serving deeply isolated areas, it offered a little of everything: food, lodging, gas, and a tiny selection of groceries.

We even saw – shudder – an ice cream freezer. It's not that there was anything wrong with Rome's ice cream selection, as much as it brought back an unfortunate memory from our first honeymoon.

Slight diversion as we go back 34 years ago to just after our wedding. Don and I had driven around the southwest for two weeks for our honeymoon then, reluctantly, turned around and to return home to our respective jobs. We stopped for gas at a remote station somewhere in Nevada, and each of us purchased an ice cream from one of these freezer units.

Within an hour, Don knew he had food poisoning. I stopped the vehicle every few miles through the vast Nevada desert for him to violently empty himself out both ends. After hours and hours of this, we limped into the town of Ely and checked into a Motel 6, where I spent the night on the floor and he spent the night moving between the bed and the bathroom. The next day, I drove a sixteen-hour marathon shot straight home. He was weak as water for days after, and we jested that we had tested the "for better or for worse" part of our marriage vows sooner than anticipated.

As a result of that long-ago experience, we jokingly/seriously promised ourselves no ice cream anywhere on this trip. We stuck with that promise.

Anyway, enough discourse into the past. Rome Station had a reasonable menu, good food, friendly service, and decent prices. Well worth a stop if you're in the area ... especially since there is literally nothing else around.

After Rome, it was a lot of trekking across endless sagebrush desert. This may sound boring and uninspiring, but in fact the high desert is beautiful.

It's trackless and undisturbed, and – if you're of an introverted nature as we are – it's easy to see why early prospectors were lured deeper and deeper into the solitude of the sagebrush.

At the Oregon-Nevada border lies the town of McDermitt.

It's a scraggly place a long distance from everywhere and barely hanging on by its fingernails. Its one claim to fame, apparently, is it boasts the longest climatic record in Nevada, with data beginning in 1866.

We passed a so-called "moving sale" that looked about as permanent as it could be, but it certainly added local color.

On the edge of town was the Rocky View Inn (with bar and cafe) which looked conspicuously closed.

And that was all there was, apparently, to McDermitt. As a town, I hope it makes it.

Back to more high desert, with snow dusting the distant mountains.

We passed an area of sand dunes, somehow unexpected.

After an hour or so, Winnemucca hove into view.

I've been through this town several times while traveling to visit my parents. It's a literal oasis in a vast area of nothingness. It's actually a rather charming town of about 8,400 people, and my experiences here – however transitory – have been positive. However this time, when Don and I stopped for gas, I used the women's restroom, which was the filthiest toilet I've ever had the misfortune to experience. Ick.

Out of Winnemucca, we briefly got on Hwy. 80 east toward Battle Mountain. The weather continued to threaten rain, but the mountains started getting closer.

A small playa, flood from the recent rain.

Battle Mountain is a sleepy and agreeable little town of about 3700. We stopped to stock the ice chest with some ice and drinks, then headed south on Hwy. 305 toward Austin, our destination for the night.

Once we got on Hwy. 305, the scenery improved dramatically. I'd forgotten how mountainous the interior of Nevada is. Geologists (remember, I was driving with one) call this the Basin and Range, which is just that: high mountains punctuated by utterly flat and broad valleys. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

But it's beautiful in its way.

We thought we were out of the rain, but squalls still dotted the horizon.

Somewhere along this lonely stretch, we came to a deserted stone building on the side of the road and stopped to explore.

It had an easily breachable barbed-wire fence around it, but of course we didn't cross it. Instead, we noted the small flags along the fence posts, and one large and battered one on a pole.

Despite its deteriorating condition...

...the craftsmanship that went into its construction was impressive. Just makes you want to fix it up, doesn't it?

Later in the day, we saw a few other similarly deserted stone houses at distant locations, and speculated they must have been shepherd's crofts or housing for similar occupations.

The view down the highway from the building was splendid.

The area in front was marshy – that's standing water in the foreground – so perhaps the inhabitants of the building were guarding range cattle.

We continued on our way to Austin, admiring the scenery as we went. Interior Nevada is really quite stunning, especially at this time of year before it gets too hot.

Austin is almost bull's eye in the center of the state, and it's got an air of desolation and decline about it, although we were cheered by the sense of humor of its signage.

Here's a skeleton perched on top a saloon – a very active saloon, I might add.

A flock of chickens and a cat occupied a stray lot across from our motel, which I found charming.

We got a room at the Pony Canyon Motel: squeaky clean, reasonably priced, and with extremely nice proprietors who had been running the establishment for something like 30 years.

At their recommendation, we walked up the street to a restaurant for dinner. The town had a beautiful western look to it, though sadly many (but not all) of the businesses were vacant.

We wheezed and panted as we walked uphill to the restaurant. We're not in that bad a shape, and it took us a while to realize we were at elevation 6575 feet. That thin air got to us!

The restaurant was called "Grandma's" ("Austin's living room").

I'm not normally one who takes photos of food, but this was worth it ... and it tasted every bit as good as it looked. As with everything in Austin, the service and staff were terrific and prices reasonable.

At dinner we saw a few groups of working-class men enjoying their dinner. Clearly everyone knew each other. It was nice to see everyone greeting each other by name.

On the way back to our motel, we noted deer lingering near a building.

They were at the scruffy stage of change from their winter to their summer coats.

This was a house on a hill overlooking the main street. We thought it might be abandoned, but later saw a man grilling dinner on the large black grill in front.

The Wikipedia page for Austin says the population was 167 in 2020, but a woman we spoke to at the gas station – born and raised in the town – said the population was more like 75.

Obviously the town was once a lot bigger and more vibrant (as many as 10,000 people during the 1860s), but its boom times didn't last long. Mining kept it going in the past, and there is still some sporadic mining today. Attempts at capitalizing on tourism – the town boasts its location on "the loneliest road in America" (Hwy. 50) – had evidently come and gone.

Yet we liked Austin. We liked it a lot. A whole lot. The people were cheerful and enterprising, resilient and entrepreneurial.I told Don that if I had a zillion dollars, I'd rebuild the town and renovate all the buildings. To what end, he asked? Yeah, he's right. Renovating buildings won't bring the people back.

This banner on the edge of town somehow seemed fitting.

But there may be hope for this charming little remote place. I'll explain in the next blog post.


  1. This is a wonderful travel log, and the photo journalism is excellent. I'm hoping ya'll got to do some fun activities too, though the vicarious trip we're on, through you , is both beautiful and educational.
    I once drove all the way across the country to the west coast in a rental and flew back. The drive was beautiful and included the Grand Canyon and Yosimite, but after reaching the end, I didn't want to do all that driving back. In fact, it was tempting to stay at Yosimite and never come back. Sigh. The road not taken.

  2. Thanks for sharing your honeymoon road trip with us.
    We enjoy driving through old towns too instead of interstates.

  3. You went right by my little town, between Parma and Homedale. They've been taking out hops fields because of the crash in the craft beer market. If you get out to the Owyhee's there's a very scenic place called Succor creek, red rock canyons, ovaline green hills.