Thursday, July 20, 2017

From Nevada to Idaho and the Snake River Plain

Our trailer battery was dead. At the Chevron in Carlin, Nevada--also a burger joint--heading towards Wells on 80, we asked who might help.  They direct us to "Randy's."  Tim is Randy's "chief" (and only) mechanic, if we don't count the itinerant film-maker apprentice working off a new engine on his broken-down van. Tim washed up in Carlin (pop. 2368) in 2003 from Hisperia, California. He started at the gold mine in the hills nearby.  "They dug a million ounces of gold out of there last year," he said.  He was hired at the mine to maintain all their machinery.  "It was too high stress," he said, "so I joined Randy."

The Carlin Trend is the seventh largest gold producing region in the world, the most abundant in the Western hemisphere. It contains three open pit mines, four underground mines, and by 2008 the mines had produced 70 million ounces--(~$85 Billion at 2010 prices). Nevada accounts for 75% of U.S. gold production, most of it from the Carlin Trend.

Work is quieter now, for Tim.  "Yesterday a young Norwegian couple rolled in, on foot.  They ran out of gas a couple of miles down the road.  I drove them back with a Jerry can of gas, and the woman proceeded to spill the gas all over the car. How did they every get this far?" he wondered.  "All the way from Norway!"

Tim quickly diagnosed our problem: no live feed to the trailer from the car. He proposed to run a wire from our car battery to the trailer connection.  "About an hour's work," he said, sounding apologetic about the $75/hr rate. The installation eventually lasted two and one half hours over lunch. We chatted, he explained, he snipped the ties, he installed an in-line fuse, lovingly sealing the connection with a torch. When it came time to settle up, "We'll honor our hour estimate," said Tim. Bobbi gave him her CD, he sent a Facebook request as we drove on down the road.

Tim fixing our trailer connection
Entering Southern Idaho the great Basin and Range country--marked by  elongated mountain ranges interspersed with long flat, dry deserts--lifts and gives way to the Snake River Plain. Desert, tumbleweeds, and grazing cattle are replaced by lush irrigated fields with crops of potatoes, corn, sugar beets, and wheat. The Snake River has enabled this agricultural oasis in Southern Idaho since the beginning of the 20th century.

Columbia River and Snake River Basin
At a Starbucks in Twin Falls we charged my computer and picked up extra reading glasses at the Dollar Store across the street:  "How much?" we ask the clerk.  "Everything in the store's a dollar," she says.  Dollar stores dot the urban landscape here in red America like Starbucks dot the big coastal cities. The clerk does not look like she gets paid $14.00/hr (the minimum wage in San Francisco). But she's friendly. Friendly like Tim, the garage mechanic.

Twin Falls looks prosperous, clean, trim. Median household income is $50,447.00. Unemployment is almost non-existent (3.2%), recent job growth is robust (4.2%), and the economy is diverse. So why all the support for Trump?  Idaho went for Trump 2:1 over Clinton; in Twin Falls it was 3:1. It would have been bigger but for the 6.8% garnered by the "never Trump" GOP protest candidate, Evan McMullin.

Today, Idaho has a population of 1.7 million.  For that they get two senators (James Rish and Mike Crapo), same as California's 39 million (lest we ever forget).  

Lewis and Clark crossed what is now the middle of the state in 1806 on their way to the Columbia river. President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the expedition shortly after the Louisiana purchase. Wilson Price Hunt followed with a party in 1811-1812. They unsuccessfully attempted to travel down the Snake river to the Columbia. So they split into four parties and carried on to the mouth of the Columbia.  In 1812-13 Robert Stuart led an expedition east from Astoria to St. Louis along what became the Oregon trail. 

Between the late 1830’s and 1869 about 400,000 settlers, farmers, miners, business owners, and families travelled the Oregon trail. In 1869 the first transcontinental railroad opened and made the trip across the rockies much faster and safer.

We stopped for lunch at Massacre Rock, a beautiful narrow spot on the Oregon trail. Apparently there were some close-by altercations with Indians during the migrations west, but the name derives more from the anxiety of settlers as they traversed this spot ideal for an ambush.  

Today it's a well kept state park. 

Snake River at Massacre Rock

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