illuminate history

Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)

Trip East to the Old West

Life has changed with the commissioning of USS Portland. Our first extended driving trip, Aug, 22 to Sept. 1, since he was tapped as Chair of the Commissioning Committee was a combination of family trip, going back to a National Park both of us had visited years ago and exploring a couple of other noteworthy locations.

Aug 23 - overview of Hanford siteWe began with a half-day Manhattan Project B Reactor tour at the Hanford Unit in Richland, WA. We joined the full busload at the Park Office and road out to the Reservation. The  lecturer in the photo is a retired engineer who worked there for many years. He explained clearly how plutonium was extracted from uranium and how they prevented the entire place from exploding–but I didn’t have time to scribble it all down.

The size, speed and ultimate Aug 23 - neat connection to AISaccomplishments of the project are phenomenal. I was pleased to learn that Enrico Fermi’s assistant at the lab in Chicago, who moved with the project to Hanford, was a woman scientist who, after WWII, went on to work for many years at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, NJ.

Aug 23 - meaning of SCRAM “SCRAM” is an acronym that originated at the Chicago lab, where  a copper rod held up an immense lead shield. A strong man armed with an axe was on duty during all experiments. If something went wrong, he was to cut the rod and drop the lead shield.  They had a much more sophisticated system at Hanford.

Aug 24 - Butte hazeAfter a little wine tasting, a nice Italian dinner and overnight in Walla Walla, we drove to Butte, MT, which we’ve visited several times since Gary’s daughter Wendy and husband Bob moved there fifteen years ago. With the forest fire haze blowing in and incidental research before our trip, we were much more conscious of Butte as “Copper City,”  “The Richest Hill on Earth.” Copper, of course, was required for the wire that provided the entire US with electricity in the late 19th century.

Aug 25 - G with Heidi, Tyr and goatsLast time we went to their place was Evan’s high school graduation in 2010. They suffered no damage in forest fires about three years ago and have expanded their property. Their Alpine goats still thrive, tended by a couple of young Great Pyrenees.

Wendy hasAug 26 - Diana, Mini, Wendy a “house dog,” too, a miniature poodle that she found in her yard a year ago, cut up and bleeding, dropped by an owl. Nursed back to health, Mini even gets along well with the cat.Aug 25 - free range horses


Three of the horses sometimes roam free on the un-fenced new parcel. They come back to the gate when they want a drink of water.

Wendy and Bob may someday build their dream house up on this hill.



Next Aug 28 - Grand Tetonsstop:  Jackson Hole. It rained on our way over. We got our first view of the Grand Tetons while hiking around Heron Pond by Jackson Lake the following day.


Then we took in the full panorama from Colter Bay:

Aug 28-Grand Tetons from Colter Bay

The day after that, we relivedAug 29 - Aerial Tram Gary’s experience as a 13-year-old by taking the Aerial Tram from Teton Village 4,000 ft. up to Rendezvous Summit. The man in the ticket booth knew it wasn’t same the Tram Gary rode in 1951. But he said terminus at the top was the same, so we’d be able see down the main street, just like Gary had done before. He was right.

After taking in the view, we followed the Cirque Route almost 2 miles and 2,000 feet down from the Summit to the station at the top of the Bridger Gondola. Turns out that hike’s rated “Difficult.” When we stopped to look around, we managed to spot a little wild life along the way.

bee and butterfly

Aug 29 - bee & butterfly on hike from tram summit to gondola plateauAug 29 -marmot on a rock








Aug 29 - down rocky terrain

We did have to watch our steps; it was a very long way down. You can see the sense of accomplishment when we got to the Gondola station:

Aug 29 - down to top of the gondola ascent

Aug 30 - Rough and Ready en route to Chuck Wagon Dinner


We indulged in a chuck wagon dinner on our last evening–meaning that about 200 people rode in horse-drawn wagons for two or three miles out of Jackson to the camp where dinner was served. Our multi-talented driver Jai entertained us on the way out with stories about different horses. Rough and Ready hauled our wagon.


Aug 30-After Dinner EntertainmentAfter serving beef in the chuck wagon line, Jai played guitar–he’s the one in the middle–in the after dinner show.

Jai runs snow-machines on the ski slopes in winter.


Homeward-bound, we headed for Baker City, stayed in the old (1889) Geiser Grand Hotel. There, we learned about the Alpha Literary Club: five ladies who were convinced the town needed a library–to provide a little culture. They initiated their campaign in 1900. By 1906, the mayor and city council finally agreed to a $2500 annual budget to secure a $25,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie. The library opened in 1909. It still stands, now converted to an Arts Center.Sept 1 - Carnegie Library

Our waitress at breakfast urged us to forgo Route 84 for the more scenic drive home on 7 and 26. She was right. We stopped to watch the Sumpter Valley narrow gauge steam railway.Sept 1 - Sumpter Valley narrow guage steam train 2

And we learned a lot at the Sumpter Valley Gold Dredge about the three dredges that essentially turned the valley floor upside-down between 1912 and 1954. Since 1954,  people have done stream maintenance and worked hard to get rid of invasive weeds. Native plants are again growing, having incorporated the tailings  into an adapted habitat, and animals are again finding resources to thrive. .Sept 1 - Gold in Oregon 7

Late in the afternoon, we saw a familiar sight; this time up close and personal. We knew we were nearly home.

Sept 1 - closer to home





2 comments on “Trip East to the Old West

  1. Pat
    September 15, 2018

    Diana – did you visit the Sumpter museum? The town has a very interesting history. Do you remember the name of the ranger who took you through the Sumpter dredge? (Might have been a friend of mine I’ve lost touch with.)


    • dianabaileyharris
      September 15, 2018

      I’m not even sure our guide told us her name, but she was excellent. Nor did we go to the museum. Our guide did mention that Sumpter was founded by Southerners.

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