The route over Teton Pass was the most direct way to Jackson Hole, the tourist and ski town that is a gateway to Grand Teton National Park. The trip over the pass was uneventful, but for the uneasy feeling I get when a train of local vehicles accumulate behind me. I am comfortable driving mountain roads, but evidently not comfortable enough, as I never seem to be able to negotiate the tight turns at a speed to satisfy these other drivers. I blame the handling of my minivan, which is a little bit better than a wooden box on roller skates. Somehow the locals know how to take the turns, as they demonstrated whenever I was able to find an edge of the road to pull over and let them by.
The town of Jackson has become so popular in recent years that it is not much fun anymore. The crush of summer visitors makes for traffic jams and an excessive number of t-shirt shops. An art fair was being held this weekend, an event I would normally explore, but the mass of humanity discouraged me, and I was holding to my mission to take pictures that night by avoiding the distraction.
In spite of the large number of people, the density was actually less than normal for this time of year. My brother had laughed when I told him of my plan to find a room in Jackson, yet because fires to the north, in Yellowstone, had progressed across a major artery to the area, the usual flow of traffic had dropped, and as a result, there were vacancies in Jackson!
Most people think of Oregon as being a heavily forested state, because of all of the logging issues and the beautiful coastline with its rainforest edging, but, like Washington, Oregon is mostly… desert. The waters and moist clouds of the western shores are sequestered by the Cascade mountain range. As a result, the eastern two-thirds of the state are arid, though punctuated with areas of high-altitude forest, and irrigated orchards.
Evidently, the forest areas are subject to fire, and with infrequent rains, the fires go unchecked for days and weeks. This summer in particular has been bad, and, consistent with the sunset I enjoyed at Crater Lake, a brilliant red ball drops to the horizon as I drive across this sparsely populated region.
The towns are far between, but offer the services to road-weary travelers, and to road-savvy truckers. I stop at Jake’s truck stop in Bend Oregon, an important refueling center. For the first time I see a “truck-wash”, a facility designed to efficiently clean the miles of dust and grime from an 18-wheeler. I hadn’t ever thought about it before, but of course there must be a way of rejuvenating the chrome and gleam of these giant beasts of burden. A truck wash is the natural explanation for why the trucks you encounter on the interstate are not all dirt-gray, but usually display their billboard-size logos with pride and polish.
I refuel at Jake’s. My car takes its usual 17 gallons, and I decide to go for the restaurant. I discover that, unlike some restaurants in the cosmopolitan coast of the state, this one had a smoking section. In fact, it was pretty much all smoking section. There was a small side room with some empty tables for nonsmokers, and, discovering that the main room was choking full, the staff struggling to keep up with the clients, I took my place in the smaller room and was handed a menu by an otherwise idle server.
I have long been fascinated by sunflowers. On my travels across the prairies of the Dakotas I loved to encounter sunflower fields with their collective bright yellow heads all aimed in the same direction.
It is generally known that sunflowers track the sun across the sky, from east to west. I wondered what happens after sunset, when the flowers would all be facing west. With no phototropism to guide it, how would they get ready for the eastern sunrise? Would they be caught off-guard in the morning and suddenly swing their heads back at the risk of floral whiplash? Or is there a gradual re-setting of the neck-stalk fibers back to an easterly gaze?