This was the first time I'd ever been in Idaho, and when I stepped off the airplane (a Metroliner, a 12 seat twin-turboprop) I remember looking around with a sinking feeling. The place seemed as flat as an ironing board, with some mountains on the horizon that looked very far away indeed. It was also hot as hell--well, around 90 I suppose. The airport itself was tiny. My heart was sinking. Perhaps Curt was right!
In the terminal I ran into Sandy again. Sandy was a lovely young thing from San Francisco that I'd met on the plane, who was starting her first term at ISU. I felt sorry for myself, but I felt sorrier for her! From San Francisco to Pocatello? Bathos is, I think, the mot juste . She expressed misgivings about the cabbie's demeanour so I offered her a ride into town since I'd rented a car.
As we got closer to town, things were improving... the freeway was approaching some rather nice looking hills that I hadn't noticed earlier. Still no sign of the town... then we passed a couple of factories and there it was--Pocatello! A little town nestled in quite a narrow valley, between hills that seemed to be around 7000'. The town was at around 4500'. I dropped Sandy off at her dorm, dropped off the bag and the bike at the motel and got some dinner. From the initial exploration it seemed like a sleepy town that were it not for the hills could have been in the midwest.
I had decided to eat at a middle-eastern restaurant that was pretty close to the motel. Man, I was surprised at how good it was. And incredibly large portions. I saw the guy at the next table order a gyro plate ($6.50), and it was like a middle-eastern version of Lil Abners. And I'm talking about their 2lb. porterhouse.
After dinner I made my way to the old town (as the downtown seems to be called). I noticed that there were posters for a jazz/blues combo at a restaurant, so I headed for it. Tres chic, as the French might say--tablecloths, candle-lit, wine stewards, one guy takes the order, different guy brings the food, that kind of thing. I ordered a second dinner--a plate of crab bisque. Again, I was shocked that for $2.95 I got this huge portion of a very tasty (though heavy--it was cream based) soup, with some baguettes. They also had an ok selection of beers on tap, I selected a German dark--quite nice. Unfortunately the Jazz was so-so. Standard dinner-time Cole Porter fare belted out by a Sinatra-wannabe.
When the band took a set-break I decided to make good my escape. By now (about 8pm) it was a delightful 65 degrees, so I decided to walk around. I noticed that a bookstore I had visited earlier was still open, so I went in and discovered I'd stumbled in on a reading that was to commence shortly. An older distinguished looking guy came up to me and struck up a conversation.
``Going to ISU?''
``No, I'm a (ahem!) professor.''
``Oh, really? Nice to meet you. I'm Prof. (something I've forgotten), in Sociology. And this is Prof. --, and --''
The place was rotten with academics in seconds. We had a delightful conversation, and I (recognising a bunch of commies) took the opportunity to ask about local NPR or Jazz radio stations. I also met Jim Wolper, a math. professor and who would later be my flying instructor. The reading itself was by a woman named Kate Braverman, an ex-L.A. Idaho Falls resident that the NY Times book review called ``The Voice of Southeastern Idaho.'' Personally, I wasn't too impressed--nice enough, but I fell asleep. The room was darkened, so no one noticed (I think).
Presently the merrie band dispersed and I went on. By now it was raining hard, so I walked around a little more, and then to bed.
The next day (Sunday) I went back to the downtown area(``Where The Past Meets The Future''). Pocatello is not half bad, actually.... as I said to Mike, it's like a non-yuppy Flagstaff. A little more seedy and run-down. Apparently it used to be quite a railroad hub, so the Mormon influence was diluted by the sin that the railroads brought in. The southern part of town (which is where downtown is) is railroad dominated and has all the cool bars and also the university; the northern part is all Mormon.
I found a very nice bike shop, very large inventory of high-end stuff. No Land Sharks, though. There are shitloads of off-road trails there--I got this very nice topo with trails marked with difficulty ratings, just an incredible number of them. Lots of road riding too, about 30-40 USCF guys, and a racing club. There was a race next weekend to a local ski area, about 15 miles away, so I decided to drive there and look at it. Man, it's steep! A dirt road, 12% grade, climbing to about 8000 feet. (Pocatello's around 4500'.) I don't think I'll be competing in that one. Incredible view though, and very cool, one might almost say cold.
There are also a bunch of hot springs that have been developed, and watered by the springs a little town called ``Lava Hot Springs'' has sprung up. There is a little ``museum'' on I-10 about 150 miles east of Tucson which features something called ``The Thing.'' The place is advertised by thousands of billboards along I-10 saying ``Have you seen ... THE THING?'' Well, the kitsch level was nothing compared to the billboards for Lava Hot Springs along that road.
The Portneuf river cuts through the Bonneville Range at Lava. The Portneuf valley is narrow, hilly and wooded; after passing through the gap in the Bonneville Range it enters the much broader valley that I-15 runs in. This valley was carved out by the Great Bonneville Flood when Lake Bonneville cut through at Red Rock gap about 40 miles to the south and thundered northward to the Snake River. Beyond the Portneuf valley the road climbs over the Fish Creek Range and into Gem Valley, a very wide flat valley rather similar to the Basin and Range valleys in Nevada and Arizona. The northernmost edge of Gem Valley is where the Portneuf headwaters are; the Bear River flows through the southern end and drains into the Great Salt Lake. The drainage divide between the Columbia system and the Great Basin actually divides Gem Valley. There are a lot of interesting geological theories on the ancestral Bear River system and Lake Bonneville that I won't go into right now.
Other highlights of the trip: saw my first ``Bo Gritz for President'' billboard. No gun-racks on pickups yet, though.
Well, more adventures as they happen. In the meantime, have fun, and please try to eat more potatoes--my paychecks may depend on it.