Day 1, The Long Haul – How to Kill a Rental Car

Zillah Zealot

Andrew in front of Zillah, WA’s Church of God van. The dinosaur did not want its picture taken.

Day 1, The Long Haul:
Some Observations of the American Highway

In order to make the most of that lonely, long haul trucker on the road feeling, it’s appropriate to leave wherever it is you’re beginning before dawn. Josh and I rose at the obscene hour of 4am, stopped for one last espresso, left Seattle behind, and headed east on I-90 over the Cascades. We had a lot of ground to cover today, our goal being Salt Lake City, Utah. Dawn came just after we crossed Snoqualmie Pass. Since it had been a long time since either of us had actually seen the sun rise, we pulled over to the side of the highway, sat on the roof of the car, and took in the dawn’s quiet splendor as 18-wheelers and SUVs barreled down the pass beside us.

I have a friend in Seattle who organizes the annual scavenger hunt for the Washington State BMW Riders Club. It usually consists of finding various kitschy signs or landmarks around the state of Washington, and capturing a photograph including the searcher, their bike and the object. The point of the game is not to really locate all of the landmarks, but is rather an excuse to get out on the “blue highways” on a motorcycle. I am always amazed at the high concentration of tacky Americana in Washington State. This became apparent to us as I was thumbing through my Rand McNally atlas, roughing out our course. I remembered one of the scavenger hunt targets being in Zillah, Washington: The Church of God.

Zillah’s not a big place, but they do have a “Tourist Information Kiosk” which listed, among other things, all of the places of worship. No Church of God. Whenever you’re on a highway adventure in the United States, always remember that the locals are usually the best source of information, followed next by the Yellow Pages. No Church of God in the greater Zillah area was listed in the Yellow Pages. But the woman behind the counter at the Texaco had a remembrance and asked one of her morning customers.

“Hey Ethyl, where’s that big metal dinosaur these days? They use it in the parade, ya know,” our friend said matter-of-factly.

“Oh yeah, I think I know where that is. You have to go down by the cemetery and turn right at the Cherry Patch, that’s a restaurant. It’s about half a mile down on your right, I think. You can’t miss it.” A giant metal dinosaur, I should think not.

We were not to be disappointed. Shining in the morning sun was a 14-foot tall dinosaur made of silver razor wire and holding a “Jesus Saves” sign. Parked next to the creature was a 15-passenger van with “Church of God, Zillah, WA” printed on the side. Now that’s comedy.

Eight hours of driving brought us to Boise. Idaho has a well-deserved reputation for having miles and miles of pristine wilderness, Aryan supremacy movements, anti-government militias, and abandoned missile silos in which the Aryan supremacists and anti-government militias can hole up. Boise, therefore, is a bit of a surprise. Boise’s downtown historic district is a very pleasant change from the suburban-generica that usually typifies the cities and towns that hug the interstates of America. We stopped for a break to “eat at Joe’s” � where the food was mediocre and the waitresses were long-legged � and for a coffee at Moxie Java on Main Street before we hit the road again. With the University of Idaho nearby and a burgeoning artists’ community, the bohemian atmosphere of the historic district is in odd juxtaposition with the 10-gallon hats and pickup trucks sporting Pat Buchanan stickers. The coffee shop in particular attracted the pierced-and-tattooed set. I commented to Josh (pierced and tattooed himself) that I thought it was very brave of them to express themselves so forcefully out here where conformity is often safest. In Seattle, where green hair and nose rings are as common as the rain, it is easy to forget that to most of America these things are still radically subversive.

I-84 through Idaho seems to be a construction site waiting to happen. There were miles and miles of lane closures without a sign of any work being done. I would have even settled for a parked bulldozer or asphalt-paving truck. This phenomenon, it has been explained to me, is known as “the barrel storage theory.” By keeping all of those orange cones, barrels, barricades, and flashing signs right there on the highway, the state of Idaho must be saving their tax-paying citizens loads of money in storage costs.

Cruising south through northern Utah, the sun set in a vibrant collage of oranges, pinks and reds over the Great Salt Lake. Sunsets in the southwest United States are famous for their brilliance, but this one was being assisted by a haze of smoke from a forest fire that had been recently contained near the Golden Spike National Monument.

Planning is essential to any successful road trip, but of course we hadn’t done a bit of it and had only a vague notion of where we would want to camp in the Salt Lake area. The Wasatch Mountains, that rise directly to the east of Salt Lake City, offer a variety of camping options. Of course we favored the less-expensive Forest Service (USFS) campgrounds or free Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to the RV-choked private parks. On weekend days in the summer, campgrounds that are relatively accessible to larger towns and cities fill up quickly. It was Friday night. Prospects were grim.

After being turned away at all of the campgrounds in the Cottonwood Canyons, Josh and I decided to do what any other red-blooded American would do: cheat.

Inconspicuously, we drove past the guardhouse at the Jacob’s Creek Group campground (reservation only) and pitched our tent in an out-of-the-way section of the park. Fully prepared to throw ourselves on the mercy of an angry park ranger, I began rehearsing my “have pity on the poor weary travelers” routine. Apparently the rangers had their hands full enough with the roaming gangs of teenagers and flashlights dropped into pit-toilets. Our presence went unnoticed, and we were able to unwind after the long haul.

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