Wednesday, July 28, 2004

SolWest 2004, Part I

For those who are interested in alternative energy or the technical aspects of self-reliance, you shouldn't miss the SolWest Fair in John Day, Oregon. For $10 for the weekend, we walked out with information worth many, many times that much dough. We will attempt to transcribe our notes to the energy page soon!

We drove over on Thursday on a warm, beautiful day. The temperature reached the mid-90s, but we were in an air-conditioned car (a luxurious low-end Saturn) and we drove through the Columbia Gorge and across the Oregon High Desert skirting the Ochoco mountains.

The trip started east-bound on Interstate 84 out of Portland. After a passable lunch and gracious service at Cousins restaurant in The Dalles, we drove on. We chose to turn south at Biggs junction. Our passage south was delayed in Grass Valley by one of those gravel-and-tar repaving projects. Crossing our fingers that the rigs ahead of us didn't produce a windshield cracking pebble, we proceeded through the dusty miles and made our way through the ghost town of Shaniko. So far, we encountered mostly range land with sage brush and dessicated flowers, some wheat farms and pasture, and plenty of fields with rolls or bales of hay. It would have made a great Claritin commercial.

Shortly thereafter we turned east and stopped in Antelope (formerly Rajneeshpuram). There were no remaining signs of religious believers in Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh in red and maroon clothes. It was just good old Antelope with a small store, post office, a church, and a couple of homespun businesses. We stopped off to say Hi and share some marionberry cobbler and ice cream. For some reason, we decided not to ask the obvious questions about the Rajneeshees. (Interesting side note...the Moody Minstrel called their leader the Mugwump Shreik Hashish. Clever, eh?) We didn't see any sign of the commune (which is now a Christian camp of some kind...out of the frying pan and into the fire, eh) so we moved on.

As we dropped into the John Day river canyon through towns like Clarno, Spray, and Kimberly, we caught peaks of the geological wonders of the area. Ancient ash flows were exposed on hillsides; some were nearly as white as chalk, some banded with a patina-like green or rusty reds. Sometimes the layers were smooth, others were crenulated into a badland labyrinth of spires and depressions. One formation was called Cathedral Rock. The farther down the canyon we drove, the more beautiful it became. The plants and animals embedded in those ash beds, ginkgos and sequoias, saber tooth tigers and giant beavers, were invisible from our hurried rushing car. We planned to see these wonders of the mid-Cenozoic, but we missed the turnoff and decided to come back another time.

We turned east again in Picture Gorge, a three pronged canyon where Rock Creek meets up with the John Day river. The gorge opens out into a broader valley with arid hills to the north and the forested Ochoco mountains to the south. The John Day valley consists of various ranches with horses grazing on grass irrigated by the river. There are haystacks and fields here as well. More cattle and horses. There weren't very many sheep (more on that later). We passed through Dayville and Mount Vernon and finally into the city of John Day.

We found the Best Western and checked in. Even though there were no wildfires burning in Oregon, there were a number of fire fighting trucks with people staying at the hotel. It appears that they were from Colorado; places like Rifle and Unaweep. At first I thought all the young guys (and a couple gals) were military because of the near uniformity of their haircuts, but I don't think so now because they had neither the Army hairstyle nor the jarhead look of the Marines. What were they doing there?

We had a nice dinner at the Squeeze-Inn. Standard American fare, I had a fried seafood platter that was bad for me and tasted just fine. They have a deck next to the creek that runs through town; it was cooling off enough out there to be enjoyable. It would not be this cool again. This restaurant became our primary lunching location. They waitresses and cooks were among the nicest people we met in John Day.

Let's talk about the people in John Day. I don't think I've been to a town where I've encountered more suspicion of us right off the bat and less hometown friendliness. People on the street either avoided eye contact or responded coolly. I have a habit, especially in small towns of smiling and saying Hi to the people I meet. Ladybug (wife and travel partner) was almost bowled over by an expressionless teenager in a baseball uniform. She actually stepped off the sidewalk to avoid him. I was walking behind her and refused to get out of the way. He moved for me; sometimes it is nice to be big and tall. Other people on the sidewalk also pretended we weren't there. Now, I should say that we looked every bit like any tourist; no tie-dye, tattoos, provocative T-shirts or any of that. Actually, when I did put on my tie-dye shirt, I think we actually were treated better.

That suspicion or stand-offishness accounted for about a third of the locals we met. The other 2/3 were as friendly and open as most people who don't deal with the daily road rage of city folk.

But I digress...we went to Chester's Thriftway to pick up some goodies (the hotel room has a mini-fridge) and came back to the room. We reviewed the itinerary for Friday, read, and went to sleep.

(To be continued)


The Moody Minstrel said...

I'm already turning GREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the story.

What, does John Day usually get a huge tourist influx or something? What else would account for that kind of rudeness?

Don Snabulus said...

Who knows? I joked with Ladybug that they suspected us of being agents of the United Nations Small Town Invasion Fleet, but that was hooey.

Given that the Grant County fairgrounds are there, I am not sure why the rudeness is present among the minority of the residents I encountered. Perhaps there is some bitter dispute going on that carries over into people's everyday actions. Maybe they are upset that a bunch of the alternative energy vendors are camping at the fairgrounds instead of snatching up hotel rooms (AE is not the most lucrative business).

Probably it was just a case of bad timing or luck. It was a very hot weekend (see later editions for details) and maybe people were irritable from the heat.

Vulgarius said...

Maybe it was because you were not wearing the orange robes? OOOOOWEEEEEOOOOO!

Don Snabulus said...

Tobacco chewing, 4x4 driving, bolo-tie wearing ex-Rajneeshees. It could happen!

Seriously, as I talk to more people I find out more which leads me to this...

Some towns are "closed"...meaning the people are suspicious of change. Any person from outside the town could be a harbinger for change. Therefore, even though Ladybug and I added a few hundred bucks to the local economy, we were outsiders and should not be trusted. They feel like they have a good thing going and they don't want outsiders to go screwing it up for them.

Then again, maybe they are just 33% d**kheads.