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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Day 2: Boise ID to West Valley City UT

One reason for choosing Boise as a stopover was that Beth had spent June to November 2002 living and working here as a Student Engineering Intern at Hewlett Packard.

We visited the apartment complex where Beth rented a one-bedroom apartment, living in minimalist conditions with a camping chair, airbed and folding bookcase as almost her only comforts, as she didn't want to spend money on furniture she couldn't take away with her. During this period Beth spent many evenings practising Irish tunes on her tin whistles, and learnt that she didn't really enjoy being an Engineer, but did enjoy Irish music and wanted to develop her skills and knowledge in that area, which led indirectly to a visit to Miltown Malbay in Ireland in July 2003. The project she worked on for six months was cancelled just before she finished her internship and all her work was effectively scrapped. Had things worked out differently Beth might have ended up living in Boise, but I'm glad she didn't or we would never have met.

Leaving Boise we drove on through scrubby wilderness much like Eastern Oregon. We spotted this sign for the Old Oregon Trail, one of the trails that the early pioneers had followed to reach Oregon and the lush farmland of the Willamette Valley. The trail led through Boise, so we had unwittingly been backtracking on the trail.

At Glenns Ferry we tried to find the Oregon Trail History Center, which was signposted off our main road, the I-84. Unfortunately the signs were so infrequent that we couldn't find it, and gave up in frustration. This picture is the river near Three Islands Crossing, an important point on the trail because the Snake River (which we had been following and crossing all day) was very difficult to ford, but here at Three Islands Crossing the main channel was split and made fording possible, though never easy, as you can read at the following link.    Eventually a Ferry was set up, hence the town's name, and later the railway came through town, making the river crossing unnecessary.

Further East but still in Idaho, the evidence of agriculture was more visible, in the large number of irrigation systems alongside the road. Behind the 197 mile marker you can see the wheel and pipes of one such system, watering a field of potatoes, the famous crop of Idaho. Mile markers count up or down from the point a road crosses the state line, so I know that at this point we were 197 miles across Idaho from the West on I-84. In the distance is a range of mountains which had been paralleling our route all day. Almost anywhere in the western states you will be in sight of mountains, a great way to orient yourself, but an impediment to travel. Our starting point of Eugene is 300-500 feet above sea level, but after leaving the Willamette Valley we were between 3000 and 7000 feet elevation.

Just across the Utah border we paused at a rest stop to freshen up, stretch, and change drivers. This view is looking north towards the mountains, and the great salt lake is opening up to the south. Rest stops in the US are quite unlike motorway services in the UK. There are restrooms and water fountains, shaded benches for picnics, information boards, and usually nothing else. There is no attempt to fleece the traveller by charging $7.50 for a cup of coffee and a danish, or to sell them cheap tat at an ambitious mark-up. This stop was unusual in having a manned tourist information shop because it is next to a state border, but only twice on all our rest stops was a manned tourist shop, both times in Utah and near the state border.

Around 5pm we arrived at our friend Sara's house in Ogden, and after some gardening tips and chat we were treated to a wonderful lasagna supper before we had to move on. Sara has two boys and a girl, but the girl fell asleep over supper (we are very exciting and tiring visitors) and missed the parting group shot.  Sara and Beth became good friends during Beth's time living in Idaho and Utah, and the eldest boy Jordyn remembered Beth from previous visits.

We drove on the few miles to West Valley City to stay with our friends the Hellewells, of whom I will tell more next time.


  1. Those long, movable watering devices are a common site on the eastern shore of Maryland. Another thing we have here, and pretty much all up and down the East Coast along I-95, are tourist stops that DO offer plenty in the way of crappy overpriced food and even crappier knickknacks.

    I am interested in the story of the Engineering internship which taught Beth, among other things, that that might not be the right vocation, as I have tried quite a few avenues that weren't, ultimately, a great fit myself.

  2. I had three internships total. My degree program required 12 months of internship placements, generally taken in four three-month increments, but mine were 3, 3 and 6 months. The first two were at gas utility companies where I learned that gas utilities are a very mundane workplace and that many of them are still trying to get to grips with the concept of female engineers. (My friend Theresa worked at one of them the semester before me and many people assumed she was a receptionist.) If I'd wanted to stay in gas utilities I would have become very proficient at pipeline pressures, fittings, and maps of whatever town I was working in. Some of the guys at the second internship could instantly name the underground pipe pressure for any given street in their assigned area. An impressive feat...but not for me.

    The 6 month internship was interesting in different ways, but still not the right fit. I think they probably only hired me because I could come for six months instead of three - they asked me nothing about my skills in the interview. My main project was to design a small component for within a very large machine. I used software for this, and a very cool input device which let me use my left hand to rotate the component on the screen in three dimensions, but that device was the highlight of the project. I'd often take my design to the lead engineer only to find that my part was interfering with another component by fractions of an inch, requiring a redesign. Finally I got to take the plans to the shop and have the guys there create my pieces. I'd take them back up and see if they were what I'd thought. If not, I had to redesign again and have them remade. (I learned that if I thought the guys had done it wrong, to pretend it was my fault and ask them to redo it as I had had an error in the plan. This kept the shop guys happy.)

    My favourite part was the assembly of the mock up which occurred at the very end of the project. That, plus my envy of the shop guys, taught me that really I'd have been better off on the manufacturing side of things rather than the design side. (One of many many small signs but ignored signs throughout my life that I should work with my hands.) Too late to change majors, as I was six months from graduation by then. Unfortunately all the entry level engineering jobs were design ones. So I started to plan my mental break to Ireland for after graduation, spent a lot of time thinking, decided I needed a life overhaul (which ended up a bit bigger than expected) because I didn't want to spend my life doing a job I hated in an area (Seattle) I didn't care for. The time in Ireland triggered an interest in linguistics, so I got some more student loans and went back to school for that. That didn't lead to a career either, it was mostly taken for personal interest.

    Abandoned career paths throughout my life which I probably would have enjoyed: woodworker, locksmith, carpenter, pyrotechnic engineer, movie special effects, musical instrument maker. The first was scuppered because no one would take apprentices for insurance reasons. Next two I got talked out of by well-meaning relatives who considered it beneath me. Fourth and fifth, I liked but had no idea how to pursue and had no one to ask. Final one I could have done but was in the wrong place financially and physically to take advantage of the opportunity.

    Still not sure what avenue is next for me!