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Idaho-Utah-Nevada - 12.08

R.R. leaves for points south 11/30/08, just before the big snows hit - "Escape from Helena" day. Poor Helena was pounded by ice storm after ice storm all of winter 2008-2009.

Interstate-15 is the direct corridor from the Canadian border north of Great Falls MT, through Helena, then south through Idaho, Utah and Salt Lake, Nevada and Las Vegas, and all the way to Los Angeles and finally San Diego. About 1600 miles.

The easy Monida Pass on I-15 (only 6870', but already closed by snow once in November) takes one from the big sky country of Montana [wide valleys surrounded by mountain ranges] down into the very different high desert country of southeastern Idaho. A brief visit to Idaho Falls did not uncover anything especially interesting.

Pocatello (elev 5840', pop 55,000) is one of the three best cities in Idaho (along with Boise and Moscow), according to the proprietor of the [tweedledeedum-named] "Walrus & Carpenter" used book store in Pocatello. It is an interesting little city in an interesting little nook of a valley along I-15, with a small historic downtown, and a huge rectilinear LDS temple.

Salt Lake City (elev 4366') is about midway along an 80-mile long strip-mall that extends along US Highway 89 from Ogden south to Orem, near Provo. Strolling around the huge Union Pacific Gateway Mall and Mormon temple areas downtown is quite pleasant. The massive University of Utah sits high up, in command of the hillside east of the city.

Oriented north-south, the Wasatch Front, and many other mountain ranges, extend continuously for 400-miles from Brigham City near the northern border of Utah to St George at the southern border of the state. Mirror-image to the Colorado Front Range.

Heading south, Provo (elev 4512') is a fine university town, which hasn't quite succumbed to the strip-mall mentality directly to the north. The local downtown area is somewhat historic and attractive. Brigham Young University is a large modern campus, near the steep hillsides to the east of town.

(right) view east of downtown Provo.

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250-miles south of Salt Lake on I-15, Cedar City (elev 5840', pop 28,000) is a well-established town in a scenic area with mountains along the east and high-desert to the west. 30-years ago it was probably a rather quaint little town. Now, it's a 3-mile long strip mall with dozens of suburbs and many 100s of houses extending out into the wastelands west of town. Attractive of greybirds.

Heading south from Cedar City, sandstone starts to peek through the mountainsides, until the area around St George (below) is uniformly intense red. Peaked and wooded mountains change to barren flat-top mesas. Plenty of snow falls in Cedar City, but little in St George.

50-miles south of Cedar City, and fully 3,000' lower, is the city of St George (elev 2880', pop 70,000), 8-miles from the Utah southern border. Established in 1861, Brigham Young wintered here - in "Utah's Dixie" - to avoid the snows of Salt Lake. Today, it is the fastest growing city in Utah.

The city is a strangely compelling place, and mildly historic near the downtown, but most history has been bulldozed. The new burbs go for miles to the west and south. 10 golf courses beckon to the retired business exec.

(upper left) looking south into the downtown area of St George at dusk; the typically bleached-white and rectilinear LDS temple (est 1877, the oldest Mormon temple in the world) is to the left of center. (upper right) looking towards southeastern St George, just before dusk. Space for yet more subdivisions.

(middle left) Goblin City above the Valley of St George, looking east. The Zion peaks (30-miles away) peek over the mesas on the left horizon. (middle right) Pine Valley Mountains north of the Valley of St George, with Signal Pk at 10,365'.

(lower left) Red Mountain, blue sky, near one of the modern subdivisions west of town - think "Parcels for Sale, Great View". (lower right) almost across the street from the previous picture, the new ritzy Bellagio Scrubrush Acres® development - not to be confused with the ritzy Bellagio Casino® in Las Vegas. Home on the range, where the snakes and scorpions play.

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Heading south from St George on I-15, and clipping the extreme northwestern corner of Arizona, the highway goes through the wonderfully-scenic Virgin River Canyon [1] [2] [3], before coming out into the lowland deserts of Nevada.

R.R. arrives in Sin City® Las Vegas (elev 2025', pop about 2,000,000), and decides to winter there, amidst the glimmer and the honkytonk casinos.

The first thing you notice on entering the east side of town are the dozens of "short-term, fully-furnished rental" complexes (advertising $199/weekly, with monthly rates too), plus trailer parks everywhere (phonebook lists over 70), plus a Lowes Home Center or Wallymart Supercenter every couple of miles, plus endless miles of strip-mall.

North Las Vegas is a disaster zone, while newer suburbs ring the east, west, and south of town. A number of eastside casinos have unshaded parking lots converted into cheap RV parks ($320/monthly), for wandering snowbirds to call winterhaven. Barely room for a chair outside, so you might as well head for the one-armed bandits inside - Hello. Video-Poker is the new, big thing; you can play up to 5 hands at a time on one machine for optimal enjoyment.

(upper right) snowfall comes to Vegas for exactly one evening (12/17/08), for the first time in 10 years or so - same time as Helena, 900-miles north, was getting blasted with -20 degF weather. Too bad. (lower right) a day or so later - speaks for itself.

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©, updated early 2009