Monday, June 07, 2010

Mirages and Cannibalism

Are you intrigued? Or do I just have such an off the wall reputation you are not surprised, but believe it or not these two things do have something in common.
We just got back from a week in San Francisco and so here I am to share what I thought were the odd and the interesting sights and sounds of the trip....
Don't feel sorry for me this is NOT snow, that has finally melted -this Salt Flats, outside of Salt Lake City, along I-80 going towards Nevada.
Now Jon would tell you all the geological mumbo jumbo of how this massive dead valley, surrounded by mountain ranges was once an ocean and point out that you, or at least he, can still see the lines of the ancient shore lines on all the foothills. He would also point out the train tracks and the distant mining operations that are about the only thing viable that could come from such a desolate place, I did get excited when I saw the Morton's Salt icon of the little girl with the umbrella on one of the warehouse we passed... but the geology of such a place does not really hold me for very long.
What does hold me is how weird it was to drive and drive and drive through what could be described as a Dali painting, all melt-y and surreal.
There is a white salt crust, on both sides of the interstate, above that is probably just a foot of water, which looks like a mirror, so it reflects the sky above or the mountain ranges in the distance, so when there is a mound of salt, it looks like it is hovering above the water.
Periodically there are large blue signs, telling fatigued drives to pull over and rest and apparently many do, going out to make their mark in the salt, where the wind hardly blows, digging up dark rocks to form letters or smiley faces. Sometimes bottle are stuck down in the salt, and designs are made, though driving 75 mph, most messages can't be read going that speed.

Which brings me to Cannibalism, for I-80 is mostly along one of the most famous Overland trial used by pioneers making their way to California, though according to a historical marker at one of the rest stops, it would of taken then two weeks to travel the distance we had that morning, in an air condition car sipping our iced Starbucks. 3 miles is what the pioneers averaged on a good day, 1.5 was as fast as they went a day over the Salt Flats.

Timing was everything for the pioneers trying to make it to California. Timing between having enough grass along the way and making it over the passes before winter, but not getting stuck behind swelling rivers from the spring runoff.
And as today, there were plenty of self professed guides to point the way or publish books declaring the shortest distances, or before GPS leave notes on the trial declaring cut off that would save time and distance.
One such self professed guide was Lanford Hasting, whose advice taken by a group of pioneers now know as the Donner Party, would have devastating and infamous consequences. HERE is the link to read all about the famous winter of 1846-47 on Wikipedia-

We did, driving up into the Sierra Nevedas, off my Smartphone, my children and husband were transfixed and I a little car sick trying to read on such a small phone - about the delays the party made trying to follow the Hasting Cut Off, or get through the Salt Flats, about all the poor choices and arrogance that landed them almost at the top of the Pass that now bears their names...

 and how thanks to detailed diary accounts we have a glimpse of how a human being gets to place to decide to survive they will eat another human being, being careful to keep track of the meat so no one had to eat a family member...below shows the height of the snow that came early that winter, gauged by how far down the party could cut the trees. 
In the comfort of our car, going about 65 mph driving down the pass into Sacramento, our consensus was that if these pioneers had banded together, listened to the Indians, instead of literally eating them, and learned how to fish, since the lakes they were near had fish in them, they probably would of done much better.
We also wondered how a group, today, equipped with light weight gear, Gortex and modern know how would fair, and wondered with the stupid reality shows such a idea had not occurred to anyone.

No disrespect intended- I felt very sorry for the survivors in the accounts of the years that followed- how some admitted what they had done, how there was questions of whether the members who were eaten were really dead or murdered- and why some of the survivors focused on clearing their names and lied or changed their stories. Also what was very interesting was that there was a 66% death rate amongst the males who waited out the winter in the Sierra Nevedas. Only 9 women died. Why- many reasons- including women have more fat cells and can gain energy from our bodies longer, and men are the most likely to give up rations for their families, and use energy to take care of their families, etc.

 And alas once  in California, we really didn't enjoy our In and Out Burgers as much as we had been looking forward to.

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