Another short anecdote about my father. This one centers on his preternatural ability to hold onto large swathes of geography. My father knew the name of every mountain peak visible from every house he ever lived in, could glance at a map once then navigate across the country on county roads, and seemed to remember every trail he ever hiked (a few weeks before his death, he was correcting my uncle about the location of a hike they went on in the early 70s!). My father had a profound sense of place, and always knew exactly where he fit on the landscape.
A particular experience of this occurred some 18 or 20 years ago—the following is my recollection, and may not entirely reflect geographical reality. At the time, most of the family was living in Elko, NV. For some reason or another, we were all piled into the car on a road trip—I don’t really remember what this particular trip was about, but I suspect that we were delivering my little sister to Walla Walla, Washington, where she was starting her college career.
My recollection is that we were driving north through the Owyhee Canyon on the way to Boise.
As an aside, Owyhee Canyon has a “funny” etymology. The area has been populated mostly by Shoshone and Northern Paiute peoples for the last thousand years or so. However, Owyhee is a Hawai‘ian word! Apparently, it was named by a group of Hawai‘ian trappers who were sent to explore the region in the early 19th Century, got lost, and were never heard from again.
In any event, we were driving north through Owyhee Canyon, approaching the Idaho border. This is, frankly, one of the most lovely and deserted bits of road in the country. It is twisty and windy, and unexpectedly wet and green in the desert scrubland. Every once in a while, you’ll get stuck behind someone who can’t figure out how to maintain a safe speed through the canyons, but most days, the drive is a delight.
I’ve digressed again.
We were driving north through Owyhee Canyon. As we came out of the the canyon and into the scrubland near the Idaho border, my mother expressed a need for a pit stop.
Being a seasoned road warrior in the American West, her assumption was, more or less, that we would pull over and find a tall bush (the Artemisia tridentata endemic to the area provides reasonable privacy). However, my father being who he was says, “Well, there should be a rest stop in about 10 miles.”
My mother, meanwhile, is looking at the AAA-provided map. “I’m not seeing anything… are you sure?”
“Yeah, pretty sure. My family drove through here when I was a kid, and there was a rest stop ahead. But I’ll stop if 15 minutes if not.”
Sure enough, a few miles down the road, there’s a (fully functional!) rest stop. Forty years later, after untold miles of travel, my father remembered this one rest stop out in the middle of nowhere in the Great Basin.