There is one thing in America everyone has to see, where its mere presence will have you pondering the consequences of ever knocking over a liquor store; it’s called a Maximum Security Prison – The American version.
It had to be comin around midnight when we took the Westgate Exit off of Interstate 84 heading into the city of Pendleton, Oregon; and that’s when we came across it. Try and recall the movie poster to “Close Encounters” as it depicts a desolate empty stretch of highway that disappears into the distant horizon engulfed by an ominous glow reaching into the gulf of space. This is how we were introduced to our first real DOC (Department of Corrections).
Our little Mazda 5 was driving head on into that ominous glow that just seemed to swallow us up. At first we thought it looked like an interesting structure glowing in the distance… as we approached closer we noticed encircling layers and rows of electrical fence complemented with spools of razor wire refracting the lights from the guard towers. We quickly put two and two together and that’s when we saw the sign… Department of Corrections, ‘The Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution’. It was a very intimidating place not the type of hotel we were looking to spend the night. Besides, I don’t think the rooms had wifi.
We actually considered to stop and take video / photos of the place, but being after midnight and stopping at the side of the road below armed guard towers, outside of a maximum state correctional facility would have been a fucking stupid idea to say the least. It was a very cool site to see though.
Driving on the first place we would stop to rest overnight was in a very small town called La Grande, Oregon. We found a great little hotel called the Royal Motor Inn (Click for detailed Google Pin) that ranks as a 2 Star hotel, but to us it was more of a 3. I mean, the place had a solid wifi connection what more could one ask for? You could throw me in the worst circle of Hell but as long as it has a strong wifi signal… burn me all you want; I need my internet. So the Royal Motor Inn get’s upgraded to a solid 3 stars.
The following morning we took a hard look at the map and knew we had to make it to at least Salt Lake City, Utah by nightfall. THE MAP roughly said 9 hrs give or take… we left La Grade at 11 am and didn’t roll into Salt Lake City until 8pm; it was one Hell of a drive. The only place we stopped off to eat for the whole day was at In-N-Out Burger in the downtown area of SLC. Right after that we were back on the road. It was 9pm, still too early to call it a night. We immediately hit the road driving out of SLC.
In total that 720 km, 10+hr drive from La Grande to Salt Lake City to Crescent Junction UT had taken its toll on us and with In-N-Out cooking in our stomachs for the past 2 hrs we needed a break. We pulled into a truck stop at Crescent Junction rest areaT had taken its toll on us and with In-N-Out cooking in our stomachs for the past 2 hrs we needed a break. We pulled into a truck stop at Crescent Junction rest area, in Utah. This truck stop was perfect it had very large sanitary washrooms, several vending machines even a gazebo to sit and admire the view, unfortunately it was midnight. Initially I wondered why there was a gazebo at this truckstop, I thought it was strange. At the time all you could see was a very deep slope and the blackness, nothing else. It was here we decided to sleep in the car until we were rested. Driving when tired is never ever a good idea, especially when you are driving along single lane highways while 18 wheelers are flying by in opposite direction.
After several hours of a much needed sleep we were back on the road. This is the part of the trip that still haunts me the most. It wasn’t the fact that we awoke in the car with windows up and critically low levels of oxygen while filled with toxic fumes, but the fact that when we got back on the road to continue our drive (roughly around 3/4 am} we’d unknowingly been driving right around on the edge of the Arches National Park. A photographer’s playground and we blew right by it.
Footnote: Where we had stopped at Crescent Junction rest area: Well, I now know why there was a gazebo… had there been daylight, this would have been the view. That night when we parked the car I wandered over to that gazebo and I saw nothing but the pure black of night and a sky littered with a mind boggling amount of stars. We both remarked on how many stars there were, little did we know the Arches National Park was right in front of us just 14 kilometers away.