Monthly Archives: August 2015

Tirana: Troubled and Trying

The Economist magazine’s Pocket World in Figures, 2015 edition, ranked Albania 11th among countries with the highest economic growth, 1992-2002. It tied with Iraq.  Albania applied for full European Union membership in 2009.  It was confirmed as a candidate in 2014 but is not expected to join until 2020 at the earliest. According to BBC News, “…the EU urged Albania to do more to tackle corruption and organized crime, especially crime relating to immigration and human trafficking, and drugs.”

The Lonely Planet I consulted before going to Albania called its capital city, Tirana, lively and colorful.  Indeed, it is.  There’s an undeniable energy and spirit in its streets.  “It’s amazing what a lick of paint can do,” Lonely Planet concluded.

The most common question I was asked before going to Albania was, “Why are you going to Albania?”

Albania was fascinating but it and its capital have a long way to go before they become destinations most travelers will want to return to.  We stayed at the Rogner, which is considered to be among the best hotels in Tirana. Across the street from it was a popular urban park.  All of its benches looked like this one.


Yesterday in The New York Times travel section there was an article about Tirana.  After I read “In the Heart of the Balkans, a City Transformed” I had to ask myself, “Did Alex Crevar and I see the same city?”  He visited Tirana one month after I did.  Then I noticed Elie Gardner’s closeup photo of The Pyramid.  Below is my photo of The Pyramid.  We passed this derelict building designed by Envar Hoxha’s daughter several times each day, and our driver seemed embarrassed by it.  He said it might be torn down.


DSC09813Alex Crevar met Edi Rama.  He identified Rama as a former mayor of Tirana and now the Albanian Prime Minister.  Half of Alex’s article was about his visits to restaurants and bars.  He noted that Komiteti’s bar served “25 flavors of Albanian liquor called raki.”  He and Gent Mati, owner of an adventure tourism company, contemplated Tirana’s special spots “over cocktails at Radio Bar”.   Crevar said he found his special Tirana Spot the next day at Hemingway Bar.  In the middle of his article Crevar said, “Admittedly, I develop city crushes easily, and I am a sucker for underdogs.”  I agree with Alex that Albania and it capital Tirana are underdogs, with promise.  But for now, Tirana is struggling despite Edi Rama’s “kaleidoscopic paint jobs”.   So is Albania.  Just ask the EU.

I went there because Ruth and I are trying to visit all of the European countries.  Ten to go!




Helper Helped


How a typical traveler reacts to a place is the result of several factors including state of health, the welcome he or she gets, local food, weather, etc.   I rave about Nome, Alaska, because I was there in July.  My February reaction would almost assuredly be different.  Ruth got very ill from food poisoning in Beechworth, Victoria, Australia. She’s not eager to return there.

Weather is an especially huge factor in travel.  Every been stranded at an airport overnight because of a snowstorm?  I have.  Highway 6 from Spanish Fork, Utah, to near Green River cuts off many driving miles for those heading for Colorado, almost a once-a-year-drive for Ruth and me. Ordinarily, this is a go-fast, get-through-it activity that passes through a bleached-out, rather unimpressive landscape.  In summer, 2015, it was different.  We experienced mega, pull-over-to-the-side-of the-road rain from Brigham City to Spanish Fork and Highway 6’s landscape awakened.  We stopped many times to admire the temporary change and take photos.

In no particular hurry, we stopped near the town of Helper to stare down into a valley with a mine in it and read about the Castle Gate Mining Disasters.  On July 31, 2000, at 12 minutes to midnight an explosion and fire at the Willow Creek Mine killed 2 men immediately and sent 8 others to the hospital.  In 1924 another area mine explosion instantly killed 171 miners who left behind 417 living dependents and 25 pregnant women.

We drove through Helper, “Hub of Carbon County”, for the 1st time but didn’t stop at its #1 attraction, the Western Mining & Railroad Museum. Reaction to it on TripAdvisor was mixed.  Visitors to it either found it excellent or average using words like funky and friendly to describe it and the staff.  A few praised its depiction of the history of union organizing.

Helper City owes it name to a railroad.  Be the late 19th century, it had become a freight terminal where helper engines aided trains up a steep grade to Soldier Summit.  Another interesting fact about Helper City involves Butch Cassidy.  In 1897 he stayed here overnight.  The next day he and a cohort, not The Sundance Kid, robbed the Pleasant Valley Coal Company.



Six Garden City Attractions


About 25% interested in Dorothy’s house, Ruth and I stopped at Liberal’s visitor center where I asked if the original Wizard of Oz movie had a direct connection to Liberal.  No, I was told, there’s none except for the fact that Liberal is in Kansas and needed a tourist draw.  On to Garden City.

The Kansas Official Travel Guide 2015 that I picked up in Liberal mentioned about 15 Garden City attractions.   Several were fairly intriguing.  One seemed just plain weird.   I put checks by 6 of them including the suspected weird one-Brookover Feedyards.  Ruth & I had noticed cattle feedlots all over Oklahoma’s panhandle and this part of Kansas.  The Brookover Feedyard’s Official Guide entry announced, “The Yard that Started It All, by Earl C. Brookover”.  This was, the entry went on to enthusiasticaly report, the first commercial feed yard system in the Midwest. Earl conceived the idea in 1951.  If visitors checked into Brookover’s office, they could take a feedlot tour.  I thought it might be interesting, like a natural disaster holds interest.  Ruth was not enthused.  We never made it to Brookover.

We stopped at the Sandsage Bison Range on our way into town, but no one was there.  The Antique & Comic Shop downtown was truly weird, like that cluttered store in the horror movie where the slasher hides out.  The Airport Raceway offered a look at the dirt track that’s home to Micro-Mayhem, the largest sprint car purse in the U.S.  But unless it was Micro-Mayhem time, there was probably no one there and Airport Raceway on Aerodome Road was clearly somewhere out-of-town.

That left 2 attractions.  The first didn’t look very promising.  Four levels of faded glory, the Windsor Hotel dominated a city block on Main Street.  But then we met Brian Nelson and got excited about his project.  Brian, Executive Director of this hotel’s restoration, took us on a tour.  The Windsor, The Waldorf of the Prairies, was built in 1887 and closed in 1977 when it became too costly to comply with fire regulations that demanded the installation of a sprinkler system.  The Windsor was once a deluxe hotel with 125 rooms but no closets and few bathrooms.  Restored, it will be a showpiece like the recently reopened Opera House in McPherson, Kansas, Brian’s role model.  Young Brian has accepted this project, which has a long way to go, with enthusiasm and vision.  Ruth & I hope he succeeds.


The other great attraction was Crazy House, a clothes, boots, and western supplies supercenter for ranchers and farmers where I learned that Rodeo King is a Texas felt hat maker and that Dan Post creates the highest quality western boots.  Greg Shaw, Crazy House’s owner, made it to the age of 91 before dying last year.  My official Kansas guide told me that Greg’s modern emporium catered to “working feedlot cowboys”.   Now I have to go back to Garden City for that Brookover tour.







When people say they can’t see the forest for the trees, they might mean they get so focused on details that they miss the big picture.

Ruth and I have crossed Oregon on I-84 too many times. Traveling a familiar road, especially an Interstate, can become a bit mind-numbing; and I stay alert by looking for familiar or unusual landmarks.  My favorite along 84 is GreenWood, an offbeat attraction in the form of a farm.  Actually, this is a big picture farm with a single crop–trees.  While passing it near the town of Boardman recently, I noticed a sign for the 1st time.  It told me the farm’s owner, GreenWood Resources.  I looked this up on my phone, learned a lot of rather fascinating stuff, and while returning home we stopped and I took pictures.

What I never realized while passing this odd distraction was its actual size. The neat rows of identical trees for 6 miles along I-84 is deceiving.  The entire 25,000 acre farm extends 13 miles south and contains 7.5 million trees! I learned this from Mitch Lies of Capital Press.

GreenWood Resources, its 3rd owner, bought an existing tree farm in 2007.   Boise Cascade and Potlatch Corp. preceded it.  Founded in 1998, this weirdly symmetrical forest is the United States’ largest irrigated tree farm. The trees are almost all hybrid poplars, a type known as the Pacific Albus. They reach their harvest height of 110 feet in 12 years.  Since this is a real farm, trees are harvested by grid and more are quickly planted.   The wood is used for a variety of purposes.  Some of it becomes furniture frames. Industrial crates, lumber, pulp, and biofuels result from this massive project. A bioenergy plant is planned.

Of course, 600 evenly spaced trees per acre is an animal magnet.   Facing reality, Greenwood Resources has dedicated 10% of its farm to native habitat, so its business is home to 600 deer and resident coyotes.  Operating an ongoing wildlife project with the Nature Conservancy, Greenwood has installed 150 nest boxes for local saw whet owls.

Portland-based Greenwood not only does good wood work, it also provides a welcomed distraction for travelers like me.


ps.  In July, 2016, it was announced that the Upper Columbia Mill in Boardman will close because the tree farm was sold months ago to create room for a dairy and crops.   It sounds like the tree farm, a landmark sight along I-84, is history.

Sooners and Boomers Score!





All of Oklahoma except for its Panhandle was part of the Louisiana Purchase. After his expedition with Meriwether Lewis to explore the territory that doubled the size of the United States, William Clark became Superintendent of Indian Affairs.  In that capacity he began the removal of Eastern tribes from their native homelands “to a country beyond”.  That country was Oklahoma.

When the 1889 Indian Appropriations Bill became law, President Benjamin Harrison opened 2 million acres of Oklahoma for additional settlement.  The resulting land run occurred at noon on April 22 of the same year.   For Native Americans, this was “the final phase of a catastrophe long dreaded and steadfastly opposed”.  I copied these bleak words into my notebook in the Oklahoma Territorial Museum in this state’s first capital, Guthrie.

The homesteaders had only one month’s notice about the 1889 run.   “Oklahoma or bust!” became the general shout as folks in wagons and on horses raced toward free land.   Most hailed from agricultural states and brought few personal belongings so their horses or oxen would not tire before they staked their claims.

This museum does an excellent, honest job of telling a dark story from American history.  However, its presentation about an interesting subject was old-fashioned and its spaces were dimly lit.  I took few photos during my wander through where I felt like I was listening to a boring teacher ramble on about a subject that could excite if presented differently.  The Oklahoma Territorial Museum seriously needs a 21st century update.   For those who don’t known the story of the Oklahoma Land Rush, this would probably be a 4 Compass museum experience.  For me, it was a 3.

The 4 Compass part of this museum for me was on the second floor where I learned about some notorious Oklahoma outlaws like Elmer McCurdy and Cattle Annie in Ripley-believe-it-or-not-style displays before a door led me into the first Carnegie Library in Oklahoma.  This state’s 1st Governor was inaugurated on its steps.   This Library was built in 1902, and during its opening ceremony a mock wedding occurred between Miss Indian Territory and Mr. Oklahoma Territory.  I’m not sorry I missed that.  The building ceased to function as a library in 1972 and was attached to the Oklahoma Territorial Museum at some point.  Vowing to create “ladders on which the aspiring can rise”, Carnegie devoted the last 18 years of his life to giving away his fortune by building libraries and endowing colleges and hospitals.