So we hitched up our covered wagon benches and headed west.
Washington. Oregon. Idaho.
There were wild west benches galore.
We rounded 'em up and rode 'em out. You can't get more Wild West than that.
Right from the start the views were splendid.
There were scenic mountain benches . . .
and rustic forest benches . . .
. . . and solid wagon wheel benches on which to sit whilst you change a wheel.
Even in the towns there were chairs thoughtfully provided on street corners.
We rolled into Spokane airport to pick up my best imaginary friend Miggy and there she sat in a comfy airport rocking chair.
"I already feel really welcome here," said Migs.
Of course you're always assured of a warm welcome in the United States. The stars and stripes appear on benches everywhere.
It's a place where potential expands.
It was all happening in Spokane. Cannabis had just been made legal for recreational purposes. A sign welcomed us to Spokannabis.
However, we couldn't hang around.
There was snow on the mountains and my husband Mungo began fretting about the weather.
|The Three Sisters, Oregon. Photo by Kelly Riley|
True enough, the first place Mungo and I stayed had a bit of snow.
|Swampy Lake, Oregon. Photo by Kelly Riley|
We were freezing, even though we were offered a quilt bench to keep us warm.
"You guys are going to have to buck up your ideas," said Migs in an Idaho accent. "This isn't the spirit that made America great."
We agreed to plough on, following the route of Lewis and Clark and/or The Oregon Trail.
Apparently Mungo's Scottish ancestors had come this way back in the 1800s. His uncle Hamish was one of the early settlers of the Oregon Territory.
"He kept his bagpipes with him all the way."
Hmmm. That might explain why so many settlers kept on the move.
Miggy's great-grandma Morag also came out west.
"Imagine that," said Migs. "She arrived penniless and had to fend for herself in the woods."
"There were all kinds of wild animals about."
"Bears and such I'd imagine," said Mungo.
I shuddered. I know how bears can ruin a picnic.
Fortunately, Morag married well. She ended up in a stylish Second Empire Victorian house in Walla Walla.
"I'd love to find myself a house like that," said Miggy. So we popped into an estate agent, better known in these parts as a realtor.
The house was nice but the realtor was soooo last century.
"There's something ursidae about her," said Mungo.
Speaking of wild animals, I was rather nervous. I had seen some mighty big footprints around the benches.
There were bighorn sheep benches eyeing us from the mountain.
"You've done sheep benches before," Miggy reminded me. "There's nothing to fear."
No fear? Have you never heard of a sheep in wolf's clothing?
"Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes," I told her.
Mungo suggested I invoke the spirit of the cowgirl and embrace the wilderness wholeheartedly.
This isn't exactly what he said. What he said was, "Stiff upper lip Old Girl."
I remained on edge.
Later that day I was unnerved by a herd of deer.
"I think you'll find these are elk."
Mungo scraped some muck off a cowboy boot bench.
Elk or deer or bighorn sheep, I was worried about being trampled.
"Don't be silly," said Migs. "It's just a deer garden."
Call me cowardy pants but I don't like the idea of dart-throwing deer. Or deer on the internet either, come to that.
We made it to the historic town of Pomeroy, Washington, where Mungo informed us that Lewis and Clark spent the night by Pataha Creek on May 4, 1806. There is an historic bench to mark the occasion.
There is an historic courthouse . . .
. . . and an historic bench of the historic courthouse.
"Wow, this place has gone mad with benches," said Mungo. And that was before we saw the Asotin Indian bench.
We crossed into Oregon where Chief Joseph presided over the flight of the Nez Perce through Joseph Canyon.
And now he presides over the town of, um, Joseph.
Joseph is standing up. I don't suppose there were many benches around in those days.
There was a rodeo in town and Migs had a good look at the cowboys but they were busy trying to stay on their horses.
We rolled on through the painted hills of the John Day country.
We followed the John Day River where John Day had never set foot.
Eventually we found ourselves lost in the Painted Hills.
"It would help a lot if these hills were painted different colours," said Miggy.
"Yeah, right. But now what do we do?"
There was a hint that we might accidentally have crossed the Canadian border.
Fortunately, there was a girl with a mobile phone on a bench.
"I think it's Sacajawea!" Mungo cried. "She's the one who guided Lewis and Clark on their exploration."
She could have been a great help but instead she just kept playing with her
The only other person we saw was a guy who looked like The Revenant.
"He doesn't look much like Leonardo DiCaprio though."
"We best not bother him," Mungo said. "He's been mauled by a bear."
I was still worried about bears but in the end it was a bear who came to our rescue.
"Do you guys know where you are?" he asked us.
Clearly we did not.
He was the park ranger and not very sympathetic to our plight but at least he showed us the way.
Miggy was looking particularly fetching in her American flapper dress.
She asked him nicely for advice about coping in the wilderness.
Oh, no, another wild animal to watch out for.
It was great to see cows in the field though.
There were plenty of cow benches to rest on. Golly, it was a real rawhide experience.
"I'm dying for a DQ," she said. "Or any ice cream bench will do."
She had to settle for an ice lolly, aka a popsicle bench.
The towns of the wild west are actually not very wild. Until we reached Portland we were not going to find anything like this.
Portland is a very long paddle down the Columbia River.
Here in John Day country the most you could hope for was a friendly mercantile.
Failing that, you had to rely on a Feed and Farm shop.
"You could do worse than a bale of straw bench," Mungo suggested.
However, the Mitchell Business Loop provided us with a shop and a wooden bench to rest on while we drank our take-out Starbucks.
"It's the sort of thing the stage coaches needed," Mungo suggested.
"No, cardboard cups."
"Well," Migs said tartly, "You ought to know. You're the one with all the schoolbook lernin'."
As darkness fell Mungo fretted about snow again.
"Meriwether Lewis I'm not. I'd like to find a nice warm house rather than a wooden bench to sleep on while the fir trees drip on me."
"Oh buck up," said Miggy.
I starting worrying about fox benches.
And deer. You wouldn't believe what a group of innocent-looking deer can do to a guy sitting on a bench.
Then I thought I heard a wolf bench in the distance.
I refused to spend another night outdoors so when we reached Dayville (population 149) Miggy relented and we all got rooms in Angel's Hotel.
All I can say is, the rooms hadn't much substance.
The next day we turned south into the high deserts of central Oregon.
Migs dolled herself up and went out looking for a cowboy.
She saw a couple at Shaniko.
|photo by Kelly Riley|
This being a ghost town, they weren't very lively.
Mostly we saw juniper trees.
And deer. And elk.
Somewhere along the way Miggy met a juniper guy. He had an enormous bench and a windmill and a rocking chair.
However, by then she had finally found herself a cowboy.
Wild horses couldn't drag her away.
I'm don't know what Migs had in mind when looking for cowboys but I'm pretty sure it wasn't just their hats.
"God bless cowboys," said Mungo.
He'd had enough of Miggy.
Meanwhile, Mungo and I were far from home and missing our Paradise Island.
"I'd do anything for a glimpse of the sea," said Mungo. "Or even a lighthouse."
"Or just a few lazy sailors."
The Deschutes river at Bend was the best we could come up with.
Our feet were aching inside our boot benches.
"We could do with horse shoes," said Mungo.
We soaked our feet in the river and waited for Miggy to reappear. She was still in Bend, riding through the pine forests with her cowboy.
"The wood are lovely, dark and deep," she said to the cowboy. "But I have promises to keep." So, as promised, she met up with us in Redmond.
Once out of Madras, the benches weren't very welcoming. There wasn't much around but tumbleweed.
|photo by Patrick McDonald|
"It's time to gas up," said Miggy when we reached Biggs.
In other words, it was time to pull over and refuel.
The gas station was nicely retro and the guy came out to pump our gas for us because in Oregon you're not allowed to pump your own.
"There are some issues here," Miggy reminds me.
OK, I realise I've kind of let myself down here because up to now I've said we were travelling by covered wagon. Which, in a way, we were.
But we could proceed no further.
We decided to ditch the covered wagon and hire a car for the rest of the journey. We had to get back to Idaho and then Spokane and we were nowhere near where we needed to be. Don't judge us.
So here we are gassing up in Baker City, Oregon.
Or as Mungo would say, we're putting in a few litres of petrol and nipping into the loo.
We also found a welcoming inn for the night.
Oh, the luxury of three king-size beds, a big-screen TV, a fridge and a microwave. Unlike the pioneers, we knew that great things were coming soon.
Mainly Denny's and Pizza Hut.
The next day we whizzed along the Rattlesnake Grade down to Hells Canyon.
We were welcomed into Idaho, a place unknown by many people in the rest of the world.
So what is Idaho like?
"Gosh, aren't Idahoans lucky!"
From our view atop the Lewiston Grade we could see the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers and a valley named after Lewis and Clark that looked prettier'na girl on her wedding day.
However, at the Lewiston museum we received some inside information.
In the historic centre we saw a bench made of utility lids.
That's sewer lids to you and me.
We had the idea of hiring some canoes to take us down the Snake River like Lewis and Clark did. However, the canoe hire place seemed to be in a bit of a muddle.
|Canoe Wave by Chris Fennell, my photo|
"I think we might end up on the bed of the Snake River," said Mungo.
We tried a competitor; their canoe seemed rather flimsy for the job.
"I don't fancy going over Spokane Falls in that," said Miggy.
Onwards in the car then, racing through the beautiful rolling hills of the Palouse.
Here Migs got the idea that she'd like to buy a house so we had to stop a few times to look at suitable properties. The first one was what they call Stick, with reference to its turn-of-the-century timbers.
"That'd go up like a box of matches in a lightning strike," said Mungo.
"Yes," said Miggy,"but the realtor is a little doll."
The second house had all the charm of a cookie jar.
And then Migs decided maybe a farmhouse was better.
"A bit remote maybe?" I suggested.
There was a good looking cowboy asleep on a bench in front of the house and Migs fell head over boots for him.
However, by then we were running late for our flight at Spokane airport so Miggy reluctantly abandoned the house-hunting and the sleeping cowboy.
"Come on," I said to my travelling companions, "Wave goodbye to the good old US of A."
We covered two thousand miles in four weeks. We'd seen stunning scenery and we'd rolled across it with a true pioneering spirit. We'd been lost in the wilderness and we'd held our nerve in the presence of dangerous animals. Best of all, we'd sat on wonderful wild west benches.
"Well," said Migs tearfully, "there's just one thing left to say."
In March 2016 we left our Paradise Island and flew from London to Seattle, Washington and then changed planes for Spokane, Washington's second city. The flight between Seattle and Spokane goes over the Cascades and if you like mountains, it'll put you on a high. We travelled throughout Eastern Washington and Eastern and Central Oregon, sometimes following Lewis and Clark's route and sometimes the Oregon Trail. We also travelled in Idaho, especially in the beautiful Palouse region around Moscow and Lewiston.
Unless stated otherwise, all photos were taken by Miggy, Mungo, or myself.
I have two husbands. His Excellency is a philosopher and a man who takes an interest in many subjects, apart from chemistry and travel. He has a phobia about cowboys, which made this trip out of the question. Mungo, my imaginary husband, is my travelling companion and soulmate but he is not a great lover of poetry. He blames this on his schooling, which focused mostly on woodwork. For more about my two husbands and their education see http://benchsite.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/workbench-wonders-two-husbands-lots-of.html
Spokane is a wonderful city, the gateway to the scenic Inland Empire of Washington state and Northern Idaho. I was born there a considerable while before cannabis became legal. And yes, there are lovely wooden rocking chairs at the airport gates. It's situated on the vigorous Spokane River with both an upper and a lower falls right in the city centre. The American flag bench and the bronze statue runners are also located in the Riverfront Park.
Pomeroy is a little farming town on Highway 12 which follows the route of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as their Corps of Discovery made their way to and from the Pacific Ocean in the first years of the 1800s. Pomeroy is an historic town in this respect and it's great to see all these beautiful benches commemorating their farming heritage. The ones included in this story are the Historic bench, the plough bench, and the bench replicating the magnificent Victorian courthouse.
Dayville (population 149 - yes, really) is located on Highway 26 along the gorgeous John Day River. It's a Wild West fantasy and I took way too many photos there, including the wagon wheel bench, the Dayville Merc, the Angel Hotel, and the Lernin' School. The latter are part of a facade of buildings that look right out of Gunsmoke. In John Day we stopped in a coffee shop which had a painting of elk and in the ladies' loo, the retro car at a gas station. This is why I take my camera everywhere.
The amazing leather belt bench is by Hongtao Zhou, a designer, artist and researcher working in the interdisciplinary areas of furniture design, sculptural installation and performance. He started his career in Harbin, China and came to the US in 2005, where he gained a PhD in Furniture Design and Manufacturing from Purdue University. He is currently an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, working on design and art matters regarding sustainability, climate and culture. http://hongtaozhou.com/
The proper name of the Painted Hills is the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I can't even begin to go into the geology of it but the views are certainly something to behold and the colours of the hills shift with every change of light. Best times are dusk and dawn.
Mitchell, Oregon is on US Highway 26 in Oregon, not far from the Painted Hills. We weren't expecting much but a sign pointed the way to the Mitchell Business Loop. And sure enough, there were a couple of businesses - the Feed and Farm, the Merc, and The Juniper Guy, among others. Bruce McAllister, The Juniper Guy, makes rustic beds, tables, rocking chairs and benches out of local juniper wood. http://juniperguy.com/photo-gallery/ Each piece is different because of the unique character of juniper wood. And interestingly, in Oregon junipers are considered an invasive species.
Bend is a city in Central Oregon which has become something of a mecca for people seeking the perfect outdoor life. It's high desert (elevation 3,623) and has the creme de la creme of Cascade Mountains to the west. Among the many snow-capped volcanic mountains visible are The Three Sisters, The Husband, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Bachelor. Kelly Riley lives there and she photographed the Three Sisters and the Swampy Lake cabin under snow. She also photographed the cowboy bench at Shaniko, a ghost town not far away.
Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington sit on either side of the Snake River from each other. It doesn't take much imagination to conjure up the river journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they travelled by canoe along the river. Lewiston has a cracking historic centre with a museum showing the history of the town and the skullduggery that went on there amongst the thieves, robbers, murderers, desperadoes and escaped convicts. Nowadays there are sculptures and creative street furniture such as the four colourful chairs, the Sewer bench, and the energetic 'wave' of 60 real canoes which sweep upwards into the sky. The sewer lids bench is by designer C.S. Poppenga. The Canoe Wave sculpture is by Chris Fennell, who also appears in the Benchsite Bus Stop benches story. www.cfennell.com Artist and Lewiston native Rolf Goetzinger painted the 27-foot-tall mural of native fish swimming in a whirlpool behind the wave.
Sacajewea (1788-1812) was a Shoshone woman born in Idaho who travelled thousands of miles on the Lewis and Clark expedition offering her Native American skills of interpretation and survival. The expedition reached the Pacific Ocean in 1805 and Sacajewea gave birth the same year. There are many different spellings of her name and many different stories about her life and death but one thing is sure - Lewis and Clark wouldn't have made it without her. The pretty painting of Sacajewea with her beaded belt was seen in the historic museum in Lewiston.
The Oregon town of Joseph is scenic beyond belief. The Wallowa Mountains are dusted with snow and loom over the pretty little town. It's not for nothing they call it The Switzerland of America. There's even a Matterhorn, elevation 9,832 feet, compared to the real Matterhorn in France (elevation 14,692 feet). It's an arty town full of bronze sculptures and murals. The Deer Garden and the Stagecoach mural are just two of many. On Main Street there's a rodeo rider, a wolf, a pretty girl, and a towering Chief Joseph, head of the Nez Perce.
Chief Joseph was reportedly a peaceable man who enjoyed life in the great Wallowa wilderness of what had become the Oregon Territory. When this land was taken away there followed in 1877 a massacre of white settlers by some of Joseph's tribe. With the US Army in pursuit, Joseph led 750 of his people through the harsh landscape in attempt to reach the safety of Canada. Of course it didn't end well for the Nez Perce. For a birdseye view of Joseph Canyon (and a hair-raising drive) follow Oregon State Highway 3 to Joseph Canyon.
Wasn't it lucky we found the park ranger to show us the way through the Painted Hills? The man pointing to a map is William J. Young of Drouin, Victoria in a photo taken in 1944. Drouin is obviously not in Oregon or Washington or even Idaho; he's pointing to a map in Australia. The photo comes from the National Library of Australia on the glorious Flickr Commons site at https://www.flickr.com/photos/national_library_of_australia_commons/6174070848 nla.gov.au/nla.pic-an24190093
Asotin County is tucked into the farthest southeast corner of Washington State and we loved its capital city - Asotin, population 1,251. Spread out along the Snake River, there is a courthouse, a very fine bakery, and loads of well-kept Victorian houses. There are also a lot of metal benches which bear an uncanny resemblance to those in Pomeroy, though the subjects are different. The story includes the Indian headdress bench, a bench of old quilts, and Miggy's flapper dress from the brilliantly quirky Asotin museum.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have fallen victim to the craze for colouring. It's not mindful colouring in my case because I am obsessed and that is neither relaxing nor mindful. The pages of colouring shown in this story are from two books I bought in the brilliant Aunties bookshop in Spokane. One is called Architecture (by ArtZone) - that's the cities. The other colouring book is Victorian Houses by A.G. Smith, published by the incredibly comprehensive Dover Publications. Historic houses, civil wars, Popes - there is no subject they cannot turn into a colouring book. And they give the history with the pictures so colouring becomes education; how cool is that!
The big paw imprints behind a bench are probably not coyotes or bison or a North American wild animal. They were photographed on a US Army base sportsfield in Wurtzburg by Emily St Aubert. She took the photo in 2012.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/emily_staubert/6893672230/ There are plenty of animal benches here on Benchsite already. See the ones that Noah saved on the ark for World Animal Day.
The sheep in wolf's clothing on a bench is by artist Delete at
deletism.tumblr.com/ I got the photograph from the Flickr photostream of
Russell Darling, who collects a lot of street art and placed it there in 2010. https://www.flickr.com/photos/russelldarling/4625405560/ And yes, I have done sheep benches before: there are plenty of Baaaaad Sheep Benches and also quite a few goat benches.
Annie's Applique in Rosamond, California has iron-on appliques which are hand cut from cotton fabric and backed by iron-on bond. The appliques can be used for clothing, bookmarks, greeting cards, and much more. I love the cowgirl on a bench; the shop has more Betty Boop-inspired appliques as well as shop home, accessories, banners, and clothing. https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AnniesAppliques
The PlusZ Ranch in Redmond, Oregon is inspired by the nature and history of the Wild West. The creative people at the PlusZ Ranch use old stuff like cowboy
ropes, worn horseshoes, barnwood, and antique barbed wire to make lovely, rustic things. One of them is the Cowboy boots bench, which reminds me of a gas station we used to go to in Seattle when I was a child. The gas pumps were under the cowboy hat and the cashier lived in the boots. Boy howdy, we loved going there! Sorry, I digress. The PlusZ Ranch shop is at
The lonely cowboy was photographed in Brainerd, Minnesota in 2007 by Mykl Roventine. https://www.flickr.com/photos/myklroventine/1456612048 Mykl is a designer of things, blogger and social media junkie. He's the admin person for a lot of Flickr groups, including Bee Porn, Really Big Inflatable Things, and Extreme Lawns. This cowboy also appears in my Cream of Bovine Benches story, where cheese inexplicably becomes mixed up with fonts. This is relevant because Mykl belongs to a group called When Good People Pick Bad Fonts. https://www.flickr.com/groups/goodpeoplebadfonts/ Oh, dear, have I
fallen foul with my use of Verdana? Mykl's blog is at www.myklroventine.com
The Other Dan lives in Canada. He is not so much a photographer as someone who just takes a lots of photos and hopes some of them will look ok. That's his description, by the way, not mine. I think the two horse-heads bench looks great, which is why I've used it here and also in my 2014 story about the Year of the Horse Bench. http://www.flickr.com/photos/theotherdan/
The popsicle stick bench is a favourite here on Benchsite and has appeared many times, not least when we all scream for ice cream benches. It was photographed by Loren Javier at Princess Dot Puddle Park at Flik's
Fun Fair in 2009. https://www.flickr.com/photos/lorenjavier/3716635389
The cake topper cowboy hats are on a rustic vine twig bench, perfect for a Wild West wedding. However, they're not from the west, but from Kate's WeddingPros shop in Coconut Creek, Florida. Her etsy shop features cake toppers, table numbers, wedding ribbon wands and everything you might need for a wedding or baby shower. https://www.etsy.com/shop/WeddingPros
The metal cowboy boots bench is from Modern Iron Works in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. They are a small family-owned business selling ornamental iron garden gates, elevated dog feeders, pot racks, custom metal art and more. If you like dogs, you should check out their Great Dane themed items.
The horseshoe bench is in the Tucson Arizona Botanical Garden, photographed by adobepillow in 2012. Originally from Maryland, abodepillow and his wife moved to New Mexico in 2006 and are having the time of their lives in the Land of Enchantment. adobepillow's photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/adobepillow/ has some great benches from the Wild West, and also a lot of pictures of dogs. Two beautiful dogs, Chloe and Sasja, seem to find their way into lots of pictures. There are lots of Dog Benches already at http://benchsite.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/dog-bench-days-of-august.html
Patrick McDonald is a retired geezer from Boise, Idaho and he sends me wonderful photos from time to time which appear on Benchsite. The latest one was a weed-choked bench he called Sad Idaho Bench and by coincidence, I was at that very time in Idaho. Sorry though, Patrick, I needed it to be in Oregon for the story. Hope you don't mind.
The cowboy asleep on a bench was brilliantly photographed by Don Graham in 2009. When he arrived for a mule ride down into Bryce Canyon, he spotted this cowboy on a bench next to the drovers'cabin. He named the photograph Morning After because it looked like the cowboy might have stayed till closing time in the bar the previous night. Don also noted the cell phone in front of the cowboy's bed roll; a well-connected cowboy then. Don is an Air Force Veteran, retired businessman and a commercial property landlord in Redlands, California. He has lived in seven states and visited all but thirteen. He has also visited more than 30 US National Parks. https://www.flickr.com/photos/23155134@N06/16255979978/
Every year Miggy and Mungo and I go on a mission to find benches all around the world. If