James and I are back on the road with Phantom, briefly, for the three-week show run in Spokane.

It’s like deja-vu all over again…

The two-day drive up here was unexpectedly beautiful, through central and north Nevada, then eastern Oregon and Washington.

Neither of us had been in that part of the country before. It’s always a refreshing change to drive along different highways, instead of the usual suspects such as I-40, I-80 or I-20. We’ve been up and down those roads too many times!

As soon as we crossed eastward over the green, pine forested Sierras last Sunday morning, the terrain in Nevada abruptly turned to desert. Bare, brown sandy mountains shimmered in the background while sparse clumps of low sagebrush-like vegetation surrounded the highway on the desert floor. It rather reminded me of the Mojave: stark and desolate.

It is a land rich in minerals; industrial processing and hydroelectric plants could be seen occasionally in the brown, hazy distance, adjacent to little towns carved out of the desert which service the factories.

The advent of Fall manifested in very subtle ways with compact, scrubby sagebrush in red and orange hues lining the roadside.

There were more flashes of green near Winnemucca in north-central Nevada, with more cattle ranches. Winnemucca is a town of cowboys and hookers and casinos, with a slightly disreputable, hardscrabble atmosphere. It is in the middle of nowhere, where gas prices are even higher than in California, because of the remoteness. Drivers are a captive audience there, at $4.19 a gallon for the lowest fuel grade.

When we entered town, a police cruiser kept a discreet distance behind us as James carefully observed the 25-mph speed limit. We weren’t about to give the local constabulary the satisfaction of nailing us “out-of-staters”, adding to their coffers!

The terrain grew more dramatic as the larger mountain ranges appeared closer to the highway as we headed north towards Oregon. There was slightly more moisture here, with fields of brilliant yellow mustard and occasional stands of trees nestled between the mountains.

Eastern Oregon has a great deal of variety in its terrain, from low, flat prairies to “mesas” such as are found in New Mexico, to steep, winding roads wending their way through lava moonscapes, then through more green swatches of ranchland.

We stopped overnight in Ontario, Oregon which is near the Idaho border, at a Motel 6 which is relatively inexpensive and allows pets.

We were pleasantly surprised that our dog Ringo and cat Rupert traveled well in the confines of our small car, a Scion XB. Rupert spent the whole time on my lap in front, with occasional trips to the back where Ringo had just enough space to lie down. He and Ringo seemed perfectly comfortable to be in close proximity, which was definitely a relief!

The next morning, we drove up through the rest of eastern Oregon, with even more dramatic mountains closer to the often winding road. The trees are now starting to show their Fall colors, mostly yellows.

At last we emerged at the top of a pass through which we could see an amazing vista of flatlands spreading out far below.

I took some video footage of this, along with some brief shots of Nevada the previous day; hopefully this will provide some idea of the spectacular country we passed through.

As we progressed through the eastern part of Washington, the land gradually turned more green again, with more grassland and trees. The areas became more densely populated as we approached Spokane in the late afternoon on Monday.

We arrived at our rental house after about fourteen hours of total driving-time over two days.

It turned out to be a fairly pleasant trip and we weren’t totally exhausted.

The place where we are staying for three weeks is a very pleasant Craftsman-style brick cottage, built in 1922. It has one bedroom and is about 850 square feet, which is actually spacious for James and me, as we spent many years living full-time in an Airstream travel trailer while on the road.

There are attractive built-in cabinets and moldings in this house, which adds personality and charm. It is located in a rather “basic” neighborhood which, at least, appears to be on its way up rather than down.

There is a huge Fred Meyer grocery store nearby which is very convenient, and it takes less than ten minutes to drive westward to the theatre in downtown Spokane — even better!

It feels good to be playing Phantom again, actually. I am comfortable with the show routine; I know what to expect after ten years of doing the drill. The people in the company are very nice and are always glad to see me, which is gratifying. I feel fulfilled in my horn-playing career in a way that has been sporadic over the past year and a half; the show continues to please a lot of people, and I feel appreciated for what I do.

I wouldn’t necessarily wish to go back on the road full-time again, but these occasional returns are fine. This week, James and I are settling back into the rhythm of this life away from home, after long years of practice. It is now made more bearable by the fact that we’ll be back in our wonderful place in The Woods by the end of this month.

We are enjoying having a dog very much. Here in Spokane, Ringo takes us on walks through the neighborhood several times a day, providing much-needed exercise and fresh air for all concerned.