The smell of smoke lingers in the air as we’re firmly settled in regions beset by fire, the morning sun filters through the haze hanging heavy all around us.
Although even though the sun has moderately disappeared, but at least it isn’t raining (according to us – although I’m sure the local folks and the firefighting crews would’ve liked it – except in this region, the cause for all the problems, in many of the fires, are lightning strike).
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It’s eleven thirty in the morning and the temperatures are hitting ninety degrees (33°C) as we dine on sandwiches overlooking the Snake River and look back into Oregon.
Somehow the bladder bunch has managed to urinate a couple times before we get back into the car to ply onward on our adventure in new territory of Idaho.
The brick-red colour of the bings is hardly surprising, for much of this spoil has been turned into bricks, or used for land reclamation at Grangemouth, or for motorway construction. Shale oil manufacturing was a typical Victorian enterprise. James ‘Paraffin’ Young first came to West Lothian in search of ‘cannel coal’ (candle coal – used for lighting as it burned with such a bright flame), and this led him to develop a process to extract paraffin oil and wax from the oil-bearing shales. So the oil industry began here. At its peak there were 120 works employing 13,000 people, but by 1873 the number had dropped to 30 as the oil wells of the USA began to produce their black gold. Young died in 1883, and the last works closed in 1962. ‘Paraffin’ Young was a chemical engineer from Glasgow. A fellow student who became a lifelong friend was David Livingstone, and much of the sponsorship for the latter’s travels came from Young. Queen Victoria may have had the Falls on the Zambesi named after her, but there is a branch of the Lualaba named Young River. In this quiet setting (aircraft permitting), it is hard to imagine the atmosphere 150 years ago when dozens of chimneys poured smoke into the air.
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