Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Sue and Mo at Harris Beach
Sue and Mo at Harris Beach

Monday, August 30, 2010

08-31-2010 Devils Lake ND to Bemidji MN


When I woke this morning, I knew I loved North Dakota even more than yesterday.  The skies had partially cleared and the sun was illuminating the park in a sea of iridescent green like a vision from a long forgotten fairy tale.  The park was still very nearly empty, with only four campers stretched out over the more than 100 sites on the east side campground.  After morning tea we unhooked the bikes for a very windy but exhilarating ride through the park, along the whitecapped lake, and around the west campground.

Have I mentioned the battery problems with the Tracker?  Sometimes, completely unexpectedly, the battery will be dead.  Totally silent kind of dead.  Since that first time back in Spokane, it has only happened when it is still hooked up, but is more of an annoyance than a really serious problem.  This morning it was dead again, and Mo decided that maybe she wasn’t doing something wrong and she just needed a new battery.  We were in luck.  Checking the Road Atlas for a Wal-Mart showed one right in Devils Lake, just a block away from our already planned stop at the Exxon for propane.  Details.  However those details did slow down our travels a bit and after buying propane and a battery, we didn’t get out of Devils Lake until after 11am. 

It was to be an easy day, though, with only 200 miles to Bemidji, our planned destination.  The roads were clear and straight, with huge wide medians filled with green.  Have I mentioned green? And blue?  There is so much sky in this part of the world, and even when it is half covered by clouds there is so much blue.  In fact, seeing sky that goes brilliant blue all the way to the horizon in all directions is a treat that I was looking forward to and could only imagine.  I know the west is beautiful.  Westerners always have to make comments about this part of the country, “but it’s so FLAT”.  “I couldn’t live without the mountains.”  Well, I do love the mountains, and I love the west, but with mountains in the west come fires and haze and murky skies during much of the summer when it should be blue. Today was blue.  And green.  And white. It was an amazing day of brilliant color and sky. Yesterday I fell in love with North Dakota, and today I fell in love with Minnesota.

Now my daughter will accuse me of being a soil nerd, but I also had a blast using the iPhone SoilWeb application developed by Toby O’Geen at UCDavis.  You just hit the screen, and in a minute your gps location finds the soil that is mapped there and a screen pops up with the soil profile, the description, and the classification.  The application is essentially using web soil survey, but it’s great fun to get it on the fly.  So when the phone tells me I am crossing a fine smectitic frigid Aquertic Argiudoll, I know by this name that the climate is fairly cold but not in summer, that the soil has wetness issues, that is has cracks in it from the fine clays, that the surface is deep and dark, and that it gets summer rain.  I am not sure if any other scientific classifications explain so much about the thing they are classifying. 

  We stopped in at a visitor center just inside the state of Minnesota and while I continued to drive, Mo reviewed some of the possibilities for the next few days.  She started reading about the Itasca State Park, where you can walk across the Mississippi, and we couldn’t figure out just where it was, but she thought we needed to go there.  A conversation ensued about timing, and how we were going to make it to Niagara Falls if we kept wandering off to do other things than what was originally planned.  About that moment, a sign appeared, Itasca State Park, 21 miles south, and within a moment we made the decision to go there.  For me this is the best part of a road trip, that spontaneous moment when you just take the turn down the road, unplanned.

Itasca State Park is where the headwaters of the Mississippi River emerge from the lake on their journey to the Gulf of Mexico.  The river is the third largest in the world, and it drains more than a third of the entire United States.  Here in the park, the river is just a riffle without a thought of what she will become.  The interpretive center had excellent maps and posters describing the area, the river, the history, and so much more.  There were campgrounds there, and initially we thought we might camp, but then decided that we could still get to the park in Bemidji by six or so and it would be a bit further down the road so we headed back north.

Garmin Girl has been silenced, but she still is giving directions that are usually very good.  Yesterday she tried to take us across some very wet dirt roads on the way to Devils Lake, but today she navigated the way to Bemidji State Park without a hitch.  This park is much more closed and shaded than Devils  Lake, but still isn’t crowded at all at the moment.   We were offered a pull through electric site and took it happily.  After a simple setup and pizza for supper in the convection oven we took off walking the Homestead Trail to the Rocky Point Overlook on Bemidji Lake.  The trails are extremely well maintained, wide and well planned, surrounded by deep, moist hardwood forest.  I do love the hardwood forests, and I am sure that before this trip is over I will have many more photos of sunlight backlighting the leaves through the shadows. 

Once back at camp, I discovered to my amazement that here, in the middle of the forest, in Bemidji Minnesota, I have free internet access compliments of the Minnesota State Park System.  So while Mo built an evening campfire, I uploaded the last couple of days photos, and finished writing blog entries as well. 

Who knows when I will have access again, but for now, this is great.  The humidity is high, but not unbearable because it is cool.  The mosquitoes aren’t as big or prolific as I thought they might be, although we did put on some DEET for the first time since we left on this trip.  The night is quiet and still, with no rain in sight, no thunder to wake us.  Maybe a really good night of sleep awaits!

08-30-2010 Dickenson to Devils Lake North Dakota

The storm last night was a bit gentler than the night before and I slept well. When we woke, it was gray and foggy in Dickinson, but not raining.  I had been writing the night before, so took some time at the dingy laundry room to upload photos and post to the blog while Mo packed up the MoHo.  By 9 we were hooked up and on the road.  We hoped to be in Minot by 1, but the time change to central was a bit disconcerting.  I-94 was gray and dingy most of the way to Bismarck but somewhere before the town of Mandan, the fog began to rise and we had a great view of the Missouri River Valley from the Mandan Overlook. 

There is a very attractive and thoughtfully made marker at the rest stop, with bronze engraved plaques describing the natural  and human history of this area of North Dakota.  It stood in great contrast to the Alien Bar and Grill that we passed in Bismarck.  One incredibly tasteful, and the other unbelievably tasteless.

About 30 miles north of Bismarck is the very well done Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  The center is beautifully situated overlooking the Missouri River Valley with dramatic steel sculptures of bison silhouetted against the horizon and a nice bookstore and gift shop.  There is a 7.50 fee to view the exhibits, which includes a trip through Fort Mandan about two miles down the road and would take at least 90 minutes to complete.  We skipped that part, but I bought a great book by a native North Dakotan, Clay Straus Jenkinson.  “Message on the Wind, A Spiritual Odyssey on the Northern Plains” is a collection of his essays.  His style is somewhat like Terry Tempest Williams who writes in much the same way about about Utah and the Colorado Plateau, and is one of my favorite writers. 

Late last night under the dark North Dakota sky, I read this passage: “Then came a few drops of hot rain, dust-spattering rain, and thunder and lightning as no member of our crew, perhaps including me, had ever witnessed: threshing, scouring, clashing, streaking, urgent, crashing, orgiastic, pounding, anarchic, punishing, apocalyptic, zigzagging, cross-hatched, grotesque, pandemonic lightning. And then, briefly, heavy rain, or rather sheets of water pretending to be rain.”  I felt that thunderstorm, and knew we hadn’t seen anything like it so far on this trip through the Dakotas. But I am coming to love North Dakota in a way I never imagined, crossing it’s wide open lonely roads, seeing the coulees and valleys, the badlands and the glacial moraines stretching out to forever.  Whoever said North Dakota was flat wasn’t really looking.  It is anything but flat, and so far anything but boring.  I have to come back to North Dakota and explore it more slowly, take in the Lakota culture expressed here so deeply, and the story of Lewis and Clark that bisects this land the same way it bisects my own land in the northwest.  But back to today.

As we continued north we passed extensive fields of wheat and sunflowers, interspersed with wetlands and small lakes of the kettle and kame landscape until we reached the more level valley near Minot and Highway 2. 


I was so excited about meeting Laurie Brown and her husband Odel in person.  I have followed Laurie’s blog for a couple of years, we have connected now and then through comments to each other and through email, so this was a real treat.  They were camped in a very nice park west of Minot and the pull through space next to them was empty and waiting for our visit for just an hour, but what a delightful hour.  We shared conversation, and were treated to some of Laurie’s famous tea, and their hospitality was unsurpassable. Lucky us! Odel gave Mo some tips about the RV, while Laurie checked out our inverter, helped Mo figure out some of that complexity, and then gave me some tips about adding photos to my blog! 

After leaving Minot and continuing east, the storms got heavier and darker, and when I had sporadic reception with my iPhone I managed to connect long enough to see the red bands moving northeast on the local radar and the tornado warnings on the weather site.  Laurie and I had just  discussed what to do in a case like this, so I asked Mo, “What county are we in”?  Where is there a shelter around here?”

We both looked around the landscape that consisted of very black clouds, an empty highway, and absolutely nothing else.  Hmmm.  Now and then I got an updated radar image, and new warnings, but no watches.  Mo held tight to the wheel and kept the MoHo on the road until things lightened up a bit when we neared our destination at Devils Lake.

Finally arriving at Graham Island State Park by 6, the skies had cleared even more and the rain stopped altogether.  This state park is wide, open, and expansive, on an island surrounded by water. Devils Lake is the largest natural lake in North Dakota, and famous for its northern pike and walleye fishing.  The campground was almost completely empty, and even though it is only Monday, it still is the week before Labor Day!  We settled in to a pull-through site, and decided that any kind of outdoor activity would have to wait until morning when the winds and clouds would hopefully subside a bit. 


Sunday, August 29, 2010

08-29-2010 Visiting Kildeer and Ancestral Homelands


Late yesterday we went to the cemetery where Mo’s aunt was buried and just happened to run into a woman who knew her.  We had no idea where the grave was located but our very chatty friend knew exactly where to find it.

Yesterday the skies were gorgeous, but after a wild night of lightning, thunder, and rainstorms, the morning dawned gray and quiet.  I had planned to do laundry early, but the cool rain made sleeping perfect, and when I rose, it was daylight.  Camp on the Heart advertises free Wi-Fi, but it is only available very close to the office.  I packed up the dirty clothes and the computer and headed for the laundry room.  There the Wi-Fi worked reasonably well and I finally uploaded our photos to Picasa and managed to write a bit more about our travels.  Even though we felt crowded last night, today most everyone left and we had the entire row to ourselves.  Sunday calls for a good breakfast, so Mo made bacon and I poached eggs while we made good use of the excellent cable service to watch some of Mo’s favorite Sunday news programs.

Chores completed, we headed north to Killdeer a little before noon, although we still aren’t sure if this place is in Mountain Time or Central Time because my phone keeps switching.  The trip north was uneventful and a bit dreary with the low gray skies.  Once in Killdeer, Mo drove around searching for old home sites and remembering some of the family stories associated with her birthplace.  Mo was born in Killdeer, but her family left when she was three or so and moved to Oregon.  She came back often later in life because her parents returned to their roots here in Killdeer after they retired.  I looked around the very small quiet town, imagined the winters of North Dakota, and wondered aloud just why they felt they wanted to return.  Did they still have family here? Did they miss these wide open skies and low rolling landscapes? 

Mo pointed out the building that once housed her uncle’s sweet shop, and the home where her father’s parents lived when he met her mother.  We had no clue how to find the Oakdale Cemetery, with no address Garmin Girl was useless, and of course the phone had No Service.  Being Sunday, everything was closed up tight, even the police station.  I finally found a mechanic working in his shop on a back street and hopped out to ask him where the cemetery was located.  In true North Dakota fashion, he said, “Well, it’s about 4 miles north on 22.  I think there is a sign there, but I’m not sure.  Let’s see…it’s past the Robert’s place, I think. Been there a lot, but can’t remember how I get there.  You turn west, and go a ways.”  I wish I could put that accent in writing because it was classic.  Solid and true high north country man. 

We traveled north, and yes, there was a sign, so we went “a ways” and actually found the old cemetery.  Mo thinks there was a small community there at one time, but no more.  We tramped through the grass and weeds until we found her grandparents and their baby son, the Ross family, a common name in “these parts'”.  By the time we drove back south through Killdeer it was after 3, or 2, depending on which time zone we accepted.  The line goes through here somewhere, but by tomorrow we will definitely be in Central Time on our way to Minot.

On the way home we stopped in at the big WalMart Supercenter to pick up some milk, some bolts, and some wine.  I couldn’t find wine anywhere, and when I asked, I was met with appalled stares and aghast comments.  It was as if I were asking for drugs!  People informed me quite vehemently that of course they didn’t have wine or beer in the store, you had to buy it at the liquor store!  Well, I know it’s not California, but at least in most states one can usually buy a bottle of wine somewhere other than a liquor store. For supper we opened the one good bottle of Pinot Noir we brought with us.  We can’t take wine into Canada anyway, and what better time than a stormy evening in Dickinson to have some very good Pinot Noir!

Back in camp, Mo put the Montana and North Dakota state decals on our map and we commiserated about how big the South Dakota hole looked.  Although South Dakota is just 70 miles from here, we decided that unhooking the MoHo and driving it for several hours just to bag a state was dumb.  We knew we couldn’t drive the baby car there and legally claim the state, and I think that maybe just driving through the state doesn’t count either, so we decided instead to hang home, play with the animals, have a nice dinner and RELAX!  ahhhh.

After supper I again went down to the laundry room to hang out with the internet and post photos, write a bit, and catch up with my emails to family and comments to friends. My truck driving daughter told me about Points Of Interest that I can locate for my Garmin that will include all the things I am missing like campgrounds, rest areas, and cemeteries.  She also said that this part of the country is well known for sporadic to almost non-existent internet and wireless access.  So it isn’t just my ATT iPhone, but her Verizon didn’t work here either.  Good to know. The skies cleared up in the afternoon, but by evening the clouds were forming again, and now as I write late at night, it is storming.  I love hearing the thunder, watching the lightning and listening to the wind.

The plan tomorrow is to travel north to Devil’s Lake and Graham Island State Park by way of Minot, where I hope to meet some rv’ing friends for a short hello.  Looking forward to another State Park, which much of the time seems to fit our style of traveling.  I love the openness, the trails, and the dark nights of these parks.  I know state parks differ from state to state so it will be interesting to see how North Dakota does in this regard.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

08-28-2010 Fort Peck Montana to Dickinson North Dakota

I have so much to write about this day, leaving Montana and traveling through the wildly beautiful northwester portion of North Dakota.  However, time and internet connections have timed me out as well, so I am only posting the link to our photos for the time being and will hopefully add something to this day when I again have an internet connection.

We enjoyed a leisurely morning before getting back on the road toward North Dakota.  We even took some time to explore the dam and read about the history of the time that the dam gave way and flooded the town below.

Eastern Montana was beautiful and we finally crossed the Wide Missouri.

We arrived at our campground, Camp on the Heart, early enough in the day to spend an afternoon exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  Sadly, I wrote nothing about this magnificent day and the photos will have to suffice.

08-27-2010 Continental Divide to Fort Peck Montana

The wind blew hard all night, yet it never really cooled off until this morning.  We are surrounded by thin lodgepole pines with a few subalpine fir trees in this high elevation habitat, more than 5000 feet.  I was surprised at the warmth, and could feel the difference in the air.  We are over the Continental Divide and the climate is now more influenced by continental air masses rather than the Pacific air flow that controls much of the weather in the northwest.  The major difference is felt in the summer rains that happen east of the Rockies.  Out west we have a long dry summer, and the soils reflect that difference.  The deep dark soils found on the plains get summer rain. 

I was grateful that the campground seemed to be well managed, without many dead or diseased trees, especially as I watched them whirl and twirl in the high winds.  The sound was soothing during the night, and I slept really well in spite of the warmth and slight humidity.  Morning sunlight illuminated the high mountains of Glacier Park to our north as we hooked up the rig and were on the road by 7:45, hoping to make up the extra miles we would have to drive due to our early stop in the forest.  I drove, and in spite of the wind, was pleasantly surprised at how well the rig handled.  I think most of the wind was coming directly from behind, and we were being pushed along, not a bad thing for the gas mileage on this day.

Within a very short few miles we were out of the mountains, passing through East Glacier, and onto the high plains.  This part of Montana seemed very dry, with only a few wheat fields with short stubby wheat nearing harvest.  As we traveled east, the wheat fields became more prevalent, with wide strips of fallow land.  I noticed a lot off what appeared to be CRP grasslands, the Conservation Reserve Program set up to remove some fields from production, seed them to  grass for a minimum of ten years, and pay the farmers a stipend for doing so.  The main objective is to protect highly erodible lands from severe erosion, but it also helps to keep crop prices up.  Could agriculture manage at all in this country without government support?  Who knows, but I can’t imagine the free market system really working when it comes to food production.  Wonder how the big corporations would outsource it if they didn’t have the government subsidies for agriculture.

After being in the close up hills of the California foothills, covered with thick brushy vegetation, I especially appreciated the wide view of sky and plains.  Subtlety becomes the norm, with small differences providing entertainment.  As the miles slid by I noticed that the grasses on the right of ways were becoming more lush and green, reflecting the increasing precipitation as we traveled east. 

Our route is still Highway 2, so far a two lane road with excellent surface and very little traffic.  In the past, I have crossed Montana in I-90 and the difference is striking.  It’s wonderful to travel along at 60mph without having to worry about the heavy truck traffic on the interstate. We stopped in Shelby to try for an internet connection, and a phone connection to cancel our Ontario Provincial Park reservations.  It was a bit of a shock to find out that this would cost us a 50 percent fee to cancel simply because our reservations were made more than a month ago.  I debated a moment, then decided to do it anyway.  Somehow it is more enticing to travel northern Wisconsin and The Upper Peninsula of Michigan than the long miles through forest along Canadian Highway 17.  Part of this may have to do with the time I spent on google earth last week viewing the route.  While our destinations were gorgeous, most of the route of several hundred miles seemed to be through flat thickly vegetated forestlands dominated by scraggly spruce without many views.  The decision is made, the reservations cancelled, and we now have 5 extra days to travel spontaneously.  Hopefully the Labor Day weekend campers won’t be a big problem.

Around mid day, we reached Havre, Montana, a town I have heard of through work but never seen.  There is a soil survey office in Havre, and it’s difficult to get soil scientists to apply for the MLRA Soil Survey Leader position for some reason.  As we drove into town, Mo checked the AAA book and found information about several interesting historical sites that we decided to take the time to visit. Something I am discovering about our NUVI is that a specific address is usually required to find something.  When I search for attractions, I get things like bowling alleys and golf courses, but not campgrounds and cultural attractions like the one we wanted.  I do hope that when I get access again to, I can buy extras that hopefully include campgrounds! After a bit of a mix-up  regarding the location of 3rd Ave vs 3rd Ave W and 3rd St, we found the chamber of commerce.  Havre has put of lot of thought and resources into it’s historical value and we took brochures for the Havre Residential Historic District Walking Tour and the Havre Business Historic District Walking Tour.  Our main choice was the Havre Historical Underground Tour, however, so we decided to walk just a Historic Bungalow portion of the residential tour.  There were some charming bungalows, but many of them seemed to be a bit run down, without a great deal of work.  I love bungalow style, and in places like Boise, Idaho, and Spokane, Washington, there are some gorgeous renovations of bungalows, kept true to style.  Of course, I remember the bungalows in Pasadena that I loved as a kid, and now that whole area is called Bungalow Heaven.  It’s on a destination list for another trip someday.

We arrived at the Underground Tour just in time to leave.  The tour lasted an hour and was a fascinating view into the history of Havre.  These tours are worth the time and fees just to get the inside story.  Our tour guide was informative and knowledgeable, a short nice little lady born and raised in Havre.  Even midweek, midday, there were close to a dozen people on the tour.  Viewing the maps at the end with pushpins marking visitors locations was impressive.  There were thousands of pins from all over the world. As with many other towns in the early twentieth century, Havre’s business district burned to the ground in 1904 and the businesses were forced to take up shop in their basements in order to continue to function. 

A quote from the brochure: “Havre was a community that was instrumental in the taming of the West.  It was a melting pot of races, and racism was prevalent.  For this reason, the ethnic mixtures of black, red, yellow, and white created an explosive atmosphere and created the rough and tough town to be tamed.  TO this mix was added the refinement of another class of people whose temperament drew them to the concert hall and theater productions that were so lavishly provided.  A cross-section of this melodrama is presented in the historical underground tours, bringing to life the successes, the good times and the tragedies of those early years.”

We saw the meat market, the bakery, the brothels, the opium dens, the hidden safe house for the Chinese who were brought to Havre to work but were treated to cruelly by the locals.  South of Havre, is Fort Assiniboine, home to the Buffalo Soldiers, black men in the US Cavalry, another story told by our diminutive guide.  Leaving the tour, we viewed the museum, with many displays about the history of Havre, and the importance of the railroad in this part of the country.  The Railroad was the driving force for settling this part of Montana and much of the west.

We left Havre by 2 or so, and headed east again to our original destination of Fort Peck Dam.  Prior to Havre, much of the skies were murky with haze.  I wondered about this, if you can’t find clear skies in Montana, where are they?  I suspect much of the haze was due to the bare fields and harvest in progress, but it was good to get out of it as we approached Fort Peck.  Mo picked this campground from an internet search, and we often try to find something near water so we can kayak if time allows.  We both knew that our history tour no doubt cut short any kayaking time, but still it was at first a bit disappointing to see that the campground was below the dam, and the river wasn’t even accessible from the campground directly. 

After settling in to our spacious site and making supper, we decided to explore the surrounding area on bikes.  The park is really very nice, with open space, no water at individual sites, but good water available for filling the tank, and electricity onsite.  A wonderful paved bike trail winds around the perimeter of the park, with loops circling small ponds and the banks of the wide Missouri River as it emerges from Fort Peck Dam.  We couldn’t see the lake, and the thought of camping below a huge earthen dam is a bit disconcerting, but this one has never failed, so I let that thought go completely.  Of course, no dam has ever failed till it fails, right?

The bike ride was wonderful, and we saw several deer and a lovely sunset.  Even though we are in eastern Montana, somehow it feels much more Midwestern, similar to Nebraska, and I kept forgetting that we were still actually in Montana.  There were even cicadas singing in some of the big cottonwood trees. It was a lovely end to a lovely day, and we capped it off by using our lovely electricity to watch a DVD, “Did you hear about the Morgans?”.  A silly bit off unlikely fluff, but not demanding in any way and of course, a bit entertaining.  I think all the funny moments in the movie are shown in the trailers. That was a bit disappointing, but it was still fun to slow down enough to watch something anyway. 

We haven’t seen television or heard any news at all since we left.  I think there is a hurricane going on somewhere in the Gulf, Danielle.  I think we will actually have cable tomorrow night, so may get caught up on news and happenings in the world outside our own cozy space with a view of the plains.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

08-26-2010 Bonners Ferry to the Continental Divide

Just a little side note here…Recently there has been some conversation about travel blogs and the do’s and don’ts for writing a good blog.  One of the comments discussed eliminating long paragraphs and rambling conversation so people don’t get lost and bored.  So I tried, I really did.  I thought I could put some photos up and add some captions, and then continue my personal journal down below somewhere.  Well, THAT just doesn’t work at all here since I have spent way too much time tonight trying to figure out how to edit and move photos around in LiveWriter (most unsuccessfully) and make my blog more “readable”.  The previous couple of posts show my efforts.  However, since I am writing this blog for me more than anyone else, I have decided to continue to ramble on with my thoughts and put the photos where they happen to fit.  Anyone else who happens to drop in can read or not, right? 

We slept wonderfully last night in the quiet of the North Idaho forest, untroubled by any worries of intruders, lights, or noise.  It cooled off to a pleasant 45 degrees overnight and sleeping with the down comforter and no fans was perfect. Chet stopped in around 7 on his way to his morning meeting just in time to catch us almost completely buttoned up, with the baby car attached.  He said Georgette, (not a morning person) was already awake and waiting for us to come up to the house for breakfast.  Once up there, we were treated to fresh eggs from her hens, some of the yummy roasted potatoes from last night sautéed with chicken basil apple sausages, homemade granola with honey and yogurt and fresh blueberries.  I enjoyed having tea the way Georgette does it, strong and black with honey and milk. 

I enjoyed so much being in this part of the world.  The plants are familiar, the geology and shapes of the mountains are so familiar to me.  I first knew Boundary county as a student trainee soil scientist, and the western rim of the Selkirk mountains in my breakfast view this morning was my first survey area.  I described one of my very first soils in something similar to what is on Georgette’s land and made a soil monolith that now hangs at the University of Idaho in this Port Hill soil. 

After breakfast, after entreaties to visit again, we hugged and laughed and waved goodbye as we drove off toward Bonners Ferry and Highway 2.  Traveling beyond Moyie Springs, we crossed into Montana, crossed over the wild Yaak River, and paralleled the dramatic Kootenai River.  This river drops 90 feet every mile west of Libby, over ledges of pre-Cambrian rock so old the only fossils are of blue-green algae, the only thing living on the planet at the time that these rocks were sediments under a great inland sea.

Not far from Troy, the road passed the Kootenai Falls Swinging Bridge Park, and we decided that it might be worth a turnaround.  It was worth every bit of the effort, which actually wasn’t much since traffic on this road is almost nonexistent and the turnarounds are wide and long.  The park is lovely, with clear paths leading to the river in two directions, one to the bridge and the other to the falls.  Midway there is a span of stairs that crosses the railroad tracks, an excellent plan for the safety of all the people hiking to the falls, but a little bit tough for Abby in her bare feet and her fear of walking on something with holes in it that looked far down to the ground below!

The swinging bridge crossed the canyon over the river, was sturdy and well built, but swung just enough to feel a bit exciting over the rapids.  The falls were wild and free, with many pools on the ledges and several runs between rocky cliffs.  It was warm and a bit humid, but a perfectly lovely morning walk.


Once back in the rig, we headed east again along the river, crossing over from time to time.  We are on our way to Kalispell, and as we continue east the air is getting more smoky from forest fires.  I have a vague memory of something mentioned in the news recently of Montana fires and smoke predictions.  Here I have no cell reception at all, so will have to wait for Kalispell to find out any more information other than what I can see looking out the windshield

About 35 miles west of Kalispell, we passed a lake district which appeared to created by dams on the river, but they looked like natural lakes, not reservoirs.  We passed Thompson Lake State Park, and Mo said, “Gee, can we stop yet?” Tonight we are planning to go to the Williamson Park Campground near Shelby, but don’t have a reservation for this first-come first-served park.  We can stop anywhere we want!  Although 200 miles east of our destination might be a bit premature!  Again we passed another lovely lake, called Macgregor, long, narrow and blue, without much sign of habitation on the perimeter.  There are lots of fishing signs, and some cabins.  The smoke thinned a bit as we traveled east. 

Sometime this morning, we had a brainstorm, although I am not sure just what started it.  Our original plan was to travel north from Grand Forks and go into Canada through International Falls.  However, reviewing the maps, and talking with Chet last night, we realized that Highway 2 extends as far east as Maine, and is a dotted, scenic route almost the entire distance.  On the map, I saw the road leading to Duluth, then through Wisconsin and Upper Michigan to Sault St Marie.  Recently some RV blogging friends have been  traveling the area extensively and singing the praises of the UP.  Once we get to Kalispell, I am going to cancel the two provincial parks we have reserved in Ontario and we are going to travel Highway 2 much farther east than we originally planned.  During the planning process I was excited about seeing Thunder Bay and Northern Lake Superior, but now I am excited about the change in plans, and we can go to Pictured Rocks National Seashore.  More importantly, however, we can add Wisconsin and Michigan to our state decal on the back of the MoHo!  Yes, Laurie, I will watch the ships in the locks, even more meaningful for us since we just transited the Panama Canal last January!

Highway 2 follows the southern boundary of Glacier National Park, but there weren’t many places to pull over for photos of the peaks.  Near West Glacier, the peaks appeared snow free and rocky, with fire smoke dulling the view somewhat.  Once in the distance, I saw a patch of white that appeared to be a glacier, but that was all.  The road, however, was lovely, with forest and rock, river and mountains all around us, I remembered that I found two forest service campgrounds along this road while internet searching a few months ago, but didn’t choose them because I thought they weren’t far enough along our route.  It was so beautiful, however, that we decided to try to check them out to see if they might work for our evening stop.  At the Continental Divide, stopping for photos of the monument there, was a campground entrance, with reasonably wide paved roads and only one other camper in sight.  Driving through it didn’t take us long to agree to drive the extra 85 miles tomorrow to reach Fort Peck Dam where we had pre paid reservations. It was worth it to take advantage of this delightful campground.

After several days of hookups and plenty of driving, we had plenty of power for a dry camp night.  After parking and settling in, we walked the campground roads, took photos of the mountains and plants, and Mo found firewood at a vacated campsite for our evening fire.  We didn’t bring wood on this trip, but Mo really loves to build campfires, so any opportunity is a good thing.  I made tacos dressed with the tomatillo salsa that Georgette and I made with Laura’s tomatillos and we had supper at the picnic table by the fire. Mo got out the comfy chairs and shortly after we settled in to enjoy the fire, big drops of rain started falling.  We weren’t about to give up the fire, however, so Mo got out the umbrellas and we sat in the windy storm and used the umbrellas for protection from the smoke more than the rain, which wasn’t much at all.

It was a perfect evening, and I really felt at last as though we were on a real vacation.  The skies were dramatic, with a front coming over the divide, and the sound of the wind in the lodgepole pines was soothing rather than scary.

Comment from Chris Savastio: You write your travel blog however you damn well please! Great blog!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

08-25-2010 Spokane Washington to Bonners Ferry Idaho

The morning was clear and warm, with predictions for a day in the 90’s in Spokane and possibly just as warm in Northern Idaho.  We hooked up without a hitch…oops…not a good pun.  Hookup was uneventful and easy and the hitch was fine. Garmin Girl silently led us north to Highway 2 and the cheapest gas around at Fred Meyer.  Freddie’s stores are only in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska, and we will miss the ten cent  discount we get when we buy enough groceries to qualify.

It wasn’t far at all to the town of Newport on the Washington-Idaho border.  I had traveled through Newport many times in the late seventies and early eighties when doing soil mapping north of there at Priest Lake. This appeared to be a different Newport, with cute shops, and nice looking streets.  Twenty years ago Newport was a small, somewhat depressed town that was considered a bit backward.  The bridge across the Pend Oreille River appeared new as well, and on the Idaho side was a Rotary Club  visitor center still in development stage.  We pulled into the easy wide lot and checked out the interpretive signs with stories of the historic river passages in this part of Idaho.  The river from this route is truly magnificent, flowing wide, clear, and green through forests and open river terraces dotted with well placed homes.  These homes aren’t cheap, and even in the early 80’s, living along this river was an unaffordable dream.  I can imagine that the flood insurance isn’t cheap either, since I remember the river flooding often.

A bit farther east we stopped at Albeni Falls Dam for photos and more interpretive signs.  In all the years that I traveled this road, I never actually stopped here, so was glad for the opportunity to view the dam, the river, and the stories.  Again, we pulled out for views and photos of the river, with Garmin Girl giving us plenty of time before our planned 1pm arrival in Bonners Ferry.  She even routed us through Sandpoint without taking us through the narrow winding downtown portion with ease. North of Sandpoint we found a small picturesque lake with a roomy parking lot and a bit of shade for the MoHo.  Mo took Abby for a swim while I made tuna sandwiches for a relaxed lunch before we continued north to our destination.

Georgette has been Mo’s friend since she boarded her horses at the ranch in Montera in the 70’s.  She since married Chet and five years ago moved with her horses, chickens, sheep, and dogs to Northern Idaho.  Chet’s dream was to build a cabin in the mountains, and what a cabin it is!  Georgette is involved in animal rescue and her special love is training and showing Australian cattle dogs.  Her dogs have won best of breed and other awards she is very proud of them. Georgette, however, lived in California most of her life, loves the fog of the Pacific coast, and the life there.  North Idaho is a completely different world, with long cold dark winters, icy roads, and isolation.  I loved hearing her story about discovering that she didn’t need anti-depressants, just a Subaru!  After that discovery, she has become more involved with friends and community nearby and is accepting her new home.

What a home it is!  The “cabin” is log, designed by Chet, built elsewhere, and then erected on the property.  Originally a simple cabin, it evolved into 2.5 floors and 4,000 square feet.  The windows have a magnificent view to the west of the Selkirk range, and the barns below.

Chet met us at the lower driveway, where unexpectedly we needed to unhook the baby car to get around the curve.  This is a bit of a challenge on a bumpy, hilly, gravel road, but with Chet’s help we managed, and soon settled into our own private level campsite with power.  It was just a short walk up the hill to the house, but the road was steep and narrow and would have been a stretch for the MoHo even with the baby car unhooked.  It was still incredibly hot for this part of the country, so we left the air conditioner on for Jeremy and walked up to the house to catch up on old times with good friends.

Chet showed Mo around while Georgette and I chatted and figured out how to use the beautiful eggplant and tomatillos that Laura gave me last night.  Her dinner plan included oven roasted veggies, with olive oil, and lots of garlic and the eggplant was a perfect addition. We talked and laughed and told stories as the afternoon turned to evening, then enjoyed a truly fabulous dinner of the roasted veggies, and grilled pork tenderloins.  Georgette loves to cook and we were the lucky recipients.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

08-24-2010 LePage Oregon to Spokane Washington

August 24 LePage to Spokane 1


What a difference a day makes, AND! a good night’s sleep. AND a computer that works properly. AND! the allergy medications worn off.  Whew!  The sun is gorgeous this morning, coming over the brown hills to the east, framed in green locust trees and accented by the blue waters of the John Day River, fat and lazy due to the John Day Dam just west of us here at the mouth of the river.  This little campground is a treasure, and we enjoyed this mornings cool breezes, and a good night’s sleep.  We didn’t even have to unhook last night, and our site is right on the water.  The campground is unassuming, but we look out over the water from our awning side and are on level pavement pull through.  In the distance we can see the freeway, the railroad, and the hills around us are punctuated by the brilliant white and graceful windmills.  Power and transportation, all right here, and yet so rural and very peaceful.

The drive from this park to Spokane is pleasantly uneventful, without much to see except the river itself, huge and wide.  I have traveling it far too many times, however, to pay much attention any more to the charms of Eastern Oregon and Eastern Washington, especially the area around the Tri-Cities.  The most entertaining part of the trip was watching what the NUVI was telling us, and seeing her calculate the same routes I have used since I first started traveling these roads in 1972. We knew company would be coming for dinner so stopped at the huge and fabulous Kennewick Fred Meyer for supplies before continuing on into Spokane. 

I looked at the very brown, very dry fields all around us and tried without much success to see them with new eyes.  I know the story of wheat in Eastern Washington, the levels of precipitation and the depth of the soils increasing exponentially with the bushels per acre harvested as you approach Pullman/Moscow on the Washington-Idaho border.  I know the amazing story of the Great Missoula Floods that 13,000 years ago emptied a lake that covered a large part of Montana in what some say may have been as little as two days.  These brown scabby hills to the west of Highway 395 between Richland and Spokane are actually part of what is called the Channeled Scabland.  However, as a tourist passing through on the highway, none of this story is visible unless you know the tiny details and what to look for.  Today, it  just looked incredibly brown and boring.  The only good thing to be said is that the 100 miles or so from Tri-Cities to the Interstate 90 is now all four lanes, a good highway.  I traveled it for years as a 2 lane pain in the neck road full off slow truckers and furious people who couldn’t pass them.

We arrived in Spokane by 2 in the afternoon, and this time used the NUVI to negotiate the river and the bridges that make getting around sometimes a bit difficult in this town.  Of course, we found out again why everyone thinks that Spokane has the worst roads of any large city in the west.  Huge potholes and construction was going on everywhere, and we negotiated red flags and orange barriers all across town.  Another issue is the fact that Riverside State Park is sometimes hard to find, with the headquarters actually several miles north of the campground.  The Garmin Girl kept trying to make us go very far north.  If I hadn’t known the city, we could still be wandering around out there.  Once in the campground, however, all quieted down.  No one was in the kiosk, and we had no clue what our site number was supposed to be, but thankfully the telephone worked and after a call to headquarters, we settled into space 12 right next to the river.

We unhooked the Geo, only to discover that the battery was completely dead.  Somehow we had managed to park in a way that worked well, and we backed the MoHo into the site, and pushed the Geo off the road facing the front of the MoHo, thinking a jump would do the trick.  We were not so lucky, however, since it only clicked a bit before we gave up and called AAA.  Funny part about all this is that Triple A in Oregon had to route us to Triple A in Washington, and no matter how hard I tried to explain to the operator that we were NOT in Nine Mile Falls, she still sent the assistance to Nine Mile Falls, insisting that was the address of Riverside State Park.  We were especially lucky that the cell phone still worked down in the river canyon, because when the mechanic called me, he knew exactly where I was and drove back from Nine Mile to find us.  His charger had enough power to start the little car up, and after letting it run a bit, we were just fine.

By this time, Mo’s brother Don had found our campsite to join us for the rest of the afternoon.  I also called an old friend in Coeur D’Alene who agreed to make the long drive to the west side of Spokane to visit.  While we waited for Laura to arrive, Don and Mo and I went off for a bike ride on a small portion of the Centennial Trail that is in Riverside State Park.  This trail extends from Nine Mile Falls through Spokane east into Idaho ending on the east side of Coeur D’ Alene Lake.  I remember when the trail was just a gleam and a plan, and before I left the area almost ten years ago it was fairly well developed.  It is a great place to ride.  In fact, there are several trails in this part of Washington and Idaho that have been developed for biking, many from old railroad right-of-ways.

When we arrived back to camp from the bike ride, Laura arrived with a huge bowl of fabulous veggies from her garden to add to our supper.  We cooked the pork chops and corn on the cob outside, while I did some rice and a salad in the MoHo.  It was wonderful having some time to visit and catch up on our children, families, and doings over the last couple of years.  Laura and I haven’t seen each other since she visited me in Klamath a few years ago, so this was an extra special treat.  It was nice having Don there as well, and he and Sharon took Abby down to the river for a swim.

The moon was full and clearly visible through the trees and the park was dark and quiet except for the faint sound of the river below us.  It’s really dry this time of year, so even if we could have found some firewood, there were no fires allowed. By the time everyone left it was close to ten after a hot shower when we got to bed.  I love how well I sleep in the MoHo, with fresh air, all close and cozy, and wonderful dream time.