We loaded up the car, heading East from Portland for a 3½ week road trip.
Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
What an adventure!
Along the Columbia River Gorge
I’ve traveled along the Gorge and hiked the area’s trails on multiple occasions. Each time I am awed by nature’s beauty.
We crossed from Oregon into Washington on the Bridge of the Gods. The construction of the Bonneville dam caused river levels along the Columbia river to dramatically rise, necessitating the bridge. The toll for car crossing is a whopping $2.00. The bridge is a part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Pedestrians. Watch out for backpackers. They cross for free.
I do love a bit of trivia! Hang with me. Cheryl Strayed featured Bridge of the Gods in her book Wild. The bridge was notable as it ended her journey along the Pacific Crest trail. Reese Witherspoon portrayed Strayed in the film. Just after you cross the bridge and turn east, there is a scenic view-point with a tiny visitor’s center on the right. Denise McSweeney staffs the center. Her claim to fame? She acted in Wild as the toll booth operator. Several times a week tourists (like me) take her picture.
Wind and kite surfing on the Columbia river abound. One of the best spots to catch a view or to launch a board is three miles west of the Hood River bridge on the Washington side. We parked at the Spring Creek fish hatchery, stretched our legs and watched the scene. Wow!
Along this stretch of the Columbia river, Native Americans harvested salmon for over 10,000 years. Celilo Falls was a sacred tribal fishing area. The construction of the Dalles dam in 1957 buried the falls and tribal villages deep below the river’s surface.
Have you ever wondered where the euphemism, “where in Sam Hill” came from? Well, here you go. Quaker Sam Hill made his fortune building railroads and in the stock market. He migrated to Washington in the early 1900s, believing he had found Heaven on earth. Sam built roads across the state to allow others to share his vision. In the middle of nowhere, he built the Maryhill château for his wife. She was not pleased. I can envision her asking, “where in Sam Hill are we?” Sam died in 1931. In 1940 Maryhill opened as a museum. It houses an interesting and eclectic collection. Sitting on a knoll above the river, the scenery is spectacular. There is an art studded vista walkway and a small sculptor garden. Maryhill is an interesting surprise in the middle of nowhere and is well worth a visit.
Walla Walla to Spokane
Just east of Maryhill we crossed the river back in to Oregon. It was getting late and we were ready to ditch the car. The Oregon side interstate suited the mood. Our destination for the night, Walla Walla Washington (say that 10 really times fast). The Walla Walla area is known for its sweet onions and Washington State wines.
Downtown is small, safe and clean. The city’s Main Street is line with wine tasting rooms, decent restaurants and fun shops. I like staying in the Marcus Whitman Hotel. It is a dog friendly hotel located in city center. Built in 1927, it underwent a major renovation in the 21 century. The old tower rumored to be haunted. If you stay there, skip the annex rooms and stay in the old tower. Leaving Walla Walla we drove the Palouse Scenic Byway toward Spokane Washington. Stunning wheat covered rolling hills sculpted with plows go on for miles and miles. A wonderful drive.
Along the way we passed through Dayton Washington. I spotted a HUGE Jolly Green Giant etched into the hillside. What the heck? We stopped for refreshments and found this interpretive sign explaining why a town would showcase the Jolly Green Giant. More trivia for the brain.
Spokane is a large city with a balance between old and new. And, it is home to the Historic Davenport Hotel. The hotel opened in 1914 and “has served as a beacon of culture and refinement throughout the region for the better part of a century.” The lobby is grand and the rooms luxurious. The hotel brags about the long list of famous people who have stayed there over the years. We arrived late and enjoyed supper in the lobby bar. The next morning I treated my Little Dog Ari to a walk in Riverfront Park. An auspicious way to start the day before loading up the car and heading to Montana.
Through Idaho to Montana
Interstate 90 crosses the Idaho panhandle over the Bitterroot Mountain range. The highest pass is 4,750 feet above sea level. In the heart of Silver Valley between exits 61 and 62 sits the small town of Wallace Idaho, pop. 784. Wallace bills itself as the Silver Capital of the World. All downtown buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Near town center is a huge public pool, constructed in 1939 as a WPA project. It has been fully restored and provides a perfect respite during hot summer days.
I like Wallace for its quirky personality and openly civic pride. There are plenty of good restaurants, fun shops and hotels. I enjoyed Sunday Brunch at the Blackboard Cafe. The owner monitors the kitchen, serves diners fresh savory meals and creates whimsical fun-filled art on her Blackboard. Outdoor activities around Wallace are unlimited. Silver County sports a 1,000 mile trail system, fishing, camping and 2 downhill skiing areas. Next time, I’ll stay longer.
Welcome to Montana
Friends invited us for a week-long visit to Bigfork, a perfectly situated small town in the Flathead Valley. Flathead Lake is huge and plays host to a myriad of summer water activities. Hiking opportunities abound. Clear views of the craggy Rocky Mountain range are the vista de jour. Warm days and cool star-filled nights make Bigfork a great summer destination.
Bridge Street Cottages are near the heart of the town and are a great choice for a short or extended stay. The Cottages just added a fully remodeled 2 bedroom 2 bath cottage with a huge deck. After an owner tour, I wanted to invent a special occasion just to stay there and celebrate on the deck. Another favorite of mine in Bigfork are the creations by Meissenburg Designs – Old Wood Signs. It’s a mom and pop operation producing fun vintage signs and great pillow covers. You can find their locally made creations while shopping downtown or just go online. Their humor and cheerful retro designs crack me up.
Glacier National Park – Day Trip
Our gracious hosts, Don and Lou Ann, guided Conde and me north on an 1½ hour drive from Bigfork to Glacier National Park for a day hike. This park is a true American jewel. In 1910 President Taft signed a bill establishing Glacier as the country’s 10th national park. I am so grateful for our elected leaders who had the foresight to create a national park system that has lasted more than a century. May our current leaders find that same foresight for our future generations.
We took a delightful 3-mile hike, crossing snow fields. In the middle of July! We were blessed with dramatic Rocky Mountain views, rivers and lakes all around. What a great day! Sometimes I feel so lucky.
Mother Nature didn’t let me down. The mountain goats and ground squirrels were out. We even spotted a grizzly bear. If you look in the picture on the bottom right, just where the streams create a vee, you can see it. Really…I swear!
If you are driving into the park, a word of caution. Parking during peak summer season can be a hassle. Go early and consider some of the public transportation options. Years ago we stayed in Glacier for 4 nights, hiking a myriad of trails. I highly recommend this technique. When you permeate the interior of the park, the quiet magnitude of the great American west truly emerges.
Please Join on Part II of America’s Wild West
Southern Montana & Wyoming – Yellowstone & Grand Teton
Thanks for joining my adventures. See you next time!
For All You Geezers on the Go – Keep On Keeping On!