One long 275 mile slog north to Helena on the I 15 today. At last we wake up to fine weather, just what we need on a boring drive. This route was pioneered by Lewis and Clark (everything around here seems to have been found by them) but the wagon trains were overtaken by the steam version and the route fell into disuse, until the Interstate was built. Even now the road is fairly quiet and we speed along at slightly above the 80mph speed limit (this is Idaho). As a result our average fuel consumption of 50 mpg is affected.
Crossing into Montana (speed limit 75mph) we try and find the Irish Festival and the 2nd tallest statue in the country (after the one liberty one in New York) in Bute but have no luck with either. Bute is a bit of a ghost mining town.
We arrive in the state capital of Helena and stop by the Capitol building. The government must be taking the month off, either that or no new legislation needs passing. Like many other state capitals Helena is quiet and in parts a bit run down as they generally keep government out of the way of business. We follow the recommended tourist route to Reeder’s alley and Last Chance Gulch in the sun then pick up a club foot take out, recommended by Shawn and Scott, our neighbour who grew up in Helena, and go to the trailhead for a Mount Helena picnic lunch – too hot to go up.
Feeling in need of some religion we check out the cathedral, I love god’s grass.
We are up at 6am again and wander down to the river just as the sun is coming up. Across the narrow strip of water a mother and calf moose are grazing. Lisa will be annoyed with him for not having a camera. To give them space we walk up the river and see a beaver. Two animal sighting ticks for Mark.
We have changed our plans to try and meet up with old friends from Connecticut. The meeting didn’t happen but we head south anyway. We opt for the longer route south through the park again in the hope that we add to the animal set. No luck, however soon after we leave Yellowstone and enter Teton National Park we come across a long traffic line up. Turns out we have our wild Grizzly after all, just have to share him with 100’s of others.
On south, taking the scenic route – Teton Park Road towards
Jackson, ski resort in the winter, tourist destination in the summer. Quick lunch at a cafe and a walk around the square deliberately avoiding the horse drawn carriages on my behalf.
The drive from Jackson to Idaho Falls is one of the best of the trip, winding roads going high over a mountain pass, the sun fighting with sudden downpours.
Idaho Falls was not on the itinerary it is just a useful jumping off point for tomorrows drive north to Helena, the capital of Montana. We plug downtown into the GPS and we arrive at the Falls which has a strip of parkland on either side of the river, this being my walk for the afternoon. On the advice of some locals we go to a converted railway shack for dinner and sit outside on the patio. Not expecting much the food is surprisingly good but the beer awful.
Hotel for the night is a Motel 6, we have the last room almost. It was difficult to find anywhere so at least we all have a dry none canvas place to sleep. The dog treats at reception are awful so I spit them out – not exactly the glamping I was promised.
Some people must travel all day and most of the night. When I go out for my pre bed amble the hotel car park is filling and when I wake for the first of the day (6am) it is emptying.
We leave Missoula feeling that we could have spent more time there. It was a shame that we were there on a Sunday evening and didn’t even give the town a chance to wake up. Nevermind, it left a good impression nevertheless. From the wide open valley where Missoula sits we travel up through narrower valleys and across the ridge of the continental divide at 6,963 feet. The road is good and it is not an unpleasant drive. We have been told that the Lewis and Clarke Caverns are worth a visit so we make that our first destination. Of course I am not allowed in the caves so that, together with a two hour tour time, they decide to take me on a quick side hike instead. I can hear another dog who has been abandoned in the kennels barking, his howling echoing around the canyon walls. I am so pleased that they chose the nice option.
We leave the park and continue on to Bozeman. The city centre straddles Main Street, we park the car and walk. It is an active and reasonably sophisticated western city, the Montana Ale House even has the hard to find Deschutes Fresh Squeezed on tap to make Mark a very happy man. We find the only other Dalmatian in town at a table there, she is far too frisky for me, or is it that I just don’t like the competition. We have words, she leaves. Apparently she is just off the plane from Norway, no wonder I couldn’t understand a word she said. Very strange that yesterday I was allowed on the patio but here, the waitress said I have to be kept off the premise. Never mind as I am only a foot from the table so am technically not in the restaurant.
It seems REI is in most of the cities/towns as they find one in Bozeman. Lisa goes in and finds the needed tent pegs to replace the bent ones as a result of the storm in Spokane.
Back at the campsite we pitch the tent, this time securely, even though thunderstorms and drizzle are in the air. Since eastern Washington the weather has cooled from 37c to 21c, it’s going to be cold tonight but at least two of us prefer it to the sweltering heat of the last 2 days. It will be a test to see how the blue thing survives, by far the oddest tent around – but free.
Another thing I don’t understand about campsites is their proximity to rail lines and highways. Montana is huge with a population of only one million and people travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get here. I am sure that they would put up with the slight inconvenience of travelling a few extra miles off the interstate to get some quiet!
He is up far too early to grab a shower – 5am. I go back to sleep, she just never wakes up. We go for a brief walk in a “Govnt property – no trespassers” place before heading back for a coffee and to begin the packing.
We hit the road and first head to Coeur d’Alene to rearrange our campsite for the return journey. If States can be divided by geography then we have just experienced it. From desert high plains to tree laden mountains just by crossing a line. So at last we depart Washington, good roads, to Idaho, same highway but not so good. We reach the recommended lunch spot of the small mining town, “world’s silver mining capital” of Wallace and find a street restaurant so that I can be accomodated. Not bad for a town of 926 people. There are 3 working mines and the deepest one is over 9,000 feet.
Onwards and we quickly enter Montana, our home for the next week. Again what a difference once you enter Big Sky country. The interstate meanders up and over high passes with an almost roller coaster feel. It takes a few hours but eventually we reach Missoula, set in a broadening valley. We also forgot the time difference. The storm last night left them with a broken tent pole so they seek out a replacement in REI, no luck there though. A cheap roll of duct tape will have to do and a hope that the wind abates for the remainder of the trip.
We arrive at the hotel and I collapse in a steaming heap on the lobby floor – surely they understand – I don’t do hot.
A quick internet search reveals a downtown brew pub so we mount up again hoping that Sunday isn’t too strictly observed in the Wild West. It isn’t, and we drink, eat and drink at the Tamarack Brewing company. A couple of pints of IPA later…
A post dinner walk to the river and we find the Sunday sport for the locals, load up with beer and float down the rapids to a downstream beach…fun apparently…I paddle.
Well this time we have set off due east … destination Montana but first we have to traverse the width of Washington state and a slice of Idaho. East takes us off I-5 and onto route 2 over Stevens Pass at over 4,000 ft. Over the divide the evidence of the largest fire, the Carlton Complex, becomes obvious, luckily for us the road reopened only yesterday however they are still attempting to minimize the northward spread of the flames. We reach Leavenworth for lunch, a quaint Bavarian village surrounded by mountains on all sides. Perhaps a convoy of German covered wagons came through and thought they were in the Alps and decided to stay. Anyway we find the Munchen Haus, a me friendly tavern where they can have beer (non-German) and wursts for lunch. The heat is getting to me (& Lisa), it’s 37c – no place for cool Dalmatians or dark-haired Chinese We hang around for an ice cream or two and then on the way out-of-town bump into a winery that must be tried. Perched on the hill is Silvara, a winery, where as is common here, they don’t actually grow the grapes but just blend the juice from where they can actually grow proper grapes. After 6 samples the verdict is not bad though. A comfortably seated Lisa has to be persuaded to leave but we need to wander on to the Air BNB for tonight in East Wenatchee. We arrive at just before 4, a large house high on the northern bank of the Columbia river. The resident dog greets us – a Japanese Sheba Imu called Loki, friendly enough but he traps me in the washroom where there is a cool tiled floor so I am not minded to object. Lisa collapses on the bed, claiming excessive heat so I also decide to rest. We are directed to dinner place by the river, Pybus market. I am illegally snuck in past the definitely no dogs sign to the patio breaking countless state and local hygiene laws in the process. Everyone in the restaurant doesn’t bat an eye lid so why can’t this be the norm. Seated, Lisa discovers it’s a pizza joint, albeit an OK one. Two pizzas and one rather small margarita later it’s time for a final walk before retreating to bed.