Monday, September 8, 2008

Postcard Pack of Montana Trip 2008

June 8-25, 2008

This series of blog postings presents highlights of our June 2008 drive to Montana and points beyond. The trip lasted 18 days and covered about 6000 miles.

One of the challenges in creating an itinerary for this road trip is keeping the first day’s leg interesting. We wanted to make it from San Diego to Missoula, MT, in about 2.5 days. A straight shot north on Interstate 15 would have been the easy, most direct way, with an overnight stop in Cedar City, or St. George, UT, about midway along. But we had been over that path many times, so we looked for an alternative.

US 93, the Great Basin Highway, has much to merit it, and indeed there are many worthwhile stops north of Las Vegas, NV: Caliente, Cathedral Gorge State Park, Pioche, and Great Basin National Park, with Ely as a logical overnight stop. As a matter of fact, we followed this route on a 2003 road trip, also in June, when the high mountain ranges still had residual snow and the basins were still green from late spring rains.

This time, we decided on a route that allowed us to sample a number of ghost towns and other “off the beaten path” sights. We tried our best to avoid the Interstate Highway System and sought out byways where one can find hidden “gems” of historic or scenic interest.

Here is the itinerary

Sunday June 8: San Diego to Tonopah, NV. Routing: I-15 to Baker; CA-SR 127 to Shoshone; CA-SR 178 and NV-SR 372 to Pahrump; NV-SR 160 and US 95 to Beatty, NV-SR 374 to Rhyolite and back, US 95 to Tonopah. Approximate mileage: 500. Highlights: Click “Postcard from Tonopah, NV."

Monday June 9:
Tonopah to Ontario, OR. Routing: US 6, NV-SR 376 and US 50 to Austin; US 50 to Eureka; NV-SR 278 to Carlin; I-80 to Elko; NV-SR 225 and ID-SR 51 to Mountain Home, I-84 to Fruitland and Ontario. Approximate mileage: 550.

Highlights: We sampled US 50, the “Loneliest Road in America” between Austin and Eureka.

Lander County Courthouse, Austin, NV.

Downtown Eureka, NV.

Nevada State Highway 225 between Elko and Owyhee is quite a scenic drive. This time of year, the greenery of the basins contrasts with the snowcapped ranges.

Wild Horse Reservoir, Northern Nevada, with
the Independence Mountains in the background.

We located an ancestral home that once belonged to Doug’s grandfather in the rural town of
Fruitland, ID. We learned from the current owner of the house that commerce migrated from the Idaho cities of Payette and Fruitland to Ontario, OR, because Oregon charges no sales tax.

There were no AAA-recommended motels in Fruitland, so we headed right across the Snake River to the larger city of Ontario. It was nearly dark, so we found no bargains. We settled in at the Sleep Inn, 1221 S.E. 1st Avenue, conveniently located for a quick getaway in the morning. The $59 AAA rooms were gone, but we were pleased with our $71 room (we couldn't be too choosy at 9 at night!). Fortunately, there was a Wingers Grill and Bar next door where we had a decent barbecue beef dinner.

Tuesday, June 10: Ontario to Missoula, MT. Routing: I-84 and US 95 to Payette, US 95 to Grangeville, ID-SR 13 to Kooskia, US 12/93 to Missoula. Approximate mileage: 400.

Highlights: We had originally planned to cut east to ID-SR 55 (Cascade Scenic Byway) to McCall, but the weather forecast for stormy conditions persuaded us to take US 95 instead.

We paused for a view of Payette Lake, near McCall, ID.

Payette Lake, near McCall, ID.

The beautiful weather turned nasty as we headed north of McCall to Kooskia. By the time we reached Lolo Pass, it was snowing so heavily over we were not sure we would make it over. In fact, if we had waited a day, it would have been impassible!

Missoula does have a number of attractions, but the weather was not conducive to much sightseeing. Missoula is the home to the University of Montana which was letting out when we arrived in late afternoon, contributing to surprisingly heavy traffic. We did take time to visit the Historic Museum at Fort Missoula, which was a good indoor activity.

We prearranged an overnight stay in a private home on the outskirts of Missoula, while the owner was away on vacation.

Wednesday, June 11 and Thursday, June 12: Missoula to Bozeman. Approximate mileage: 600 over two days.

Highlights: Click “Postcard from Bozeman, MT.”

Friday, June 13: Bozeman to Red Lodge via Virginia/Nevada City and Livingston. Approximate mileage: 450.

Highlights: Click “Postcard from Red Lodge, MT.”

Saturday, June 14: Red Lodge to Billings via Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Routing: MT-SR 78 to Roscoe, returning to Red Lodge; US 212 & MT County Road 308 to Washoe & Belfry; MT-SR 72 to Bridger; US 310 to Lovell, WY; US 14 Alt. & US 14 to Ranchester; I-90 to Little Bighorn Battlefield, Hardin and Billings. Approximate mileage: 300.

Highlights: Click “Postcard from Billings, MT.”

Sunday, June 15: Billings to Fort Benton via Great Falls. Routing: MT-SR 3 to Lavina, US 12 to White Sulphur Springs, US 89/87 to Great Falls and Fort Benton. Approximate mileage: 270.

Highlights: Doris prepared an excellent breakfast of homemade waffles, then well fortified, we took off for

Great Falls. We visited two major attractions: the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center, and the C. M. Russell Museum & Home. Both of these museums are must sees and should not be missed.

We arrived in Fort Benton in mid-afternoon and found the small historic town a most enjoyable place to visit. Click “Postcard from Fort Benton, MT” for a continuation of this day’s post.

Monday, June 16: Fort Benton to Glacier National Park. Routing: MT County Road 223 to Chester, US 2 to Browning, US 89 to Babb, Swiftcurrent Drive (by Sherburne Lake) to Glacier National Park. Approximate mileage: 200.
Tuesday, June 17:
Glacier National Park to Mountain View, AB via Waterton Lakes National Park. Routing: US 89 and MT-SR 17 to Canadian border, AB 6 and 5 to Waterton Lakes National Park and Mountain View; side trip to Twin Butte. Approximate mileage: 120.

Highlights: Click “Postcard from Mountain View, AB, Canada.”

Wednesday, June 18: Mountain View to Kimberley, BC. Routing: AB 5, AB6, AB/BC 3 to BC 95 Junction, Bull River Road to Fort Steele, BC 95 and BC 95A to Kimberley. Approximate mileage: 200.
Thursday, June 19:
Kimberley to Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls, ID. Routing: BC 3 and 95 to US border; US 95 to Coeur d’Alene. Approximate mileage: 200.

Highlights: Click “Postcard from Coeur d’Alene, ID.”

Friday, June 20: Coeur d’Alene to Dayton, WA. Routing: I-90 to Spokane, US 2 to Davenport, WA-SR 174/155 to Grand Coulee Dam, WA-SR 155 to Soap Lake and Ephrata, WA-SR 28 & 17 to Moses Lake, I-90 to Ritzville, WA-SR 261 to Washtucna and Palouse Falls State Park, WA-SR 261 and US 12 to Dayton. Approximate mileage: 350.

Highlights: Click “Postcard from Dayton, WA.”

Saturday, June 21: Dayton to Baker City, OR. Routing: US 12 to Walla Walla, WA-SR 125/OR-SR 11 to Weston, OR-SR 204 to Elgin, OR-SR 82 to Joseph, Forest Road 39/OR-SR 39 (Hells Canyon Scenic Byway) to junction with OR-SR 86, continue to Baker City. Approximate mileage: 300.

Highlights: Click “Postcard from Baker City, OR.”

Sunday, June 22: Baker City to Lincoln City, OR. Routing: OR-SR 7 (Elkhorn Scenic Byway) to Austin, US 26 (John Day Highway) to Prineville, OR-SR 126 to Sisters, US 20 and OR-SR 22 to Sublimity, OR-SR 213/214 to Silverton, OR-SR 213 to Salem, OR-SR 22/18 to Otis, US 101 to Lincoln City. Approximate mileage: 500.

Highlights: Click “Postcard from Lincoln City, OR.”

Monday, June 23: Lincoln City to Brookings, OR. Routing: US 101 to Brookings with a side trip on Cape Arago Highway to Shore Acres State Park. Approximate mileage: 350.

Highlights: Click "Postcard from Brookings, OR."

Tuesday, June 24: Brookings to Gilroy, CA. Routing: US 101 to Novato, CA-SR 37 to Vallejo, I-80/I-780/I-680 to San Jose, US 101 to Gilroy. Approximate mileage: 500.

Highlights: This was essentially a straight shot to today's destination, about half way to San Diego. The air quality was so awful, due to the numerous fires burning in northern California at the time, that we kept our stops to a minimum.

The one highlight that is worth passing along is the Loleta Cheese Factory, in the tiny burg of Loleta (pronounced "Loleeta"), located between Eureka and Ferndale. Huell Howser of California Gold fame put this place on the map, and it's a fun place for cheese tasting. We especially like their Monterey Jack cheese with crumbs of smoked salmon; there are other tasty varieties, too. They make most of their cheeses on-site, but they also carry product from other boutique cheese makers.

Loleta Cheese Factory.

We have found the route through East San Francisco Bay through Vallejo a good way to avoid traffic hassles in San Francisco. The controversial Embarcadero Freeway, that would have provided a freeway route through the congested downtown, was abandoned years ago.

Gilroy, the Garlic Capital, was just the right spot for an overnight stay. We have found two reliable establishments, a motel and restaurant, that we wound recommend. The Quality Inn and Suites, 8430 Murray Avenue, was nearly full, but they had a spacious handicap room available for the same $61 AAA discounted price as we paid two years ago for a standard room.

There were several restaurants within walking distance, but the one we enjoyed the most is the Black Bear Diner, 395 Leavesley Road. Their "A Little Less Dinner" deal for seniors still provided copious amounts of food for about $10. What was especially touching this evening was the Black Bear's serving dinner to firefighters who were involved in the serious blazes in Big Sur, not far away. Other patrons were cheering these brave fire personnel, much as we would hail troops returning from battle.

Wednesday, June 25: in Gilroy to San Diego. Routing: US 101, I-405 & I-5 Freeways. Approximate mileage: 450.

Highlights: The good continental breakfast got us off to an early start, and we made the decision to make it home today.
We stopped off in Thousand Oaks for a picnic on the grounds of their beautifully landscaped civic center. The real attraction in town is the Gardens of the World, which would be most attractive in spring. We vowed to go there the next time we are in the area, preferably during a cooler time.

Some of the craziest traffic we encountered was in the San Fernando Valley; the nearest close call for us on the whole trip was here. A distracted guy on a cell phone very nearly sideswiped us while he was merging from the right; we blared our horn and he turned away at the last nanosecond!

We arrived home in mid-afternoon without further incident. A major treat awaited us: the overhead utility poles and lines were finally coming down along Pacifica Drive, after nearly nine years of waiting!

Postcard from Brookings, OR

June 23, 2008

There is much to see along the coastline between Lincoln City and the California state line; among the sights: shear coastal bluffs, quaint fishing villages, historic lighthouses, and spectacular bridges.

View south of Lincoln City.

Yaquina Head Lightouse, just north of Newport.

The fishing/resort town of Newport was especially charming. We took time to stroll the streets of Old Town Newport. The Art Deco Yaquina Bay Bridge, one of many such steel bridges along US 101 in Oregon, graced the horizon. In contrast , California typically employed reinforced concrete arches for many of its coastal bridges built during the same era (1928-38).

Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport.

Yachats is the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center that features interactive displays and spectacular coastal views from its outdoor decks.

View south from Cape Perpetua.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, near Florence.

Shore Acres State Park and Botanical Garden, 89814 Cape Arago Highway, Coos Bay, was well worth the detour. The turnoff for this highway was at Charleston, another picturesque fishing village.

Scenes from the botanical garden, Shore Acres State Park.

We made a stop at Bandon, known for its cranberry-related industry. Probably the best known establishment is Cranberry Sweets and More ® where we did some sampling and shopping.

Sport and fishing boats at Bandon.

We paused in
Port Orford before ending today’s drive in Brookings. From this point on, we went for value, not charm for our lodging (AAA preferred) and eating choices. We stayed at the non-descript Spindrift Motel (about $55 with coupon). We had a good Mexican dinner at Pancho’s Restaurante y Cantina, virtually across the street.

Coastal view near Port Orford.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Postcard from Lincoln City, OR

June 22, 2008

We are starting our homeward stretch with a goal of making it to the Oregon coast by late afternoon. Fortunately, after yesterday’s storm in Baker City, we were treated to a gorgeous drive, climbing into the
Elkhorn Mountains, bathed in the morning’s golden light.

Along the way, we encountered a cattle herd being driven by wranglers on horseback, a reminder of the Old West.

Cattle herd along the John Day Highway.

The John Day Fossil Beds National Monument lies near
Dayville and Mitchell. Due to time constraints, we passed by the fossil beds themselves, but we enjoyed the spectacular buttes and mesas lining the John Day River.

We stopped to refuel and stretch our legs at
Prineville, seat of Crook County. The Richardsonian Romanesque-style courthouse, built in 1909 and restored in 1990, is still in use today.

Crook County Courthouse, Prineville.

Sisters lay Suttle Lake, a great spot for a picnic.

Suttle Lake, near Sisters.

The major attraction this afternoon was The Oregon Garden, located in
Silverton. This botanical garden complex was undergoing expansion from 80 to 240 acres, with the addition of a luxury resort. There are more than 20 specialty gardens, each unique in its own special way.

Scenes from The Oregon Garden, Silverton.

The Gordon House is the only building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oregon. The current owners moved the house to its present location at The Oregon Garden, saving it from demolition.

The Usonian-style Gordon House by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The unique
Oregon State Capitol is located in Salem. Constructed in 1936-38, this Art Deco marble structure replaced a more conventional classical domed building that burned in 1935.

Oregon State Capitol, Salem.

We reached
Lincoln City in late afternoon and immediately secured a room at the America’s Best Inn & Suites. This budget priced, but new accommodation ran about $59 with AAA discount. After dropping off our gear, there was plenty of near-Summer Solstice evening light to explore the beautiful Oregon coastline.

The shoreline near Lincoln City, early evening.

The motel clerk recommended Mo’s Chowder for dinner. This restaurant, one of five Mo’s in Oregon, is popular with tourists and locals alike. The place was packed at 8 o’clock, partly due to a political fundraiser for U.S. Senator Gordon Smith (R). When we were finally seated, we had a hearty meal of blackened salmon, accompanied by their famous New England clam chowder. We whiled away the evening in this family-style restaurant, chatting with a couple from Georgia, who were criss-crossing the country in their RV. We then retired to the motel for the night.
Public art near Mo's Chowder Restaurant, Lincoln City.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Postcard from Coeur d'Alene, ID

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mountain View, AB to Kimberley, BC.

The breakfast buffet at the Rocky Ridge Inn lived up to its billing: lots of home baked muffins and pastries, a variety of meats, omelets made to order, and plenty of caffeinated coffee in this Mormon-run establishment. We were able to take lots of food for later.

The area around
Pincher Creek has become a hot bed for “wind farms”. Wind energy is being heavily promoted here.

Much of Provincial Highway 3, the Crows Nest Highway west to
Cranbrook, BC, is not particularly scenic; there has been extensive coal mining along this route. One of Canada’s great disasters, the Frank Slide, occurred near the Municipality of Crows Nest in 1903. This rock avalanche killed at least 70 people in the coal mining town of Frank. Unfortunately, the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, highly recommended by AAA and elsewhere, was closed for renovation at the time of our trip (note: it reopened August 29, 2008).

We pulled off for a stroll through attractive
Fernie, which sports a well-preserved downtown dating from 1908-09. After two disastrous fires in 1904 and 1908, the citizenry rebuilt the city’s commercial district entirely of brick and other fireproof materials. The Fernie County Courthouse has been little altered since its rebuilding after the 1908 fire.

Historic Downtown Fernie, BC.

Fernie County Courthouse.

The Kootenay Trout Hatchery, 4522 Fenwick Road, Fort Steele, is located along the Kootenay River. We stopped for a picnic at a nearby rest area and visited the hatchery afterwards. It is very much an interactive educational institution, appealing to the young and “young at heart” alike.

Kootenay Fish Hatchery, Fort Steele, BC.

For those interested in a reconstructed historic village, Fort Steele Heritage Town

We continued on to today’s destination,
might be worthwhile, especially for families. AAA gives it a “Gem” rating.Kimberley, a Bavarian-themed ski resort town nestled in the Purcell Mountains. Although a bit touristy, it’s a fun place to walk about. There are many high-end arts and crafts shops as well as the usual souvenir stores. We found an excellent German bakery where we bought some pastries. We had a reasonably priced, hearty dinner of pork schnitzel at the acclaimed Chef Bernard’s Inn (early bird special at about $12). (Note: the U.S. and Canadian dollar were about at parity in June 2008).

Oversized "Cuckoo Clock" on the Platz, Kimberley.

Our hotel was The Kimberley Inn, with a Senior/AAA rate of $84. It was pretty plain, but comfortable and quiet. The rate included complimentary coffee and tea; the
Cee Cee Restaurant and Lounge offered reasonably priced meals. A nice amenity was the Dell computer available for complimentary public use in the lobby. Their cable TV service included a channel from Spokane, WA; among the nuggets of information we heard was the gasoline “price war” in Coeur d’Alene, ID where regular unleaded was available at the “bargain” price of $3.72/gal vs. $4.20/gal prevailing in the U.S. and $6.00/gal in Canada!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Kimberley to Coeur d’Alene/Post Falls, ID.

After our breakfast assembled from leftovers taken from the Rocky Ridge Inn, plus fruit purchased from a nearby market and German pastries bought near the Platz, we made a beeline to the U.S. border. The passage through customs at Kingate, BC/Eastport, ID was uneventful and once south of the border, we enjoyed the scenic drive to
Bonners Ferry. We ambled on foot through the historic downtown for a little exercise.

We continued on to
Sandpoint, where we shopped at the Sandpoint Litehouse [sic] Cheese Shop. Our favorite product is their Idaho Bleu blue cheese crumbles (a wonderful salad condiment). They also had some bargain-priced low-calorie salad dressings that we also purchased. After window shopping throughout the historic downtown, we picnicked at City Beach Park, located right on Pend Oreille Lake. What a magnificent setting!

Our picnic spot overlooking Pend
Oreille Lake, Sandpoint, ID.

We reached
Coeur d’Alene mid-afternoon, and found traffic gridlock due to the Ironman Triathlon two days hence. The town was packed! Nevertheless, we visited the Museum of North Idaho, located on the North Idaho College campus. We were within short walking distance of the staging area for the Ironman next to Coeur d’Alene Lake. Already, the place was swarming with participants preparing for the event.

We headed to the outskirts of town, where we visited friends, formerly from San Diego, who prepared us a fabulous home cooked salmon dinner. Finally, we headed to another private home in
Post Falls for our overnight stay.