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 itinerarySunday 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.
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.
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.
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 forGreat 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!