Wandering Around Washington State

So it’s been a bit rainy here in the PNW. That’s my headline. Our laundry isn’t so much dirty as it is damp. But we’ve seen some cool stuff in the last week or so as we’ve hovered near Seattle knowing we’d have to return for some follow up errands.

Heading east toward Yakima and Walla Walla, we checked out the large small town of Ellensburg. It was the Friday before Halloween and businesses were handing out candy. You could get a real feel for the community spirit in this town as nearly every IMG_2903business in their large district was participating. The ROTC class from the local high school served as safety patrol (and handed out candy themselves.) They have a large county historical museum where I tried to learn how to pronounce the county name-Kittitas. I also learned there the town’s name used to be spelled Ellensburgh, but in 1890 The US Board of Geographic Names made every town with a “burgh” drop the “h” (apparently Pittsburgh rebelled.)

We thought it wise to park ourselves for the evening at a winery via Harvest Host, given Washington’s excellent wine scene. We picked White Heron Cellars partially because it is a bit north of where we were headed and would allow us to see a different part of the region, and partially because it was in Quincy, WA and I have a friend named Quincy! See hoIMG_2936w frivolous one can be on a year long trip? Indeed White Heron was beautifully situated on the Columbia River, though we had to take a circuitous route there. The winds were high and Cameron the proprietor said that there had been a fire previously this year adjacent to I-90 and trucks (and trailers???) just couldn’t travel safely–too many tumbleweeds. We loved all their wine and bought not one but two bottles, a red (a blend, Mariposa) and a white (Roussane). The next morning #visitorkitty got as far inside (which is to say just to the front step) of the Airstream as any kitty has thus far.

From there we headed to Walla Walla. When Ben and I got married, we had to look around for an officiant. A fortuitous serious of events led us to Rev. Jack Mathison – a World War II vet and otherwise amazing person who has remained a family friend. Jack trained as a navigator on the B-24 Liberator in Walla Walla, and we were headed there to see what we could see and share with him.

The excellent Ft. Walla Walla Museum had the goods. When we sent Jack some of these pictures, he replied saying he had spent some memorable evenings at the Marcus Whitman Hotel Café, and it’s where he started and perfected his Mark Twain yell:  “Mark .. TWAIN!”  Love him.

Jack told us about preprinted messages home like the one in the bottom of this pic. Easier to get past the censors! And it did take a while to get them home after the war had ended.

Jack told us about preprinted messages home like the one in the bottom of this pic. Easier to get past the censors! And for various reasons it took a while to get the troops home after the war ended. (For his part, Jack’s return home was delayed at least a month, as he had to spend time “fattening up” at Camp Lucky Strike in Europe following his liberation from a German POW camp, where he spent a hungry year after his B-24 was shot down.)

Walla Walla is deep into Lewis & Clark country as well. A local guidebook indicates that most of the places they camped or referenced were now hidden away under lakes and reservoirs created by the dams in the Columbia River. Oh what L & C would have done for a leisurely stroll across a lake! Of course the ensuing settlers and railroad and mining led the US government to negotiate, push, provoke, swindle and otherwise take land from the many Cascades Indian tribes, including the Walla Walla. Chief Peopeomoxmox, seen below left, actually stood up to the territorial governor and won some concessions in 1855; he secured additional lands, allowing more tribes to stay on at least some of their home lands (see the three reservations below, i.e. rather than one or two). In the scheme of things it was a small victory, but it stuck with me.


Walla Walla is at the center of the lands of several Cascades tribes

Walla Walla has become quite the wine-focused destination in the last 10-15 years. We spent Halloween evening there – in the Elks parking lot bless their hearts – and it rained. Such a bummer for the kids! We loved the scenes of Walla Walla people and culture over time depicted in “Windows on the Past” – the carefully preserved Odd Fellows Temple sandstone façade. Did you know Adam West (Batman!) grew up here?! Pop culture is important to trace as well.


After Walla Walla, we headed toward the Columbia Gorge town of The Dalles (still can’t pronounce it.) We visited the excellent Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and the folks there were kind enough to let us park and stay overnight in their lot. The area along the river there is also a trailhead for area walking/biking trails and there were lots of locals coming and going to make use of them. The staff person who oriented us to the exhibits, knowing we only had a short time, suggested we take a close look at the basket exhibit. She said of course you will see baskets at other museums, but in this exhibit she felt like she really learned and was surprised by some of their uses. (For example, upper right, those baskets were used as hats!)


Scenes inside and out of the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center

The next morning we did a quick hit on Hood River – daylight savings time had ended and we for oIMG_3037nce were up and out early – almost too early for any stores to be open. But we did see Hood River is home to one of our IMG_3039favorite beers (Full Sail, left).

And I browsed their local book store and saw this on sale – photographs taken by the excellent Molly Peterson, a good friend and former colleague of my good friend Pam. Kind of cool to see it out here in the wild! Any food picture taking tips I have learned from Pam, Pam has learned from Molly, so thank you Molly! And with that, I will leave you with a potato encrusted red snapper, which I believe I made in the enchanted forest adjacent to Mt. Rainier last week. Pam’s tip to me (and I assume Molly’s to her) is to zoom in, give your picture a focus, which I did below for the picture on the right.

To test my theory, I asked Grier, who is sitting next to me, which of the pics was more interesting/engaging and she said the right one BUT she noted she is not sure she can tell what the food itself is (eg fish, potato, etc). GooFullSizeRenderd feedback for next time!!!IMG_2875


TBT 1980 and 8th Grade Science Class – Mount St. Helens on a Very Clear Day

We spent a lovely long weekend in Seattle with friends new and old, enjoying our first days in a REAL bed since our trip began almost two months ago. We headed to Mount St. Helens – that perfect mix of history, nature, and places we might never get to in a world of limited vacation time. Though we’d heard enough from Seattle-ites about the wonderful precious mountain views that only come “on your tiptoes during full moons when the breeze is blowing just so, and a black cat hasn’t crossed your path, etc”, we were pretty blown away by this view of Mt. Rainier on our way out of town, south on 5. A foreshadowing of spectacular sights to come…

Mt. Rainier, on a unusually clear day, heading south from Seattle on THE 5!

Mt. Rainier, on a unusually clear day, heading south from Seattle on THE 5!

Soon we were in the land of volcanoes, many active in the Cascades regIMG_2685ion (being so close to those Pacific faults you know), and one famously so 35 years ago, Mount St. Helens. Though we both remember the eruption, we don’t remember that there had been plenty of warning (seismic, geysers, a bulge on the northwest side that grew five feet(!) a day) that a major volcanic event was coming, and that somehow made the human story behind what happened here even more compelling today. The weather held and we were greeted with this view when we arrived at the Visitor Center at Silver Lake. It’s in an area northwest of the mountain which was devastated by the eruption. The exhibits there focus on the impact on the local community.

IMG_2686The staff there suggested (thankfully!) that we hightail it to the Johnston Ridge Observatory — about 50 miles west — for a closer look at the mountain and to take advantage of the spectacular visibility, which weather reports suggested would not be coming again any time soon. Plus. the observatory is only open seasonally and closing in a few days. We made plans to return to this VC the next day and headed up the mountain.

About halfway up to Johnston Observatory - elevation not too bad for towing the Airstream.  I believe that is Mt. Baker to the left.

About halfway up to Johnston Observatory – elevation not too bad for towing the Airstream but these viewpoints are convenient to give the truck a rest. I believe the snowy peak to the left is Mt. Baker..

Johnston Observatory , 5 miles from the summit, is named for David Johnston, a 30 year old (!) volcanologist working with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) who died in the eruption. He is credited with saving hundreds/thousands of lives because of his warnings about the danger based IMG_2744on the readings off the mountains they were getting in the weeks and days before May 18th, 1980. Though the area around there isn’t widely populated, it is/was a popular summer destination, with cabins, lakes, camping, etc. Police had set up checkpoints all around keeping people out on the advice of people like Johnston. You can imagine, especially with the run up to summer, the pressure from residents, business owners and others. This exhibit panel to the right from the Silver Lake Visitors Center tells some of that tale.

The eruption itself happened on a Sunday morning, at 0832. The day before, police had escorted anxious property owners in and out for quick checks and to retrieve belongings – folks had been barred from visiting their homes since March, when the first eruptions occurred!. Officials were planning to allow homeowners to briefly return again on Sunday. That morning, David Johnston was at his observation post, located about where the Observatory is today. His final recorded words came as he urgently radioed USGS headquarters in nearby Vancouver, WA …“Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” The eruption began as a lateral eruption – just like it sounds – the mountain blew up sideways. Because it is so unusual, it was unexpected, even to the scientists. These pictures were taken by a camper who just happened to have the perfect vantage point – and hightailed it away with his life. We camped here the second night.

From Bear Meadow pull out off 99 on the east side of the park.

From Bear Meadow pull-out off 99 on the east side of the park. Pictures taken by Gary Rosenquist, a private citizen who chose this camping spot that weekend, hoping but not nearly being able to predict that he’d get pictures like these. 

Then, later, the 12 mile high eruption. This postcard below is going to my nephew, but for now, please enjoy. Unbelievable.


David Johnston’s body has never been found. 56 other people died.

The Observatory had an excellent trail outside which we braved in very high and very cold winds. Inside, in an excellent ranger talk, we learned how and why the lava coming out of MSH is more like mud balls compared to the syrupy flow of those in Hawaii (if I have my notes right it’s because of silica content of the magma).


Mt. St. Helens is actually relatively young for a mountain in this region. And, it is still an active volcano.

The tree below shows the impact of the blast (left side) and the protected side (right). Good bye park. Some mountains facing the eruption were blasted down to bedrock. Nearly 150 square miles of forest were either blown down completely or killed. The pics are incredible – miles and miles of what look like matchsticks blown over in the direction of the 300 mile per hour blast.IMG_2721

We camped that night in Harry Gardner County Park, newly reopened after 35 years. The whole area adjacent to the Toutle River was swamped by mudflow coming out of the eruption. From what we could gather, Cowlitz County citizens led the effort to get this park back to it’s beautiful condition today. Way to go.

We headed to the south and east sides of the mountain to do some short hikes and see how the eruption did or did not affect various terrains. The south part of the park did not take a direct blow in 1980, but the Trail of Two Forests there shows impact of previous eruptions. While there, an 8th grade class from Camas, WA descended (crazy because we had felt like the only people on the mountain previously) to check out what they’d been learning about in class. Their teacher was awesome! The middle picture below shows the holes left behind when lava encased a tree trunk, then cooled; when the tree rotted or burned away, it left the holes.

Later, we ventured north to the east side of the mountain. Here the views and signage really give you a feel for the incredible effort and payoff of the recovery post-eruption. They are learning so much about how a natural area recovers from such events, trying out different methods of replanting, and of course keeping timber growing and available for lumber companies.


We hiked the Harmony Trail – highly recommended. It leads a mile down to Spirit Lake. Immediately after the eruption, the lake was said to have “disappeared”. If you were a girl or boy scout in this area, you surely would have camped on Spirit Lake. Imagine the devastation as the volcano’s explosion blasted water out of the lake and onto the adjacent mountain sides leveling the forest, then retreated back into the lake, carrying all the tree trunks with it. This area is truly sacred – picture this whole basin filled with mudflow and debris; now the lake is intact, but on its surface floats the remnants of an entire forest felled by the blast. We were lucky enough to be the only ones there when we visited, adding to the experience. At least one life lost here was Harry Truman – an 80-something lodge owner who refused to leave the mountain with his 16 cats, despite pleas from his neighbors and a letter-writing effort by local school kids.

This final picture (from the Observatory) is a neat trick the ranger showed us – my hands show what the summit looked like before the eruption. IMG_2720

After this incredible trip, we headed just north to Mt. Rainier. And tucking into an excellent camping spot in the adjacent national forest, the rain and cold was just too much for us to do more than (enjoy a) drive through the park – next time! We hear there is sun on the east side of these mountains…

The Great Divide

Though we had both read Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose some years back, now that we were in the thick of Lewis and Clark historical country here in Idaho, it was time for a major review.

Spoiler Alert - that's Meg at the top of Lemhi Pass

Spoiler Alert – that’s Meg at the top of Lemhi Pass

Meg bought a used copy, spent an evening or two in secluded study, then thoroughly briefed me – including long passages read verbatim – as we spent 2 1/2 hours on the road east to Lemhi Pass from our campsite on the Salmon River near Stanely, ID.

Lewis and Clark’s inaugural epic journey (see our area of travel on the left in the NPS map close up below) of course would have been from the east to the west.

NPS map of the area we visited

NPS map of the area we visited

This is beautiful country here in the Bitterroots of Idaho and it’s easy to visualize the events Meg is reading about and the country Lewis and Clark saw: rolling, grass-covered mountains periodically giving way to rocky cliffs and spires, and the Salmon River winding through all of it with waters alternating between rapids and smooth, but still fast, water and banks lined with the yellow/orange of Cottonwood trees reaching their peak now that it is (was) late September.


Stephen Ambrose tells of how Thomas Jefferson, the real force behind the Lewis and Clark expedition, sent Lewis to be schooled by recognized experts in astronomy, botany, and other sciences so he would be as prepared as he could possibly be for his mission of discovery. Fascinating – it sounds like preparation for a space mission.

Suddenly Meg’s reading was interrupted as a magnificent Bighorn Sheep bounded across the road in front of us and I had to swerve to miss it. Fortunately, there were no other vehicles on the road; the scenery was utterly rural with few signs of human activity and we and the wildlife had the place to ourselves.

Interpretive trail at Sacajwea Center in Salmon, ID

Interpretive trail at Sacajwea Center in Salmon, ID

In Salmon, ID, we stopped at the Sacajawea Interpretive Center, which was closed, but we walked a mile or so through their very good outdoor exhibits: hay fields, replica tepees and sweat lodges and a streamside nature trail. The Interpretive Center is in the Lemhi valley, where Lewis and Clark went after crossing through Lemhi Pass. It is where Sacajawea’s people, the Shoshones lived part of each year, which made her valuable to the Corps of Discovery as a guide, and Ambrose surmises happy to return even under these circumstances, enslaved. We enjoyed this lovely setting, seeing the world through her eyes (she was captured at about age 12), with mountains in the distance, and the excellent exhibits about the natural world, the messiness of nature, the salmon lifecycle and the Shoshone life.


Note, we did the reverse of Lewis and Clarks first trip, so another spoiler alert – they made it over the pass.

We got back on the empty highway leading west. The signs are small, and we almost missed the turnoff from the main road that led to the paved road leading to the rough dirt road that led to Lemhi Pass. One gets the feeling that only diehard Lewis and Clark nerds visit this place. But maybe it’s just that we’re here in the fall, after others have gone back to work and school. In any case, we began our ascent into the mountains past a few isolated ranches and some lovely cottonwood groves, pausing only briefly to let a herd of cattle pass in front ofIMG_1419-0
us, watching them get coaxed along by a pack of dogs and a couple of guys on ATVs.

After perhaps 12 miles, we reached the top – Lemhi Pass and the Continental Divide, the geographical line to the east of which waters flow to the Gulf of Mexico, to the IMG_1439west of which waters flow to the Pacific Ocean. It was at this pass in August, 1805, that Meriwether Lewis and a couple of others from the exploration party reached the top and got their first view of the long-anticipated Columbia River flowing west to the Pacific Ocean. Or at least that’s what they thought they would see as they crested the hill.

What they (and we) actually found on that hilltop was a lovely westward view of another mountain range, not the Columbia River Lewis and Clark hoped would complete their quest to find a navigable water route across the continent. For us, the view from the hilltop was sublime on this glorious autumn afternoon – rolling, grass covered hills in the foreground, magnificent mountains on the western horizon. For Meriwether Lewis, who had endured months of wilderness travel and was out of food, it must have been something altogether different. The Columbia River and an easy route to the Pacific wasn’t waiting for him; additional weeks of arduous travel wereIMG_1441

Remarkably, though, the view west from Lemhi Pass, the Great Divide itself, was essentially the same for us as it was for Meriwether Lewis! With the exception of the dirt road that led us to this spot, a distant power line or two, and the remarkably clean Forest Service pit toilet building off to the side, the scene was right out of the early 19th century. No visible development, no fences, no signs of humanity. Spectacular.

Lewis and Clark’s party had largely followed the Missouri River in their travels west from St. Louis, and Lewis was thrilled to locate the headwaters, or source, of the river here at Lemhi Pass. In his journal, Lewis talks of the “most distant fountain” of the Missouri, which he identified as a spring bubbling out of the ground about half a mile east of the top of the hill. We strolled down the dirt road and, sure enough, there

Missouri headwaters, likely the exact same puddle Lewis and Co exclaimed over

Missouri headwaters, likely the exact same puddle Lewis and Co exclaimed over

it was, surrounded by a rickety split rail fence (that we made easy work of). We both dipped our hands in the foot-wide spring (it was cold) and “straddled the mighty Missouri, one foot upon each bank”, as one of Lewis’ men took great pleasure in doing, and chronicling, 210 years ago.

Meg straddling the Missouri headwaters

Meg straddling the Missouri headwaters

Note: This was a guest post by Ben Barker who does not like to use exclamation points, or begin sentences with contractions. 

The Things We Learned in our FIrst Month Full-Timing – An Anniversary Tribute!

In honor of our one month-anniversary full timing in our 22-foot 1968 Airstream Safari, we present: Five things we know now! Or now know! A listsicle!

One month full-timing anniversary smiles - in Jackson, WY!

One month full-timing anniversary smiles – in Jackson, WY!

Some context: we spent almost two years on a shell-off renovation; we are taking “a break” from employment, so have time, but are on a $ budget as we travel. Also, we expect this list to be very different a month, two months, a year from now. We are still very new to this but have gone from zero to some knowledge and it has been interesting to compare what we expected to what has been reality, and we thought we’d share since we’ve learned so much from others who have.

1. The renovation was a success! Everything’s working, reliable. Now, part of me shies from making such a bold statement, for fear of jinxing. But it’s worth it to say

Red line in the green means the wine will be cold!

Red line in the green means the wine will be cold!

“hats off” to Ben and the sub-contractors who contributed their muscle and expertise. I get particularly goose-bumpy proud when we pull up to a campsite and I go through the simple three-step process to get the fridge going on propane – and it works!

2. Having made some careful considered investments up front, we are really enjoying the benefits of being able to “cut the cord” and exist (very comfortably) without hook ups. Two things in particular make this possible: the solar (four 100-watt panels) and the energy efficient on-demand water heater.

3. It’s possible to plan 24 hours or less in advance, especially off season. Websites, apps, social media, chats with locals, real life maps, our GPS have all contributed to helping us figure out where we want to go, how to get there and where to stay. That’s not to stay there haven’t been mistakes. The ones I hate the most involve bad directions and it’s 25 miles to the next turn-around. That’s not just a waste of time but precious gas. But we are always learning from our mistakes.

Mt. View RV Park was awesome!

Mt. View RV Park was awesome!

4. It’s more than okay to stay in an RV Park. As we were preparing for the trip, I loved reading about the boondocking, wild, off the grid adventures of the full timers out there. I romanticized that was the way to go. And of course the phrase “trailer park” comes with a lot of baggage. However, sometimes an RV Park really fits the bill: when you need wifi and/or a long hot shower being two reasons that come to mind immediately. Also, in our brief experience, sometimes, in order to save time and gas, an RV Park may be the best physical location for your goals. In cities (like Boise) and tourist hot spots (like the Redwoods) we found they were our most practical options. Plus they are generally staffed by awesome people as committed to your satisfaction as any fancy hotel concierge.

5. The percentage of our budget spent on various categories is not what I

Gas, my budget nemesis

Gas, my budget nemesis

thought it would be. I thought our costs would roughly divide in thirds: transportation, food, and accommodations. However, we are spending way more on transportation, i.e., gas, than I anticipated. Don’t know why I’m surprised-we are averaging around 12 mpg and we have had a pretty ambitious route, leaving September 8th from California to get to Idaho, Wyoming, Montana before it got too cold. It does make us (me) pause to weigh gas costs (and wear and tear etc) into any pros/cons of a particular side trip, or scenic route. In the next month I think we will spend less on gas, and likely food too, as farmers market season winds down. We hardly spend anything on accommodations, i.e. overnight fees for camping. Maybe 10 bucks average, figuring in lots of free sites and the occasional 30 dollar RV park.

Some other thoughts we’d include if this was going to be a fifteen takeaways list:

-We did not bring enough books – digital or otherwise; gotta have at least two in the queue ready to go at all times.

Picked this one up at used book store in Boise

Picked this one up at used book store in Boise

-I LOVE cooking with limited fridge/storage space. Forces me to use what I have and get more creative; cuts down on waste.

-I brought too many clothes. There is no need for a short-sleeve sweater. You know? However that second pair of sandals is coming in handy after this fox stole my Keen in the Tetons (no joke-we put the other one out to lure him back so we could find his hiding place. No luck).

-We started out with extreme discipline rolling up our bed (foam topper , sheets, pillows, comforter) and stashing it in the truck every day. Now we roll it up but keep it in the trailer, out of our way, but in your way if you came over for dinner and wanted to sit at our table with us.

Bed rolled up in back

Bed rolled up in back

-We have excellent places to stash stuff, but could probably use even more. The age old “where do you put the clothes you have worn once, but aren’t ready for the dirty clothes bin yet?” question hangs over us. Help?

-We love our truck, but if you are shopping, consider 3/4 ton with a standard bed. We have 1/2 ton, extended cab and long bed which complicates some of our maneuvers.

-15 GB of data was how much we used our first month. AT&T allowed us to up it from 10GB retroactively, which I appreciated! We need data for all that last minute planning, but I’m also a bit of a news junkie so someone else might do ok with less.

-We get so much joy out of flashing our America the Beautiful pass at the National Park entrance gates! Ours was a gift.

Just love flashing the pass at this booths!

Just love flashing the pass at this booths!

-It takes two people exactly one month to use a tube of Tom’s toothpaste!

-Composting toilets rock! And public bathrooms do too, if your other choice is a composting toilet.

One month anniversary truck clean out and reorg - nice scenery though!

One month anniversary truck clean out and reorg – nice scenery though!

Idaho Towns Round Up

What do Boise, Stanley, Ketchum, (and wild card) Driggs have in common? Are they index of town listed under Idaho in Lonely Planet’s USA? No! They are our itinerary of Idaho towns we stuck around in long enough to have some notes to share. And with the exception of Driggs, they are featured in Lonely Planet as well, so we’ll see what we can add to the well worn path…

Boise was the first big city we have set a spell in on this trip- and it was one we deliberately wanted to check out. We chose the Riverside RV Park because it’s adjacent to the Greenway, 25 miles of paths that go along the Boise River.

A piece of art depicting the Boise River, in progress of installation on a building downtown!

A piece of art depicting the Boise River, in progress of installation on a building downtown!

We planned to ride it into Boise the next day for an all day excursion, and so we drove into town our first afternoon to get a couple

Crowdsourced ideas for our visit!

Crowdsourced ideas for our visit!

bike parts and the lay of the land. I did a little crowd sourcing on Twitter – reaching out to Boise’s Visitor’s Bureau for suggestions – they replied! tagging others, which yielded even more ideas! Very cool.

Our main stop that afternoon was the Idaho state capitol building. It has been renovated in the last 5 years and literally glistened, it was so shiny and new. It was fairly empty, but there were some friendly tour guides, and a gift shop filled with potato-themed souvenirs. Reading the displays, you might come away thinking this about Idaho: they are proud of their early adoption of women’s suffrage; land and water rights are what gets the citizens and legislature riled up; Lewis & Clark went there. We were blown away that we could walk right onto the floors of both the House and Senate chambers – they weren’t in session, but still.

We are a little short on reading material – didn’t really plan ahead on all the time to read we’d have on this trip! So we went to The Redisovered Bookshop where we picked up a used copy of Undaunted Courage (very handy for our travels-Lewis & Clark have been everywhere) and a tip on where to go for a snack and what to get there. Indeed we very much enjoyed the Classic Poutine at Bittercreek Alehouse. The fried potatoes came with chunks of roasted turkey – my friends know well that I’m not scared of any carbs that come with a side of protein.

The next day we zoomed along the Greenway for the 10-mile ride intIMG_1340o town. The Greenway goes through neighborhoods,former industrial areas, under highways, a 9-11 memorial; even alongside a mini dam (see pic at right) that encourages kayakers and surfers to jump in and and catch some waves. We had to guess a bit as to where to “get off” but found ourselves exactly where we wanted to be: Boise State University, home of the blue turf. Ben has some PFGSD (post football game stress disorder) from some Fiesta Bowl when the Broncos beat his Sooners with a bunch of trick plays; nonetheless, we paid our tribute.

We roamed around the rest of the day – the history museum was closed, but the adjacent Rose Garden was lovely, we checked out the Basque block; the old (and hip yuppy) neighborhood Hyde Park where we very much enjoyed the dollar tacos at Parilla Grill. We checked out a few antique stores, picked up a few hooks, and this painting – our very first “art” for the Airstream. We just love it.

From a cool little store called "LA Junk"

From a cool little store called “LA Junk”

All in all, Boise was a very pleasant city – this view from the hill at Camel’s Back Park shows the inspiration for it’s name (French for “wooded”) and the beginnings of fall.


On to Stanley – a cool little mountain town in the middle of the Sawtooth Mountains. Ellen at the Visitor’s Center steered us very well: we camped on the Salmon River just as the Forest Service was starting to shut down sites for the winter. Stanley apparently gets some of the coldest low temperatures in the continental US. (More about our campsite and an awesome day trip to Lemhi Pass in the next post…) IMG_1389Stanley had some well stocked outdoor stores, with sales that led to the purchase of this new hammock (left). We also had a culinary highlight – the Cowboy cookie (chocolate chips, walnuts, oatmeal) at the Stanley Bakery & Cafe, though their turkey sandwiches could have used a bit more meat. We checked out the Redfish Lake Lodge – which is a whole ‘nother world – kind of rustic fancy with a beach bar and scheduled activities. Not for us, but maybe you?

Ketchum and Sun Valley are just down the road from Stanley, an hour or so. We got a spot at the 10 dollar Forest Service campsite just a few days before camp host (crazy in a good way) Cathy heads south for the winter. We biked into town and explored a bit – disappointed mostly by the fancy stores selling the same overpriced coasters. Clearly the outdoors stores are gearing up for winter season – skiing and all. It took Lonely Planet to tell me Hemingway was buried here – his writing inspired

me to become an English major. Definitely a highlight of our visit to this city. Something that left us feeling UGH was the renovation of the Sun Valley Lodge – a historic building that now looks like any other Grand Hyatt. The concierge will emphasize how many treatment rooms the spa now has, however. Utterly stripped of personality. No picture will show the injustice. Will be interesting to see the reviews once the season starts.

And finally Driggs! On the eastern edge of the state (we were headed to Wyoming) the town is the home of the Grand Teton Distillery on the Harvest Host list. The Distillery was so kind to let us park overnight in their driveway. Though we missed tasting their vodka (you know it’s made from potatoes!) and whiskey, we will look for it out on the trail. Though it was cloudy and drizzly and we had just been to the store, we saw a farmer’s market on the way out of town. “Do we have to stop?” asked Ben. AS IF! Luckily he gave two Airstream tours while I bought the last of summer’s

tomatoes, cucumbers, as well as jerusalem artichokes and this cherry slab pie (pictured above, though we liked her peach scone the most!) Driggs, we really liked you! The woman who grew the artichokes told me she’d give me this sticker (above right) if we put it on our Airstream. Heck, yes! They are continuing with a Teton Valley winter farmers market indoors, I heard. Hooray! Don’t forget to list and use Local Harvest in your travels to find local and lovingly grown food. For lovingly restored historic hotels, I can’t help you, but we have high hopes for our visit to Grand Tetons coming up next!

All in for Hells Canyon

“The town of Oxbow. That’s how you should get to Idaho,” Cropdusting Pilot Chris told us back in Madras, Oregon. “When you are there, you can go to Hells Canyon.” Honestly, if it wasn’t for Chris, we would have missed THE DEEPEST canyon in North America. There is only so much maps, guide books and even Google can tell you. We’ve gotten our best tips from real live people. We headed east with great anticipation.  IMG_1226

Now, you should know right off what we didn’t: most of Hells Canyon, which surrounds the Snake River, is inaccessible to the casual traveler, and so we really only got a peek at it, but loved it for what it taught us about: Dams and rivers and power, reasons to ever go on a jet boat, boondocking (officially for the first time), and just a taste about the value of fish and fishing in this part of the country.

Following the success of getting the best tips from real live people, we asked our young BLM friends at the Oregon Trail site where we should camp in Hells Canyon. They had a bunch of ideas (I took notes), but directed us to a boondocking site just before you cross the bridge at Oxbow.

Oxbow is a very small spot on the map, just on the Oregon side of the Snake River, which divides Oregon (west) from Idaho (east). Boondocking is “wild camping” on unofficial, ungroomed, unmaintained, etc noncampsites. It is FREE and legal – and in

Courtesy of Google Maps

Courtesy of Google Maps

fact encouraged by many public lands, though they usually call it “dispersed camping”. In brochures, on the phone, or best yet face to face at their regional stations, staffers will share with you places for dispersed camping. It’s a bit tough to get the hang of – relying in some cases on only GPS coordinates to find sites, going down a bumpy dirt non-road, not knowing if you can turn around if needed (we have about 40 feet total of vehicles to maneuver.) And, conditions change – there have been so many fires out here – tragic in some cases, just nature running its course in others – that our public servants are doing their best to keep up, and finding us a free place to camp may not be the number one priority, right? But, to circle back, we had the best possible advice and source – from BLM staffers who we’d been chatting with anyway, and were generous enough with their time and insights to help us dip our toes in boondocking.

So – how did we get to our recommended free wild campsite? “Turn left before u cross Oxbow bridge. On reservoir. Tunnel” was all I had in my notes. It actually wasn’t that hard to figure out once we got to Oxbow. If we crossed the bridge, we’d gone too far. Look for a left turn. And a tunnel.The tunnel through a hill of rock was indeed intimidating (to me) but not to Ben. Keep on driving.

Tunnel on way to boondocking site: no problem!

Tunnel on way to boondocking site: no problem!

We picked a spot, more of a pullover on a dirt road, indeed overlooking the reservoir, and settled in. When you are a newbie to boondocking you might get a little nervous – Is someone going to tell you to move along? Will your trailer be vandalized? Sure enough, the first other person we saw was a man with a GUN, “just taking his horse out for a ride.” The horse got spooked when he saw his reflection in our trailer. Yep. The second people we saw were two moms with strollers and baby bjorns. OK, we could relax a little.

The reservoir we were on was formed from the Snake River and the Hells Canyon Dam – 20 or so miles north and downriver – from our spot. (There are also the Oxbow and Brownlee Dams.) The dams create power of course, and recreation, all governed by Idaho Power. (We barely scratched the surface, but it seems a fascinating intersection of politics, resource management, conservation, and good old boys drinking and fishing. Would love to know more.) It also created a lovely lake-like setting for us to settle in and enjoy the sun as it rose and set across the mountains on both sides (canyon-esque), the birds, the bugs, the jumping fish, and the just-turning fall leaves.

The next day we unhooked – a bit shaky about leaving the trailer in this “unprotected” state but knowing we had a windy road ahead made it easier, and smIMG_1251arter to leave it behind. We crossed the reservoir – we were now in Idaho! A first time in the state for both of us, though this just barely over the border-crossing seemed a bit cheap to count. Passing the dam was incredible – they make it a bit intimidating, like you might have to go through security, though there was none. You realize how valuable dams are, what a target they might be. You don’t have to know much about engineering to be in awe of this.

Hells Canyon Dam

Hells Canyon Dam

Once we got to the Hells Canyon visitors center, it was a bit of a dead end for us, though just the beginning for those going on jet boat rides and multi-day rafting trips. The road for Chevy Silverados (like ours) literally ends there. There are some nice overlooks, the jet boats, and a nice staffer who told me that most people who explore the Snake do so on multi-day raft trips. The first accessible put out was about 25 miles down river. Amazing.

There is however-and this is a big however- a one mile or so out and back hike along the shoreline which we did and made the trip well worth it. It was so beautiful and like so much on this well timed post-summer season trip-we were the only ones there. We celebrated our two week anniversary as full-timers! A gallery of pics below…I can only imagine what the river and canyon look like beyond this-plan your multi-day rafting trip now!

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We did have to watch out for poison ivy which I did with my full attention, being super allergic to poison oak. This information saved me, it might save you.IMG_1201

We looked for pictographs and petroglyphs and I thank Hells Canyon for teaching me about what dams do, what reservoirs are, and that there are parts of this country that are “the greatest” but are still very, very wild and not overrun by tourists (like me). I still don’t get what happens to the river – does it just disappear upstream of the dam? Can we make rivers disappear, so it’s easier to go fishing out on our motorboat? Naive city girl, I know.

Back at camp, I went for a swim in the reservoir (a short one). Spent 30 minutes or so watching the show nature was putting on as the sun was setting – a cliche I know, but so accurate. A great show.

Me being still and quiet. Not a joke.

Me being still and quiet. Not a joke.

We grilled hamburgers for dinner and made a grilled veggie white bean salad to go with. We thank the Kaufmann’s in Island City, Oregon for the local bread, beef and veggies. Still working on my food photography.

The next day we headed to Boise, the big city, a couple hours southeast. We had one last surprise as we transitioned from the wild to civilization: the little baby bear (below) on the side of the road – perfectly content until he saw us. Luckily we saw him and slowed down and we got to watch him bound away. Blacker than we expected, wide eyed, and very bouncy. Godspeed.

He was only about 20 yards from us when we spotted him. Then bounded away.

He was only about 20 yards from us when we spotted him. Then bounded away.

Oregon Trail National Historic Site – the word RUTS is ridiculous in any other context

From the Fossil Beds, we moseyed east, over to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center with the promise of RUTS. Wagon RUTS. From real pioneers. Thousands of them. There are many recommended NPS sites related to the Oregon Trail (thank goodness, right?), but one biggie in our path: the Interpretive Center located near Baker City, Oregon.

Baker City citizens lobbied to have the fancy Center built in their community.

The 10 million dollar center (most locals were quick to either brag or lament the expense) is indeed impressive – high on Flagstaff Hill overlooking the Baker Valley – and the pioneers’ first view of the ominous Blue Mountain range they had to cross, though toward the end (it being Oregon) thankfully, of their journey. Of course the pioneers would not have gone up the hill, they would have gone around it – the easier path. So the high perch of the center itself is designed to give you a view of the trail, not necessarily the view the pioneers themselves would have had. Interesting and smart I thought.
View of Baker Valley and Oregon Trail, including "ruts" from Interpretive Center.

View of Baker Valley and Oregon Trail, including “ruts”, with Blue Mountains in the background. Taken from inside the Interpretive Center. Gorgeous.

Related, when I asked a staffer generally what route the trail took west from the Center, he said “Follow I-84-that was the easiest route than and now.” Logical. So if you want the pioneers’ view, hop on the interstate. : ) If you’d like to learn more from first-hand accounts about this particular spot on the Trail, my brief skim of this guy’s overview and sources seems to square with what we learned at the Center. Fair warning: A lone pine tree meets a grisly end.
The museum displays were the familiar mix of phony/modern/creepy looking mannequins with pained expressions – loss of a child, fear of Indians, uncooperative oxen. Picture Heidi Klum and David Beckham overacting in period costume. (Why didn’t I take pictures???) The building offers a stunning floor to cathedral ceiling windowed-look at the valley – including the RUTS and the rough outlines of what is a mile or so of the Trail (see above picture).
The next section of the museum offered the familiar chronological and contextual panels with many primary sources as well as more than the usual amount of paintings depicting the Trail, which I thought worked well. Lots of audio, and kid-oriented information and activities.
Feminist museum curator sneaks one past the boss!

Feminist museum curator sneaks one past the boss!

My takeaways?…I think it did a good job of showing WHO went – eg farmers, not necessarily merchants. Immigrants. People from the midwest, not the east. Young(er). Also, I appreciated they way they broke down the different geographic parts of the trail. I took pride in the fact that most of the detailed first-hand accounts were written by women (see feminist curator’s take on the left). I really appreciated the last section about what happened when they got to Oregon City. What happened next? Right! Thousands of pioneers came over decades. Weren’t the best claims taken in the first month or so? What then? I am still wondering why estimated numbers of emigrants varied so much from year to year – for example in 1850 very few, while in the previous and subsequent years, lots. We stumped the Sunday staffers with our question on that. Anyone?

Though you can hop out of your car and see the RUTS right off the highway on your way out, the staff said we should take the hike down to them – .8 miles there and back through the same sagebrush the pioneers traversed. It was late in the day, and hot, but we booked it, to avoid getting back before closing time.

It may have colored my “experience” of the RUTS a bit, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with a sense of “x happened right here” that I expected. Maybe it’s just too big an event to get that feeling about. Maybe it was the unseasonably hot weather and the prospect of a mile hike back up the hill. Our water and peanut M&M supply was low. I don’t take this lightly as I am a big believer in the power of “being there” to help you understand history. Nothing alarming, just a little twist on the power, which I will continue to drill down on. Still overall, a really cool place and way to learn about it.

Some young BLM staffers were out front giving a flint knapping demonstration. It’s sort of like knitting we were told (in that it’s repetitive and meditative), but very dangerous as you are using a flint to carve a seemingly impenetrable rock into an arrowhead.

The guy doing the demo said there was an old Indian who came out of the mountains in 19-oh something, and became a sort of artist in residence at a museum in San Francisco, and it’s because of that old Indian that anyone alive today knows anything about flint knapping. Hmm. We asked his wife, who was sitting nearby, if she had any dangerous hobbies, and she said camping, so we quizzed them on places to camp as we headed toward Idaho. Score. See upcoming post on Hells Canyon.

So, just to add some authenticity to this experience, we had our own little pioneer mishap with our trailer’s tongue jack (see similar: tall thin cylindrical thing in the middle with a handle in the pic at right) when we were leaving our campsite that morning. Let’s just say the tongue jack (and trailer) is 50 years old. While Ben was turning it (thank god for the laws of physics) to lift the 4,200 pound trailer so we could place it on the truck’s hitch, it slipped, again, and again. Damn, physics. I of course screamed and

Photo credit: vintageairstream.com

Photo credit: vintageairstream.com

called (not literally as there was no cell service) for AAA, then took a walk, at Ben’s request. He in the meantime pulled out two other jacks (for the car) and placed some legos (not really, but sort of) between one and the trailer tongue, so he could lift it high enough to get it on the truck. There were some rope harnesses involved as well. Sorry, Ben would have killed me if I took an actual picture of it. So we have a new tongue jack, an electric one. Take that pioneers! Off we go to Hells Canyon, then Idaho, a reverse migration?

See you on the trail!

See you on the trail!

Life is fragile – Lesson from a Fossil

NOTE: any errors/typos due to bad wifi! NOT human error. 😉 

Places like the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument are the epitome of what we love about this trip. First, we discovered it by accident. We would have taken a more direct route to Idaho if not for crop duster Chris, who stopped by for a long chat both days we stayed via Harvest Host at the Erickson Aircraft Museum in Madras, OR. (Fabulous collection, wonderful hosts.) 


Ben LOVED staying at the Erickson Aircraft. Collection.

 On hearing we were headed to Idaho, Chris recommended we take the more scenic 26 east, even though it was a bit longer, it is, more…scenic! Plus we could see the fossil beds, and end up in Baker City, for the Oregon Trail National Interpretive Center (upcoming post). A little science, a little American history – a no brainer.

The roads to the Fossil Beds were windy, lonley, and without cell service, though we were now a bit wiser about gassing up in advance of any crisis. Many of the mountains are the results of volcanic action. Colors and bands and texture, crags, and loops and juts and – because lava swiftly, suddenly, and amply pored is such a good preservative: Fossils!

The fossil beds were “discovered” in the 1860s because of a confluence of historical, scientific, religious, economic, militaristic, etc events all coming together so it makes so much sense in retrospect and helps me put together the pieces of history. In the 1860s, Civil War troops, miners, teamsters, roaming about in the hills brought fossils back to Thomas Condon, a frontier minister who was also a geologist. This was in the midst of Darwin’s theories being debated in the public. Condon’s writings on the discoveries caught the attention of geologists at Yale (!), Princeton (!) and Berkeley (!). These gentlemen fought a bit about what was what, what it meant. They collected and brought back more treasure to their labs and private collections. (From what we gather fossil and artifact collecting wasn’t outlawed until the 1970s). Though the sites are remote, they are special and worth a visit: Lots of superlatives like the biggest collection of types of fossils found together – plants and animals to tell a complete story of a place over massive time periods.

Ben and I did our layperson’s tours of the three sites over two days (they are about 100 miles apart). Visiting the beds is like taking several short hikes, where interpretive signs thoughtfully point out fossils still embedded in the rock in Clarno, and the science behind the brilliant colors of Painted Hills. 


Painted Hills


At Clarno, the aftermath of a volcano


At Clarno, me helpfully pointing out a fossil (tree wood)

As I said, we did the three sites in two days – first some lovely hikes in the Painted Hills unit, then 2+ hours up the road to Clarno. We dropped the trailer off on the way at a primitive but awesome BLM campsite, Muleshoe, on the John Day River: five dollars a night, no hook ups, but solar going great and a little water conservation gets us far. We used the grill for the first time – steak of course. (Use the excellent map to plan your route and find campgrounds and other services.)


Our campsite, Muleshoe on the john Day River

The second day, we checked out the museum — Thomas Condon Paleontology Center- at the third site, Sheep Rock. Amidst the excellent displays explaining what all the fossils tell us, we just shook our heads in amazmenet at the work geologists, paleontologists and their colleagues do: figure all this stuff out from a rock.

Then we headed across the street and millions of years to the 20th century and the Cant Ranch Historic Home  (Scottish immigrants – made buckets of money like others in the area on sheep in time for WWI when all the soldiers needed those comfy wool uniforms!), which has been preserved and maintained by the NPS to show what ranch life was like. 

Cant ranch house-built in 1917; world war wool boom

Ben explains mechanics of machine powered drive shaft with sheep shearing stations

Like a giant basketball hoop/net to hold the wool. A kid would jump in it to smash it down.

 The Cants were successful ranchers and convivial hosts. The kilt wearing youth after partied at the ranch after “skip to my lou” dance parties in the community. This is of course where we get into women’s contributions and I know I would have liked Elizabeth Cant who, reflecting on her life as a rancher’s wife and hostess, rued that when she died, she’d be greeted at St. Peter’s gate holding a dish towel.

We peppered one friendly park staff member with our lingering questions, drilling down on the basic “What is a fossil?” to make sure we really understood.  I guess I had always assumed it was or at least partly original organic material – the mammal, the leaf, the seed. Otherwise, honestly why get so excited about it? But, it turns out it’s traditionally very, very rare that fossils would contain / include any original organic material. They are indeed, like shadows, ghosts. 

Life is very fragile,” the staffer said, referring to science with more than a hint of philosophy.  

little did I know there was actually a display answering my question. oh well, i like the human touch.

 And that made fossils even cooler. It’s impossible to have LIFE from 30 million years ago, so we more than make do with fossils. Can’t complain about that. 

Crater Lake – All that and more

We turned off the road to head to Crater Lake – the only National Park in Oregon and a site we might have skipped if not for friends’ recommendations – with less than a 1/4 tank of gas and no reservation. We hoped to stay IN the park-its campground is the closest to the lake, making access easy. But I was nervous-what if the campground was full? Our M.O. of making plans one day ahead of time does not square with the park’s online reservation system that you plan at least (a shocking) two days ahead of time. Plus-gas! We’ve been averaging 11.5 miles a gallon. Ugh.

We've been logging our mileage/fuel costs - biggest expense so far especially as we've been making tracks.

We’ve been logging our mileage/fuel costs – biggest expense so far especially as we’ve been making tracks.

We zoomed past the entrance with our national park Golden Eagle pass (a bon voyage gift from Ben and Joan – merci!) straight to the kiosk for walk ins. Score! Campsites available plus… gas pumps, located on site!  We did our circle the campground loops thing, picking out the best site and chose D loop, site 13, overlooking a lovely gorge. Temps were cold – snow / rain was in the forecast.

This is our fourth campground, and though our carefully posed photos of the others might suggest otherwise, this is the first one that really made us go WOW.

Maybe it’s the time of year – not too crowded, summer fading – but the forest is lovely, the chipmunks camera ready, and the sites were (all?) pull through rather than back in which we hadn’t seen yet. And I guess really  – and this is maybe connected to it being a national park – no road noise, far from “civilization”.

Your first view of the lake is breathtaking – clear, blue, vast.


We did a ranger talk, a hike, and the rim drive – about 22 miles.

I heard that the best things to note in a travel journal, or in photos, are the things you want to remember.

Things we want to remember about Crater Lake:
Ben: The park ranger, in his talk had us picture the people living in this area when the volcano blew – imagine your whole life a 12,000 foot mountain is a part of your landscape. Then one day – in less than 12 hours – it was gone, replaced with a 2000 foot crater (or more accurately a caldera.)

Meg: The hike up Watchman – where there is a national landmark fire watching station – still used today. With key supplies like a pencil, pencil sharpener and glass cleaner.

Firewatching station up watchman hill.

Firewatching station up watchman hill.

There were actually fires in the distance too – set by lightening, watched and controlled by firefighters. Naturally occurring fire (lightning), that doesn’t threaten human property or people, is an important part of the natural process and is allowed to burn.

At the top of the Watchman - where firefighters still look out and have been since the 30s.

At the top of the Watchman – where firefighters still look out and have been since the 30s.

We had such a great day – and a night of freezing temps as we were still missing a few parts to get the propane heater warmed up. Our gas stove warmed things up a bit and wool blankets too. Ben’s fingers nearly froze hooking up the trailer to leave in the morning.

Snow on our way out of Crater Lake the next day. ZERO visibility.

Snow on our way out of Crater Lake the next day. ZERO visibility.

Doesn’t hurt to celebrate an anniversary – and I’m currently typing/posting this while doing another FIRST: Laundry! Woot!


One last pic of the lake – they call it the phantom ship. Lovely. Like a little Airstream!IMG_0958

Redwoods – Don’t ask which one is the biggest – They all are!

From Lodi, we headed west, to the coast, and through more wine country. Who knew I’d be headed to Napa and Sonoma (for the first time) only to actually just go through them because I don’t have time… for wine tasting? Crazy. We are headed north, fairly swiftly, because we want to enjoy what we can of Idaho/MT before summer officially ends. Several folks had mentioned the “Avenue of the Giants” as a sight to see – my sister who went to Cal State Humboldt for a year or so, and the infamous Mr. Peplow, whose gift of redwood (hmmm???) became our awesome secret electronics hiding cabinet next to the dinette.

Big truck, bigger trees

Big truck, bigger trees

So, where to stay? After making our first calls to National Forests and BLM land looking for places to boondock, we started to do the math – at least in this area, if there is a site/landmark you want to visit, and the only free camping (seems to be) miles away up switch back roads, you might want to shell out the $ so you can stay IN the Redwoods, close to the hikes you want to do and trees you want to hug. So we Yelped up and found the Giant Redwoods RV & Camp-well located, well reviewed (clean!), and indeed it was a great landing place. And still cheaper than the state park we did near San Diego.

Ben in camp

Ben in camp

We had a lovely hike along the north loop of the Mattole Creek. Got our hiking legs under us. Took some obligatory photos.

Here are some of our favorite facts about Redwoods:
-Not to be confused with the giant Sequoias which grow alongside the Sierras. Redwoods are along the coast.
-It’s hard to figure out which one is the “greatest”. Height, width, age all factor in.
-A Redwood seedling with only a tiny speck of sunlight can grow six feet in a year.
-Redwoods draw on water through their roots, but also through their tips – they thrive on fog. Maybe that’s why they are on the coast? Or why their branches are higher up?

So much still to learn. Hopefully we didn’t get any of our favorite facts wrong. Please feel free to correct us in the comments.

We finished the day as we spent most fall Saturdays in our real life – watching Sooner football. We found a restaurant in Miranda, the Avenue Café that put the game on for us. It was a thrilling come from very behind victory for Oklahoma over the Tennessee Volunteers.

We’ve been eating well – organic/local pork, mushrooms, artichokes, etc. thanks to farmer’s market we found in Garberville, CA. And we found it thanks to Local Harvest – how to find good food to cook on the road.

Soon to be a delicious Asian stir fry.

Soon to be a delicious Asian stir fry.

This morning we gave a few tours – to some Burning Man survivors who also have a Airstream, and a family staying for the week – the parents are both Airstream / renovation aficionados. At least one of their young daughters is interested in restoration as well and another wore a coonskin cap. Their dog Charlie was the most well-behaved in the campground. On to Oregon!

Before we left California, we risked our lives to take this roadside picture.

Before we left California, we risked our lives to take this roadside picture.