Thursday, August 9, 2018

Six Weeks on U.S. Highway 2 - Part I

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Before we went on the road fulltime, I spent a lot of time daydreaming about going on the road fulltime. Once we got Scoopy, I went into full obsession mode. Even though our departure was more than a year away, I immediately planned at least three different routes out of Seattle to the ranch in Texas. I emailed maps and information to Steven with clever subject lines such as "Escape Route", "Son of Escape Route" and "No, This One - FOR SURE!".

My favorite, and the one I felt most likely to be THE ONE, was Highway 2 over the Cascades, then all the way to Duluth, MN. I planned that we'd then travel south along the Mississippi River. I spent a lot of time finding the exact campgrounds I wanted to stay in and all the sights I wanted to see along the way. Of course, when the time came, we went in a completely different direction.

The reasons, which a year earlier I could not have anticipated, were two-fold. 1) Tara, our youngest daughter, moved to San Diego and we wanted to visit her, and 2) Washington and Montana were on fire and Highway 2 was thick with smoke!

It would take us nearly four years, but once we decided to visit the northern states of North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, U.S. Highway 2 was an obvious route. On June 14 we set out from Fidalgo Bay and took a left in Everett, WA at the western terminus of U.S. Highway 2. Just over six weeks later, we reached the end of the road at St. Ignace, MI. There is actually more to Highway 2 way over in Vermont and Maine, but we drove what is considered the "western" segment, which is 2,115 miles across the northern continental United States. We did end up taking a couple of detours off the route, but we didn't stray far.

I admit I did not have the same level of excitement and anticipation as when I first planned this route. In fact, we were both just kind of "meh". But wow, it didn't take us long to realize we were in for a fantastic trip!  There was no traffic to speak of, no big 18-wheelers blowing us around and few cars and trucks, especially once we were outside the bigger towns. Those who were traveling the road with us were actually polite, not one person flipped me off on the entire route. I don't know what it is about getting stuck behind a motorhome that makes people so angry, but getting flipped off is not unusual. Not on Highway 2! There were no billboards! No signage at all that I can recall out in the country, except for when a farmer had fresh veggies for sale on the honor system. It was a perfect time of year, on travel days the skies were mostly blue with a bit of cloud drama, the fields were vibrant with shades of green and yellow. We had a couple of rainstorms that moved in and out quickly, leaving the air cool and refreshed.

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Yes, we will follow you on Highway 2.

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There were no cars or truck for miles at a time on Highway 2. We loved it!

We traveled through six states on our trip, here's a little summary of each one.

WASHINGTON

Highway 2 in Washington state is a route we've traveled several times before. The drive across the Cascade Mountains into the lovely town of Leavenworth is as beautiful as they come. As Steven mentioned in our previous post, we stayed only two nights in Wenatchee, mostly to restock before heading east. Although we had a beautiful site right on the Wenatchee River, the highlights of this stop were Safeway, Costco and Home Depot!

Compared to the lushness of western Washington, once across the Cascades, the landscape is more desert-like. A lot of visitors are surprised by this, thinking instead that the whole state is forests, mountains and water. LOL, it's not. Still, as we made our way toward Idaho, spring grasses had yet to dry out and turn brown as they will later in summer. There were no fires in the vicinity, so the air was clear. It was quite a lovely time to travel this route.

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Highway 2 is just gorgeous crossing the Cascades on the way to Wenatchee.

IDAHO

We continued our journey to Spokane where Highway 2 and I-90 cross. Here we left Highway 2 and rolled into Coeur d'Alene for an overnight stay at the Elks Lodge. We have traveled through this area several times over the years while camping in Alfred Hitchpop, our little popup trailer. Each time we'd comment that we really needed to spend more time in the Spokane/Coeur d'Alene area, but we never do. Seems like we're always in a hurry to get to Glacier or Yellowstone. Idaho is a beautiful state and while we've explored many areas to the south, the northern part is still mostly uncharted territory for us. Some day. 

MONTANA

After a pleasant overnight we headed north through Sandpoint so that we could get ourselves back on Highway 2. We took a left at Bonner's Ferry and not long after we entered Montana. We followed the route all the way to Coram, MT, just outside Glacier National Park, our home for a week. We passed through Libby, MT which we stayed in a few years ago when we were traveling with our kids. What I remember mostly about Libby was that our campsite had an abundance of ants.

Since Steven has already posted about his/our visits to Glacier, I'll move along to our departure. Again we got right on '2' and traveled east through the southern part of the park. Now we were in new territory. I lived in eastern Montana when I was a child but haven't been back there since, oh, about 1968. So I think this area qualifies as new territory.

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Steven in his happy place at Glacier National Park.

It rained on and off as we made our way to Havre for an overnight at the Walmart. It was mostly a quick shower followed by sun, or a sun shower followed by dramatic fluffy clouds. We didn't go through the worst of it but, by the time we drove through Shelby, they were experiencing a flash flood at an intersection we had to drive through (see our dash cam video here). I hesitated briefly, though I knew Scoopy would be fine, I wondered if dragging Toadie through the flooded street maybe wasn't such a good idea. Once I committed, I kept going right on until we finally found a place to pull over. Toadie was just fine, so off we went!

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The flood in Shelby.

It wasn't until we had left Havre after a pleasant overnight stay that friends told me there was a buffalo jump in the area. I felt kind of sad that we missed it because I'd never seen one. But then our friend Jodee said she thought it was behind a convenience store. Just as well, there are better ones to see, I'm sure.

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Montana is one of the buggiest states ever. At the end of each trip, they were caked on the windshield!

Our final destination in Montana was Fort Peck. What a fabulous place! The campground was covered in beautiful trees, surrounded by water and lots of history. It was a very relaxing place to stay. The part we enjoyed the most was the Fort Peck Spillway. It looks like a gigantic bowling alley with 16 concrete lanes that stretch about a mile. At the top, where we were looking down on it from the bridge, it is 820 feet wide, but narrows to just 120 feet at the bottom. At its max, 65,000 cubic square feet of water can race down those lanes at 65 miles an hour creating a massive, crashing, swirling, splashing eddy at the bottom. It's fantastic to watch, really mesmerizing! It was built in the 1930s but has rarely been used. In fact, it has only been opened six times in its history, so we feel very lucky to have seen it in operation! Here's a neat little story about the spillway from the Billings Gazette from 2011.  Very cool!

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Our lovey spot in Fort Peck.

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The spillway was one of the highlights of our trip to Fort Peck.

Next Up:  Part II -  North Dakota, Minnesota & Wisconsin

Friday, July 20, 2018

Glacier National Park

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Hi, Steven here. After a great visit to the Seattle area, we had one more place to stay in our beloved, Washington State: Wenatchee. Our planned 2-day stay at Wenatchee River RV Park was really a place to just decompress. Our site was right by the river and I think the most exciting thing we did while we were there was go to Walmart and Home Depot :)

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Our little spot right by the Wenatchee River.

After that, we were bound for Glacier National Park. We stopped for an overnighter at the Elks Lodge in Coeur D'Alene in Idaho and left early the next morning.

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All tucked in at the Elks in Coeur D’Alene.

We stayed at North American RV Park in Coram, just a few miles outside of the west entrance of Glacier National Park. We were there for seven whole days. Linda prefers shorter stops, in general, whereas I like to really take the time to absorb a place and figure out optimal places to photograph. In this instance, I think we were both happy to be there for a week.

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At the North American RV Park. We had an interesting neighbor. This is one of the more unusual rigs we’ve seen.

This was our third time to visit Glacier together and it seems that every time we go there is some kind of construction going on or the weather does not cooperate. We have rarely seen any wildlife more exotic than a few deer, even though others have seen mountain goats and bears and moose. Go figure. So, for me at least, my expectations were to capture the majesty of the landscape and not try to find the elusive wildlife.

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Yeah, except for the moose part.

We were disappointed to learn that Going to the Sun Road, a highlight of the park, was closed due to snow. This meant that more than half the park was inaccessible to us. Still, there was plenty to see regardless.

One of my favorite scenic views in the park is of McDonald Lake from Apgar Village, a little touristy area with gift shops and cafes. There are benches right by the water's edge with absolutely wonderful views of the lake and distant mountains. I spent quite a bit of time there on my solo trips to the park. I find it to be quite meditative.

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The view from Apgar Village just never gets old.

In my quest to visit sites were Ansel Adams made some of his more well known photographs, I wanted to find out where he had captured one of McDonald Lake. After doing some research and accidentally stumbling upon the place which turned out to be the Ranger's Station, I made plans to come back one evening and take the shot. After two attempts which had me sitting in my car for over an hour waiting for a thunder storm to pass over, I gave up. The lake needed to be glassy smooth for a reflection and the water was just not cooperating. Oh well, it was still cool to stand where the master did and ponder the original photo instead.

Linda and I have a love/hate relationship with all things touristy. Mostly, we try to avoid them and, although our friends say "you should see this or you should see that", we mostly don't. There are some clear exceptions to this rule. When we were in Seattle, for example, we did the Argosy Cruise and we really enjoyed that. There is a lake cruise in Glacier and we decided that would be our touristy thing for this trip. Although the weather had been pretty changeable, we lucked out for the cruise. The water was dead calm and the sun shone the entire time. It ended up being one of the highlights of our trip.

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Dead calm on our boat trip. The views were wonderful.

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I managed to capture some nice scenes on some of my solo trips into the park.

While we (and mostly I) spent the majority of our time at Glacier, we ventured north to see the little ski town of Whitefish. We toyed with the idea of going up on the ski lift for the views but, remember our aversion to touristy things?, yeah, that fell into that particular category. But we did visit the historic train depot back in town.

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Loved the train museum in Whitefish and we had a beautiful day to boot.

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We topped off the day by stopping at the Whiskey Barn for a tasting that led to a purchase (of course).

We learned late on the day before we were to leave, that Going to the Sun Road had reopened. We knew we had to do it so we got up early on our departure day and made the trip. Our initial excitement didn't last when we drove into a soupy fog for what seemed like an eternity. When we got to the top of the pass, we could barely see our hand in front of our face. We were going to turn back but decided to continue to the eastern side of the park. And, man, I'm so glad we did. Within minutes of our descent, the fog disappeared and the views of the mountains and surrounding valleys were just mind -blowing. Our visit to Glacier was now complete.

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We were a little discouraged when we got to the summit and were about to turn back.

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So glad we didn’t turn back because the east side of the park was in full sun. It was simply gorgeous.

As usual, we saw no wildlife during our stay but the vistas easily made up for that. Maybe one of these fine days when we return, we'll get a photo of a bear, a moose and a mountain goat doing the can-can together. Is that too much to ask??

Up next: Wonderful Highway 2!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Home Again, Seattle and Beyond.

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Since we have been on the road, we have returned to Seattle every year except 2017 when we stayed on the east coast. It was great to skip a year between trips because we found ourselves really looking forward to returning this summer. In fact, we intended to spend a couple of months there, but last February when we tried to make reservations at the places we wanted to stay, we found most were already booked up! We knew to do it earlier, we just didn't get around to it!

We wanted a month at Lake Pleasant RV Park in Bothell, because it's only six miles from Zoe and Dan, but we only got two weeks and had to change sites after the first week. We wanted to return there in July to attend the birthday bash of our friend Tammy, but no joy. Our favorite place, Salt Creek? Booked. We did get a week at Fidalgo Bay Resort in Anacortes, and found a wonderful city park in Sedro-Woolley near Zac that was practically empty the four days we were there. It's 70 + miles from Seattle, but right in the foothills of the Cascades Scenic Highway. Perfect!

In the end, we reduced our stay in Washington to four weeks total. We'd be in and out by mid-June leaving the rest of the summer, my least favorite time to travel, to be on the road. This is when we decided to visit the last three states missing on our travel map, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Our time in Washington shortened, we made the most of it visiting with friends and family. Even though our kids are young adults with jobs and busy lives, they made a big effort to spend loads of time with us and we were thrilled about that! My dear friend Virginia organized a pot luck night at her home for some of our Sammamish friends. This, in spite of the fact that she'd recently injured her foot, had surgery and was scooting around on a knee-scooter! She's amazing and it was wonderful to see everyone. Afterward, we got a tour of our friends Rich and Emma's new travel trailer. This is their third, the first being our beloved popup, Alfred Hitchpop. Emma blames us for this obsession, which thrills me to no end. :) Happy travels, guys!

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Cherolyn and Virginia, part of my Sammamish posse.

Upon our arrival at Lake Pleasant in Bothell, Zoe, Dan and Zac joined us for dinner. We made plans for the following week, which included making a trip to Sephora where Zoe's works, and a day in Seattle with Zac. Though we've been to most of the city sights several times, we thought this time it would be fun to be tourists in our own town. It was especially fun to have Zac along, as he was just a kid last time he was in many of these places. I think he enjoyed a day in Seattle as much as we did. Steven put a video together of the day’s sights. You can click here to watch it on YouTube.

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The view out our window at Pleasant Lake RV Park.

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Our traveling mascots, T. Rex Tillerson and Bo Barky enjoy the lakeside view!

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With Zoe and Zac at Pleasant Lake.

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When your daughter works at Sephora, you get some stuff. Good stuff. And a facial from her coworker, Mary!

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No matter how many times we go to Pike Place in Seattle, it’s always a lot of fun!

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Zac be all, like “Mom, this is the 47th selfie we’ve done today!!”

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Down by the waterfront in Seattle. We chose not to ride the Ferris Wheel.

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One of the best views of the Seattle skyline! On a clear day, you can also see Mount Rainier in the background.

Steven and I returned to the city by ourselves intending to take the Hop On, Hop Off tour, but I spontaneously suggested we instead board the Argosy Locks Cruise. LOL, we've done this cruise at least three times before, and multiple Harbor Cruises as well, but taking an Argosy Cruise is one of my favorite things to do in Seattle. As luck would have it, one  was departing within the hour, so we hopped on! Over the years the narration has changed. I recall on several earlier trips the narrator talked about the television show "Frasier", and how there is no condo or apartment building with his downtown view of the city. On this cruise, there was no mention of "Frasier", instead, it was all about "Grey's Anatomy". Times change!

Steven put together a video of the highlights of this trip too and you can also view that one on YouTube by clicking here.

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Puget Sound and inside the lock.

Our two weeks at Lake Pleasant went by quickly and before we were ready, it was time to move on to the little Riverfront Park in Sedro-Woolley. Zac works about 20 minutes or so from there, and it was the closest we could get to him. It turned out to be a very comfortable and restful place to stay and we weren't lacking for things to do. Not only did we see Zac everyday, but we were also able to drive to take a trip to Mount Baker and to Diablo Lake, two of Washington state’s most beautiful areas. And, Zac took us on a tour of the marijuana growing facility where he works. Times change, indeed!

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Our campsite at Riverfront Park in Sedro-Woolley.

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Zac’s workplace.

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Zac gives us a tour of the joint (pun intended)

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At Diablo Lake in the North Cascades.

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The views are hard to beat even on an overcast day.

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Mount Baker. The lodge below was not open yet.

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Nooksack Falls, near Mount Baker.

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The river near Nooksack Falls

Soon we were off to Anacortes for our stay at Fidalgo Bay RV Resort. This is one of our favorite campgrounds, but only if we get a spot on the water. I remember camping there in Alfred Hitchpop when the kids were younger. All around us were these huge Class A rigs and I would just gawk because they looked so awesome and shiny. I don't think it ever occurred to me that one day that would be us, but here we are.

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The good old days, circa 2011 at Fidalgo Bay.

As a family of five, we have not been together since Zoe's graduation in 2015, and even then, just a few hours. So, in reality it's been much longer than that.  I thought it would be a fun idea to have a sleepover while we were staying at Fidalgo Bay Resort. In Scoopy. LOL. I know, absolute madness on my part. I hounded the kids, reminding them of the dates over and over, telling them "you have to come, we'll all be together!" Of course, being all together meant Tara had to take time off work and fly to Seattle from San Diego, but I considered that just a minor detail. It came down to the wire, but bless her heart, Tara pulled it off! Believe me when I say I used up all my "Mom Card" credits just to get everyone to agree to sleep over! And yes, it was very crowded, but it really was so wonderful to have my family together.

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Our campsite at Fidalgo Bay.

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Zac, Tara, Steven, Dan and Zoe on the trail at Fidalgo Bay.

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We’re getting the band back together!

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The sleepover…enough said!

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Yay, a new family portrait!

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The oil refinery across from us at Fidalgo Bay. It was ever-changing and fascinating to watch.

Our last two days in western Washington were spent with our dear friends Dan and Sherrie. We joined them the first night for a happy hour with two other couples, one of whom are fulltime RVers! It was fun to compare notes of places we've been. We enjoyed ourselves so much, we abandoned Scoopy for a night and stayed over in Dan and Sherrie's beautiful home overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The following day, we went into Coupville and enjoyed delicious food and wine, then returned home to spend time snuggled in blankets on the deck, with more wine, of course. After a fabulous dinner prepared by Dan, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to Scoopy to prepare for our morning departure.

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Dinner, courtesy of Dan’s amazing culinary skills!

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With Dan and Sherrie on Whidbey Island. We love spending time with them!

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It doesn’t get much better than hanging out on Dan and Sherrie’s deck with fabulous views of the Strait.

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Steven thought Sherrie and I looked like garden gnomes with our cute hats :) It was sunny, but chilly!

We are not done with the Pacific Northwest. In fact, after our visit we both felt as though we'd been "home", and it felt good. We decided to alter our usual fall and winter holiday travels and instead of returning to the ranch, we're going back to Portland and Seattle. Naturally, the Seattle campground was already full, but we hounded them every day for a week until they finally found us a spot. Hallelujah!

NEXT UP: Fabulous U.S. Highway 2