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.
We traveled through six states on our trip, here's a little summary of each one.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
Next Up: Part II - North Dakota, Minnesota & Wisconsin