Thursday, August 20, 2015

Eastern Washington State

We had long looked forward to this stretch of the trip and were so excited when we crossed into Washington. We were closing the gap between one ocean and the other. If we didn't get to sail there, we might as well drive there! Washington is big and there's so much to see so we spent a good chunk of time there. Here's the eastern part...

While we were in Montana we got in touch with my Aunt Patti and Cole in Spokane. We were so lucky our route and timing worked out to see them. It had been many years since I had seen my beloved "ahpa"! We spent a great couple of days with them catching up and being treated to yummy meals at their house. Hopefully we can all get together again soon! 

AP and Cole took us on a nice walking tour of downtown Spokane. It's a neat little city but the kids got strangely freaked out by city activity. The guy all alone at a bus stop having a fist fight with a jacket and pizza box really threw them for a loop.

Several sculptures in the park show the life of the Native Americans that lived here. This one shows the importance of the salmon to the Native Americans. Damning the rivers really impacted their way of life. 

We always have to ride the carousel.

Fred and Ginger outside of AP's and Cole's house before we hit the road again.

We stopped for the night at a camp site near the Grand Coulee Dam. We watched the night time laser light show on the dam (propaganda!) and took the tour the next day. The laser show was enhanced by a fat drunk guy shouting "THE MIGHTY COLUMBIA!" every 3 minutes and his kid shining his own laser on the dam. If it were metro north Andy would have told the guy to can it but since everyone is bigger out west and probably packing heat we just took it. Anyhoo, the tour of the dam and how it worked was a little vague but here's a room with lots of equipment. 

The security for the tour was so tight we couldn't even bring water. We could bring a camera but were told explicitly not to take pictures of any of the security detail. Andy framed up this long shot and didn't even notice the police car on the bridge. But our tour guide did and gave Andy a firm reminder. 

Signs of drought were everywhere we went. 


We love pics of the rig at campsites. Don't you?

Ok, this is how we drain our sh*t out of the rig. There you have it. If you want to be dainty about it, you can call it black water. 

After seeing THE MIGHTY COLUMBIA we headed to adorable Winthrop, WA. This guy, Lucky Luke, decided to make himself at home. He belonged to the owner of the RV park who actually thought we were going to steal him. As if! There was no convincing her so she was kind of mean to us and then we didn't see Luke at all the next day. 

Right across the road from the RV park was this outdoor museum with historic buildings filled with antique artifacts that someone named Shaffer had collected. It was really neat!

There was all kinds of equipment and tools to check out. 

Downtown Winthrop is really nice. 

There was a large fire in the area and other small ones all around. They crop up, move and spread quickly and unpredictably so it was an ever-present issue. That's a smoke plume rising up. 

We never saw anything less than "high"

Right in Winthrop is the North Cascades Smokejumpers base. Another last minute field trip that turned out to be a highlight. This location is where smokejumping started. 

We showed up in the afternoon and quickly lined up a tour. The resident rookie, Justen, had to do the tour and he did a really great job! He answered all of our questions and we had a lot of them. When we arrived there was a team from California that had just arrived after spending multiple days in the forest working a fire then hiking out. Even after all that they were full of energy and happy to talk to us.  Justen is showing us his gear. Each firefighter has to sew his own suit.

Here's a mannequin demonstrating all the gear they wear. When a fire pops up they are often the first line in these hard to reach places. They go up in a plane, determine where they should be dropped, parachute in, start making fire lines to try to slow the spread and then have to hike out. They have boxes of food on the plane packed differently depending on the number of days and number of firefighters. Those supplies get dropped out after them. The one question we didn't get answered because Justen had to leave (see below) was the why. What makes you drawn to this line of work?

While Justen was gamely answering our questions he stopped mid-stream a couple times. He then apologized for being distracted but then listened for a minute. He had obviously gotten a signal we totally missed because he walked away and suited up. It only took him and another guy a few minutes to get 100% ready while the pilot started the plane. 

Here's all the gear for the crew that had just returned. 

Here's Justen being checked over. 

Boy did he get serious quickly. Everyone wished him and his partner well as they walked off. 

Straight to the plane. This all took place in a very short period of time. 

Da plane. 

Taking off with a plume of smoke in the background of a bigger, established fire. 

After Winthrop we made our way to North Cascades NP. There's one road that cuts through the park from east to west. We stopped for lunch at this overlook of the granite faces of the cascades peaks. 

Andy catches me bailing out again. Stupid heights. 

After lunch we continued west and saw lots of smoke in the direction we were headed. 

We arrived at the campsite and saw that the road westward was closed. We learned from someone that the fire was pretty close and some trees had fallen across the road. Word on the street was that it would stay closed for at least a couple days. This meant having to go out the way we came and drive the very long way around in order to continue west. But we found a site and set up anyway. It was the smallest, crookedest, narrowest, lumpiest site we had encountered yet and we did an amazing job getting everything nice and level. It was really a cool campsite on the water and we were excited to be there.  

But as we hung around and kept our eye on the sky it just kept looking and smelling worse. But there was no one around to give us any information. Once ash started falling on us, however, and we could feel the heat we just knew it was time to go before it got dark. So we sadly undid all of our hard work, hitched up and headed back east out of the park. 

This is not an exaggeration. We stopped at an overlook near one we had enjoyed on our way to the campsite and were choking on the smoke. There was ash everywhere and our eyes were burning.

One more pic and then we hightailed it out. As we got out of the park we saw that the road in was officially closed. We had no cell reception and assumed that the campsites were evacuated not long after we left. We decided to head back to the RV park in Winthrop because it was a nice place and they had plenty of room. From there we could leave in the morning and continue west taking the long way. But when we were on the outskirts of Winthrop it was still really smoky and things just weren't right. No cars anywhere except a few pulling out of places. Then we got to the center of town which was completely shut and deserted. Finally with cell reception we discovered that the town of Winthrop had been evacuated while we were gone due to a huge fire flare up in Twisp. We debated staying in the RV park which was wide open and had all sprinklers running but then decided to just leave. We spent a couple hours driving to Wenatchee all the while watching fire trucks passing us on the highway. 

We had often laughed about spending the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot. People do it. It's free and many Wal-Marts allow it but it was not something we were really keen on. But in this case we were thrilled to just park in a parking lot that wasn't going to burn and go to bed. It was late and we were tired and stressed.

Sometimes our pitstops are based on mileage and sometimes they are based on bathroom breaks or hunger. This hatchery perfectly coincided with lunch time! So we pulled in, had a sandwich and asked if we could take a tour. Can you tell we went over Stevens Pass? Sunny and dry on one side, cloudy and gray on the other. 

Here we watched them clipping one of the top fins of baby coho salmon. Then when they come back to spawn and are caught they can be identified as hatchery fish and kept.

They get dunked in this liquid that makes them sleepy so they are still when they are clipped. Once back in the water they zip around. 

This lady was so nice and let the kids each have many turns clipping. She does it a lot faster.

Be very careful! 

The machines in the back send the fish through a little chute where they get clipped by the machine. You can watch them on a camera. But if the machine misses, they go to the hand clipping area. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015


We left yellowstone NP in a huff but recovered with hot showers and souvenier shopping in the cute town of West Yellowstone before heading north to Big Sky country. Montana was effortlessly cool and outdoorsy. It was vast and remote and woodsy and mountainy and cowboy-y and, like, 20 degrees colder than everywhere else. Just thinking about the winters there gave us the chills!

Our first stop was the Greek Creek campground on the Gallatin River. The weather was rainy and cold but we had a nice spot right on the river.
Another camper, Will, gave Andy and Drew some fly fishing pointers. He caught 60 fish the day before, of course, but no luck for these guys! Everyone catches 60 fish the day before we arrive.

Our visit to Montana was perfectly timed with the vacation of a former colleague of Andy's. Darrin Sokol invited us to the ranch where he and his family were staying. They had a cozy log cabin and their pick of outdoor activities. I couldn't tell what Darrin thought of Andy's changed appearance. We dressed up for the occasion but Andy forgot to pack a belt.

The Sokols treated us to a delicious lunch and it was great hanging out with them. For some reason they kept offering us use of the shower in their cabin.

The horses at the ranch were so gentle and sweet. One of the hands taught us how to scratch them right under the mane to make them totally relax.

Another fishless attempt. Bare feet in frigid water negates determination so this effort was short-lived.

We visited the Museuem of the Rockies in Bozeman. They had a great dinosaur exhibit, a living history farm, an interesting collection of historical artifacts like covered wagons and a travelling exhibit about chocolate and the cocoa bean. Sometimes we forget to take pictures. Oops.

We headed west from Bozeman and picked a random state park to stop for the night, Lewis & Clark Caverns, from our road tripping app. Many of the "partway" stops we make are simply based on how far we want to go in a day. But we've had great luck finding really nice places. This one has remained one of our favorites from the whole trip. There were beautiful views, walking trails, great biking roads, a nice playground and, of course, the caverns.

We got up early in the morning (no easy feat for this crew!) to take the guided tour of the caverns.

The entrance was steep but the stairs were secure.

We had to scooch through a couple tight tunnels and learned all the different names of the formations.

The first person who discovered the caverns gave his own guided lantern tours. During the depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps came in and upgraded the trails and installed stairs and lighting. This is the first we had heard about the CCC. But as we visited more and more parks we learned a lot about, and reaped the benefits of, the work of the CCC as part of the New Deal to create jobs and stimulate the economy during the depression.

After the tour Andy took the kids to swim and fish in the nearby river. Look at this place! 

Finally a fish!
And a crayfish.

Following our chill at the Caverns we drove north to Glacier NP. There had been a very big fire on the east side of the park but it was mostly contained when we arrived. All the campgrounds were full so we took a spot about 10 miles outside in Hungry Horse and drove in every day.
A pretty view of Lake McDonald. 

We hiked up to Avalanche Lake and the rock formations along the trail and stream were so cool.

The bear bell on Drew's shoe seems silly but we have one so the kids have something to fight over on our hikes. 

A very tall waterfall.

This is Avalanche Lake with the glacial waterfalls flowing down to it. As we were hiking up a few people warned us of a bear on the trail just ahead of us and another at the lake's edge. We were always a few minutes too late and never saw them. I wonder if the sightings stir up such excitement that the bears trundle off. We did and didn't want to see them.

As the afternoon wore on the place cleared out and it was very peaceful. Drew went off in the woods in search of bears but thankfully didn't find any. Cubby stuck around to play with the ground squirrels.
Tree hugger.

You can really see how the water forms the rocks. 

These sign photos help us remember where we were. 

Our RV park was very close to a reservoir that was being used by firefighting helicopters to pick up bags of water. 

Did you see the other photo of Lake McDonald? This is the same view but on a day when the air was filled with smoke. It was hard to tell which fire this was coming from. 

Eeek! A bear!

Yup, that's my big old sissy butt bailing out of the car right before Andy and the kids headed up to Logan Pass on the famous Going to the Sun road. Just couldn't do it and didn't want to ruin it for everyone else with my whining and cursing.

Fred with a glacier in the background. The signs of climate change were everywhere. 

The kids were happy to be at the top!

And they were so excited to see a family of mountain goats. Unlike at Yellowstone, they are native to the area. The mama has a tracking collar and the babies were so cute. 

Andy and the kids took a nice walk to a glacier.
This is a Columbian Ground Squirrel. It's hard to tell all the varmints apart but Drew is good at ID'ing and thinks this guy looks like a prairie dog.

Fire damage on the east side of Logan Pass. At times during the summer the fire was so bad the road was closed. In the side view mirror you can see one of the hotshot trucks and the line of traffic backed up behind pokey pete.

Ranger Aleta took us on a nice guided nature walk. She told us the beaver lodge in the background has been there and actively used for at least 20 years. We also saw an otter on our walk. 

Hidden in the trees in Apgar Village is a Nature Center/Discovery Cabin that is filled with tons of things to touch. Even the sign says "please touch!" What a treat!

Let's compare horns and antlers.

Lots of fur.
Let's try this fly fishing thing again. Drew hooked three but they all got away. Drats!

OK, this is water fed by a glacier. Even though it was super hot sitting in the sun on the rocks, that water was COLD. Andy had already gone in but Cubby was not easily convinced.

And they're in! Brrr! 

Hurry because this isn't going to last long.
Quickly swim to the other side! They did some jumping off the rocks into the water but it was a brief swim.
Off to yet another great state park to "rest" after a national park whirlwind tour. 

From Montana we passed through the northern part of Idaho and into Washington. There were more fires in Washington and dust blowing in from the crops and the sky made that pretty obvious. That orange dot is the sun. Two new states in a day! Washington, here we come!