Now that is a long title that isn’t all that exciting, but I have no clue how to write it differently. We crossed the country from Wisconsin to the Continental Divide without stopping along the way to visit anyone. No one we know lives near the High Line, which lies close to the Canadian boundary. But once we officially entered a part of the Pacific Northwest, the area of Northern Idaho and Eastern Washington sometimes called “The Inland Empire”, that all changed.
We left early on the 5th, traveling west toward the looming eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. We expected a steep grade and decided that it would be prudent to travel separately so the chances of the MoHo overheating would be less. I took the photo above with my phone while following Mo in the Tracker. Yeah, a bit fuzzy and the photos of the buffalo along the highway are even worse. Still, I knew Mo would love the buffalo photos so I did my best.
No eye rolling allowed, please. Those black things that look like rocks really are buffalo. I think my friend Gaelyn takes pretty good photos while driving, but I am not a fan of that process, and obviously not very good at it. Believe me, I never try it while driving when Mo is in the car. Not a good thing to do, I know. Still, I have the photos to prove that there really were buffalo there, and caught some great photos of the MoHo which I would never get any other way.
It was only 60 miles or so from our campground in Cut Bank to Marias Pass. The actual distance of any part of that pass that could be considered even moderately steep was the last 12 miles from East Glacier to Marias Pass. I knew that crossing the Rockies in this northern part of Montana was much less challenging that traveling some of the passes through the Rockies in Colorado. The elevation difference between different passes is considerable.
Elevations along Montana’s Divide range from a low of 5,280 feet at Marias Pass near Glacier Park to 11,141 feet at the most southerly situated Eighteenmile Peak.
An interesting tidbit from this website about the Continental Divide in Montana: Montana’s Divide respects no geologic structural dictate, but rather snakes at random through the high terrain of the state’s Northern Rocky Mountains. With a spectacular start in the remote western reaches of Glacier National Park, at the 49th parallel of latitude where Alberta, British Columbia and Montana join, the northern most point of Montana’s Divide begins its run to the south at an elevation of 7,460 feet. It leaves our great state about three miles into Yellowstone National Park at 8,320 feet where Montana, Idaho and Wyoming join in a nondescript, flat, difficult to find timbered landscape.
When we reached the top of the “grade”, we parked opposite the Continental Divide marker at Marias Pass and laughed with each other about how easy it had been. We hooked up the Tracker and continued west on our route toward Northern Idaho.
Once again, when attempting to find fuel in West Glacier there was a bit of a kerfuffle and before we knew it we had passed all the recommended stations and were in downtown Libby. Lucky for us, we had enough fuel to get farther west to Troy, Montana, where we made no attempt to find cheap gas and simply fueled the MoHo at a station that was on the right side of the highway and had large enough bays to make fueling easy. Funny how after driving several thousand miles the priorities shift from saving money to saving sanity.
Troy was a sweet afternoon delight. I was again in familiar territory, having driven the route from Spokane to Troy many times for many different reasons in the past. It is an easy route, quiet, curvy in places, without any significant grades to deal with. We were content to stop in Troy and enjoy the city park for an hour or so on such a beautiful afternoon.
The park was lovely, located along the banks of the gorgeous Kootenai River. The population of the town is somewhere around 800 people, and on that sunny afternoon, it was clear that the city park was the location of much of the social life of the small community. Funny thing about Troy, at 1880 feet, it is the lowest-elevation town in the state of Montana. Troy was registered as a town in 1892 and grew quickly after the Great Northern Railway built a freight station there, leading to a boom in workers, miners, and their families.
The railroad bisected the town and we waited a long time for some train workers in individual cars to pass at a crossing. There were many people on both sides of the tracks watching the working cars, and it was evident that they appreciated their train workers. No one seemed the least bit frustrated by the 20-minute wait except us.
Our destination for this first night in Idaho was Bonners Ferry and the big parking lot at the Kootenai River Inn Casino and Spa located on the banks of the beautiful Kootenai River. We have camped there in the parking lot a few times in the past and when I called the casino to verify overnight parking they were as welcoming as always. The only request was that we park on the far eastern side of the lot and make sure that we weren’t blocking any traffic.
The Kootenai River Inn and Casino is a great parking lot for a free night on the road
Chat and Georgette, long-time friends who once lived in California, now live in Bonners Ferry on a gorgeous piece of property overlooking the wild mountains east of town. We have camped with them in the past, but sadly this time Georgette was away at a cow dog training event and couldn’t be with us. Her husband Chet was hiking on that day but agreed to meet us at the Casino for a nice visit and dinner at the restaurant. I completely forgot to take dinner and friend photos but did manage to get a photo of dog lover Chet visiting Mattie in the MoHo after dinner.
Our night was pleasant and quiet except for the trains. There was a crossing right near us. Every hour or so the loud clanging of the crossing would wake us and the train would roar past with its whistle wailing. We laughed at this being the worst train night of our trip. If you decide to park at this casino it might be smart to have earplugs.
Our route the next morning was along a very familiar road. Highway 95 bisects the state of Idaho from south to north and is a route I traveled sometimes daily in my years mapping soils in Northern Idaho. The road hasn’t changed all that much and I recognized much along the way. I found myself remembering soil pits that I dug in various locations in Boundary, Bonner, and Kootenai counties. There is no better way to learn a landscape like the back of your hand than to travel all those back roads day after day. Every time I return to this part of Idaho memories surface about my days in the field. Most of them are good, but other memories come up of fearful lightning storms where I hid for an hour in my eight-foot-deep soil pit with trees falling all around me. Another time when a giant bald-faced hornet managed to get inside my long leather gloves and stung my arm repeatedly. Such fun and part of the life of a field scientist.
Nothing but a windshield view of Pend Oreille Lake south of Sandpoint since we were moving along quickly
Our first destination for the day was in Dalton Gardens, Idaho, a small community adjacent to Coeur D Alene. The sweet thing about Dalton is that most of the lots in the town are at least an acre or two. My friend Laura lives on one of those acres and covers every inch of her lot with flowers. There are some vegetables there as well, but the most exciting thing about Laura’s gardens are the dahlias. I grew dahlias when I lived in Northern Idaho, sometimes digging as many as 700 tubers to winter over in my tiny rock-lined basement.
Laura welcomed us with open arms, and her three young labs greeted Mattie enthusiastically as well. It only took a minute or two for the dogs to begin running and playing together. In Laura’s complex backyard, Mattie had plenty of places to hide when the bigger dogs wore her out. Those labs never seem to slow down.
Laura brought out pumpkin pie and coffee while Mo tried to keep the lab entertained with the slimy ball that you see if you look closely at the top of this photo.
We had a wonderful, sweet visit, sharing memories and flower walks. Laura and I have almost 40 years of history together and even with miles between us, the friendship is enduring.
Laura is holding one of her grandbabies here, and notice the slimy ball in the lab’s mouth
We left Laura’s place in early afternoon, traveling west on I-90 toward Spokane. It is always a shock to see the Rathdrum Prairie and the Spokane Valley after living in that area before the huge growth that exploded in the 80s. What once was miles and miles of fields of bluegrass grown for seed has become miles and miles of housing developments, malls, and box stores. It is a sad sight, but one repeated in so many places.
Mo’s youngest brother Don lives on the south side of Spokane, in a lovely neighborhood with a view toward the Spokane Valley to the east and Mt Spokane to the north. Mo and I both looked forward to spending a night with Don and Wynn. There was plenty of room to park in front of their home located toward the end of a cul de sac. After settling in, we visited a bit with the two of them while waiting for the rest of the family to arrive.
Wynn is a great cook and has a beautiful kitchen, recently redone. Here she is enjoying the huge bouquet of dahlias given to us by Laura
Mo’s niece Ginny, with her husband Gabe and their three beautiful children, arrived a bit later. The kids are all well-behaved, however the youngest, Georgia Wynn is a very talkative ball of fire. We shared deck time and talking time before a lovely dinner that Wynn made for us in the dining room.
After our lovely supper, with good manners all around, the kids decided to head for the basement game room, and Mo and I followed. Before long the family was engaged in a rousing game of ping pong, with Mo, the one time PE teacher giving everyone a run for their money.
Here are a few of the moments during our evening ping pong game that created so much happy laughter.
It was a wonderful evening, filled with family, good food, and most of all lots of laughter. We went to bed tired and happy and ready for the next day that we would be sharing with another great family. Our planned route of family visits would include the next destination, Lincoln, Washington where I would spend time with my daughter, grandson, and great-grandkids.