Last night it struck us that we have to drive back. With that realization, we decided that we wanted to stay still as long as possible, so we decided to stick to the interstates and get to Samish Island a day earlier.
We headed north out of West Yellowstone at 7:00 AM. The road briefly re-entered Yellowstone, but mostly followed the Gallitin River through the Gallitin National Forest. This was another beautiful western river gorge. We reached the interstate at Belgrade and headed west, back on I-90.
From Belgrade to Missoula, the highway ran through wide basins ringed with mountains. We could certainly see how Montana got the name Big Sky Country.
Missoula sits in an ancient glacial lake basin surrounded by hills. On one was an imposing statue that I thought was a Christ, but Laura said looked more like a giant rodent. Who knows. We stopped for lunch and gas. Laura’s grandparents lived in Missoula, and she thought the neighborhood we entered upon exiting I-90 was their old neightborhood.
West of Missoula, the highway climbed into the mountains, following the Clark Fork River. At Lookout Pass we crossed into Idaho and into Pacific Time.
The highway dropped into a valley and ran through a series of little mining towns along the Couer d’Alene River. We stopped briefly in Wallace, which was having a festival. The road continued along the river until it turned into a large lake.
At 3:00 PM local time we crossed into Washington State, and entered the city of Spokane. I wish we had more time to explore, rather than just admiring from the interstate. The architecture looks quite interesting. Just west of the city, we left the interstate on Highway 2, headed for Coulee Dam and Lake Roosevelt.
We had just gotten out of town when we decided to stop at a quick shop for a better map and candy bars. The clerk inside asked if we were going to stick around for the show, and I asked, “What show?” Apparently George W. Bush was to drive by any minute, and the road would be closed. I dashed outside and told Laura we had to get out of there. Just as we left, two black SUVs with secret service agents pulled into the parking lot and began to disperse. We noted several other law enforcement types all along the road until we got past Fairchild Airforce Base, where the president was to arrive.
The trip through far eastern Washington alternated between lush green grains where irrigation was rampant, and arid scrub. We noted the same hexagonal volcanic columns along the roadway that we had seen at Devils Tower, and again at Yellowstone. Lone, desolate farm houses stood out against the lush green fields, and any towns were mere spots in the road.
We left highway 2 and turned north toward Coulee Dam. I was a bit disappointed in the dam. I thought it was supposed to be huge and imposing, similar to Hoover Dam (which I’ve never seen, and may be less imposing than I imagined, too.) It’s still impressive, especially since it was constructed in 1902.
We found a room at a lovely little inn in the town that had grown up around the dam. Turns out that it was the last room, and the floor was wet from cleaning the carpet. We decided to explore the town and find dinner.
The town is beautiful – neat cottages line the main street with overhanging trees providing a canopy, all overlooking the gorge and dam. This is one place that has not been overrun with frenzied resort construction. Our inn appears to be the most modern in town.
Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant called La Pesa that turned out to be a real find. Each of the booths had a different hand-carved, hand-painted tabletop, and there were other wood carvings adorning the walls. The food matched the setting. We ordered margaritas, and got massive bowls instead of small drinks. They tasted wonderful, but there was no way I could drink even half mine and expect to drive. The entres were equally large. Laura got a combination plate, and I ordered arroz con pollo, which easily could have fed three.
After dinner, we crossed the Columbia River for a drive along the north shore. We were on an Indian reservation, but everything was very neat. I thought back to the Tohono O’Odham reservation in Tucson, which was littered with broken glass and poverty. This was as different as can be. Speaking of Tucson, the dry hills looked like they belonged in the Sonoran Desert. Just throw in a few saguaro, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The ground was littered with volcanic rubble. Huge boulders reminded of the ejecta I had seen in the Pinecate Volcanic Zone in Sonora, Mexico, adding to the desert impression. The eruption that produced these volcanic bombs must have been massive. My limited geological training reminded me that the Pacific subduction zone used to be under this area before moving westward to create the Cascades. Even the skies were like Tucson,with wispy virgas tempting the ground with rain.
Back at the hotel, our carpet was still wet, so we opened doors and windows and enjoyed the patio outside the room.