May 2009 - Posts
After the late night, the next day was pretty lazy. I woke up late and lazed around for awhile. Then we decided to go fishing. I'd been itching to go fishing for weeks and I was excited. Unfortunately the local rivers were in heavy snow melt in the early summer and the conditions were poor for fishing. We tried anyway but it was futile. The mud was thicker than we'd expected and fish can't see your bait like that. It was hopeless.
We tried at a local lake that we'd heard was recently stocked with fish. But when we arrived there were 'no dogs allowed' signs everywhere, and Ty's brother Cody had brought his 2-month-old puppy. We couldn't leave him in the car on such a hot day, so we gave up and headed back to town. On the way we came across a giant cow statue:
We drove back to town and I was feeling disgusting so I went for a jog. I came back hungry and we made a steak dinner feast.
I wanted to help Jeff build something in return for his hospitality. He'd mentioned something about building a hole for his mini golf course (yeah, he has a mini golf course on his property). He had an old broken-down boat on his property, and we decided to convert it into a pirate ship as the centerpiece of the hole. We started out with a really nasty boat full of junk. First we tore out the seats and interior and broke off the steering wheel.
Then we made a deck out of a long pallet and some boards, added a cabin, put in a couple holes and added some gutters to send the balls to the green. We didn't get a chance to put on the mast and sails, or paint a skull and crossbones. The idea is to have people putt up a ramp onto the 'deck' of the pirate ship, tilted at an angle. If you're a good shot, you might get it in the 'target' hole, which will send your ball down a long gutter and eject it near the cup. If you miss, the angle of the deck will force the ball to the 'drain' hole, which will collect the ball and eject it onto the green much further away from the cup.
I'm excited to see the finished product. Hopefully Jeff will send me pictures. Then it was time to say goodbye to Jeff and head into town.
I stopped in at The Break, my favorite cafe in the world. It's this amazing cavernous space constructed with hardwood floors taken from old country barns, exposed brick, high ceilings, tons of space, cool people, etc. The place is always crowded and people are always friendly. When I lived in Missoula, my girlfriend-at-the-time didn't like the place, so I came here all the time.
I got in touch with another old friend, Ty Grimmett. I met Ty when we both worked at the Missoula Best Buy store and were united in our misery - that was by far my least favorite job. Ty is studying psychology at the University of Montana and is thinking about going to law school. We met up and he generously offered me a place on his extremely comfortable couch for a couple days. His roommates Dean, Kyle, and Ferg were very friendly and welcoming. We went out downtown again, this time to many different bars. It was Thursday night on one of the first weekends of the summer and downtown was busy. We met many people and I got to sleep very late.
I found a place to stay in Missoula through the couch surfing project - a social network where people offer their extra space to travelers and then are able to find accomodations for themselves when they travel. It's an international program and I'd heard nothing but good stuff about it. So I decided to try it in Missoula. There were almost 100 people offering their couches to visitors in the Missoula area, and I contacted Jeff, who had set up something of a traveler's haven on his 8 acre property outside the town. I arrived really late at night but Jeff came out to meet me on the street and was very welcoming
Jeff had 9 guests staying when I arrived. Anybody is welcome to stay for a few days, and if someone needs longer-term accomodations he sometimes is able to work something out. In the morning he made me a great breakfast and showed me around. It's a really cool set up, and he went out of his way to make me comfortable and welcome. He's also got some pretty great views:
I sat outside and wrote for awhile, then went to town to visit my friends at Rocky Mountain Biologicals, where I used to work. It was great to see Joe, Elon, Suresh, Maggie, Suzie, Adam, and the new folks. RMBI extracts different content from bovine serum (cow blood minus the blood cells). They've made a lot of progress since I left. Afterwards Joe took me out for a couple beers and we got to catch up. I owe him next time.
I finally took down my awesome camp and left Ketchum. It was a great time for a lot of reasons but I needed to get moving on. I had breakfast in town and met some travelers from Wyoming. They were touring the country like me, but much slower. They had been hanging around Ketchum for a few days and were also leaving town. Somebody had let them camp in their back yard for a few days. One of the bikers - Conner - explained it well: "We're bordering on self destruction." Ketchum is really cool, but it's important to not get stuck somewhere comfortable when you're trying to see as much as possible.
I drove north on Highway 75 through the Sawtooth National Wilderness. It was amazing mountains and rivers and blue sky and miles and miles of scenery everywhere.
At an especially breathtaking overlook, I met Michael Dake, a massage therapist from Boise. He's a really interesting guy with some great stories and perspectives. I told him I couldn't figure out why being outdoors was so great, and he told me, "It's because out here, you get to experience the space between the sounds." In a city like Los Angeles your senses are bombarded and you kind of lose that baseline perspective of silence in your head. Your mind is always following what's happening around you. It's very difficult to switch off. Especially if you can't afford to live somewhere nice and quiet and isolated. But outdoors everything is the way it's supposed to be, your mind doesn't have to follow the wind moving through the tree branches or the deer feeding on the grass field or the river bubbling around the bend. And it's so nice to not have to follow things, because then your mind can do other, more interesting things. It's like in music, where there's spaces between the notes. Otherwise you wouldn't be able to appreciate the notes as they come. Anyway, it was good to meet Michael.
I kept moving along the highway and came to Redfish Lake, suggested to me by a couple people along the way. I turned off the highway to visit but only got to Little Redfish Lake. Supposedly the bigger one is even nicer, but the little one was nice too.
Nearby was the Salmon River, the largest un-dammed river in the USA, stretching over 400 miles (650 km). It's named for the many varieties of salmon fish that swim up the river each year to spawn.
I continued on Highway 75 as it swept across the southern border of the Challis National Forest. Again - and I know you're probably getting bored of hearing this - the scenery was incredible. You have to excuse me for being so consistently blown away by this nature stuff. Having lived in the western USA my entire life, I thought I knew what the country was like before starting this journey. I had no idea how beautiful the area was. I knew certain parts were very nice, but I was unprepared for this level of consistently amazing natural beauty. I'm not the type of guy to look at a rock or a lamp post and be amazed. I don't usually like to sound too exuberant about things, because then when you really are excited no one will listen to you. But anyway, everything I say is amazing really is a new and unexpected amazement to me.
Highway 75 turned into Highway 93 and I entered Montana high in the Bitterroot Mountains. Snow was everywhere.
Then it was north along the 93 all the way to Missoula. I lived in Missoula briefly a couple years ago and I miss it. It's a great place, right in a wide valley surrounded by mountains and forests. A river cuts right through town, the people are cool, there's a big University (University of Montana). Overall, a great place. Also there is the McKenzie River Pizza Company. They have this pizza called 'The Stockman', which is like the ultimate meat lovers' pizza. It has pepperoni, sausage, bacon, and strips of marinated steak. It is the best pizza I've ever tasted and it was on my mind all day. Once I entered Montana powered through and didn't take as many pictures because I was getting hungry.
I rolled into town at around 7pm and ordered my pizza. I went to use the bathroom and ran into an old friend, Jermey Johnson, who had moved to Las Vegas and was back in town visiting - just like me. I ate with him, his girlfriend, his twin brother, his twin brothers' fiance, and their friends Ryan and Emily. I ended up hanging out with them all night and having a great time in downtown Missoula.
Finally it was time to get to my lodging for the night. I tried the couchsurfing thing for the first time. It worked out great, I'll give a better review tomorrow.
Here's the map of my travels so far:
I woke up early at Katie's house and took a shower before anyone could tell me not to. It's always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and I smelled pretty bad. The view from her back yard was awesome.
Above the trees between the two central hills is Elkhorn Village, which is part of, or at least very closely related to, Sun Valley. Apologies for the poor picture quality, my phone has no zoom. Elkhorn Village is a pretty big complex, it just looks tiny because it's so far below.
We got breakfast in town, then it was time to say goodbye to my new friends and get some work done. I was full of inspiration and I was a very productive writer for the rest of the day. After the sun went down behind the hills I went back to camp and scavenged for firewood and made a nice fire. It was a very relaxing night.
In the morning I explored the valley. Ketchum lies at the north end, flanked to the east by Sun Valley. South of Ketchum is Hailey, and south of Hailey is Bellevue.
Sun Valley turned out to be a giant country club surrounded by condominiums and ringed by luxury vacation homes. Sun Valley is a town like a dog is a wolf; It might fool you at first but it's missing certain essential things. Sun Valley is one of the USA's original resort towns. The world's first chaired ski lift was built in Sun Valley in 1936. In the late 1930's, Sun Valley invited celebrities, including Hemingway, to come and explore the area for free. They were put up in the fancy Sun Valley Lodge and shown a good time. It proved good marketing and more or less transformed the local economy. The walls of the Sun Valley Lodge are covered with pictures of all the famous guests they've had.
Hailey has around 6000 residents and is a little cheaper to live in than Ketchum and much cheaper than Sun Valley. It is the largest town in the valley.
Bellevue is smaller. I like it better, because I found a great cafe there - the River Bend Coffee House. I love cafes and have been to them all over the country. This is one of my favorites for too many reasons to list. Normally I wouldn't promote a business like this, but this place really was exceptional. The people were amazing and gave me all sorts of good tips on stuff to do, the coffee was fantastic, the food was good, and the decor/ambiance/etc. were outstanding. So anyway, check the place out if you're in town. Tell Michelle I said hi.
Michelle pointed me to the Ketchum Community Library where an old western band, The Mighty Stiffs, were playing. They were really good. I got a nice recording of one of their songs but I can't get it to upload. I'll keep trying because it's really great. The Ketchum library is very nice.
At the library I learned it was artwalk night. But before I left the library the rain started in big heavy drops. At first there were only a few drops and you could hear each one flying past you in the air. They were really big. Then the rain picked up and I had to duck inside a bar to escape. It was a tourist bar and all the stools at the bar were taken except for one sandwiched between two couples. I sat down and ordered a drink. The bar was decorated with old dusty books and decorations atop shelves. I saw 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' and the barmaid brought it down for me. It was a mint condition first edition of the book, published in 1940. Just sitting there. Incredible. I read the first chapter. The man next to me tried to tell me about how in England, they drink their beer much warmer than they do here. "Oh, yes," I said. Luckily the man next to him was interested in the warm English beer and picked up the conversation. When I finished the chapter they had moved on to talking about how in some English pubs, they use pumps instead of compressed CO2 to get beer out of kegs. I paid and left.
I was hungry and found a different bar where they advertised 1/2 pound cheeseburgers. I went inside and this bar was much different. In this one the walls were decorated with thousands of aluminum beer cans stuck to the walls. It was dark and it smelled bad and at the far end there was a pool table and dart boards. At this bar tourists sat at picnic tables outside and the locals sat inside. At this bar beer came in 32-ounce jars. I ordered a cheese burger and a jar.
"We don't have lettuce," the barkeeper said.
"Good," I said.
The man next to me this time was pretty drunk. We talked and when he heard I was a writer his eyes got big.
"You're a writer?" he said.
"Yeah," I said.
He stared at me with wide eyes for quite awhile.
"Wow!" he said.
He was very impressed with my claim of being a writer. I guess he wanted to be a writer but hadn't had any training. After that we were friends.
His name was Jack. He was a middle-aged, reformed tough guy from St. Louis who did contracting work and painted peoples' houses. He knew everybody and soon so did I. Or at least I knew their names and they knew I was a writer.
The bar closed early and a few of us went back to Jack's house. He lived in downtown Ketchum and his house was the nicest, messiest bachelor pad I've ever seen. He had a giant porch overlooking downtown with about 25 chairs on it. We hung out on the porch and soon Jack was very drunk. He started making advances on one of the girls and I decided it was time for me to leave.
Down the street from Jack's house a group of kids were hanging around. I was kind of drunk so I started talking to them.
They asked me if I'd seen a 3-legged dog.
I said I had, but couldn't remember where. They were very interested in the dog, and since I'd seen it I joined the conversation in a position of authority.
"Maybe it lives in town?" they said.
"No, the 3-legged dog wouldn't live in town," I said. "It likes the river too much."
The 3-legged dog bonded us and we quickly became friends. Their names were Katie, Evan, and Jens. They had all grown up together in Ketchum and were back in town for the summer. We went to Katie's house across town. It was for sale so we had to take off our shoes at the entryway. It was probably the nicest house I've ever been in. I saw a flier in the kitchen and it was for sale for $4.875 million dollars.
Then we went to Katie's other house up in the hills high above Sun Valley. It was dark now and we passed several deer, a fox, and an elk along the road. Her other house was much nicer and larger than the first house. There is an indoor Olympic-sized swimming pool and a Star Trek pinball machine. I got lost in it when I tried to find the kitchen.
Katie is an artist whose father is a jeweler. Evan is working as a landscaper, but he is a traveler who just returned from an extended vacation in South America. Jens is an art student at Boise State University. They're very interesting and cool people and we stayed up very late hanging out. I slept in a very nice warm bed instead of in the cold thick rain.
I woke up early in the freezing cold. I tried to take a drink of water but it had frozen solid in the jug. I huddled in my blankets and didn't get up until much later. I had set up my tent under a mountain and it blocked the sun from hitting my tent and it was very cold in the shadows. When I finally got up the dew had frozen around my car. I went to town and had breakfast and looked on the internet for stuff to do. I discovered that Ernest Hemingway's grave was in a little cemetary north of town, so I went to check it out. I was the only car in the parking lot and the attendant came out to greet me. I told him why I was there and he pointed me in the right direction. Hemingway's grave was the Ketchum community cemetary along with all the other townfolk. He moved to Ketchum after he'd already achieved fame because he wanted to live somewhere he could be 'just one of the residents'. Castro's revolution in Cuba forced him out of his home there and he lived in Ketchum the rest of his life. His grave is just like any of the others in the cemetary, except that it's shrouded by 3 pine trees arranged in a triangle around his and his wife's grave.
I sat there and read some of his stories in the shade. Death is a funny thing. So many things happen in life; you do things, you learn things, you create things, you connect with people. Regardless of what you believe happens next, your legacy on the earth fades as those things cease to happen. The only 'you' that's left is in what you've created, and what's in other peoples' memories. Sitting on the grassy hill with my back against a pine tree alongside Hemingway's grave, it struck me how amazing it was that I felt a stronger connection to this man who had died 20 years before I was born than nearly anyone I've ever known. I guess he was a good writer.
His memorial was up the road.
After getting my emotional fix for the day, I went on a good hike. I headed east on Sun Valley road, away from town. I drove up Trail Creek into the mountains. A stream ran in the valley between the mountains.
I decided I needed to hike down to the stream. I parked my car and started down. It was much steeper than it looked and I more or less skidded down the mountain side. I made it down and sat there by the stream. I wish I had a fishing pole along. I'm going to have to get one.
This side of the valley was much nicer than where I'd camped. I went back and packed up my tent and headed back up Trail Creek to find a better camp site. I found one right by the river. It was much warmer that night and I don't think it even froze.
On Tuesday we went out to breakfast and then I wrote for awhile. Grandpa and Mary Ann have a lovely outdoor patio in the shade and quiet that is perfect for writing. It is quiet because nobody in their neighborhood has kids. I got a lot of good work done punctuated by breaks in the early afternoon for iced tea, in the late afternoon for ice cream, and in the evening for dinner. It was writer's heaven.
The next morning I packed up and left Boise. I took Interstate 84 southeast from Boise. The scenery was mostly desert, farms, ranches, and sage brush. At the town of Bliss, I drove on Highway 30 towards Twin Falls. At Twin Falls I visited Shoshone Falls, 'The Niagara of the West', part of the Snake River (which seems to be following me around the country). The waterfall is spectacular, and is actually quite a bit taller than Niagara.
The magnificently violent falls crashed into the surface of the river like a mosquito lands on your arm. The monolithic river barely noticed.
There's also a network of lakes in the Twin Falls area - some only reachable by hiking ('Ideal for quiet reflection,' says the brochure) - that sounded pretty neat, but I wasn't in the mood. I pressed on north on Highway 93 towards Ketchum. The country turned to rolling hills. It was getting late, and I didn't stop to take any suitable photos.
I passed through Ketchum and it was getting dark. I didn't know where to stay the night, so I drove through town and continued on Highway 93 towards the hills. A few miles from town I saw signs for the Sawtooth National Forest. I turned onto a dirt road that looked promising and passed this sign.
Hooray! I found a spot in a beautiful mountain valley near a stream and set up my tent.
*Travel Tip* It is permitted to camp on back country roads in USA National Forest land. It's nearly always free.
The sun was inching down behind the west hill and I hiked up the east hill to try and catch the sun line climbing fast as the sun set. I caught it.
Back at camp everything was silent. I didn't realize how silent it was until I heard a strange whooshing sound. I looked around expecting a strange type of vehicle nearing on the dirt road. I saw nothing but then looked up and noticed a jet plane far above. The sound was so out of place in the forest that I hadn't recognized it.
I made a fire and dinner and happily went to sleep. Not a single car passed all night.
Grandpa and Mary Ann took me up to Bogus Basin, Boise's nearby ski resort. Only 16 miles from Boise, the lifts are kept busy during most of the year. Unfortunately, the snow had melted in the weeks before I arrived, and the lifts were closed. Still, it's pretty neat to have nice ski slopes so close.
Bogus Basin was over a mile above town. On the way down the winding mountain road there were some incredible views of Boise valley.
On the way back we passed by the old prison. It looked pretty insecure, like you could knock out the bricks without too much trouble. That's probably why they've replaced it and made it into a historical site.
Then it was back home. Grandpa had taken a motorcycle trip through South America and the rest of the USA when he was around my age. When we got back we found part of a story he'd written chronicling his adventures. It was incredible! He traveled with a friend, carrying only a sleeping bag, tire patches, a machete, a Spanish-English translation book, and a change of clothes. At night they would pull over and lay out their sleeping bags on the ground with the machete between them in case poisonous snakes came by. He also showed me a 50,000 word fictional account of the 5th-century-B.C. Greco-Persian wars he'd written at age 19. It was good! He never tried to publish but I think he'd have a shot. I knew I had adventurer blood, but not writer blood. I got inspired and went and did some writing.
I went to Boise, Idaho to visit my grandfather and his wife, Mary Ann. For most of my life he'd lived in western Washington close to the rest of his family, but last year he moved to Boise. Grandpa and Mary Ann take care of their guests. Here is a run-down of what I had to eat in Boise:
Saturday night: all-you-can eat steak dinner. 3 steaks, chicken, potatoes, desert, etc.
Sunday: all-you-can-eat breakfast: 3 egg omelette, french toast, eggs benedict, potatoes, fruit, desert, etc. Ice cream sunday. A giant salad for dinner.
Monday: Cereal and fruit for breakfast. Large Dairy Queen Blizzard, Giant 'cowboy burger' & etc. for dinner. Ice cream.
Tuesday: Breakfast of 3 eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, cinnamon roll, etc. Dinner of meat loaf, sweet potatoes, etc. Cherry pie.
There was more but I've forgotten it. I spent most of the time in Boise in different stages of food coma.
But I also got a comprehensive tour of Boise. Boise has around 200,000 residents, making it the largest city in Idaho and one of the largest in the Pacific Northwest. Boise is known as 'The City of Trees' and indeed it has lots of trees. The name is derived from the French word 'bois,' meaning 'tree'. The story goes that French trappers operating in the area in the early 19th century came upon the tree-lined river valley surrounded by desert and exclaimed, 'Le bois!' meaning 'The woods!' Later Boise was a key trading post on the Oregon trail.
The first day we toured locally. They showed me the stadium where famous Boise State Broncos college football team plays. They are famous for their unique blue grass field. Also they are famous because they're good at football.
Then we followed the Boise river, which flows through town along a nice park and greenbelt area adjacent to downtown, up into the nearby hills. A long bike path follows the river. It was very nice out - in fact record high temperatures - and plenty of bikers were out enjoying the weather. We followed the river for around 10 miles until we came to the Lucky Peak Dam and reservoir. The dam was built decades ago to improve the irrigation efficiency of the surrounding farmland. At the same time, the city built a park with a beautiful sandy beaches and fountains.
Atop the dam sits the Lucky Peak reservoir, which forms a lake popular among boaters. In the foreground you can see the sage brush that dominates the landscape surrounding the Boise valley.
Further down the Boise river was the Diversion Dam. It looked pretty nice so I took a picture. In the rear you can see the rim rock that emerges from the top of many of the hills in the area.
Then we went through downtown. Boise is an old town and a lot of the buildings were old-style brick and stone buildings. I didn't spend much time downtown, but it looked to be an interesting mix of cafe-drinking-fixed-gear-bike-riding intellectuals, gun-and-fishing-pole-toting outdoorsy types, and business-suit-and-briefcase-lugging public service folks (Boise is the capital of Idaho).
Then it was time to eat again.
I woke up late at the campsite. I wanted to try out my new pancake cooking method, which was basically to make pancakes using non-stick oil spray. It worked much better than the previous attempt.
I set out of Hells Canyon East to rejoin the southern Snake River. The road cut through small hills until joining the river bank at the Oxbow Dam. Along the Snake River fishing boats and campers covered the banks. There were far more visitors along the river than at Hells Canyon. I later found that there was a bass fishing tournament going on.
Soon I came to the Brownlee Dam.
At Cambridge I merged onto Highway 95 and turned North towards McCall. None of the little towns along the road had gas stations, and I was running very low. I tried to coast and watched the mile markers for Council, Idaho. I figured I had enough to barely reach town. On the outskirts the sign said population 300-something. Not a good sign. But one of the last blocks of town was a gas station and I was saved.
At Council I followed signs to an estate sale and bought some utensils and an old iron skillet. The selling family was sitting in the shade of their porch. I walked up and said, "Y'all have some nice stuff here." One of the ladies gestured to my Washington license plate and said, "Well we better, when you're comin all the way from Washington."
With the extra gas I was able to reach McCall, Idaho - on the shore of Payette Lake. McCall is a nice-looking town, but I had to get going and didn't spend much time there.
South of McCall was Highway 55. It stretched out ahead through long flat farm country ringed by hills. You could see for miles and miles ahead. I noticed a lot of cars driving very fast packed full like mine. They were headed South from the University of Idaho, school year finished. After the fourth or fifth car passed me, I figured I'd join them. I disengaged cruise control and followed them through the passing lanes around the slow cars and country traffic. We raced through the long flat plains and the winding rivers and hills as we moved south all the way to the outskirts of Boise. The country was incredible and I would have stopped for pictures except that I was racing people.
The next morning the cloud cover that had cleared the previous night stayed away. The country north of Joseph looked nice in the sun.
I set off on my long detour west, south, and east around the Hells Canyon National Park. I passed through Halfway, Oregon - named so because it is halfway between the communities of Pine and Cornucopia. In the late 90's Halfway made a deal with Half.com to change the town's name to Half.com, Oregon. Soon the deal was voided and today the town is known once again as Halfway.
I finally arrived at the southern tip of Hells Canyon. I drove towards the overlook of the canyon, about 15 miles into the park. After around 8 miles, the road dipped into a shady forest covered with snow and ice; impassable. It was getting late and I found a camp spot off a forest service road. A black-tailed deer hung around watching me set up camp for quite awhile. She couldn't figure out what I was doing, kept tilting her head sideways at me. She would run off to see something in the bushes and then come back to check on me. It was like having a dog along.
I've improved a lot in my fire-making skills after carefully watching Justin. This was by far my best one yet. Here's my set up:
Notice the all-important tarp over the log. That way you don't get wet underpants. Also, I've found that cooking over a fire is really hard. A simple 1-burner stove is cheap, reliable, and easy to use.
Thursday morning I awoke pretty early. Turns out my car isn't too comfortable to sleep in. I crossed the river and had breakfast in Clarkston, WA at a gift store with a cafe in the rear. Breakfast was cheap and hearty, the people were friendly. I told the clerk I was heading south towards Hells Canyon and she reccomended Wallowa Lake near Joseph, Oregon. I got on my way and entered the Palouse. The Palouse is a region of small, smoothly repeating hills in Eastern Washington, Western Idaho, and Northern Oregon. The land is rich with wheat farms. For miles and miles the road looked the same.
I drove south and the country flattened into an endless wheat field ringed by the low, sweeping Palouse.
I drove south all the way to Joseph, Oregon. The town is named for the late Nez Perce Chief Joseph. Chief Joseph is famous for his late 19th century peaceful resistance to the U.S. army's forced relocation of his tribe from their native lands to a far-away and tiny reservation. Many of his tribe wanted to declare war against the injustice but he counseled peace. Finally there was a skirmish and war broke out. His band fled towards Canada with U.S. soldiers in pursuit. The Nez Perce didn't have enough blankets or food, and many starved to death. 40 miles from the Canadian border, Chief Joseph surrendered with the famous words, "From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."
Chief Joseph's band of Nez Perce lived in the Wallowa area of Eastern Oregon. During the winter they migrated from the hills and the plateaus to this valley to escape the cold. It is now called Chief Joseph Canyon.
Further along the road towards Joseph the temperature dropped and the sky became cloudy and foggy. I looked up and saw some oddly-shaped clouds very high above me. Then I looked again and they were the snow banks atop the Wallowa Mountains.
I'm not sure what I was expecting when I got to Joseph. It's one of those 'western-themed' towns. The main drag is brick or log-cabin-faced store fronts with names like Stubborn Mule Saloon & Steakhouse, Cattle Country Quilts, Outlaw Restaurant & Saloon, Iron Horse Mercantile. Everything is very nice and the people are friendly. But I was looking for some type of authentic Nez Perce history and I didn't find any. I guess the place to look for that would be the Colville Indian Reservation in Eastern Washington over 300 miles away where Chief Joseph's Nez Perce now live.
I passed through the town heading East along the Imanha Highway, and took the Wallowa Mountain Road south into Hells Canyon National Park. It was dumping rain and the fog had returned. After a couple miles the road signs started looking like this:
I stopped to look at my map and a truck pulled up next to me. The driver was checking to see if I needed help. I asked him where I should go in Hells Canyon and he looked at my car and laughed. "You won't be able to get through this way for at least another month," he said.
I'd planned on spending a couple days in Hells Canyon camping on my way through the National Park, coming out on the southern side and continuing on to Boise, Idaho. But now I had to backtrack and work my way all the way west to the Interstate 84 freeway, then back east to the southern tip of Hells Canyon. It's about 200 miles (330 km) out of my way, or 5 1/2 hours of driving.
I decided to follow the clerk's advice from breakfast and camp for the night at Wallowa Lake, just south of Joseph. I'm glad I did. I can see why the Nez Perce refused to leave.
The lake was spectacular. And the weather was clearing up. It sprinkled when I was setting up my tent but it soon dried up and the clouds dispersed.
That's not the only reason I'm glad I stayed at Wallowa Lake. The weather was forecast as cold and wet, so there were many RV's at the campground, but only one other tent. Their fire looked warm so I went over to say hi. Mike and Mark were brothers traveling across Oregon to pick up Mark's daughter, who had just finished up her school year at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. They'd been on the road for 4 days. Mike and Mark, originally from small-town Ohio, had been part of a traveling acrobat family when they were kids. 'The act' took them to all 49 lower states (all but Alaska) by the time they were in high school. They were on television often and were pretty well-known at the time. Then after high school Mike decided he was through with the act and wanted to see the west. So he set off by himself, in a reverse mirror of my journey, all over the western U.S.A. before finally settling in Eugene, Oregon. By and by, his siblings and parents followed. Now the entire family lives in the Eugene area.
It was getting dark. I'd planned on going to the nearby town of Enterprise, Oregon for dinner. I mentioned it but Mike and Mark wouldn't let me go. They insisted on cooking for me. And so I got rib-eye steak, potatoes, zucchini, celery(Look Mom - vegetables!), chips, beer, and some damn fine company. Mike and Mark very interesting people who truly love the outdoors, and have a certain deep respect for life that is contagious. They gave me a lot of things to think about.
I left Spokane early Wednesday evening and the sun was already setting. I had a great time with Justin, but it was time to leave. I'm getting better at knowing when it's time to leave a place. As usual, I got a late start and made my way south down Highway 195. I'm not sure what was wrong with me but I got tired pretty quickly. In 100 miles or so (about 170 km), I reached the hill overlooking the twin towns of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Oregon. The towns, named for the famous explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, ring the Snake River - which forms the border between Oregon and Washington (and further south, between Oregon and Idaho). It looked pretty nice, so I decided to stay the night.
To the left is Lewiston, to the right Clarkston.
It was a quiet Wednesday night in town, most of the restaurants were closed, the bars were pretty empty. I ended up sleeping in my car in the Walmart parking lot.
*Travel tip* Walmart is one of the USA's biggest department store chains. They sell everything from clothing to groceries to camping supplies to sports gear to fertilizer. There are over 4,000 Walmart stores in the USA (plus another 3,000 internationally). Walmart lets travelers sleep in their parking lot. RV's, campers, semi trucks; anyone is welcome. If you need a place to sleep it's a good backup plan. It's free and it's safe. And in the morning you can use their bathroom.
(Update: I've received a couple emails disagreeing with what I wrote about Spokane. These come from people who know the area much better than I do. They point to a vibrant culture, natural beauty everywhere, warm, friendly, hearty people, and the excitement of a city on the upswing. While I can only write about what I see, I've learned that it's not my place to judge, especially when I don't fully understandand a place. I owe Spokane an apology. Sorry, Spokane.)
Spokane is another of those places I've passed through but never spent much time. It's the second biggest city in Washington, sandwiched between Seattle and Tacoma. It's in eastern Washington, near the border of Idaho.
Anyway, I spent some time in Spokane. The city has a lot of history and, like Portland, is built around a beautiful riverfront. There are some interesting local businesses that hint at some type of unique culture. The people are friendly. And that's pretty much the end of the nice things I have to say about Spokane.
Confronted with a decaying downtown district, the city built a giant riverfront mall in preparation for the 1974 World's Fair. They courted many national chain retailers to open stores. The mall briefly brought more traffic to downtown. Then in the 1990's, the area was again declining. So, they rebuilt and expanded the mall, built parking structures, lured fancy national and international chains. Today, the mall sits near the Spokane falls and commands downtown. It mutates traffic and creates parking problems. It dominates competition from local businesses. It is the focal point of the city. From there in all directions roads shoot out covered in block after block of generic 'mini-malls' with familiar corporate logos sticking out above the traffic, competing for drivers' attentions. And it's not like the place is now suddenly warm and friendly. They call it Spo-Compton for a reason. (Compton being the notoriously violent and shabby Los Angeles ghetto). There are a lot of pretty bad areas. Spokane may have a 'revitalized' downtown, but at the cost of selling its soul to corporate America.
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