Hiking & Biking Our Way Through the Northwest

We’ve not been real big on reservations thus far in our near 7 years on the road. But Florida, the northeast, and now the northwest are demonstrating that we may need to start relying more on reservations. The northeast and northwest have such short recreational seasons that we are finding it harder and harder to just show up and find space for Rosie the bus pretty much any time we like. So, we plotted out our course towards Anacortes, WA, location for our next meet up with friends Bud and Meredith, and the Butte KOA was next up on our list. This was a return trip for us, nothing new to see in the big town of Butte, but we stayed 3 days anyway. The KOA is kinda run down; grass dead, trees/shrubs needing the services of a “barber”, and interior dirt roads tight in some spots. It fits right in with the town of Butte, Butte being kind of an ugly, dirty little town. We did manage to find a Costco in Helena, about an hour’s drive away, so we took advantage and stocked up on supplies.

Butte in our rear-view mirrors, it was on to Missoula where we decided to stay at the Gray Wolf Peak Casino just north of town. They have 50A E with a communal water spout for 8 RV sites. They charge $20/night, but if you get one of their player’s cards they waive the $20 fee. Wow, since I have quite a collection of casino player’s cards already started, “Where do I sign up?!” We stayed 2 nights here and ended up relieving the casino of a few hundred dollars making it well worth our while. Montana has a strange casino system, to say the least. They have “casinos” at every street corner it seems. These are small buildings/businesses that are basically a bar with a few dozen slot machines. No card games. No table games. Just slots. Gray Wolf Peak is an actual Indian casino, quite larger than most Montana casinos with restaurant, bar, hundreds of slots, but this one differs from most Indian casinos in that it has no card games or table games either, just slots. We had a good time anyway.

Next on our itinerary was Haugan, MT and a place called Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver $. They have a dirt RV lot behind the business with 30/50A pedestals scattered around and a communal water spout for RV’s, and it is free for short term stays. Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver $ is an unabashed tourist trap of a business which touts itself as having Montana’s largest souvenir shop. There is a restaurant and bar, as well as a detached hotel and the RV lot. The bar has the walls covered with silver dollars mounted in boards, with an ongoing count total of over 75,000 of them. The restaurant is unremarkable and well not worth your time, effort, or gastric discomfort. And the “casino” consists of about a couple dozen slot machines only. The gift shop offers a strange mix of merchandise; some of the normal clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks, art, wall hangings, plus a variety of weaponry from knives to swords to battle axes to blowguns, metal “gladiator” style helmets, coins & silver, oh, and all the dope pipes you could ever want. The clerk tells me weed is not recreationally legal in Montana, only legal for medical purposes.

The main reason for our stay here was the Hiawatha Trail (RideTheHiawatha.com), a stretch of the old Milwaukee Railroad line converted for bicycling/hiking. Our friends Stacy and Jim Camara turned us onto this bicycle trail which meanders through the mountains of MT/ID border. It is considered the Crown Jewel of the nation’s Rail to Trail system and covers 15 miles with (10) tunnels and (7) high steel trestles, plus all the scenery you can handle. The St. Paul/Taft Pass tunnel is 1.66 pitch-black miles long and would definitely be a rough go without the required lighting instrument of your choice. The bonus here is that from the East portal trailhead to the Pearson trailhead (that covers 15 miles) it is about a 1.6% downhill grade. You can choose to do the round trip (the downhill half took us a little over 2 1/2 hours), or you can catch the shuttle bus back to the top. We did not have the time (Woody back in the bus) for the round tripper, so shuttle it was. You need to pay a fee of $12/person to use the trail, a booth is set up at the trailhead. The shuttle use is an additional $10/person. Even on a hot day, you may want to consider carrying a sweatshirt with you, the longer tunnels are a bit on the chilly side. The trail is gravel but plenty wide and in few places is a shared-use road with vehicles. Thank you, Stacy and Jim, it was a good time.

Bikes packed up, it was hasta luego to Haugan and onward to the Coeur d’Alene Elks Lodge for a 5 day stint. Unfortunately for us, parts of Idaho were experiencing wildfires northeast of us, so we got to enjoy the smoky skies that we miss oh so much from the past couple of years in the west. We used the 5 days to get chores done (had to perform that rare task of hunting down a laundromat for laundry), but we did squeeze in time to walk around the downtown/marina area and also take in the Kootenai County Farmer’s Market. 

Jeanne discovered a special event at the Mad Bomber Brewing Co. They do occasional collaboration with local first responders to create original recipes and subsequent brewings, and one night they were having a release party for the latest brew, on behalf of the Kootenai County Deputy Sheriff Association, appropriately named KCSDA IPA. Live entertainment included a young man named Jacob Maxwell who I’m told was on a TV show called “The Voice”. The Mad Bomber Brewing Co. is a rather unique establishment. It was started by some EOD Army soldiers after their return from deployment and is extremely patriotic, pro-military, pro-first responders. It definitely packed ‘em in on the night we were there. God bless America!

Moving day took us to the Wenatchee River County Park for a 3 day stint. This was a fairly nice park alongside the Wenatchee River. It was, however, a bit noisy since it sits between Hwy. 2 and a very active railroad track (I particularly enjoyed the 2 train runs between 0300-0330 hrs…NOT!). We took advantage of this stop to give the bicycles another workout and ran a stretch of the Apple Capital Recreational Loop Trail (about 12 miles worth anyway). It was a fairly scenic ride through the Wenatchee Confluence State Park and along both the Wenatchee River and the Columbia River.

We wanted to give Woody some outdoor time so we loaded him up and headed into the tourist trap town of Leavenworth, WA. There they have a trail that runs through the Waterfront Park, Blackbird Island, and Enchantment Park alongside the Wenatchee River. Once finished with the trail, we headed back to the bus, planning to return later to play tourista in Leavenworth without the burden of having Woody along.

Wenatchee has a Public Market, similar to the one we went to in Napa, CA, which is all enclosed like an indoor mall. When we went to check it out, it turned out to be a lot smaller affair than the one in Napa. We strolled through the market, Jeanne sampled some balsamic vinegars and we sampled some brews from the Wenatchee Valley Brewing Co.

The park we were in did not have space for us to extend our stay, so we moved about 5 miles down the road to the Chelan County Expo & Fairgrounds where they run an open lot with FHU’s for RV’s. Once we were moved in, we went ‘splorin’ in the big city of Cashmere. It is a dumpy little nothing of a town, many business buildings empty, home to Aplets & Cotlets, an apple confection manufacturing business and Crunch Pak, an apple processing plant. We wandered the “downtown” area, then found our way over to the Milepost 111 Brewing Co. to sample some of their wares. They brew a McC’s Irish Red that was OK, not outstanding, but palatable.

Woody wanted to do some more outdoor time, so we loaded him up again and headed outside of Leavenworth to find the Icicle Gorge Trail. It was a 5-mile loop trail alongside Icicle Creek with some very nice scenery. Woody took it like a champ the whole way. His attention was continually drawn to the many chipmunks we saw along the way…

Once we finished the hike, we returned Woody to the bus, cleaned up, then made our return to Leavenworth to check out the town. Back in the 1960’s in an effort to increase tourism to the area, the whole town transformed itself into a Bavarian themed city. It was miserable to find parking anywhere, we ended up circling around through town a couple times before we found one parking spot far on the outskirts. We started with lunch at a place called Munchen Haus which we found on Yelp. With 1,073 reviews and a 4 1/2 out of 5 star rating, how could we go wrong? Well, the food was unremarkable, felt like eating a brat at the ball game. However they did serve what is called a German chocolate cake ale called Dark Persuasion that was pretty tasty. Gotta like the hint of coconut…The wait in line here was not worth the payoff. And they allow dogs in the seating patio area which it seemed EVERYONE took advantage of, not my choice for dining companions… The shops in town were touristy and crowded on the Friday that we were there. All in all, Leavenworth, WA would not be our choice as a vacation destination.

Our grand finale while in the area was another hike on a Rails to Trails participating  trail, this one called the Iron Goat Trail, about 50 miles west of Leavenworth. This trail runs a section of the old Great Northern Railway, built in 1893-ish (abandoned in 1929), as a means of transportation between St. Paul, MN, and Seattle, WA. We loaded Woodrow Wilson up and drove out to the trailhead in Scenic. The main trail is about a 7-mile loop, with a 3-mile tag into Wellington to the east and a much shorter spur into the Martin Creek trailhead at the west end. We chose the main loop out of Scenic. A suggestion for anyone choosing to do this hike out of Scenic. Do the loop clockwise. It starts through the lower section, then loops up to the upper section and finishes off with a mile long set of steep, downhill switchbacks. Counter-clockwise however starts one off doing the steep, uphill switchbacks first, which may turn out to be a severe quad/ham-burner, with the greater part of 6+ miles still to finish the loop. The trail is very scenic, at times looks sort of like rain forest, with several train tunnels and what’s left of the snow sheds that were built back then to cover sections of track as avalanche protection. A big caution to hikers on the lower trail section-stinging nettles are everywhere and at times the trail can be a little skinny-wear long pants and long sleeves. On the upper trail it was harder to find nettles. Otherwise, the trail was easy to follow, albeit a bit overgrown in some areas. We were on constant critter watch and although we saw none of the usual suspects (bears, elk, moose, deer, etc.), at least we did not get skunked-an owl was sort of stalking us, licking his chops as he caught sight of Woodrow Wilson.

Well, that will catch us up for now. Moving day tomorrow, onward and upward toward the Anacortes, WA area. Until next post…

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Heading into Cody, WY

We found a city park in the town of Columbus, MT, called Itch-Kep-Pe City Park and decided to call it home for a couple of days. This park is run on donations only, no hook-ups, a real bathroom (albeit rustic) with flush toilets, dumpster, and a central water faucet. The park is right on the Yellowstone River and is a popular boat launch area. The main drawback we found was the amount of yahoos barreling down the dirt roads in their “Bubba” trucks, stirring up dust. We were able to find a “site” open enough for our solar system to function at full force and obtain satellite reception for the “tube”. 

Our one big excursion from Itch-Kep-Pe Park was to drive the Beartooth Scenic Hwy. into Silver Gate at the northeast gate to Yellowstone N.P. It was a spectacular 220 mile round-trip drive up and over the Beartooth Pass Summit at 10,947 feet of elevation. We saw some beautiful mountain views, a little bit of snow, and some scenic water falls and lakes along the way. We pretty much got skunked on our main focus of attention – critter watch – with the exception of a small group of mountain goats grazing near the road. A midday stop at the Beartooth Cafe managed to get us fed and ready for the return trip home. I do say, they had some tasty Elk tacos. Some pics have captions, some speak for themselves…

We packed up and made it to our next stop, Cody WY. On the way we did our darndest to get hooked up with an RV campground with hook-ups, but wouldn’t you know it, nobody had space for us except for some dry-camping at the Buffalo Bill State Park. Since that park was a bit outside the town of Cody, we found the local Walmart instead. We had 2 days to kill before we could get a spot at one of the local RV parks. I will admit, we cheated just a tad, and stayed both days in the Walmart lot. This particular Walmart is an extremely popular RV-welcoming business. They have a sign posted directing RVers where dumps are located. They also have a water faucet in the “back 40” for RV use. It averaged about 20 rigs staying there both nights we stayed. We spoke with one employee about the length of stay for RV’s and he said despite the “1-day only” rule, many RV’s stay for “weeks”. Even though we “cheated”, we made it well worth Walmart’s while, going on a shopping binge both days there. To kill time while here, we took a drive up to the Buffalo Bill Dam & Reservoir. Just before we arrived we had to pass inside 3 tunnels into the mountains in an area popular for mountain climbing. At the dam we did a walk through of their visitor center. The dam is not wide, but very tall. It was completed in 1910 and at that time was the tallest concrete-arch style dam in the world, measuring in at 325’ tall.

After our Walmart stop, home became the Absaroka Bay RV Park in downtown Cody. That park is a tightly packed lot, but had FHU’s and was only $39/night. 

First up on our agenda was the scenic Southfork Drive along the south fork of the Shoshone River. It is about 84 miles round-trip and purports to offer frequent sightings of  bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, elk, and deer. In fact the Southfork Drive lays claim to one of the largest herds of bighorn sheep in America. Now, how could we pass that one up? Alas, we got skunked again, as far as bighorn sheep sightings go. But we did manage to see some deer, a couple of large herds of elk, some pronghorn antelope, and what Iooked to be a golden eagle. Great mountain/river views also reward the intrepid traveler who takes on this dead-end drive, part pavement and part dirt/gravel out to the end, including views of Carter Mountain and Castle Rock. Carter Mountain is a 30 mile stretch of various peaks and is touted as one of the largest in the Yellowstone system of mountains. Bonehead me, I was so mesmerized looking at all the mountains I failed to get a photo of the bulk of Carter Mountain. I am truly as sharp as a marble…

The City of Cody puts on concerts in the park during the season, so we packed up Woodrow Wilson and a couple of chairs and headed to the park for a gig put on by a local band named Beacon Hill. They were a kinda bluesy, rockabilly, country mix and drew a good crowd considering Cody also puts on a nightly rodeo at the fairgrounds which competes for an audience. We also would have done a very good job feeding the local mosquito population, except Jeanne found a lavender bedtime lotion for babies by Johnson & Johnson which we doused ourselves in and voila! No mosquito issues! It was better than reeking of deet…

What would a visit to Cody, WY be without a run through the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. The museum is divided into 5 basic sections that a couple of hours would normally be sufficient to cover. However, the section “Cody Firearms Museum” contains an extensive historical gun collection, with numerous pull out cabinets and drawers which you could probably spend one full day going through, especially all you gun nuts out there (you know who you are!). They also put on a short program about raptors where we got to learn about and see a couple of the “residents” of the museum, a golden eagle and an eastern screech owl. All of the “residents” of the museum are rehabilitated, previously injured (many hit by cars), but now unable to return to the wild due to their injuries. It was a nice program…

So Jeanne has to get kudos for digging up all these activities we do, she is a genius at social media apps. Our next outing was another scenic drive Jeanne found in a flyer “Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country Scenic Drives”. The South Fork Drive previously described was found in this same flyer. This next one is called the “East Yellowstone Loop” and encompasses the northeast corner of the Yellowstone “figure 8” and Lamar Valley. Going out the gate at Silver Gate/Cooke City, it connects with the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway and heads back into Cody. In total, it runs to about a 224 mile loop trip. Even though the sun did not want to cooperate with us, we still got some spectacular views and got some critter watching in as well.

Cody considers itself the rodeo captial of the world, and during the tourist season they feature a nightly rodeo at the rodeo grounds. Off we went for a night of country music, clowns, and rodeo stock. Sorry, but I do not even rise to the level of amateur photographer, so my rodeo action shots are quite a bit less than average. We managed to stick it out for about 90 minutes-until a hellacious wind kicked up and we left under our own power before we would have left under wind power.

The ghost town of Kirwin is found about 62 miles south and outside of Cody in the Wood River Valley. It was a mining town (silver/gold) founded in the 1880’s until about 1907, when a massive avalanche gave some of the shacks new addresses and killed a few miners. Attempts to continue mining ran into the 1940’s, but now Kirwin is just a few buildings still standing with secrets yet to be told. A plus, we got to see a few critters on this trip, too. We topped it off with a stop in the megalopolis of Meeteetse, WY, for a cold one and some chow at the Elkhorn Bar & Grill. We both ordered, of all things, here in beef/elk/bison country, their hibachi fried rice. I had shrimp on mine and was amazed at the quality of the meal! I washed it down with a Jeremiah Johnson Scotch Ale (!) and I would highly recommend this place to anyone bold enough to drive all the way out here.

Well, tomorrow the jacks go up and it is onward and upward. Not sure where we will land, just “shut up and drive”. Until next post…

Yippee kayayyyy, the blog post is done!

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Great Falls, MT

One of the recurring issues we have is with how NOT well locals tend to have accurate knowledge of their towns and surroundings. We got ready to hit the road out of Glacier N.P. headed for Great Falls. We planned on heading down Hwy. 89 straight into Great Falls, but got dissuaded by some of the local folk who said the construction on Hwy. 89 was horrible, with excruciatingly long waits. So we altered our route, circling around about 60 miles out of our way further south before hooking up with Hwy. 200 into Great Falls. When we got set up at our destination we ran into a couple of fellow RVers who had also just left the W. Glacier KOA. They did take Hwy. 89 and it was clear as clear can be, smooth sailing all the way. Harumph! Harumph!

Our new homesite was Dick’s RV Park, Great Falls, MT. The park was not great, but had level gravel roads and sites with FHU’s, albeit a bit beat up. Many of the water spigots looked to have lost battles with RV’s, and ours leaked from it’s handle. But the price was half that of the local KOA, with not much else around to choose from.

There was a bicycle trail just outside the driveway for the RV park, which hooked up to the River’s Edge Trail. That trail is paved to Crooked Falls, then dirt/gravel to Ryan Dam. We gave it a go for about 20 miles, round trip, out to Crooked Falls and back. Black Eagle Dam/Black Eagle Falls, Rainbow Dam/Rainbow Falls, and Crooked Falls were scenic views, all kinda parts of the “Great Falls” system of falls on Big Muddy (the Missouri River).

We met up with our friends Zane & Theda Shaulis, whom we met at the Allegro Rally in Casa Grande, AZ, a few years ago. They are residents of Great Falls and showed us around during our stay. Their son-in-law Zack works at Jeremiah Johnson Brewery in town and we got a tour of his facilities. Jeremiah Johnson Brewery is a microbrewery for the area, not widely distributed (yet), and their flagship brew, Mountain Man Scotch Ale, is very tasty. They brew a vanilla porter that is also a must-try.

Great Falls holds a pretty large Farmer’s Market downtown on Saturdays, so we met up with Zane & Theda and strolled the market. It was a spread out affair, occupying several closed streets. They had all kinds of crafts booths besides a large contingent of produce booths, but the strange ones were a couple of booths selling “wands” and spell related things, I didn’t get the gist of them. I had no idea sorcery or witchcraft were popular themes in Montana of all places, I would have thought them more suitable for somewhere in Oregon or San Francisco…

Next stop on our Great Falls tour was a free car show at Giant Springs State Park. There were a couple of dollars on display there, here are a few pics.

Zane & Theda had charge of their young grandson, Hunter, so we stepped across the road from the car show to the Giant Springs and the fish hatchery they have there. Jeanne & Hunter fed the fish at the hatchery and we got to check out Giant Springs. The springs are the source for the Roe River, one of the world’s shortest rivers at 201’, emptying into Big Muddy. The springs water could not be any clearer, with a whole lotta green shrubbery growing under water.

We took Woody out for a walkabout along the Northshore trail near Ryan Dam & the Great Falls of the Missouri, namesake for the town. I can only imagine what all these falls we have seen here would have looked like before civilization put in all the hydroelectric dams. Even with the dams, they are quite scenic. At this dam there is an “island” area (Ryan Island) with nice viewing areas, picnic areas for families, and a sway bridge to access those areas. It was pretty cool.

Well, tomorrow is moving day. Still not sure where we will land, somewhere between here and Cody, WY. A very BIG thank you to Zane & Theda for all the good times and the steak dinner they hosted at their home. As usual, stay tuned until next post…

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Glacier National Park 2019

Boy, howdy, this will be a very short narrative. Pictures do little justice and words do no justice to the spectacular scenery found at Glacier National Park. I’m just gonna post pictures, some with captions and some without, and let that tell the story. Before I get to that, a couple of things…We got here the week after the 4th of July and met with a little disappointment in that rangers informed us that several of our intended hiking trails were only partially open because of snow. It looks like if you want to visit here, best be done around August or later. The traffic was horrible, just like Yellowstone. The parking areas for popular places like Logan Pass, Many Glaciers and Avalanche Creek fill up extremely early in the day, Logan’s was full by 8:30 daily. And we tried to get into the Many Glaciers area at noon one day but there was no parking available in the whole state of Montana (or so it seemed)! But we did get a hike or two between sightseeing. The park really recommends and encourages use of the free shuttles but for us that would be tough having to coordinate with leaving Woody in the bus and getting back to let him out. So without further ado, here’s some photos…

Hope you enjoyed them. Until next post…

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Kalispell 2019

Our stay in Kalispell took us to the Kalispell Elks Lodge. They have several W/E gravel sites (30A) and the lodge has a gym like I have never seen at any Elks Lodge so far. There are 3, count ‘em, 3 racquetball courts, a room with stationary bikes/treadmills, etc., and a pumping iron room with free weights. A real locker room offering lockers, showers, a dry sauna, even a trainer’s table. Rustic, at best, but my kinda gym, not for yuppies to be strutting around, flexing for the mirrors and looking suave and “dee-boner”. 

The weather was not all that great during our 8-day stay in Kalispell. Most days had rain, overcast, and/or thunder & lightning, but at least it was not cold. Between rainstorms we did manage to get out and “see stuff”. We spent a couple of days checking out Whitefish, MT, home to Whitefish Lake & Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort. We walked around downtown old town and fought the crowds at the Whitefish Arts Festival. We also paid a visit to the Bonsai Brewing Project, a local micro-brewery, and sampled their wares, adult beverage-wise. Sorry, BBP, nothing to write home about.