April-May 2015

Old Friends, Old Haunts

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An all too brief wander through the Pacific Northwest  

We’re just about to get on a plane for Amsterdam.  It’s been a long winter for us, as we’re usually off and running long before now.  You may remember, however, that we needed to  stay in the States longer this year so that Rick could have shoulder surgery.  That little project went very well, and we finally left Morro Bay, California, where we’d been stationary for a long but pleasant four months, on the 10th of April, heading north.  We’d said good-bye to folks, including one last trip to Santa Margarita to visit with our favorite lambs and kids and their parents. 

We’ve spent our travel time making a large loop up through northern California, Oregon,  and western Washington.  Then we headed into Canada to visit old buddies who live on Vancouver Island, before dropping back into Washington and going east into Idaho and Utah before crossing into Arizona.  This was all country we’d enjoyed many times, most often on a motorcycle, and we were anxious to get back.  

Once we’d gotten north of the San Francisco area we were on new turf, at least for this year.  Our overall plan was to drift up along Highway 101, eschewing a quick run up I-5 (what does that word mean, anyway?).  The redwood trees were calling us, and it was spring in the coastal hills.  We had a beautiful drive, seeing wildflowers along the roadsides, Paul Bunyan and his friend Babe, spending time in the redwoods and along the coast near Eureka.  

It was great seeing all these areas again; we’d missed being up here.  

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At the top of California we cut east through the coastal range into southern Oregon, where we have good friends in the Medford area.  In my next life I want to live there.  Southern Oregon is really lovely, and not too hot in mid-April.  Sue and I took long walks, while Al and Rick shared their enjoyment of a pair of look-a-like motorhomes, discussing all sorts of esoterica and refinishing the bookshelves in our coach.

The weather stayed beautiful as we meandered toward Bend, Oregon, past the Crater Lake turnoff (the park roads are still unplowed and unavailable — phooey).  In Bend we were meeting some folks who wanted to talk about Tigers; they are thinking of buying one and wanted to pick our brains.  Got to enjoy some great beer at one of the local pubs as we sat and talked.   

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Up to western Washington by way of the road along the Washington side of the Columbia River.  Rhododendrons and azaleas everywhere.  We’d met Carol and Ralph in Mexico and they are world travelers, knowledgeable on many subjects, and not afraid to start a discussion where we immediately disagree on many salient points.  It was just great, and we could have stayed with them for days,  but we had a date on Vancouver Island.

Syd and Sharon live right on the water, on the eastern side of the island.  Such a lovely spot, with sailboats and sea lions wandering past regularly.  We’d not been there in  years, but nothing had changed, and Syd’s heritage rhododendrons were the most spectacular yet.  

When it was time to head back to the ferry, our great weather deserted us, and the crossing back to Port Angeles was in heavy seas.  We started thinking about the several days we’d be spending on the ferry from Denmark to Iceland, and promised ourselves to begin organizing seasick pills.  Keep your fingers crossed for us; that crossing is in the notorious North Atlantic.  

We were about ready to leave the West Coast and head for Idaho.  We had one last job to do.  And a fine one it was, too!  A super-dooper one.  

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We’d organized a visit to the new America’s Car Museum in Tacoma.  This is a cool place, and we spent the whole day.  The museum is the home of the Harold and Nancy LeMay collection, reputedly the largest in the world.  Along with a few hundred cars from the main collection, there are several special exhibits organized at any one time so each visit promises new things to see.  The cars on display are primarily American models, although one of the special exhibits for our visit highlighted “The British Invasion”.  Other exhibits featured the Ford F-150 pickup series, NASCAR racing and Route 66.  The museum space is lovely and well lit and the cars on display are beautifully restored and maintained.  Altogether a very worthwhile stop. 

We finally dragged our weary bodies out of the museum parking lot and made tracks eastward.  We have a great little campground we love in the Idaho Panhandle — along the St Joe River, east of St Maries.  We wanted to cross Washington in the north, on the Cascade Highway, but even now, on April 25, they were predicting snow falling at Stevens Pass.  We prefer our sunshine in a more liquid form, so we crossed further south.  We were finding out that the mountains hadn’t discovered spring yet; even going over a lower and more southerly pass we encountered snow at 2800 feet.  Dropping down we took the bridge across the Columbia River at Vantage, finally leaving the “Apple Maggot Quarantine Area” — what a relief!  You never know when you’re going to be under attack!

Even eastern Washington was nice and green, with apple orchards leafing out and the winter wheat up several inches.  Grain silos were everywhere, and we noted in passing that the Yakima Folklife Festival was coming up in July.  

You can always tell when you cross the state line into northern Idaho: scrubbier, plenty of rusty cars parked in front yards, a plain ole’ lack of neat and tidy.  Makes you think of the Unabomber.  Not unpleasant.  Just rougher.

When we got to the campground it was still closed for the winter.  But some nice folks showed us a place along the river where we could camp for a few days, and we did just that.  The St Joe is a beautiful, lazy stretch of water that winds along a pretty green valley, bucolic and peaceful.  There are Canada geese and ospreys to watch, cottonwood fluff to enjoy, and, at least for our visit, plenty of sunshine.  A great stop…

Friends of ours live in Hailey, Idaho and we finally left and headed in their direction.  Not directly, of course, but by way of the 4680-foot high Lookout Pass into Montana, complete with snow at the top.  After a stop in Missoula at the ever-so-delightful Mackenzie River Pizza Co, we started south again, crossing back into Idaho over the Lost Trail Pass at 7014 feet and covered with plenty of snow.  Following the Salmon River we wandered down and down, eventually ending up in Hailey, in Sun Valley; think Hemingway and you’ve found us.  Oh, and at one point we went through Arco, “The first city in the world to be lit by atomic power.”  So there.

After a very pleasant night at the Craters of the Moon National Monument, we arrived in Hailey.  Our friends are struggling with some health issues, but we still had a very good visit with them and their two enormous and friendly Chesapeake Bay retrievers.  As with most of the folks we were visiting on this trip, we’d first met them in Mexico and Central America.  Very good friends.

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But we had now begun having some cooling system troubles with the motorhome.  The most logical place to head would be Salt Lake City, which we had managed to avoid the entire 13+ years we’ve been on the road.  Well, another record bites the dust.  We moved carefully along, having disconnected the car to lighten the load.  We slowly climbed the passes and tried to not pick up too much of an entourage as we made our way into Utah.

All told, we spent 3 days at the Cummins repair center in SLC.  It wasn’t too bad, and we found plenty of ways to occupy our time (you can read that as “plenty of ways to spend money”).  The metropolitan city is absolutely huge; it must rival the Greater Phoenix area in size.  The highways and roadbeds are absolutely everywhere, and they’re all jammed full of people.  Salt Lake City is the fastest growing city in Utah.  Jammed, I mean jammed but not at all unpleasant.  

Repairs completed, we left in a deluge of heavy rain, intending to visit Bryce Canyon next.  But it was snowing at Bryce.  The weather temporarily drove us further east, where it was more pleasant.  We did end up at Bryce, approaching the park from the east side, by way of several (also) gorgeous canyons and escarpments and beautiful vistas.  What a great bit of world!  Arriving at the park on a stunningly beautiful day, there was still some snow; after all, at one point we were at 9600 feet.  We had a great day in the park, visiting favorite spots and taking lots of pictures in the clear air.  The park was quiet, with relatively few visitors; there were even deer wandering about.

Needing to head onward due to our unplanned delay, we beat feet for Kanab and the Vermillion Cliffs.  Originally, we had hoped to camp at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but it was still closed for the winter; next time.  So on we went, ending up in Flagstaff while we waited for the start of our next, and last for this winter, adventure - Overland Expo.  

Wow!  What a kick that was.  This is an annual gathering of a wonderful combination of folks doing all sorts of interesting things.  It’s a mix of international overland travelers such as ourselves and other folks who are more interested in four wheeling and rough camping out on the trails or in the deserts of the US.  Lots of exhibitors showing and selling everything you can imagine and lots that you can’t.  Plenty of classes on all sorts of things, a few of them taught by yours truly.  And lots and lots of new friends to make.  

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We had a blast, despite some pretty horrible weather that brought rain, snow and especially mud to all in attendance.  We were poorly prepared for the weather - all our good shoes are in the Tiger — and we miserably trod from place to place for two days before, finally, the weather cleared on Sunday.  By the end of the weekend plenty of vehicles were being towed out of the muck, but by a miracle of good fortune we managed to be parked in a spot with  just enough good ground surrounding us that Rick was able to back Fred around and make it to the already drying road unassisted.  It was a hoot, literally, as Rick and Fred bounded across the field with air horns blasting and folks along the road cheering and waving.  All due to good fortune really, but after so many 4x4 jeeps, etc. needed help we earned our fifteen minutes of fame by driving out unassisted in our big motorhome.

The real highlights of the weekend though were meeting several very accomplished world travelers and sharing stories with them.  We found that we were welcomed into their midst, and enjoyed receiving comments from a number of folks who knew our website and had been following our adventures.  Cool.   

We limped away from the Expo, victorious but very, very muddy, and spent the next couple of days cleaning up.  In just a few more days we’ll leave our motorhome and car in Prescott, catch the shuttle to the Phoenix airport, and get out of Dodge, heading to Amsterdam and then Iceland.  See you on down the road.  

Rick and Kathy, off in search of a Tiger to ride

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018