Second Leg of the Journey

We left Helena, MT shortly after 7 AM on Sunday, June 16th of 2019. Our route took us West to meet Interstate 90 at the Garrison exit. The last time we’d taken this path out of Helena, in June of 2017, we’d narrowly avoided colliding with a doe as she’d ventured onto the highway from thick shrub growth on the right side of the road. This time, thankfully, there were no near misses.

We remained on I-90 for only a short while, taking the exit at Drummond as that was the recommendation of my GPS. I should have learned not to trust the GPS after a particularly awful set of directions in August of 2016, but shame on me because I was fooled twice. We started out on a simple frontage road running parallel with the interstate before connecting with a meandering gravel road. It wasn’t in perfect condition, but I’d taken my 2001 Chevy Impala down worse roads, for sure.

What initially appeared to be a rough patch of road, perhaps still rutted after late winter in the higher elevations, soon became only a taste of what was to come. If I’d been driving a Jeep, I’d have avoided this road if given the opportunity to do so. It kept getting worse rather than better, large stones protruding from the road’s surface (if one could really call it a road) at random points while giant ruts carved miniature ravines through the hard-packed dirt that made up the islands of discernible road.

Unfortunately, there was no choice but to continue forward. Attempting to reverse down the trail would have certainly led to disaster, while powering through the god awful, stressful ordeal was at least potentially going to lead us to a happy outcome.

The road cleared up just as we approached our destination. Garnet, a ghost town maintained by the Department of the Interior, was just ahead. We’d made it…and without tearing anything from the undercarriage of my car.

To add insult to injury, there was a much nicer, well-maintained gravel road up there as well. There had been a far less treacherous path to this destination. We could have avoided the hazards associated with taking my car up something barely suitable for four-wheel drive. Damn the GPS.

We remained there in Garnet for about an hour and a half, not departing until around 11 AM. Photos from our time in Garnet are featured above.

The route we followed leaving Garnet and making our way to Missoula, where we rejoined Interstate 90 was far less stressful than the one we’d experienced only a couple of hours earlier. Along the way, there was a fantastic view and a great place to stop and take it all in. I’ve included photos of that vista below.

Crossing the rest of the distance through Montana and the upper panhandle of Idaho, we entered Washington. At the recommendation from my cousin, Jeremy, we stopped at Viking Drive-Inn. This is a modest diner located Southwest of Spokane, in a small town known as Sprague. The burgers, while simple, were deliciously seasoned and precisely what we were hungry for at just after 2 PM.

We continued following I-90 until we reached Ritzville, WA, where we headed South, making our way to Palouse Falls State Park. We’d seen photos of the magnificent falls, but we’d never seen it in person. It did not disappoint.

Photos of Palouse Falls follow.

We left Palouse Falls at approximately 4:30 PM before continuing Southwest through Kennewick before crossing the border into Oregon. We connected with Interstate 84 and continued on to Portland, OR. We arrived at our hotel shortly before 9 PM.

Having built up an appetite again, we went to the nearest MOD Pizza. We’d fallen in love with that design-your-own pizza chain when we’d been in Seattle in June of 2017. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at a particularly seedy 7-Eleven, in what appeared to be a fairly run down area of Portland. Regardless of that, we continued returning to this same 7-Eleven during our week-long stay in Portland because they happened to have green apple Jones Soda in their fountain soda machine. It tastes even better as a fountain soda than in the bottles.

We settled back in at the hotel just before 10 PM.

Oregon Coast: Day One

We left our hotel in Portland at 7:20 AM on Monday, June 17th of 2019, and headed West through Beaverton on Highway 26, turning South on the Necanicum Highway so that we could connect with Highway 101 (the Oregon Coast Highway) in Nehalem, OR.

We arrived at our initial destination shortly before 10 AM and began climbing the snaking incline of the Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain trail in order to gain an elevated view of the Pacific coast. Our climb was more abbreviated than any of us would have liked, due to the other stops we wanted to make during that day’s adventure. Someday I hope to return and complete the climb.

Our next stop on the route North was the Cape Falcon trailhead. Just before Noon, we made our way to a sheltered beach where numerous surfers were enjoying the morning’s waves.

Photos from this first part of the day are featured above.

Our next stop was Cannon Beach. We arrived there and made our way to the beautiful, sandy beach around 12:30 PM. We’d been here previously in June of 2017 as well, and I’d been there on another vacation in June of 2014. It’s a lovely little town, but the feature I–and presumably most visitors–came to see was Haystack Rock, protruding only a short distance from the shore.

Photos of Haystack Rock are included above.

We stopped for lunch before venturing further North.

Our next stop was Fort Stevens State Park. Clouds had started rolling in and the day was turning gray. It was shortly after 3 PM when we visited the Jetty Observation Tower at the edge of the park, enjoying the view and witnessing some harbor seals poking up here and there amidst the waves.

We spent a period of time exploring the remains of the wreckage of the Peter Iredale. I hope to return there someday around sunset, as I can’t help but suspect the wreckage would make for a fantastic bit of foreground with the proper sunset over the Pacific behind it.

Photos from that part of our journey are located above.

The final stop of the day was in Astoria, OR where we climbed the stairs within the Astoria Column. The spiral staircase ascending the center of the circular column is an interesting experience, in and of itself. You can feel the vibrations of every footfall from those ascending and descending while you’re on those metal stairs. It’s a long way up–or down.

The views from the platform at the apex are astounding, allowing clear sights of the Columbia River’s mouth where its water mingles with the Pacific Ocean. The hilly neighborhoods of Astoria are laid out before you and you can follow the path of Astoria-Megler Bridge as it traverses the Columbia River and leads Highway 101 into Washington where it continues its own path North almost to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula.

I’ve included some of the photos from that magnificent landmark above.

It was almost 6 PM when we left Astoria and began our return trip to Portland, following the contours of the Columbia River as it meanders along the border between Oregon and Washington. It was close to 8 PM when we returned to our hotel room and settled in for the night.

Sunset At Cape Flattery

I’d first learned of picturesque Cape Flattery–the Northwestern most point of the lower 48 states–from my friend Charles, while he was visiting the Black Hills during the summer of 2016. I wasn’t able to visit the location for myself until the following summer, and I immediately fell in love.

We returned to the Pacific Northwest in June of 2019.

On Tuesday, June 25th we left Port Angeles and headed West shortly before 6 PM. The drive along the Northern edge of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is a lovely drive, but a long one. It wasn’t until shortly after 8 PM that we arrived at the trailhead to begin the short trek to Cape Flattery.

We arrived in time to enjoy the scenery before we lost the light. The photos above were taken as we initially settled in to await the coming sunset.

Other groups of people came and went, most returning to where they’d parked at the trailhead before darkness descended upon the forest. We stuck it out until we’d been embraced by full dark. We’d carried high-power flashlights with us in anticipation of making our way back to our parked vehicle after nightfall.

The sky ignited with an absolutely beautiful sunset just beyond the not-so-distant island and the lighthouse located there. Photos I’d taken as the sunset lit up the sky are below. It was almost as beautiful when we were no longer able to see anything without a light source. The sound of waves crashing against the cliff face and stone far below us was peaceful and relaxing.

We began the return trip to Port Angeles shortly before 10 PM, and we returned to our hotel room around Midnight.

Sunrise In Yellowstone

The darkness of newly fallen night greeted us as we entered Yellowstone National Park on Saturday, June 29th of 2019. It had been a long drive from Seattle, WA to West Yellowstone, MT and we’d only just entered the park around 10 PM. We’d traveled approximately 800 miles over twelve hours to arrive at the Roaring Mountain parking area before I attempted to join my passengers in slumber.

My 6’3″ height does not acclimate itself well to sleeping behind the wheel of a 2001 Chevy Impala, a fact I’d discovered during our previous trip to the Pacific Northwest when I attempted to sleep in the same position at a rest area just outside of Boise, ID in July of 2017. During the previous trip, the goal was to visit Craters of the Moon National Monument around sunrise, before completing the journey home to the Black Hills of South Dakota. This time, it was to visit Mammoth Hot Springs to witness the sunrise from that already magnificently beautiful location.

Needless to say, I did not sleep well…or long. I was on the road again at approximately 3:30 AM and we arrived at the lower terrace parking area around 4 AM.

We spent the next couple of hours there, and as the first faint hints of dawn emerged behind the mountains to the East, I knew my lack of sleep had been entirely worthwhile. The photos above should serve as testament to the sacrifice being justified.

Returning to the car, we continued through Yellowstone, driving into the Lamar Valley and then reversing course to travel South through the Hayden Valley region so as to exit Yellowstone via the East entrance, returning home via Cody, WY and Highway 14 through the Bighorn Mountains.

Along the way, there were bears. We tend to get lucky during our time in Yellowstone where wildlife is concerned. This trip was no exception. Walking the fine line between maintaining a safe distance and getting close enough for worthwhile shots of the beautiful creatures was as much a challenge for me as it ever is, but I’m not one of those people who can remain safely in my vehicle when taking small risks can produce better results. The photos below are the result of my lack of caution, so you can decide whether it was worthwhile or not.

Another seven and a half hours later, after driving the remaining 430 or so miles, we returned home shortly after 5 PM, after being away for 16 days.

We had intended to spend a few days in Yellowstone National Park followed by another few days in Glacier National Park during June of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic made that objective disappear. There will be no vacation for us this summer either, as I’ve changed jobs and, in the process, sacrificed the weeks of annual vacation time I’d earned with my tenure at the previous place of employment.