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Glacier National Park to Seattle
Sept 11-15, 2015Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Written September 12+
We are starting our migration from Glacier National Park to Seattle. When we left the park, we were not sure of our overall path, but by the end of the day we had a plan.
On Friday, we drove around the southern end of Glacier Park and south along Flathead Lake to Missoula. The Saturday Plan was to swing through Spokane and end up in Grand Coulee. Then, a day or two in Leavenworth, to get our German fix. Only then will we descend on the big city.
As we drove along the eastern edge of Glacier Park, we could see the effects of long-ago fires with the rugged mountains behind. At these high altitudes, it takes decades for forests to recover from fire. This year, the fires have been plentiful, at all altitudes, seemingly in all parts of the West. (Reports from back home in Fresno indicate fire threats to Sequoia NP and smoke and ash problems to city-dwellers tens of miles away.)
Summer driving in rural Montana has challenges, from cows to extended construction zones. We hit both as we detoured to Browning to see the Plains Indians Museum. It was well worth it and we saw both wonderful artifacts of past activities as well as artists practicing new art in order to keep traditions alive. No pictures allowed, which is a shame, because the work, both old and new, was filled with color and imagination. We recommend the stop!
Maria's Pass, the original railroad route for the northern west. At the crest of the relatively low pass, a monument was erected to Teddy Roosevelt, the American President who helped both develop and preserve this area. On the hills across the freeway was a rock face that illustrated the "Lewis Overthrust". The rock above the white limestone line actually comes from several miles west and was the leading edge of the Pacific tectonic plate that pushed over the continental plate to construct the Rocky Mountains. See, even a quick pit stop can provide a bit of education.
Further along, we followed Flathead Lake, a wonderful natural lake, almost thirty miles long. The western edge we drove along was lined with summer homes. Marianne asked why she had never heard of such a beautiful place and I speculated that a pretty lake 100 miles from San Francisco (Lake Tahoe) gets plenty of visitors and publicity, but out in the middle of sparsely-populated Montana, publicity is harder to come by. (Oddly, I did not take decent pictures of the lake, just a window shot to remind us of what we saw. Part of the publicity problem?)
Eventually we made it to Missoula and our stop at "Ruby's Hotel", one of a score of highway motels on the road into town. Competition seems to be working, because our hotel had all we could want: clean, spacious, exercise room, and even a decent breakfast the next morning.
On Friday afternoon, we had time enough to explore downtown Missoula and we were impressed. It is a university town, with shops and restaurants enough for tourists too. Again, I failed to take representative pictures, except for our dinner at Scotty's Table. This river-side restaurant was recommended by the clerk in chocolate shop we HAD to stop at. This trip is not good for calories.
Saturday started early because we had a long day planned, crossing from mountains in Montanan, through the Idaho panhandle, to the central plains of Washington State. The drive on the Interstate Freeway from Montanan to Spokane was uneventful and a quick three hours. The scenery was spectacular, but we may have become jaded to such mountain beauty.
Our mid-day goal was Spokane and my old childhood neighborhood. The house I spend my early elementary grades had been replaced by rather stark apartments, but "the McKnight's" house next door still looked the same. It was fun recognizing my tree-lined street and even the old sidewalks, originally formed in narrow strips to mimic boardwalks.
Our other Spokane stop was at Spokane Falls and the Monroe Street Dam. As a pre-teen, against my father's strict instructions, I had come down here to look over the river, but now it is far more organized (and safe).
Finally. we left the city and headed out to visit Grand Coulee Dam. We crossed the open wheat fields that I remembered from over a half-century ago. Back then, the drives were longer and hotter in our pre-air-conditioned cars, but the farm scenery remains.
We were headed to Grand Coulee Dam because I wanted to see where my father had gone to work for his first job out of high school. It was the depression, and he was proud to have landed something that allowed him to send money back home, while he was delighted with being fed all he could eat for the first time in his life. At 17- or 18-years old, he left home and came back four-inches taller in 18 months.
I left Marianne at the Coulee House Motel, where she could catch up on laundry, a forever travel problem. She did not seem interested in another dam tour. Probably a very good decision. The tour was OK, but not the best dam tour I have been on. Grand Coulee itself, as the largest dam in America and one of the largest in the world, is impressive, but tours can only show so much and I think it was hard to connect with the massive facility, even for an engineer.
Our hotel was right at the end of the bridge below the dam and I had chosen it for the view of the dam face and the evening laser show that was promised to be spectacular. "Spectacular"? Maybe, maybe not, but what else is there to do in Grand Coulee City? Not much.
Sunday's drive would take us to Leavenworth, an old logging and mining town in the eastern Cascades that had recreated itself as an American Bavarian Village. More on that in a bit. First, we need to leave the Coulee House Motel, our least-pleasant stop of the while trip, and have breakfast at Pepper Jack's, one of the highest calorie-but-lowest-imagination meal of our travels. Two non-recommendations.
The early morning drive out into the valleys and coulees was quiet and relaxing. At times, it felt as if we were driving along a highway through the bottom of Grand Canyon, except these Washington State canyons were farmed and even held small towns, in addition to unique rock formations.
Without a doubt, our most interesting stop was at Dry Falls. Here, we watched a fascinating movie showing how Professor Bretz spent over 40 years convincing the world that the coulees had been formed, not by gradual erosion like Grand Canyon, nor by slow and patient glaciers, but by immensely dynamic floods, released by failures of ice dams in far-away Montana, 12,000 to 18,000 years ago. One event has been calculated to have released "Lake Missoula", a lake the volume of the Great Lakes, in about 48 hours! The temporary flow has been calculated to have been ten times the flow of all the current rivers IN THE WORLD. The falls at Dry Falls would have been the largest waterfalls in the world, by far, and they gouged out these coulees and moved topsoils and rocks from as far away as Montana and Canada to Washington State and even to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
It is almost impossible to begin to imagine the scene as water, flowing 60-mile-per-hour, filled and scoured this valley.
Our Sunday drive continued into the fruitful Columbia River Valley near Wenatchee. We stopped for apples and pears. When Marianne asked how long ago they had been picked, the young merchant thought a bit and said: "These were picked early this morning, and the others were picked 30 minutes ago." THAT'S fresh! We also stopped in the small town of Cashmere, home to the "Aplets & Cotlets" candies that have used local fruit for as long as I can remember. A sweet touchstone of my long-ago youth!
From Cashmere it was a few-minute drive up to Leavenworth. As a child, I remember this as a small, decaying, logging, rail, and mining town. There were - and are -dozens of similar places in the western mountains and plains. Thirty or 40 years ago, Leavenworth decided to become a Bavarian Village and has succeeded. Today, the village is filled with hotels, restaurants, shops, wine tasting room, and breweries.
We stayed at "Pension Anna", a most-authentic Alpine hotel, filled with all the details we remember from our past days of Alpine travel. The rooms were all individual and authentic furniture was everywhere. (I took pictures of wardrobes - "Schrunks" - because we have a couple and consider them quintessentially Bavarian.)
On Monday. I took an early morning shot of Pension Anna and retired to Starbucks to work on pictures and diaries. We have a whole day to see this small town, so it feels good to be able to take some time to catch up on this travel "chore". I do enjoy this whole process though, both for forcing me to look around during our trips and for providing accurate memories afterwards.
The rest of the day was spent doing, mostly, nothing. Marianne had her nails done. I wandered town. We walked along the Wenatchee River. We chatted with shopkeepers. We ate more German food. We planned more of our trip. A very nice, quiet day.
Now it is Tuesday and we are headed into Seattle, a change of pace from Leavenworth, for sure. Our five-day stay will be capped by a Trotter family gathering on Saturday, and then we turn south to, we believe: Mount Hood, Bend, Mount Lassen, Sacramento area, Sonora, and home. Getting ready to be home, but there will be more stories.
John and Marianne
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