Montana, Idaho & Washington States

2nd - 13th August 2008

After our wonderful time in the wilderness of Glacier National Park, there were several things of which we were desperately in need;  a laundry, fresh groceries, long hot showers, internet connection, an inflatable canoe and a mechanic to name but a few.      

On the longer but much less demanding route around the south end of the National Park, avoiding the 'Going to the Sun Road', Harvey developed a strange knocking noise.   It was time to head to the "civilisation" of a larger town and a commercial campground, to deal with all our team's needs.

By lunchtime we found ourselves in the town of Kalispell, Montana, checked into a lovely riverside campground with great fishing possibilities.   Two days of chores and retail therapy followed.

After one shopping trip we returned to Harvey to find him surrounded by family members.    We introduced ourselves to the proud owners of the other Toyota campers, two New Zealander brothers and their wives.    It seemed we weren't the only foreigners who had the idea to tour the USA in a small camper for a few months!    Of course we had to spend a while comparing notes on places we'd visited, strange noises we'd heard from our Toyotas, MPG and the like.

Early Monday morning, Harvey was on his way to his appointment with the mechanic.   Unbelievably all the way to the Toyota garage, he refused to make his new noise.    When the mechanic brought out his stethoscope to listen more closely, Harvey still refused to make the noise.    None the wiser about the noise, we left the mechanic a while later with new air filter (the old one seemed to contain half a forest), new spark plugs and a fine tuned engine.   Perhaps the noise had been magically cured......

After a day of serious river fishing on Tuesday, we left Kalispell on Wednesday morning and headed to Lake Mary Ronan Lake State Park, where we hoped to try, yes, a spot of lake fishing for a change.    Wednesday afternoon we were on our way back to the old campsite in Kalispell, with Harvey not only making his mystery noise again but also having dramatically increased the volume.    A new appointment was made with his mechanics for the following morning.

Needless to say, on Thursday morning Harvey stubbornly refused to produce the noise again.    We and the mechanics were baffled.     We had a feeling that the noise was coming from one of the belt pulleys but couldn't pinpoint it.    As a precaution we bought Harvey a full set of new belts, including the timing belt which was due for a change.  However, on dismantling everything, the mechanic couldn't find any other problems.

Whilst Harvey underwent his surgery, we were dropped at the Mall, more specifically at a wonderful outdoor gear shop we'd found.    It had been decided that, in order to truly maximise all fishing opportunities, we couldn't live without an inflatable canoe.   We'd seen one used during our brief visit to the lake earlier in the week and were surprised just how stable they seemed.     Luckily the store had just one left in stock, summer season being almost over (!) and we became the proud owners of a bargain priced Sevylor inflatable ex-display canoe.  

Before leaving Kalispell, with or without the noise, we wanted to check out the canoe and make sure it didn't leak.    Back at the campground, we inflated our new purchase and lugged it to the river.    It turned out the canoe was fine, the oars-persons, however, were lacking in skill and our brief river canoeing practice took us sideways down the swift river current until we ran aground.    Perhaps we'd stick to lakes!  

Finally we got to camp at Lake Mary Ronan park and enjoyed a couple of days of peace and tranquility.    Our canoe proved a great success and on our first trip into the lake we hooked a couple of the local kokane salmon, lost four more and landed many tiny but extremely ambitious perch.    Naturally the best method turned out to be that the paddling was done by the lighter person in the bow, whilst the guy in the back got to spend all his time fishing!

Finally Enjoying Lake Mary Ronan.

Princess, moi?

That evening we enjoyed a fresh fish dinner and decided that maybe we should have kept the perch and thrown the salmon back, as the perch tasted much better!

Of course there was no such thing as a true paradise.  Each place we had visited during out travels turned out to have a downside, probably a good thing or we'd have stopped travelling!   In the case of this park it was the scary vault toilets.   Having managed two months of camping without needing to resort to using one of these terror inducing devices, the princess finally plucked up the courage.    On being asked for an explanation of what was so scary about this type of toilets, her explanation was simple...."Well of course there's the stink potential if they are not well maintained, the horrifying swarms of flies if some idiot should leave the door open and most scary of all, the toilet snakes".   Huh?    Philip learned that when you have had a phobia of imaginary toilet snakes all your life, vault toilets are the ultimate horror!   

Our route plan had taken a new and interesting turn, the result of an invitation to visit cruising friends Kate and David in Salem, Oregon.     Well, Salem was only a mere 650 miles off our planned route, a distance not even considered a detour in the vastness of the United States.    We hadn't planned to travel further west but couldn't pass up the chance to catch up with our buddies.   So, we found ourselves westward bound.
Our last overnight stop in Montana, a state we would certainly be sad to leave, was at a forestry campsite called Lee Creek, on the way to the high pass into Idaho.     Our campsite was beautiful and secluded, surrounded by wildflowers and with a small creek running by.    

We walked the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Trail during the afternoon.    We may well have learned more if any information had been provided explaining the relevance of the number markers along the route, but it was a beautiful walk nonetheless.    We decided to light a campfire, on which to cook our dinner.    When the wood supplies ran low and the temperature began to drop as the sun went down, Christine tried her hand with the axe, to split some more firewood.    This turned out not to be as easy as it looked.  Fortunately there was an endless supply of dead wood lying around the campsite to burn.

OK, let's guess what number 2 means.


Hurry up with that wood!

Next morning we arrived at the Idaho state border and welcome centre.    After comparing notes for a while with some fellow Brits we met, who were also long-term travelers, we set off into the depths of Idaho, along scenic route 12.   The road followed closely along beautiful Lochsa river valley.    It was on this road we encountered our first "No gas for 65 miles" roadsign.     What the sign didn't mention was that there was actually nothing much but trees for the next 65 miles, with the exception of the occasional National Forest Service primitive campground.

Route 12 scenery

Paddle slower will you, the fish can't catch up!

Another problem was that we were running alongside wonderful fishing water with nowhere to purchase the compulsory fishing license, leaving the fisherman pretty frustrated.

At the start of the day's travels, we'd selected a destination of one of Idaho's State Parks.   As we traveled through the golden high plains wheat fields, however, we changed our minds, as we so often do, turning left instead of right, much to the annoyance of our GPS.    

After driving through the Nez Perce Indian Reservation, we found ourselves in the small town of Winchester Idaho, which naturally displayed their town welcome sign in an oversized Winchester rifle model strung across the street.  We set up camp at Winchester Lake and inflated our new canoe ready for another spot of fishing.    

First job was to purchase the state fishing license.  This proved a challenge for the local retailer, working with a computer system which didn't seem to like the fact that we couldn't provide a US Social Security number.    After the friendly lady had expended a considerable amount of her valuable time sorting out the problem with the relevant state department, we left the store happy, with not only the fishing license but also free ice-cream!

Back at the lake, the fishing proved rewarding and we stayed an additional night, giving us the chance to visit the town's sanctuary for illegally obtained and abused wolves the next day.  

The wolf sanctuary was only about a mile from our campground, the ranger told us, easy cycling distance.   Off we set peddling eagerly, in anticipation of visiting with the wolves.    Soon we were peddling far more cautiously as we found ourselves on unpaved road, lined with deep gravel, trying desperately to stay upright as we cycled through the mounds of loose stones.    As we neared the entrance, we heard the distinctive and eerie howling of the pack members. 

We arrived at the wolf sanctuary just after opening time at 9 am, to be told by the ranger that we may be just in time to see the wolves before they settled down to rest during the heat of the day.    We enquired about the best time to see the animals active and were informed that they were liveliest during the evening, a shame when the sanctuary closed at 5 pm!    The wolves were not fed on a regular schedule, we learned, to keep them in their natural feast-or-famine state of mind.    Most of their food was donated road kill.

Ever hopeful, we quickly hit the trail to the observation points, leaving the ranger to deal his own problem of a pair of hummingbirds and a nuthatch which had somehow flown into the visitor centre and were trapped high up in the roof.    The main wolf enclosure was 20 acres in size and the chances of seeing wolf action were pretty slim.   However, after much out-of-character patience, we spotted a light coloured wolf in the smaller 2 acre enclosure.   This pen held a new pack of wolves recently rescued from an unsuitable home.    We watched the wolf for a while, meanwhile he kept us under close observation too, probably wondering if any road kill had resulted from our perilous cycle trip.

Back at the visitor centre, the nuthatch had been liberated and the ranger was hard at work trying to catch the now exhausted hummingbirds with a large net.    Finally one was caught but too weary to fly to safety.   Christine was left to nurse the poorly hummingbird whilst its pal was also released.    After a short rest the patient found the energy to fly off and rejoin its friend. 

Run over anything tasty lately?

The weary patient slowly recovers his energy


Next day brought another new state, Washington.    We headed westwards over more high plains and through the winery rich area of Walla Walla, before reaching the Columbia River valley.     We were both surprised at what we found.   Our expectations had been a lush, fertile valley with a fast flowing river.   What we actually encountered on our first day of travels along its bank, was a wide river, its flow impeded by numerous huge dams.   Around the river the landscape was arid, rocky and dry, with only the occasional irrigated vineyard for variety.    

We spent the night on the Washington bank of the Columbia at Maryhill State Park.  Only on crossing the next day into Oregon and after an hour or so of driving, did we finally come across the Columbia river valley landscape we had imagined.

Phil cools off in the Columbia, WA.

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