Really Big Pencils

July 27-28
Wildlife: Bald eagles, river otter, heron, kingfisher


You may recall the first campground at which we stayed was Lebanon Cedars in Tennessee.

Here on the other side of America the cedar is different. Bigger. Much bigger. (And sparser.)

FLS_6759The Deception Pass State Park Campground – the most popular state park in the state of Washington – sits just above the Rosarito Strait, which is an extension of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Strait of Juan de Fuca separates British Columbia from Washington, and feeds the Pacific Ocean, so the water here is the salt water of the Pacific. There’s also, right next to the ocean, a small fresh-water lake, Cranberry Lake.

The park is located on Whidbey Island, which is separated from Fidalgo Island by a small waterway, Deception Pass. The islands are connected by a pair of bridges.



The two islands have outstanding hiking on either side of the bridgeways.

We first hiked to the bridge (and crossed it/them), and hiked Goose Rock. It was a good workout, climbing 484 feet to the top of the rock, and providing excellent views of the surrounding water, islands and mountains.

The next day we crossed the bridge back to the north and hiked to lighthouse point. It was another beautiful hike, with even better views.

FLS_6863The campground experience itself was a mixed bag. There’s some kind of air or naval base nearby that hosts fighter jets that roar across the sky at any hour of the day (but not at night). And we had the Loud family move into the next campsite. Fortunately, there is not threat of avalanche on this island. A word from Rebecca pointing out we are all out here for the quiet of nature, and the party is much more subdued tonight.



Do the Continental

July 26
Miles: 170


We have crossed the continent.

We drove through the southern branch of the Northern Cascades to finish the journey across Washington.

The topography was nothing like what we’d encountered on the western half of the state. I809t was a simple drive through the mountains. The elevation increase was about 3000 feet to the pass. The weather was spitting a little rain, but mostly just cloudy.

FLS_6726Just over Stevens Pass we encountered a nice nature hike with a waterfall, a gorge, and some really big red cedar trees. There are a lot of really big red cedar trees in Washington.

When we reached the bottom, Rebecca found a listing for a store in Everett we decided to visit, Purple Haze. Never in my lifetime would I have expected to see that once-reviled product retailed. It was surprising to discover Washington had sunk to the same level of decadence a Colorado.

We proceeded west to Anacortes and then Whidbey Island, where we encamped at Deception Pass State Park.

Some 3809 miles from Holly Springs, we have reached the other side of the continent.

If you’ve never seen Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in “The Gay Divorcee,” you should.


Gatlinburg of the West

July 25
Miles: 268
States: Washington


Leavenworth, Washington

A chance encounter in a Starbucks in Spokane led us to spend a night in Leavenworth, Washington, at the Icicle River campground. The local couple in the coffeeshop were enthusiastic self-proclaimed outdoorspeople and insisted Leavenworth was a worthy stop between the Idaho border and the coast.

FLS_6701So we drove across the state on highway 2. The landscape has changed from the corn of the midwest to wheat. Wheat as far as you can see. The land itself is rolling, so you can see a long way, farther than in, say, South Dakota, and not just because wheat is a lot shorter than corn.

After covering miles of wheatfields, the road suddenly dips into small desert-like canyons, making for a stark change in scenery.

We made a slight detour to take in Grand Coulee Dam. It’s the largest dam in the country, but it turns out to not be as impressive as Hoover Dam. It’s not nearly as tall.


Grand Coulee Dam

The road back south from the dam, however, was a spectacular drive through a lake-filled canyon. It was a bit topologically confusing, but the Escher effect finally resolved itself when we encountered a second dam at Dry Falls.

Our route eventually led us to cross the mighty Columbia River at Wenatchee, then it was a short stretch to Leavenworth.leav2

I call it the Gatinburg of the west because it is crawling with tourists and is nestled at the foot of the southern side of the Northern Cascade mountains.

What sets Leavenworth apart is that it is all done up in Bavaria. There are leav3Bavarian-shaped letters on all the signs, half-timbered buildings, and pots of geraniums everywhere. There’s an oompah band playing in a bandstand in the middle of town. There was an accordionist in the restaurant where we ate Schnitzel. Beergardens. All the waitresses wear dirndls.

We went to a wine tasting of Washington wines, decent wine but overpriced. nutsWe also went to the Icicle River brewpub, where the IPA was up to west-coast standards.

The campground was packed tight as sardines, but it was still a pleasant stay. We met a nice couple from Canada, Jake and Darlene, in the hot tub. Jake is in the trucking industry, something about building trucks that are aerodynamically sleek for travel in Canadian winters, but which also appeal to the Hollywood Movie

jakeanddarleneMachine. If I heard correctly, Darlene is involved with enclosing high-rise condo balconies so that they can be used as all-weather Florida rooms, or opened back up to be open-air balconies.


July 24
Miles: 122
States: Idaho


We lucked into a two-night stay in Farragut State Park, a few miles north of Coeur d’Alene.

We stopped by Coeur d’Alene for a couple of hours and had lunch in the resort building overlooking the big lake. The town didn’t have many earmarks of being a town out of a cowboy song, but it did have he progressive flair of most of the cities in the mid- and northwest. Nice public space along the waterfront.

FLS_6658It’s a pretty big lake – 25 miles long, 50 square miles. The waterfront in town is mostly dominated by a “resort,” so the only lakeside dining available in town is a glass-encased resort restaurant. We had a decent lunch.

The state park was appealing. It is still used as a training center for the Navy at some point, hence the name.

The centerpiece of the park is a pretty lake, with an interesting beach FLS_6675constructed in a small (100 yards long) peninsula. At the end of the parkside inlet is Buttonhook Bay. There’s an intricate trail system sure to lose you, given the numbering system of points along trails rather than trailnames.

We hiked from Buttonhook Bay to the boat launch, and thought we were seeing most of the lake. Surprise: The lake, Lake Pend Oreille, is 43 miles long, and in the top 50 largest lakes in the country, and at 1150 feet deep the fifth deepest. Who knew?


We went on a second hike that might have led to a rock climb had we not encountered a hiker who knew her way around.

The high point of the camp site was the Whistlepigs. At least, the park hosts called them Whistlepigs. Whistlepigs are marmots, specifically groundhogs, and whether these were True Whistlepigs or prairie dogs (prairie dogs are not marmots) I’ll leave to the biologists. They were cute, numerous, and close at hand.

No Glacier

July 22

Miles: 365

Destination:  St. Regis, Montana

As we were packing up to leave Gardiner, our next-door neighbor came over to ask if he could borrow some plates.  We gave him our small stack of paper plates, no great sacrifice since we have been eating off of Corelle ware mostly.

Seeing Rebecca doing her elbow exercises, he mentioned he is a physical therapist.  Rebecca demonstrated her range of motion, and he said she was doing “Great.”  This was most reassuring.  He also showed her one other exercise to help with her arm extension.

As we started down the road, Rebecca looked up Glacier National Park, our next major destination, on her iPad.


Glacier has a major fire.

So we diverted west, winding up in St. Regis.  We’ll be spending a couple of nights in a state park near Coeur d’Alene


July 20-21

Miles: 190

Wildlife:  Bison, Elk, Grizzly Bear, Badger, Tundra (?) Swan, Longhorn Sheep, Hawks of some ilk


We spent three nights at the Rocky Mountain campground in Gardiner, a good basecamp for exploring Yellowstone Park, especially the Mammoth Hot Springs area.

FLS_6505The Mammoth Hot Springs are really big.  Which one would assume given the name “Mammoth,” unless one were reading “Alaska” by James Michener, in which case one might come away with the impression that the woolly mammoth wasn’t reallly all that big.

After walking through the Mammoth basin, we drove down the road a few miles to the trailhead to Bunsen Peak.  We hiked the trail to the peak, an ascent of about 1200 feet.  It was a significant hike since it was Rebecca’s first real hike since the accident.  She succeeded with flying (not literally) colors.  At the top of the mountain, we encountered a fellow Georgian, Andy from Thomasville, who was spending the summer working at the park.

We also saw a beautiful aerial ballet performed by three hawks who, at the beginning, were below us.FLS_6565

The next day we drove the whole double-loop of the park.  We saw spectacular vistas (no photos available), geysers, boiling mud pots, and a grizzly.  The grizzly had stopped traffic, but we got moving and had a perfect view of it.  Unfortunately, when it was our turn in the traffic line, I had not turned on the camera when I handed it to Rebecca, so we got no photo.

Later we went to Old Faithful, which we saw erupt twice, since it takes about 90  minutes to walk the geyser basin in Old Faithful’s neighborhood.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

That night we dined at the iron Horse in Gardiner.  We had elk nachos, which were probably the best nachos I’ve ever had.

Incidentally, elk line the parking lot at the Mammoth visitor center, in case you’ve been failing to bag any elk on hunts in eldk country over the past decade or so.

The park was rife with wildflowers, among them astors, Indian paintbrush, lupine, yarrow, some pretty little blue bells, and a bunch of yellow flowers.


Tower Falls

Tower Falls


14 Rocks


Miles: 289

Destination:  Gardiner, MT

States:  Montana

Wildlife:  Elk, Longhorn Sheep, Bison, Canada Geese (ha ha)

Sheridan is bounded on the west by a large mountain range, the Bighorns. The Bighorns top out at over 13,000 feet.

FLS_6370One of the routes from Sheridan to Jellystone is highway 14. The road turns off I-80 and heads for the hills. It reaches the foot of the mountain range and starts climbing, zigzagging up a near-vertical wall. The view is spectacular. At something over 8000 feet, about 5000 feet above Sheridan, the road goes through a pass, but instead of heading down, it hangs out in an Alpine meadow setting for a dozen or more miles. It’sFLS_6393 very pretty, with rocky peaks and green fields.

There are signs on the way up and down indicating the age of the rocks. The oldest rocks there are listed as 500 million years old (apologies to Bible literalists). What’s really interesting is that the higher up you go, the OLDER the rocks get.

Once the highway finally starts its way down, it descends rapidly. There’s a waterfall with fancy visitor center on Shell Creek. The water drops over a ledge, then cuts through a dramatic gorge until it finally reaches the “ground” level.

The road then shoots across Wyoming in a badlandsish environment until it reaches Cody, the gateway to eastern Yellowstone.

The road into Yellowstone is, once again, mountainous, paralleling the Shoshone River into the park. The evidence of one of the fires that ravaged Yellowstone is obvious.


We stopped for a couple of walks through steaming cauldrons of boiling mud, then headed for Mammoth Hot Springs, the closest exit to our reserved FLS_6439campground. Most of the campgrounds in Yellowstone are first-com, first-served, and they were all full when we passed them.

The road north out of Yellowstone is under construction, and is not as enticing as Highway 14 out of Yellowstone.

Our campground is surprisingly nice.



Mint Bar

Mint Bar

Miles:  272

States:  Wyoming

We decided to visit Sheridan, Wyoming, because Rebecca wanted to see a Cowboy Town, and the internet suggests Sheridan is the prototypical Cowboy Town.

FLS_6366It may be, but our inquiries of various vendors along the main street (Main Street) suggested it was more of a retirement town.

We missed the rodeo by a week, so perhaps if we’d been a week earlier we’d have seen more cowboys.

That said, the town itself is pretty authentic. The most authentic establishment in town is the Mint Bar, a real cowboy bar.

There are scads of western and moderns sculptures all over town.

Our needs were, however, well met by the town. I found an oil-change shop that changed the oil in the Weg Wam in a matter of minutes, then I got the tires rotated at a tire shop for next to nothing.

The cherry on the ice cream was finding a bike shop where my handlebars were replaced, so my bike is once again ridable.

We found an outstanding brewpub in town, the Black Tooth Brewery, whereFLS_6345 they poured an IPA cleverly called Indian Paintbrush. The banners in the rafters suggested the brewery is a champion, and I concur. I thought the Indian Paintbrush was the best brew sampled so far in either version of the trip.

We went for a long walk along a series of walk-/bikeways through town, along Goose Creek, as well as a gulch, I suppose it might be, that has been converted into a series of ponds and wetlands between subdivisions.

The Wyo Theater in Sheridan was hosting the Wyoming Theater Festival. We saw the play “Utah,” by Sean Michael Welch, in an intimate setting with a seating capacity of maybe 30. The play was so well-attended they had to bring in another row of chairs.


The play, set in a chain bookstore, was well-acted, humorous, and well-timed.

A Good Day in the Badlands

July 16, 17

Miles:  175 and 272

Destinations:  Custer State Park; Sheridan

States: Wyoming

Wildlife:  Prairie Dogs, Longhorn Sheep, Antelope, Bison, Burros

Rebecca and Sharon from Phoenix.

Rebecca and Sharon from Phoenix.

We spent the morning driving the loop road through the Badlands.  The day was perfect: clear, sunny, and not too hot.

sheepWe saw a lot of scenery and a lot of animals.  We also took a couple of hikes, the Door (or was it the Window), the most popular walk in the park; and part of the Castle Trail.  Along the Castle trail we joined up with Sharon from Phoenix, who was on her way back toward home after a monumental solo trip (plus her cat, in a popup trailer), that ranged through the Everglades, Johnston County NC, and Acadia.


We drove a beautiful back-road highway from the Badlands to Custer State Park. FLS_6162 Custer is one of the most spectacular state parks in the country.  It takes over an hour to drive the loop road through the park, which doesn’t even cover all the bases.  It’s loaded with wildlife, including a 2000-head bison herd.

From Custer we went to Mount Rushmore via the Iron Mountain road, which winds through lush green hillsides, climbs to a rocky promontory overlooking Mount Rushmore, then dives to the valley floor.

Rebecca fleeing charging buros

Rebecca fleeing charging buros

We completed the days’ trip with a nice back-country drive to Sheridan, Wyoming, the archetypical cowboy town.  Our route missed Devil’s Tower, although we did see it sticking up on the horizon some 20 or 30 miles in the distance.


Leaving Corn Country

July 14

Miles: 356
Destination: Badlands Interior Campground

We drove across South Dakota today.

Martin Luther King bridge from crossing the Mighty Mississippi into St. Louis.

Martin Luther King bridge from crossing the Mighty Mississippi into St. Louis.

We debated staying in Chamberlain, a little over halfway between Ponca and our destination, the Badlands, but when we got to Chamberlain the Oasis there lacked a bit of charm. It did have a really nice grocery store, though.

So we pressed on to the Badlands.

Corn Palace

Corn Palace

Our campground is just outside the park, and it was a really nice surprise. It doesn’t have a lot of trees, and the spaces are fairly close to each other. But the weather has cooled down, and we have a strong air conditioner.

View of the Badlands from our campsitel

View of the Badlands from our campsitel

The site where we’re staying is fantastic. It is at the end row, with an unobstructed view of the range of jagged peaks that is the Badlands, probably five miles away at most.

I’ll make this a photo blog entry, assuming I get an internet connection anytime soon.

Tomorrow we explore the Badlands, and finish the day at Custer State Park, where we should have good access to Mount Rushmore.