On the Road Again…

… Just couldn’t wait to get on the road again! After getting evicted from my home-away-from-home at The Vineyards on Lake Grapevine for the second time due to lake flooding, I became a squatter at the Elks Lodge parking lot for three picturesque weeks. I suppose it’s a nice enuff parking lot, as parking lots go. And I spent a good chunk of that time installing an inverter that will allow me to get off the grid and still enjoy the necessities of life (Keurig & TV).

But I was antsy to get rolling again and so this morning, after a much appreciated prayer sendoff from my 121 Life Group I headed west, settling in at Caprock Canyons State Park. What a hidden treat in West Texas where the Texas State Bison Herd roam throughout the park and chirpy prairie dogs entertain with their chatter and goofy antics. Pretty fun to watch. Who knew this Utah-esque place was out here? A great find!

I’m gonna spend much of Wednesday hiking a few of the canyon land trails and probably smoking a rack of ribs in the late afternoon. Join me if you’d like in site 30! Thursday I’m headed to New Mexico where I plan to spend a couple weeks in the northern part of the state.

I was gonna post a high level map “plan” of what I think summer looks like this year but that’ll have to wait until Google Maps decides it’ll play nice (I suspect it’s the marginal cell signal out here). Look for that in the next post. There’ll be plenty of detours and side trips along the way, and I usually lean toward roads less traveled. Should be a great trip in the Mountains West. I appreciate your prayers for safe travels and opportunities to grow in and share my faith. Love y’all.

Outta Texas & into the Rockies

Note: This post is maybe kinda a few days late. Vagabumming respects no timelines.

While at Caprock Canyons in north Texas I went hiking, planning on a 7 mile loop. But about 2 miles into the trek I got turned back at a river crossing. The river narrowed between rock outcroppings and had a really silty shoulder, where I quickly sank to mid shins. Poking around with my trekking poles I found the river bottom a couple feet away had a fairly firm surface but a quicksandish layer underneath. I was already having to use my poles to free my legs from the muck so … seeing no way around the crossing and discretion being the better part of valor, I backtracked to the truck, washed the muck from my boots and settled into camp to smoke a rack of baby backs.

Five hours of slow cooking the salt & pepper marinated ribs delivered outstanding results. I was pretty pleased with the job my thin-skinned propane smoker did. And I know I harassed neighbors with the great smell of smoking meat! Pulled the ribs off the smoker just before yet another storm front rolled through. ‘Twas perfect timing and a good way to round out the day. Yet I was ready to move on; New Mexico was recalling…

Here’s my high level don’t hold me to it just as I see it today route plan for the summer. We’ll see how many detours I find along the way. There will likely be many. Vagabumming requires pretty inexact planning.

New Mexico Redo

The five hour drive from Caprock Canyons to Villanueva State Park in New Mexico was easy and uneventful. As I neared the park, I had to use both lanes of the small winding road to avoid overhanging tree limbs but the campground in the narrow canyon was rewarding. I backed into a site on the Pecos River next to friendly camp hosts. Really cool little state park. As a side note, I let my newly installed inverter handle the power chores for the day and night, and it performed great. So cool to run the necessities of life (Keurig and TV) on just batteries.

Friday I made the short 90 minute drive to Santa Fe and checked into an in-town RV Park, as the nearby state parks on the road to Ski Santa Fe were booked for the weekend. Had lunner at Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery, perhaps the least compelling meal I’ve ever had in a town of outstanding restaurants. I was underimpressed by the food and the two brews. But Saturday morning brought a new day and I thoroughly enjoyed my chile rellano at Cafe Pasqual’s. No trip to Santa Fe is complete without breakfast here! They assemble all-organic ingredients into simple wonderful food. It’s a favorite spot.

After my late breakfast I wandered the farmers market at the rail yards and chilled for a bit at Second Street Brewing, chatting with locals and a couple headed to Alabama for a RV rally. Laid low in the afternoon, flipping between the NCAA Super Regionals and Rangers’ games, and the Adrian Beltre number retirement ceremony. So cool that Tommy Lasorda attended!

Sunday started with camp church on TV followed by a visit to REI to replace my lost Keen sandals, a drive up the mountain, a couple creative margaritas in town at La Fonda & Coyote Cantina, and then more college ball on the tube. The wind drove me inside: rats, I like watching sports outside at a campsite.

Off to Taos Monday midday… The drive to Taos was great once I cleared the traffic clutter of Santa Fe and its outlying towns. Enjoyed following the Rio Grande River upstream as it tumbled down the canyon. And then the road crested the upper mesa, dropping into Taos. After setting up camp I headed over to Taos Mesa Brewing on the north end of town. Very brutál place—my first favorite brewery of the trip! Enjoyed music, a sampling of their tasty brews—Solstice Pale Ale, Kachina Peak Pale Ale, Jonesy’s Cross Eye Rye IPA, and Hop Kof IPA—along with the 70 degree patio with views of the snow-capped mountains. Dinner from my campsite grill: pork loin, new potatoes & coleslaw.

Wednesday’s drive to Eagle Nest was another short one, up Taos Canyon alongside the river and green meadows and then over the hill into high elevation Moreno Valley. Snagged a great $10 campsite at the state park on the lake. No utilities, but I’m getting pretty confident with my new inverter so I still had the comforts (necessities) of glamping. Enchanted Circle Brewery in Angel Fire served up a good gyro washed down with their tasty Bodacious Brown Ale and Fly Dawg IPA. That filled me up so I put chicken thighs back in the reefer to brine: I’d smoke ’em Thursday.

Thursday came and went without smoking the chicken. The wind just wouldn’t let up and I knew it was a losing prop to try to keep the smoker lit in 25 knot winds. But I achieved halfway decent smokin’ success Friday at my riverside campsite in Red River. I think my smoker runs a bit hot because I checked the thighs an hour earlier than what I thought would be my cook time and caught them just before they went over the overcook cliff (as opposed to an overlook cliff).

While watching the US Open on the outside TV next to the river, I noticed a duck float by in the quick current. I’ve never seen a duck just ride the current and I’m pretty sure the smile on his bill meant he was simply going for a joy ride! 🦆

Saturday went for a hike and then stopped by Red River Brewing for lunch and a couple brews and to watch the Michigan/Texas Tech CWS game. The popular brewery restaurant makes a very good Back 40 Farmhouse Ale and Catskinner IPA. Watched the 3rd round of the US Open back at camp, then turned in when it got cold & rainy.

Sunday morning I attended camp church and afterward wandered around town, through the town’s annual arts festival, just enjoying the beautiful day. In the morning I’ll be heading out to Pagosa Springs. My third visit to New Mexico this year was great. New Mexico hasn’t grown old on me but it’s time to move on!

Western Colorado

Pagosa Springs

The drive from Red River southeast toward Taos and then northwest through Carson National Forest was beautiful. West of Tres Piedras, New Mexico the highway winds through rolling mountains, past lush meadows and across a couple ridge lines where there were still a few patches of snow hanging in there. Eventually the route crosses into Colorado to wind its way up and then down into the cool town of Pagosa Springs. It was really a pleasant drive, despite the jackelope in the Class A holding up a long string of traffic who couldn’t—or wouldn’t—squeeze more than 40 miles an hour out of his rig. I got around the lineup using a few straightaway sections of passing lane.

Tuesday started with phoning in to my 121 life group to hang with the guys for an hour. Followed that up with a hike along the raucous Piedra River. Started out as a beautiful day—sunny, warm, fun trail. Then a thunderstorm built up and dropped rain, small hail and lightening bolts. Like a dumbass, I’d forgotten a rain poncho (always carry rain gear in the mountains!) and I quickly got soaked and cold. But the rewards of the mountain rain aromas, the echoing of the bone rattling thunder and the dramatic colors of cloud and sun sparring were worth every shiver. Just before the storm blew in I’d spent maybe 20 minutes just sitting on a rock enjoying creation. The storm reminded me of what a thunderous God we have!

Finally back at camp I took advantage of their shower facility because I knew I wanted lots of hot water and didn’t wanna fill my holding tank. LOL, I felt a lil bad abot how much hot water I used but so it goes.

Wednesday I ventured outside my comfort zone and hit the hot springs at the resort in town. Going for a quick soak after a workout or rough day, sure, but just sitting around for a couple hours soaking in communal juices is kinda a stretch. But I gotta say, it was cool (the water was hot, lol) and I got a check in that box. Followed that up with a visit to Riff Raff on the Rio for their Yak & Tequila Chorizo meatloaf. It did not disappoint! The brewpub’s beers are good but didn’t really knock me back. The view of the river and mountains sure did.

Durango

The easy 90 minute drive to Durango landed me at the Riverside KOA north of town. Nice campground nestled in the trees alongside the fast-flowing Animas River. This location flooded out last year after the rains followed a pretty devastating fire and it’s been nicely rebuilt.

Historic Durango is a cool town with several hotels, restaurants, pubs & breweries. I bypassed the numerous gift shops to sample a few brews instead. While meandering around Durango I wandered into the railroad museum at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This donation-only eclectic museum is packed with railroad memorabilia, antique cars, an old Indian motorcycle and tons of other seemingly random stuff. It’s definitely worth a visit if you like trains.

D&SNGRR

I’ve wanted to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for as long as I can remember. So I ponied up $200 for a seat in the Alamosa parlor car. The four hour trip, each way, is nothing short of amazing! The Alamosa is the last car in the train so you get outstanding views from the back platform.

I’m not sure why I like trains so much but I do. The coal-fired steam engine just sounds so cool as it chugs up the track. And the screeching and clacking of the wheels really is the rhythm of the rails is all (you) feel. The four-hour trip was over before I knew it. The slideshow pics simply fail to render how gorgeous the scenery is.

Our porter, Ellie, was wonderful. Her knowledge of geography & history and a commitment to superb service made the trip so enjoyable. Each round trip up & down from Durango to Silverton consumes five to six tons of coal (all shoveled by one guy) and about 10,000 gallons of water, which we replenished at a couple stops along the way.

The short layover in the mining town provides only time for lunch and a quick shopping stop for those so inclined. I didn’t mind since I was spending the next two days in Silverton. I was glad I did not opt for the quicker return via bus. The train ride is just too good and is clearly one of, if not the best tourist attractions I’ve ever experienced. If you’re ever near Durango be sure to take this trip. If you’re not near Durango go there.

Our return trip downhill was cold, sometimes rainy & the skies threw down some sleet and hail. But that didn’t dampen the experience I just threw on a heavier sweatshirt.

D&SNGRR Videos

Rhythm of the Rails
Animas River & Train View #1
Animas River & Train View #2
Animas River Rear View #1
Animas River Rear View #2
Cliffside View #1
Cliffside View #2

As a side note, I’ve added a page that shows the National Parks & Monuments I’ve visited. Check it out here.

Western Colorado Part II

Wonderful Risky Road

Heading north from Durango the Million Dollar Highway weaves its way up-valley, crossing a few high mountain passes. US Highway 550 requires diligent attention to downhill speed, several times as slow as 10-20 MPH. With 14,000 pounds behind me and sheer drop-offs, I heeded the speed warning signs! As risky as the road might be it’s a stunning drive. I arrived in the historic mining town of Silverton for a couple days. Silverton is base to tons of off-highway roads and the economy has transitioned from mining to renting ATV & OHVs. There’s a popular loop that runs between Silverton, Lake City and Ouray and I headed up that road for several miles before it was still closed due to slides. I probably wouldn’t have gone all the way anyway, as the road is pretty narrow and rocky, best suited for jeeps and OHVs. A long-bed truck runs the real risk of high-centering. Outside of the D&SNGRR crowds who flood the town each afternoon, Silverton is a pretty sleepy village. Even the bordellos have closed up (dang it!). Lunch at Thee Pitts Again, which has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, was only fair (think Spring Creek). Meat U Anywhere and AJs on Main in Grapevine serve up much better BBQ. Half a pizza for dinner and a Pizza Girl Black Lager at Avalanche Brewing were great!

Welp, the drive from Durango to Silverton is nothing compared to the northern section from Silverton to Ouray. Gorgeous, but I’d never consider this road at night or in the rain while towing a fiver. There’s a few videos from my newly acquired dash cam below.

Ouray

Ouray is a really cool little mountain town. A bit touristy but still very cool and very friendly. Troy’s crew at the Ouray KOA are awesome. I’m kinda jealous; he just bought the campground. Gonna be looking into that…

Ouray Perimeter Trail
Ouray Perimeter Trail

Friday I hiked the Ouray Perimeter Trail. This isn’t your typical walk around town. Yes, the trail has great views of Ouray but it also gets away from civilization with sections that wind into canyons and across plateaus. Clockwise from the visitor center the trail climbs constantly until it drops into cool Cascade Falls canyon. After that it rises & falls until the final stretch drops steeply back into town. The southern section through Ice Park is mosquito city and doesn’t add a lot to the overall loop; I should’ve taken the Ice Park shortcut. The reported 6-mile loop took me 5 hours, with a few stops at waterfalls and river crossings. I ran outta water the last mile-ish and got super dehydrated. I laid very low the rest of the day and the next. Lesson learned (dumbass). 🥵


Ok, I’m always skeptical of food offered at a campground. But I got to visit with Troy, the new owner of the Ouray KOA, and he insisted their weekend BBQ was very good. I’d had breakfast at the small café and it was, indeed, excellent. The combo BBQ plate Saturday evening (which I got halfway through for just $20) was some of the best I’ve had anywhere. Props to this campground for such a good operation in a beautiful place!

Made a day trip, backtracking 23  miles to Silverton. I wanted to drive the Million Dollar Highway again, this time without Synko in tow so I could easily pull off to enjoy the sights. Took another spur near Silverton, up South Mineral Creek about six miles. On the way out I saw two moose head off the road into the brush. Very cool!

Check out a couple video slices from my dashcam of Million Dollar Highway in the links below. It’s a beautiful, wild drive—especially towing 35′ Sykno!

Video Links

Million Dollar Highway I
Million Dollar Highway II
Million Dollar Highway III
Million Dollar Highway IV
Cascade Falls – Ouray
Bear Creek Falls

That’s it for now. I’m headed to Montrose for an engine oil change, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Gunnison, Lake City and Crested Butte to wrap up my western Colorado travels in the next week or so. Happy trails!

 

Western Colorado PART III

Montrose

It’s a short drive from Ouray to Montrose but there ain’t nothing wrong with rolling slow! Checked into a mediocre site at the KOA in town then headed over to Montrose Ford for an engine oil change. Great, quick service! Then a restocking visit to City Market and a stop by Horsefly Brewing for a couple quick beers. The Bug Eyed Blond was nondescript but their Green Chili Lager was pretty decent.

July 4th I headed over to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. What a rugged, remote, forbidding canyon! Pretty amazing history of its exploration and the 10,000 foot tunnel they built through the mountain to bring water to Uncompaghre Valley farmers. Spending time in one of our National Parks seemed like a good fit to our national holiday. Wrapped up the day enjoying President Trump’s Salute to America and then listening to local dogs bark at the fireworks going off. Friday’s drive over the hill to Gunnison was very pretty through rolling hills, mountain canyons and alongside the reservoirs of Curecanti National Recreation Area. Really nice. I see why it’s another scenic byway.

Gunnison

Gunnison is another town on my short (but growing) list of possible long-term stay towns. Made the drive up to Mount Crested Butte for a quick revisit of a weekend ski trip years ago. It wasn’t as cold as it was then (minus 27 Fahrenheit). High Alpine Brewing Company on Gunnison’s Main Street serves up really good groceries and good brews. I especially liked their Basil Pale Ale, though the ? Double IPA was pretty fine too.

After an attempt to attend camp church Sunday morning I gave up, as the Internet gods kept throwing inconsistent bandwidth my way. Got too frustrating so I clicked off and headed into the hills to see what Lake City was all about. Lake City is a cool mountain town, not as quaint as Silverton but nice nevertheless. Lots of avalanche debris on the road outta town toward the season-long closed Engineer Pass. Lake City Brewing Company on the OHV road in town has decent brats and good beer; I enjoyed their San Juan Pale Ale and ’74 IPA.

Got back to Gunnison in time for a good downpour and lingering rain for most of the early evening. The rain, happily, washed tons of cottonwood pollen out of the air. Earlier the stuff had been falling like snow showers.

Colorado, for Now

As I started heading north and west, away from Colorado for now, I took the much less direct road from Gunnison to Grand Junction. State highway 92 runs north from Gunnison area, following the Black Canyon lands for a while then rolling up & down across a few ridges. After a couple hours state 65 heads north, onto and across Colorado’s Grand Mesa. Beautiful drive that is probably 2-3 times as long as the direct route through Montrose, but worth it. The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway earns its stripes.

Before heading out to destinations beyond Colorado I visited the Colorado National Monument and Dinosaur National Monument. Cool drive through the rimrock of Colorado NM and then a nice drive north to Jensen and Dinosaur NM. Really extensive finding of dinosaur bones in very good condition.  Glad they had the foresight to preserve these fossils as they were uncovered.

The drive up the hill took me out of Colorado and into Utah’s Ashley National Forest and Flaming Gorge Recreation Area than spans Utah and Wyoming. Snagged a nice campsite nestled in the trees at Mustang Ridge. Where to from here tomorrow? Stay tuned!

Idaho Part I

A Bit of Utah before Idaho

From Mustang Ridge I headed to the west side of Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Nice drive across open brush-covered land with surprising grades along the way. In just a couple hours I arrived at Buckboard Crossing, a sleepy marina and sparsely occupied campground. But the campground’s dripping water sprinklers did draw the local pronghorns. Very cool to watch these animals.

Neighbors a couple sites down gave me two awesome filets of freshly caught Kokanee salmon. Sure beat the hell outta the frozen fish I had planned. Simply seasoned with lemon pepper and grilled skin side down, the pink flesh was incredible!

There’s not a lot of attractions between Flaming Gorge and Idaho so I put in a 6+ hour drive to Arco, Idaho near Craters of the Moon National Monument. I did stop by Fossil Butte National Monument for a few minutes. Anyone who’s into fossils would love this visitor center and quarry. I was impressed by the quality of the displays and knowledge of the Rangers.

Eastern Idaho

Arco, Idaho is a sleepy town (outpost?) near Valley of the Moon National Monument & Preserve. This national park land is awesome in its starkness, rawness, ruggedness, fragility. You can imagine the incredible power that created all the cinder cones and spatter cones and lava flows in this region. Truly amazing! I’ve pretty much come to learn that if you’re near a National Park or Monument, visit it!

After two nights in Arco, including a truck wash that unfortunately would not also accommodate Synko who is needing a bath in a bad way, I headed north.

The drive up Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway (which I did in the direction of Craters to Peaks) is gorgeous, winding along the Salmon River through wide valleys and tight canyons. I pulled into tiny Shoup Bridge Rec Area and snagged one of the seven $5 campsites alongside the Salmon. Pretty good digs for Mark.

The town of Salmon has services sufficient to get one by—just not on a Sunday, as the hardware and grocery stores were closed (kinda a nice throwback to better days!). I did sniff out Bertram’s Brewery on Main Street and, while lunch was good, the brews were only fair. I returned to my riverside retreat for the evening.

I continued heading up the Salmon River Scenic Byway to North Fork and camped at the very cool Wagonhammer Campground near North Fork. My site on the river was awesome! Beautiful views of the Salmon as it ran past, hills on both sides of the valley and lush, green grass throughout the campsite. A near-perfect campsite.

Without Synko in tow I drove up to Lost Trail Pass which separates Idaho and Montana. Nice hour-long drive to the pass, checking out several Lewis & Clark historical sites along the way. Those dudes were men.

Sawtooth National Rec Area

After a couple days in North Fork I headed south again to Stanley, the gateway to the Sawtooth National Rec Area. I see why they call ’em sawtooths—them are some rugged peaks! By the time I got to Stanley and got my bearings the most desired campgrounds were full. The friendly volunteer at the NFS ranger station recommended an area of dispersed camping off the Sawtooth Scenic Byway near Pettit Lake so I checked it out. It was a few miles up a dirt road and was pretty enough but, it just did not feel right; my spirit was not comfortable with it. So I ended up in an ok site at the NFS Salmon campground, just outside Stanley. It was fine for an overnighter after a full day’s drive but I wanted something better.

So in the morning I scouted out a couple other dispersed camping areas and landed in a cool spot off the road to Stanley Lake. The forest was mine and without any facilities I gave my new inverter and solar panels a workout; they performed flawlessly, powering the TV, Dish antenna and a couple quick microwave spurts. I did question, though, the wisdom of watching the movie The Edge while camped remotely in the woods. Sounds of wind and probably a few squirrels or deer outside in the middle of the night had me thinking bear and reaching for the shotgun, just in case!

After a couple days of remote camping near Stanley Lake I planned to spend another night in the Boise National Forest along the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway (lots of scenic byways in Idaho!). Unfortunately a wildfire was burning across the area, even requiring NFS escorts through a couple sections where fires and work crews were active. The air quality was less than stellar and signs of previous fires a couple/few years ago were prominent. I checked a couple campgrounds and dispersed sites along the way but didn’t find anything particularly compelling. (I’ve come to dislike weekends and especially holidays, as they bring out all the weekend campers. Just stay home, willya.)

Boise

I continued rolling down the hill and ended up in Boise about 3pm. Now that I’d finally returned to cellular coverage I called a couple campgrounds in town and found them to be full—thanks to the Garth Brooks concert Saturday night. (So I guess I’m not fond of concerts, either, lol.). As I was headed across town to a Harvest Hosts winery for the night, Brighton at Mountain View RV called me back and said they’d had a cancellation for the night. I told her I was enroute to Huston Vineyards but a minute later Huston returned my earlier voicemail to let me know they were in the midst of their release weekend and had no room at the inn. So I called Brighton back and took her up on the offer of the cancelled site. The tour of I-84 across southern Boise and back was oh-so-beautiful. Ha.

After setting up camp I drove by the apartment where I’d lived a few months after high school. Kinda cool to see the old place again, even if it had weathered some. Hell, I’ve weather some too! Also recalled the motel bar where my high school pal Joe Gomez and I would hang out Friday nights until they closed at 2am. Then the bar would reopen at 3am and we’d last another hour or so before going to work at 7am. I was less weathered way back then!

Seeing the old haunts also reminded me of the scam we pulled while working as receiving and checking clerks at the local grocery store chain. The story went something like this:

The milk delivery driver would hit Joe’s store first and leave a few extra cartons of milk which Joe would trade cookies for. Then the cookie driver would visit my store across town where we’d trade cookies for RC cola. And then the RC cola guy would pick up a couple cases of Coors back at Joe’s store. By the time we’d perfected our thievery the RC cola driver was delivering Coors beer to our apartment. We had cases stacked in the corner of our kitchen. We made only enough money to pay the $215 rent, drink, chase a few girls and watch TV at the coin-operated TVs in the Boise airport concourse. I’m not saying I’m proud of that caper today but we had a good time—as best I remember! I’m more weathered and wiser today (for the most part!).

After checking outta the Mountain View RV park near the airport I headed across town to the local KOA for a few nights to get Synko washed and my back adjusted by a Max Living doc in Boise. I’d also plot out my itinerary for the next couple weeks up the west side of Idaho and into Montana and Glacier National Park. Headed north in a couple days so I’ll get back to the blog in a week or so. Cheers!

Idaho Part II

Boise

My four nights/three days in Boise were good. And kinda expensive. The tread on my truck tires was getting down there so I pulled into a Discount Tire. The sales guy said I could get another 600-800 miles outta the tires but we noticed a sharp rock embedded in the core of the right front tire. Having none of that and since Boise was the last major city I’d be in for the next month, I put four new tires on the truck. $1000. It had been about seven weeks since I’d had my back adjusted so I visited a Max Living clinic to get squared away. Steven Baker at Prehab is an excellent chiropractor and I walked out straighter & taller and feeling like a million bucks. Money well spent! A supply run to Costco rang up $170. Harbor Freight took about $50 from my wallet. And Pips Detailing wrung out another $175 plus tips to get the bugs and grime off Synko before they became part of the gel coat. The truck wash (before the rain) was $15. Oh well.

Food wise, Sockeye Brewing served up a very good salmon with a couple good brews, the Dangerous Golden Stout really really really good; Cloud 9 Brewery downtown came through with maybe the best BLT I’ve had. Their Honey Basil Ale and NSN IPA were both pretty tasty, as well. At Barbarian Brewing downtown I enjoyed the Tequila Watermelon Sour so much I grabbed a couple crowlers to go to share with Julie. And with that, my 43 year return to Boise was a wrap. But I wanna go back for a guys weekend to enjoy the many breweries in town.

North Idaho

Wednesday I headed north on Idaho 55. What a drive! The Payette River Scenic Byway is a beautiful route through narrow canyons and across broad valleys. The twisty road hugged the rapidly flowing river much of the way. I loved it, all the way to Kamiah. Loved all of it except the few seconds where some full-fledged idiot made a u-turn from the right shoulder in front of the hazardous gas truck I was behind. He smoked his brakes and tires to avoid hitting the moron. I was far enough behind that I only needed to brake moderately—and cuss out the ignoramus in the sedan. Glad the truck driver had quick reflexes. I swear people are getting dumber.

Kamiah is a small, sleepy town on the Clearwater River. The Clearwater Brewery and beer:30 Taproom doesn’t brew beer but comes with a good selection of northwest brews and friendly people. I also checked out Trestle Brewing in Ferdinand, about 30 miles away—another joint without their own beers but with friendly folk.

US Highway 12 headed north out of Kamiah is a tight, twisty drive along the Clearwater and through Hells Canyon Rec Area where the river is full of water and full of floaters. Great drive all the way to Lewiston. Lewiston still smells, some 43 years after I first visited here. It’s the paper mill, I guess. Continuing north to Coeur d’ Alene the highway passes through rolling hills of farmland. Still beautiful driving all the way to CDA.

It’s been about 30 years since I was in Coeur d’ Alene when I used to visit on business while with GTE. The resort on the lake seemed different than what I remembered. There were certainly more people. Goodness, the town was buzzing. And I’m pretty sure back then we didn’t pay anything close to the $700 a night they were asking for a water-view room. I struggled by with my $68 campsite on Blackwell Island before heading out to Spokane Valley in the morning. Popular destinations fill up on weekends; kinda annoys me that people just don’t stay home! 🤪

I’ve also had some challenges finding dispersed camping spots. There were plenty in Sawtooth National Rec Area but up here they don’t seem to be very big rig friendly and it’s too risky to just head off on a NFS road with 35′ of trailer not knowing what the road conditions will be. Been there, didn’t much care for it. So I spent some time plotting out reservations between here and Glacier National Park and looking at options to visit Banff and Jasper in Alberta, if I can find a place to stash my shotgun and about a case of premium vino for a weekish. Not paying Canada’s stupid import taxes or risking them finding my gun in a hidey hole.

While in Spokane Valley I visited Millwood Brewing. What a cool place! My latest favorite! Their products are all good, especially the Millbilly IPA and Frog Skin Porter with a splash of their own cream soda. Superb.

Farther North Idaho

I crawled through Spokane to head northeast on US 2. Passed by Gonzaga University, which I mention because every March I have to look up where the heck Gonzaga is; will probably remember now…

I wasn’t able to figure out a place to stay in Sandpoint: no private, no NFS, no dispersed camping sites. I’m thinking some boondock sites are out there but not knowing the area it’s hard to choose potential options from paper or online maps. So I defaulted to a KOA at Little Diamond Lake near Newport, WA. This ended up being a really cool KOA—not the typical parking lot of most. My site was nestled in the trees and faced away from the road so it made the firepit and table area really cool. I stayed two nights, not just the one I had planned. Partly because I liked the area and partly because I needed to spend some time researching how I could make Canada’s Banff & Jasper National Parks a part of the trip, given that it seems everyone is camping these days. (Have I mentioned people should strongly consider staycations?!)

Continuing north and east on US 2 (which I’ll eventually see a lot of as I head into the plains of Montana and North Dakota in a week or so), the drive was pleasant along Idaho-designated Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage into Sandpoint and then Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway north to Bonners Ferry before turning southeast to the West Glacier area. There was serious road construction about mid-way, where caravans of about 20 cars were led through by a pilot car. For five miles the road was dirt, mud, and ruts—a grand time.

I’d gone as far west as I’d go this trip and would continue north into Canada next week. And with that, I’m wrapping up what I consider the Rocky Mountains Early Summer portion of the trip. My next post will be in the, well, Rocky Mountains Late Summer category. More later from Glacier National Park!