The Way West – A Retrospective

Hi everyone,

It was five years ago this week that we traveled from our home in Madison, Wisconsin to the Pacific Northwest and points West. A lot of wonderful memories were made during that six-week trip through twelve states, several national parks, historic sites, and lots of iconic scenery. Follow along as I take you on a brief retrospective.

Our drive west was hot, dry and windy. The old 2008 F-150 was not known for its good gas mileage on good days and it was downright awful towing a 24-foot travel trailer. On the good days we got about nine miles to the gallon and it went down as low as six on other days when we were bucking wind out of the west. Even with a 35 gallon gas tank, we stopped at a lot of gas stations to fill fuel. This was also a time when gas prices were running in the $3.50 to $4.00 a gallon range. Hey, I’m not complaining just stating the facts! The cost was worth every dollar we spent on fuel or should I say hundreds of dollars!

When I say hot, our first few days we had temperatures near or at 100° F! We took the northern route through North Dakota and Montana on Highway 2. The news was filled with stories of all the wildfires in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and California. We first encountered the hazy, smokey skies in Western North Dakota and it only became worse the further west we traveled. Our theme song during this section of the trip was “The Burning Ring of Fire!” The smoke was especially thick on the west side of Glacier National Park with roads and passes closed in some areas.

After a few days camping near Glacier and visiting a couple of cousins living in the area, we headed for the Palouse, north of the Snake River in Southeastern Washington. This was one of the best parts of our trip, the scenery and farming practices are unique in this section of the country. This area is a favorite for photographers who lead workshops and tours, the Chamber of Commerce distributes a photographer’s guide and map where to stop and make great photos. Here are a few of mine. Note the smokey, hazy skies.West Coast Swing-2469West Coast Swing-2510West Coast Swing 53-2

The next stop was on our journey was to see a couple of my Dad’s cousins in Central Washington near Wenatchee and Cashmere. Dad’s cousin Sherel took us to his pear orchards and then to the pear processing plant. We got a new appreciation on how hard of work it is to pick and pack fruit, most of it done by migrants and immigrants.West Coast Swing 44-2

Our time at Mt. Rainer National Park was cold and rainy. We drove through the Park to the Sunrise Visitors Center with the hope of seeing the mountain and take a hike along one of the many trails. When we arrived at the Center, the wind was blowing at about 50 mph! It about ripped the door off the snack bar when we stopped for a cup of coffee. Along with the wind came cold air that felt like more like January than August! It was at the Visitor Center that I encountered a fellow originally from Wisconsin, he identified me by the sweatshirt I was wearing. He asked me where I was from and I replied, “Madison.” He then gave me a look of disgust and said, “You live in that place run by communists!” I was so shocked with his statement but did reply, “We like living in Madison but don’t know any communists.” End of conversation!

During our drive through the park, I did take some photos. Here’s one from an area that burned a few years ago. I like the lone tree against the cloudy sky.West Coast Swing-2404

Portland was our next destination. After a couple of days of visiting a high school classmate and our former neighbors from Madison, plus checking out Powell’s City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world, we left for the Oregon Coast. For two weeks we traveled from Astoria down to Brookings near the California state line. We took a couple of side detours, one to Corvallis to visit some long time friends and the other to Crater Lake National Park.

We were enchanted by the Oregon Coast. The 360 mile coastline offers scenery around every curve in the road. There were days we didn’t make much progress because I kept pulling off the road to take in the view and snap photos. One of the iconic scenes is the Heceta Head Light. This picturesque lighthouse is the strongest light along the Oregon Coast and sits about at the halfway point on the Coast. Unfortunately for us, the light was closed for the day but the late afternoon sun provided some nice light for the light!West Coast Swing 44-3345

The sea stacks and rocks in the Bandon area are spectacular even on an overcast, foggy day. Even better in black and white, me thinks.West Coast Swing Crater Lake-3745

This photo was taken one evening near Brookings, Oregon. We stopped at an overlook and saw the fog begin to roll when the sun was setting. Here’s where a little patience paid off waiting for the sun to light up the clouds and the fog below.West Coast Swing 22-2

Sometimes photographers have to wait for the photo but sometimes it appears in the viewfinder and must be taken without much thinking and preparation. That was the case with “No Dogs Allowed,” the title of one of my favorite photos from our trip. We were wandering around the shopping area near Bandon Beach when I saw these dogs waiting by the door of a tavern. I quickly knelt down and made a couple of shots. Then looked for another angle, by then the scene had changed and wasn’t as interesting. I think this photo tells a nice story, what do you think?West Coast Swing-2

The side trip to Crater Lake National Park was another highlight of the trip. We stayed in a campground outside the park and drove in everyday to take in the sites. We passed through part of the forest that burned, sad to see. Once we reached the Park, the Lake in the middle of a fallen volcano was the hit. It’s quite a sight and should be on every travelers bucket list.West Coast Swing Crater Lake 222-West Coast Swing Crater Lake-3473

We dipped down into California to see the trees in the Redwood National Park and the adjoining Jedediah Smith State Park. This was a jaw dropping experience for both of us. These trees are not only tall but big in circumference. In the second photo, I wondered what it sounded like when that tree fell, it had to sound like an explosion and felt like an earth quake. We enjoyed our walk along the trail of the big specimens, at times just sitting and looking at what Mother Nature brought us. West Coast Swing Redwoods-3800West Coast Swing Redwoods-3823

We cut across Northern California on our way to Nevada to visit my Traveling Partner’s sister, our niece and her family. We stopped for the night near Lassen Volcanic National Park. We spent a few hours in the Park and decided this a place that needs more time. It’s more remote than many parks and there weren’t very many visitors maybe due to the fact it was after Labor Day. There was a threat of snow at higher elevations so the air was chilly but clean and refreshing.West Coast Swing Lassen-3863

During our time visiting family in the Reno, Nevada area, we spent a few hours checking out the Fort Churchill State Historic Site along the Carson River. I took a lot of photos then entered this one in the Historic Site’s annual photography contest. This photo was named peoples choice and I was awarded a year pass to Nevada state parks that I gifted on to my Sister-in-Law for her use. It was a fun day with pleasant weather to boot.West Coast Swing-3

It was the third week in September when we started our trek home. We started out on the “loneliest road in America,” U.S. Route 50 that cuts through the middle of Nevada. There isn’t much evidence of civilization on either side of the two lane highway except for the occasional gas station and convenience store. We stopped at everyone of them since we weren’t sure what lay ahead. We stopped for the night on the Nevada/Utah state line at a lonely campground and motel/casino, we had the place to ourselves. The next day we crossed Utah stopping for the night in Fruita in Western Colorado, securing the very last campsite in the Colorado National Monument. This area is definitely on our return list, the scenery so stunning that it takes your breath away.

After a couple days visiting with my Sister and family in the Denver area we made the last leg in a couple of days with stops in Grand Island, Nebraska and Amana, Iowa. As I mentioned at the beginning, we had a great time and made a lot of memories on this six week exploration of the West. Hope you enjoyed this retrospective as much as I did.

Until next week, happy virtual travels!


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