The West Coast Swing-Six Years Later-Part 1

Hi everyone,

For the past few weeks, daily reminders and photos of our trip to the West Coast, six years ago this time of year, keep popping up on my Facebook feed. We had a great time and made a lot of memories on this trip. It also was the inspiration to start writing this weekly travel and photography blog, this post being the 307th. This week and next I’ll share some photos and highlights from that wonderful experience. Here it goes.

It was in mid-August 2015 when we left Madison for our six week trip to the West Coast of the United States. Our travels took us up I-94 to Minneapolis where we stopped to see The Youngest, the first of many family members and friends we would connect with on this trip. We continued on I-94 to Fargo, North Dakota and turned north on I-29 to Grand Forks where we began our westward journey on US Highway 2.

It was a hot, dry day with the wind gusting to 40 miles per hour straight out of the west. We bucked that wind, make regular stops to fill the gas tank, until pulling off of the road at Towner, North Dakota. We lived in Towner for six years in the late 70’s and early 80’s. At that time the population was in the 800’s, it’s now down to under 600. It’s the county seat of McHenry County so the courthouse, school, and various government agencies keep the population from falling farther. We lived a block off Main Street, I walked to work at the Courthouse Annex and down to the cafe for morning coffee and the town gossip. The Eldest was born during our time in Towner, so lots of good memories were made here.

The Towner City Park, just off the highway, offers camping with free electric hookups to passersby. This is almost unheard of! We needed that electricity to run the air conditioning in our trailer. It was 104 degrees when we pulled off the road! We took a walk around town and I stopped for a beer at the Longhorn Bar for old times sake. It’s located on the same block as my old office. I didn’t recognize a soul and all our friends that we knew in Towner are either divorced, dead or moved away. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos to share with you.

The next morning, we headed west. It was still hot but the high winds had abated down to a normal 10-15 MPH speed. We passed through Williston, North Dakota, near the Montana border. I hadn’t been there for over thirty years. It’s now an industrial city with miles of oil and gas related companies on either side of the road going into town. Before it was an agricultural and retail shopping hub, still is but those are dwarfed by the oil industry. It was sad to see and we were glad to keep moving west.

We stopped for a couple of nights at the Ft. Peck Dam south of Glasgow, Montana. The Dam is the first and highest dam on the Missouri River, the next one downstream is the Garrison Dam, a few miles from where I grew up in North Dakota. We scored the last electric campsite in the Corps of Engineers Downstream Campground, ten bucks a night with the National Parks Senior Pass. Best deal in America! Our neighbors were from Wisconsin so a few adult beverages were consumed around the campfire that evening. We took in the scenery and the Dam with the large lake it created.

Our next stop was Great Falls, Montana with the goal to see the Falls themselves and visit the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. Both are definitely time well spent. 

This panorama was taken of an oxbow on the Missouri River before Great Falls. The overlook provided a stunning view of the river and the railroad tracks that followed the river. It was nearly a perfect August day. 

From Great Falls, we made our way northwest towards Glacier National Park. Since we were towing a trailer, we took Highway 2 around the south side of the park to Columbia Falls where we set up camp. On our route, we came across several areas that warned of fires and saw busloads of firefighters heading to and from the fires. We spent one day in Glacier, the Going-to-the-Sun Road was closed to the east beginning at Logan Pass. We took in the busy visitor center and stopped at some of the overlooks. Even saw some mountain goats.

We drove over to Whitefish, where in March 1970 I stepped off the Empire Builder on the way to basic training at Ft. Lewis, to get some fresh air and admire the snow depth.

While in this part of Montana, I had a visit with my cousin Barb in Kalispell and cousin Kent in Polson at the foot of Flathead Lake. Kent took us for a boat ride on the lake, I can see why it’s a popular place to visit and retire.

We had a lot of favorite stops on this trip but I’ll have to admit that our visit to the Palouse area of southeastern Washington tops the list for me. Our friend Marsha lives in Colfax near the middle of Palouse country. She arranged for us to park our trailer in her apartment complex. She showed us around the area, taking us to Pullman, the home of Washington State University and nearby Moscow, Idaho home of the University of Idaho. This gave us the chance to visit Jeremy, a close friend of The Eldest and The Son-in-law.

Before we left home, I ordered a photography guide to the Palouse. This area is very popular with photography tours and workshops. I can see why, the rolling hills, the vintage machinery, and the picturesque farmsteads draw you in. As we drove the backroads of the Palouse, I was conscious to stay on the public roads. Apparently, some photographers and tourists enter private property without permission thus making it more difficult for those of us that respect the boundaries.

One morning, we made an early morning photo run to nearby Steptoe Butte. It rises about 1000 feet above the landscape below. Here’s what we saw. Mind you, thick smoke was in the air.

We were sad to leave the Palouse but we had more ground to cover. Our next stop was primarily to visit my Dad’s cousin and his wife, Sherel and Lanita at Cashmere, Washington. My Great Grandfather John left North Dakota in 1920 for Washington State. His first wife had died and he’d remarried so he took the youngest children with him, leaving four of the oldest and adult boys behind, my Grandfather Henry being one of them. John soon got into raising apples and pears as did some of his younger sons. Over the years, Sherel acquired these orchards and raises pears on a large scale. He took us to one of his orchards where picking was just getting underway. We followed the pears to the packing plant where they were washed, sorted, labeled and packed for the supermarkets. To see the hard working folks pick and pack fruit gave me a new appreciation for what goes into getting food from the farm to the table. We had an enjoyable time visiting relatives and seeing the area where Great Grandpa John lived and died.

One crisp, clear morning we saw this plume of smoke rising to the north of Cashmere. Apparently, a forest fire flared up in the Lake Chelan area. After we left, the fire grew and grew due to the hot, dry conditions. There were times during our trip, we wondered if we were surrounded by fire. This year (2021) is even worse that it was in 2015.

Mt. Rainer National Park was the next stop on our journey west. We stayed in a campground at Packwood, not far from the entrance to the park. A herd of elk roamed the small town and the campground. This fellow seemed to be friendly but I was wary of those sharp antlers! He soon moved on after a few photographs were taken. I should mention that my Traveling Partner is always on the look out for quilt shops as we travel. Packwood has a combination liquor store and quilt shop, a two for one shopping extravaganza, in my view!

Since it was September, the weather at the higher elevations was quite chilly. On one of our drives in the park, we went to the Sunrise Visitor Center planning to a take a hike. It was so windy and cold, we decided to look at the exhibits inside the large (and warm!) building and have a hot chocolate as a consolation prize! We never did see the Mt. Rainier peak, the clouds and snowfall at the highest elevations kept it covered.

Join me next week for Part 2 to continue this reminiscence of our delightful West Coast Swing.

Until then, happy travels!

Tom

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