Your humble correspondent recently enjoyed a road trip over nine days that covered 2,300 miles, visits to three National Parks, uneven sleep in seven different hotels, and a cracked windshield. I'd imagined such a trip for years, and finally headed down the highway.
My time in Bend was spent with a good friend from Portland, and we enjoyed two days of relaxation at McMenamin's The Old St. Francis School. "...Conveniently located in downtown Bend, it was transformed from 1936 Catholic schoolhouse to, in 2004, a hotel complete with classrooms-turned-lodging rooms, a pub, brewery, a movie theater, private meeting/event space, live music bookings, and a fantastic soaking pool that beckons day travelers, shoppers, hikers, skiers and outdoor adventurers alike." I have no reason to plug this hotel other than to recommend it. One could easily spend a half-day touring the restored buildings and admiring their collection of historic photos and period artwork.
On the day I was able to tear myself away from craft beers, shuffleboard, and the soaking pool, I hiked up a trail near Mt. Bachelor that provided a great view of the Three Sisters volcanic peaks.
I left Bend and headed for Boise, a way point on the drive to Jackson Hole. Recently, Boise has received significant attention in the Seattle press as a place where long-term residents are relocating to get away from problems common to many west-coast cities: crime, homelessness, rampant drug use, high property values, and increasing taxes. Boise is the capital of Idaho and I sensed a city that is vibrant and growing. I heard from several residents that the city was growing too fast and getting too expensive, a lament I heard throughout my trip.
After a long day of driving, during which I enjoyed stretches of the 80 MPH speed limit on I-84, but also suffered a rock that cracked my windshield, I arrived in Jackson where the weather was rainy and cold, even reaching 38 degrees my first night. Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are places of tremendous beauty, and I remembered visiting them as a young boy on family camping trips. Yet I was still unprepared for the stunning, jaw-dropping beauty everywhere I went.
One day, I hiked up to the top of the gondola in Teton Village, which, as shown in the photo, was foggy and wet. I encountered a pica, two deer, and some grouse during the four mile hike to 9,000 feet.
From Jackson, it was off to Bozeman, a classic western town situated north of the north entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Home of Montana State University, it's a beautiful town and is surrounded by spectacular scenery. Like Boise, it feels vibrant with a growing population that's driving up property values.
After a night in Bozeman, it was off to my last destination, Kalispell, and nearby Glacier National Park. As I checked into my motel, I was reminded that road trips are frequently punctuated by sad places on busy highways with nearby truck stops and walls as thin as the sheets. And disappointment, like that I countered at the front desk when asking about tips on driving to Glacier.
"What do you think is the best way to see the park over a couple of days?"
"I hate to tell you this, but Going To The Sun road is still closed."
"Yes, they're still trying to clear snow. It was supposed to open last Monday, but we got even more snow and I don't know when it's going to open."
"So what is open?"
"The road up to the twelve mile mark."
I had not foreseen the possibility that the iconic road would be closed due to snow in late June. Unusual, but not unheard of. As I sat in my room and pondered the situation over a beer and a good book, I decided to cut short my stay by a night and head home a day early.
When I was a boy, my father taught me many valuable rules to live by. He was a lifetime US Navy Officer, and for a farm boy from Kansas, was even able to draw upon an impressive number of Shakespeare quotations. Among the many lessons I remember were:
- If you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all.
- Two wrongs don't make a right.
- Always go the extra mile.
As I packed up in the morning, I remembered the last rule and decided to head for the park. It meant a long day, including a 60 mile drive to the park, exploring the 12 miles there, the 60 mile return to where I'd started, followed by the five hour drive to Spokane. I was glad I did since the hike to Avalanche Lake was spectacular.
Now back home, I have several take-away impressions from the trip. We live in a marvelous country. I'm biased about the West, having grown up in Colorado. Wide open spaces with vistas of verdant crops, watered by center-pivot irrigation systems, and distant, snow-capped mountain ranges, soothe my soul. Since most of my driving was on two-lane state and county roads, I did without radio and cell phone coverage in a blissful reminder of a time before distraction. Open roads and time to think are precious gifts.
Driving 2,300 miles over nine days seemed about the right distance. Part of the enjoyment of a trip like this is the sense of freedom and adventure. You really never know what might be around the next bend. Once, I stopped on a forest service road and pulled over about a hundred feet from the highway. Hidden from the road by the side of my car, and while heeding the call of nature, I heard a rustle in the bushes nearby. When I looked up, a deer raised its head and returned my gaze. It quietly ignored me and continued to nibble on a shrub. Signs warning of bears are frequently seen around Wyoming and Montana, and I had encountered one on the trail in Glacier. I was happy to see the deer.
It seems small towns are dying around the west. Businesses are boarded up. Houses are in various states of disrepair, missing siding and with roofs covered with blue-tarps, and derelict cars scattered haphazardly. A healthy economy is not enjoyed evenly. Yet when I took the time to engage people, whether it was the couple who owned a general store in central Montana with a single gas pump, the kind with a lever and wheels that spin, rooms above the store, sandwiches in the back, and free coffee, to waitstaff in pubs and restaurants, to fellow travelers, I always found people who were friendly, gracious, and happy to talk. I'm glad human connection still remains universal.