Sunday, July 18, 2010


We spent the last night of the trip in Spokane after having dinner in Coeur d'Alene. Sunday morning I drove downtown, got coffee, and walked around Riverfront Park and Spokane Falls.

A lot of neat scenery, geology, hydrology, engineering, and history come together here in a pretty small space. And it looks like the city has done a nice job of trying to tell the story and make it accessible to folks. There's a great system of paths and bridges across the river and among the various islands above the upper falls and Riverfront Park is a wonderful space close to Spokane's core.

The falls represent a significant drop and would be great to see at high flow. They would have been even more exciting to have seen before all the replumbing.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Three Forks

We spent all of Day #25 on Interstate 94 between Columbia (Montana) and Spokane (Washington). There was a definite sense of being almost home and Dad is much more willing to stick to the main road.

Three Forks is the site of a neat old hotel (The Sacajawea) where I have vague memories of stoppping (though not staying) with my family on trips when I was a kid. Three Forks is also where the Madison, Gallatin, and Jefferson Rivers combine to become the Missouri. I guess it's to the Missouri what Pittsburgh is to the Ohio. There is a state park at the confluence with signs describing Lewis and Clark's exploration of the site in 1805.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Red Lodge

We were already looking at a late dinner and were worried that Friday night in Red Lodge would mean long lines. And then we arrived in town to find ourselves in the midst of the Iron Horse Rodeo. Iron horses. Motorcycles, that is. Motorcycles and motorcyclers, that is, lining Main Street as far as we could see. We started wondering how long it would take us to drive to some fast food place up on I-94.

But we found a gap in the bikes big enough for the car, just down the street from the Red Lodge Cafe (yes, another one from Roadfood). And there wasn't a line. We had dinner while listening to bikers chat about other bikers going over guardrails and comparing the dangers of riding horses to riding bikes and comparing notes on the Beartooth Highway and other motorcycle rallies. But the largely middle-aged crowd was well behaved and though we saw a significant police presence on the way out of town, most of the bikers we saw seemed to be folks our age, with more tattoos, stuffed into leather chaps a couple of sizes too small. I suppose the younger crowd was probably just somewhere else.

The drive north out of town, back towards the Interstate, was spectacular with hills and curves and a great sunset. It would have been even better on a motorcycle!

Beartooth Highway

Some roads are simply cooler than others. And as much as Mount Washington is an impressive dose of alpine roadwork for folks from Boston, this one puts things in perspective.

The Beartooth Road reaches almost 11,000' as it crosses between Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana. It rises fairly gently across beautiful mountain scenery on the southern slope, then plummets down a series a switchbacks on the north side. Where as far as we could tell, the official speed limit remained 70 mph. Yes, that's a maximum, but one wonders why they had to post it on top in the first place.

Sunlight Basin

I first drove this road with George back in 1979 in a Datsun B210 station wagon. As I recall, much of the road was gravel and it took many hours and cattle guards to get into and then out of Sunlight Basin. Sometime in the 1990s, the new road got built, making it a little easier to get through here. It's still an amazing drive and an equally amazing place and it would be the finest mountain road around if the even more amazing Beartooth Highway wasn't just around the corner to the north!

Sunlight Basin is on the Clarks Fork River (not to be confused with the Clark Fork in western Montana). Clark got around. So did the Nez Perce, who came through here, and this road is now aptly called the the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. The road cuts from near Heart Mountain north of Cody up toward the northeastern corner of Yellowstone Park. It's a great route into the Park, or you can take the right hand turn and head to Red Lodge, Montana, the way we did.

The Bighorns

We left the Interstate (again) north of Sheridan and headed over the Bighorn Mountains. We stopped first in Ranchester to stock up on chocolate milkshakes. Route 14 climbs spectacularly up the mountains' steep easternslope, meanders across the rolling 10,000' meadows and forests on top, then drops quickly down Shell Canyon to Greybull.

This was good practice for the rest of the day, since we have two more major passes still to negotiate.

Powder River Basin

What's a cross country trip without Wyoming? And how better to underscore an 8000-mile road trip than a drive through the Powder River Basin, a place created solely for the divine purpose of providing fossil carbon to make gasoline and generate electricity.

Gillette looked like it was booming (I suspect the term "boom town" was coined in Gillette). Coal trains, probably bound for power plants in the southeast, were stacked up in Rozet, and there were plenty of both old and new oil wells within a stone's throw of the highway. I would have enjoyed getting off the main road to go look at some of the big coal mines but we had to keep moving.

We stopped at a Starbucks in Gillette to check email and to fill Dad up with coffee. Then we were off to the mountains.

Black Hills

The late night meant the family would be slow to get moving, but my internal clock got me up at 7 anyway and so I went for an early morning drive into the Black Hills. I got coffee in Deadwood and then looped up past the mines in Lead before winding back down Spearfish Canyon. I bought gas and a block of ice before getting back to the hotel to find M locked out of the room and D out of earshot in the shower.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Wet weather had left a number of roads closed in eastern South Dakota and we had to improvise our route westward, but eventually made it to Mobridge for dinner overlooking Lake Oahe (a reservoir on the Missouri). Western SD is fairly sparse and we decided to push through to the Black Hills that evening, which meant for a long drive, but one of those evening drives I truly enjoy. I think we got to Spearfish around 11 -- we may have gotten the last room in town not occupied by someone with a Corvette. At least we didn't show up three weeks later, when everything with 50 miles of Sturgis is nothing but motorcycles.


Before the trip, I was looking for stuff to see or do along the way. That's when I stumbled on the Roadfood website and found the Farmers Inn Cafe. It sounded like it had character and pancakes. Admittedly, Havana ND is a little bit off the beaten path, but in my view that works in its favor. We got there around 2 in the afternoon and thought we might have missed our chance, but they were still open and we had lunch with the place to ourselves.

It happens that Havana is just west of the Coteau des Prairies, an impressive ridge (at least by Prairie standards) that once divided major south-flowing drainages during the ice ages. Compared to the endless flat farmland on both sides, the ridge was a curious anomaly and the landscape was rolling and pockmarked with small lakes and hollows. My travel companions were probably just noticing how bad the road was, but I thought it was all pretty cool. Unfortunately, no pictures - even if I'd taken some, it would have been hard to capture the subtlety of this.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


The college part of our grand tour took us through Northfield. We passed through a torrential downpour before getting there, but the rain had cleared by the time we got to the Carleton Admissions office. We were too late for a formal tour, but we wandered around the largely empty campus, sticking mainly to air conditioned buildings, since it was stifling outside. I think that D is attracted by the renown of their Ultimate team, but was weighing it against the sauna-like climate. Not that it gets like this often during the school year - and probably not in the summer very often either.


Roadfood led us to Bloedow's Bakery in Winona, where M tried the peanut butter roll. I still prefer the more traditional cinnamon version. From Winona, we left the Mississippi and took the interstate west to Rochester. We got to the river again later in the day in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I really enjoyed the drive north from Dubuque in the hills west of the river, but we weren't sure where we would find dinner. The road dropped back into the valley at Guttenberg, which was the perfect little river town I had hoped to find and where we ended up eating at Doug's Steakhouse. Afterward, we continued north and spent the night in Prairie Du Chien, on the Wisconsin side.


We had one last breakfast at the Tempo Cafe and checked out, rolling our suitcases to the train for the trip back out to O'Hare and the parking lot where I'd left the car. We strapped in and headed for I-90 and Seattle (see extended version below). We left the highway in Rockford and drove through northern Illinois to Galena, which is a neat little town with lots of history (and lots of little shops). It fit well with M's desire to check out a popcorn store she had heard about and my desire to explore the Mississippi River valley.

The last leg of our trip, from Chicago to Seattle, was sort of an off-and-on relationship with I-90 and I-94. Every time we were on the interstate, D would note how long Ms. Garmin told us it would take to get home and wonder why we didn't just follow her advice (Chicago to Seattle is about 2000 miles and 36 hours, if you're a robot). I tended to ignore him, usually because I was too busy turning off the interstate onto some farm road. We were on the interstate from O'Hare to Rockford IL, from Winona to Rochester MN, from Minneapolis to Alexandria MN, from Spearfish SD to Sheridan WY, and Columbus MT to Seattle.