Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Brief Respite

After dashing through Montana, we settled in for three days at Connor Battlefield State Park, just over the state line in Ranchester, Wyoming.  Our first night and day were very windy with some rain which miraculously made the smoke disappear.

Here we are in our almost empty campground alongside the Tongue River.

So the next day we took full advantage of the clear skies and repeated a favorite hike from the past.  It begins with a scenic drive into the Bighorn Mountains.

Then the trail parallels that same Tongue River . . .

Up into a lovely canyon.

Uh-oh.  What's this coming down the trail?

We tried to move off the trail as much as possible.  I don't know if it was the young man's red shirt or that there were too many of us, but the rear cows turned around.

There was some mooing back and forth between the lead cow and the white-faced one who had turned the rear group.  I could just imagine it, "Now, Mabel, I know we need to go this way."  "Bessy, I'm not going past all those two-legged creatures."  Finally with one last look back, Bessy gave up and turned back with the others.

We continued on our way, but had a feeling we hadn't seen the last of those cows.

Sure enough, we rounded a corner and there they were coming our way again.  This time Ron and I scrambled up the hillside to give them a clear path.  Ron had to pull me up as I was picturing sliding down the hill to be run over by the cows.  I could just see the headline.

Here's that trouble-making Mabel bringing up the rear.  She wasn't happy but did make it by us this time.  Several of the cows were visibly startled when they saw us.

Ron hypothesized that since it had been cold the previous night, the cows were coming down from their summer pasture.  I didn't know they did that on their own, but what do I know about cows?

Here's Ron perched up on the hillside after the mini-herd passed.  We just hoped nobody else caused them to turn around again.

We continued up the trail and soon came into an area that had just burned three weeks ago according to other hikers.

We decided this tree must have been smoldering internally when it was cut.

How often do  you get to see such recent fire activity?  I found it interesting, especially since they got it stopped pretty quickly.  Otherwise it would have been tragic.

After about 1 1/2 miles, we turned around to more gorgeous views on the return.

We passed a hiker who gave us the good news that the cows were traveling down the road as he drove in.

(See the duck?)

We did have to tiptoe around the cow excrement.  Who knew they had so much poop and that it would spatter all over?  (I didn't take a picture of that.)

Soon we arrived back at the trailhead very happy to have had such a clear day for our hike.

(See the eye of the needle?)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Smoke Chasers

Now we've done it.  We drove the 550 miles across Montana on I 90 in three days with two overnights at Walmart.  We thought we were running from the smoke, but it seems we were running with it instead.

We began at Lookout Pass on Montana's western border where it was pretty pleasant.  I think we were above it all.  When we were getting ready to leave, some motorcycles drove in, one of which was something we had never seen.  It's a Polaris Slingshot and I looked it up to find the retail price starts at $21,199.

We had a lovely drive down from the pass.

Although is anybody else confused by this?

But the rest of the 221 miles to the Walmart in Butte was smoky, sometimes more and sometimes less.

By the next day, I think we were beginning to accept it as normal.

We stopped for another Walmart night in Billings after 219 miles.  We could have stayed at Cabela's, but I was afraid of what I'd buy next.

After our final jump today of 119 miles, we're at a State Park in Ranchester, just over the state line in Wyoming.  We might stay here a couple of days.  Wind is predicted for tonight with rain tomorrow.  I'm hoping what smoke doesn't blow away, will get washed away.

I've been following a very interesting website which shows the fires and smoke.  The link is

This is the map from yesterday morning.  Our overnight spot was about where the arrow is.  Grim, huh?  But we figured if we kept heading east, we'd get out of it

Well, I didn't count on the smoke moving with us.  This is last night's map with our overnight in Billings marked.

And this morning we started south to our current spot at the arrow.

Pulling out on the map, look how the smoke has spread across the country. The darkest area goes into Wisconsin and the light gray extends all the way to Ohio.

Early this evening, Ron and I were commenting how much better it smelled and noticed the sky was actually blue.  Then just a few minutes ago, I realized I was smelling smoke again.  Wouldn't you know that the only other person in this whole campground has a fire going?  Luckily he's all the way on the other side.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Heading East

After taking our time for four months, we are now moving at breakneck speed.  Our last three days, we have moved 118, 104, and 75 miles.  Wow! I think we might qualify for Paul's PDD syndrome!  And because of those vast distances, all the pictures in this post were shot out of a moving RV.  (Please excuse the bugs.)

Eastern Washington might have taken over the title of America's Breadbasket judging by the endless 'waves of (cut) grain' that we saw.  So heartwarming.

I really liked this artistic place.

Arriving on the outskirts of Spokane, I was reminded of how long we had been in rural areas.  I pointed out this sign of civilization to Ron.

We ended up just over the line in Idaho at Cabela's for the night.  The next morning, we decided we really needed to do laundry, so we didn't get on the road until the afternoon.  We knew we were only going about 70 miles across Idaho on I 90 to Lookout Pass at the border of Montana.

It's a pretty drive, though, beginning with gorgeous Lake Coeur d'Alene.

Then pretty views as the road winds through the mountains.

Idaho has a rails-to-trails bike path that is so wonderful that I would be tempted to ride it.  Of course it would take me about 10 days.  The Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes runs 73 miles from Plummer near the Washington border to Mullan just before the steep climb up to Lookout Pass on the Montana border.  And it's all paved!  I snapped this picture of it when it was alongside the road through a narrow part.

For the hard core cyclist, (and you know who you are, Dave,) I believe an unpaved trail continues into Montana under a different name and joins with the popular Route of the Hiawatha which we've done a couple of times.  To see our ride on that incredible trail, trestles and tunnels included, click here.

Idaho is a beautiful state and we have visited and had many adventures there in previous years.  But we are moving pretty quickly right now to arrive in Denver area in time for Ron's granddaughter's first birthday party in early September.  Although Idaho is having wildfire problems, I 90 was just hazy in spots.

Now for our statistics.  We spent 32 nights in Washington for an average camping cost of $7.  Now that's more like it.  But wait!  It gets even better.  We spent two nights in Idaho for an average of $0.  However if you count the new hiking boots I bought while we were parked at Cabela's, it would be an average of $58.50.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Grand Coulee

We stayed two nights at Early Winters campground enjoying the clear skies and the nearby towns of Mazama and the very touristy Winthrop.   I really couldn't understand why there were so many people in Winthrop - it seems to be in the exact middle of nowhere.

This is all part of the Upper Methow Valley.

While we were staying there, a small cottonwood tree fell with, what Ron says was, a mighty crash.  If he heard a tree fall in the woods and I didn't, what does that mean?

You can see it was rotten and just broke off at the base.

Although we knew we were going to run into more smoke crossing Washington, we also knew we couldn't stay forever.  I had to get one more smoke-free picture looking back.

Continuing along the eastern border of the Cascades, we could see the smoke from the multiple fires along Lake Chelan, one of which has been burning since June 29th.

The landscape became drier as we turned west.

And by the time we reached Grand Coulee Dam we were back in some smoke.

We found a spot in Spring Canyon campground and checked out the visitors center, but Ron really wanted to drive the 30 miles south to see Dry Falls.  "If they're dry, what's the point?" I asked.

Well, they are pretty impressive.  In short, during the last ice age, this area was flooded many times when ice dams broke and released torrents of water out of ancient Lake Missoula.  These now-dry falls are 3 1/2 miles wide and over 400 feet tall.  This is just part of the expanse - there's twice as much on the other side of that far point.

Looking down river.

The visitors center was very interesting and explained it all in detail, but here's a sign that I thought handled it well.  If you click on it, you should be able to read it.

And here's Ron standing on a rock tower that's just connected to the rest of the cliff by a man-made arch.

I always say I'm not afraid of heights, I'm afraid of falling.  Since it didn't look too solid to me, I didn't go out on it.

Red sky at night, sailor's delight,
Red sky in morning, sailor's warning.
Red sky in daytime. . . it's smoke!

Most of the 30-mile drive between Coulee Dam and Dry Falls was along carved cliffs like these which were made prettier by the orange sun.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Still Running

Upon leaving North Cascades NP, the road climbs for 15 miles with, what is reported to be, gorgeous views of the mountains.  Unfortunately, this is what we saw.

When we arrived at Rainy Pass (4855 ft.), the smoke was mostly gone so we decided to take a short hike to Lake Ann.  I guess trees really do clean the air, because we couldn't even smell the smoke while hiking through the woods.

Is this the lake?  Did it dry up due to the drought?

No.  Instead it seems I was a quite a bit off on the length of the hike and we continued on our way.

After about 2 miles and 850 ft. elevation gain, we reached our destination.  Hum, not exactly picture perfect.

And back we went.

Next stop was the overlook at Washington Pass, the high point of the drive at 5477 ft.  The views were amazing, even with the smoke.  Here's Liberty Bell Mountain.

I know the pictures are awful, but it actually looked a lot better in person.  I guess the camera accentuates the smoke.

We passed up the first two national forest campgrounds on our way down the hill and settled in at the third.   Early Winters campground was perfect.  We had sun for the solar panels, satellite TV, phone, and internet for the first time in several days.

But the best thing was that we could see the blue sky.  Hooray!

And for a special treat, I'm going to post Diana's picture from when she hiked to Lake Ann which I stole off her blog.  Sisters can get away with things like that.

Wow!  No wonder she recommended it!