May 31, 2008

The Great Falls of the Missouri River

Saturday, May 31, 2008 -- Great Falls, MT

This was a marathon day of exploration. We visited three dams, two waterfalls, the largest freshwater spring in the United States, a tremendous Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, and still found time to fit in a good bike ride along the Missouri River here in Central Montana.

The best of the day was the visit to the Great Falls of the Missouri. The L&C Gang had been told by the Indians that their travel up the great river would be interrupted by a "great falls". When Lewis found the falls on June 13, 1805 he was in awe and found it hard to describe "this truly magnificent and sublimely grand object". He wrote his description as he stood on an island in the middle of the river just below the falls -- the same island we stood on today.


All along the Lewis & Clark trail, so many sites and features have been inundated by water backed up behind dams. The Great Falls was different. Here, a dam was built just above the falls. When viewed from the island, it actually adds to the effect, the roar and churning spray from water angry with the disruption of it's steady path to the ocean -- especially in spring when the river is loaded with newly melted snow.

For Lewis, there was yet more to come. The Indians had told him of one great falls. What he found the next day were five -- a series of five falls and heavy rapids along a 12 miles stretch of the river. What was thought to have been a short portage around the expected single falls turned into a month-long ordeal to drag all their gear and heavy dugout canoes along an 18 mile portage through difficult terrain.

But this amazing group seemed to thrive on duty and challenge. They got the job done and were on their way again July 18th. The days were already growing shorter and they must have been thinking of the rugged mountains that lay ahead.


May 30, 2008

"P" is for Pressure

Friday, May 30, 2008

The pressure is building and I don't think I can stand it much longer! There's an unwritten law that makes it a requirement for fulltimers with blogs (which is almost everybody) to write something relating to their thoughts after having been on the road for a full year. And that time's approaching fast for me. The one's I've read have been so profound, philosophical, passionate, and full of perfundity, I'm having a hard time dealing with the pounding pressure.

That said, I can't explain why I feel this is just a perfunctory task. Will anyone care what I have to say? Who could possibly learn anything from my ponderings? But perhaps, just perhaps, I could produce a product that would be powerful enough to propel people predisposed to this predilection to prognosticate and project their pipe-dreams into the prolepsis and pump new pagathers when non existed prior.

Oh, I don't know. Let me work on it.


An Open Letter to Critics of Our Lifestyle

Fuel prices are at record levels and people are having to adapt. It can be a hardship and the additional money spent for fuel has to come from somewhere else... food? vacations? entertainment? health care? Often, there's not much one can do but pay the price and get mad... and maybe look for someone to blame.

Recently, I've been criticized for driving around in a motorhome -- "a pig of a vehicle that gets less than 10 m.p.g." Specifically, the criticism was the result of a piece I wrote in my political blog that was hard on the President for not using the patriotic fervor after the 9/11 attacks as a catalyst to make the USA independent of foreign oil, or at least, independent of Middle Eastern oil. The writer thought I was a hypocrite.

Simply put, I think the implication was that I have no right to criticize the President if I choose to drive a vehicle that has poor fuel efficiency.

Let me try to respond.

The motorhome is our home, our house -- our ONLY house. It's NOT our daily transportation. We only drive it when we're moving to a new "home-base". It will be driven less than 10,000 miles this year, and as fuel prices rise the miles we drive will go down. We don't drive the motorhome when we run to the store, go sightseeing, run out to a restaurant or a movie, or when we go anywhere else while we're parked at a "home-base". We have a car for those trips... just like almost everyone else... except that we have only one car and most every other couple has two or more.

When it comes to the facts of our energy consumption, I've analyzed our usage both prior to embarking on this lifestyle, when we had a "real" house, and after, with the motorhome. [link to article]. I can assert, and I have the data to back it up, that the motorhome uses less energy than the average "real" house... including the diesel fuel we burn to move our house from one place to another.

Yes, we do consume about 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel each year that we wouldn't be using if we didn't have the motorhome. But we're only heating and cooling about 300 sq. ft., and use only a small fraction of the energy the average homeowner uses for the same purpose.

We have a solar array on our roof that produces power from the sun. We can live "off the grid" indefinitely while the average homeowner is buying energy to power their much larger houses. Thus, our consumption of grid-electricity is very low.

We're careful with our use of hot water; we don't have snowmobiles, boats, quads, or other adult energy-consuming toys; we don't use energy to mow our lawn or clear the snow; we're buying much less "stuff" during this phase of our lives because we're more into exploration than into accumulation -- remember that there's an energy component to each and every "thing" you buy. In general, our fulltiming lifestyle is a low energy lifestyle.

Apparently, in the minds of these critics, the issue isn't the amount of energy we're using... the issue is that I'm not using energy the way they'd like me to use it... the way they're using it. I guess they'd be happy if we actually used more energy than we are fulltiming in our motorhome... as long as we used it in a "normal" way... the way they're using it.

Or maybe they just need to understand what this lifestyle is all about.

Thomas Hoch

Drive to Great Falls

Friday, May 30, 2008 -- Great Falls, MT

I'll tell you what, our drive through the mountains yesterday between Helena and Great Falls in Montana was one of the most spectacular I've done. There are about 30 miles of twisting, winding road where I-15 makes it's way through rows of steep-sided mountains showing off their layers of varying and colorful rock. We heard ourselves exclaiming out loud: "wow", "look at that", "amazing".

This area is near what Lewis & Clark referred to as the Gates of the Mountains -- where the Missouri River cut it's own path through these mountains. The Gang was headed West when they first passed through here, and the "Gates" were greeting them to the Rocky Mountains. We, on the other hand, are headed East. As we drove through this area the "Gates" were closing behind us as we left the Northwest and the mountains. Ahead lies broad, flat plains -- "big sky" country. I'm not sure how soon we'll be back, but I'm already looking forward to it.

Today, Friday, Dar's working on a project and I'm reading and writing. We may get over to the L&C Interpretive Center today... but we may not. We'll see how it goes.


Yellowstone Park

Friday, May 30, 2008 -- Great Falls, MT

This past Tuesday, while in Bozeman, we got an early start and headed into Yellowstone National Park. Brother Bill was our guide for the day. Our route took us from Bozeman, over to Livingston, then South through a 40 mile long valley formed by the Northward flowing Yellowstone River, to Gardiner, MT near the border with Wyoming. Gardiner was the first public access point to Yellowstone Park and is still billed as the only gate open all year long.

As we started, the weather was rainy with low clouds. But as we neared the Park, the clouds lifted and the rain stopped. It was mostly cloudy the rest of the day, but the sun seemed to understand when we needed a little more light for pictures.

A late spring and some additional snow in the past week or two kept at least one high mountain road pass closed. So instead of making the loop from Mammoth to Norris to Canyon Village to Tower Junction and back to Mammoth, we decided to go as far as Canyon Village, see the two Yellowstone Falls, and then retrace our route back to Mammoth and Gardiner. All along the way we stopped often to see what we could see.

The character of the Park changes depending on the time of year, the weather, and the variable crush of visitors. This is the first time I've been here in the spring. Melting snow usually fills the streams this time of year and the waterfalls are more dramatic and exciting than ever. The bison and elk are shedding their winter coats and look a little ragged. Plants and trees were everywhere extruding new growth in a variety of colors and shades. Although I was a little surprised at how many visitors were here on this post-holiday Tuesday, I'll bet it was still a lot fewer than will be here a month from now.

There were moments we were alone -- no cars driving by, no people crushing to get that special photo -- just us alone with the view, sounds, and smell of thousands of acres of valleys, mountains, and rushing streams -- all to ourselves if only for a few minutes. What I felt is hard to explain. It's a combination of wonderment and spiritualism combined with a sense of disbelief -- how did all this happen? How did it all come to be?

The big Yellowstone fire was 20 years ago, and evidence is everywhere. Many hills and mountainsides look like they've had a buzz-cut that was just starting to grow out. Short young pine trees are growing as fast as they can but it'll be another 20 or more years before the forest will cover the slopes.

What we're seeing here is the circle of life. Change -- constant change. Change can happen fast, as with fire, and change can happen slowly, as the trees grow back. One should be cautious about applying value to it all. It's not "good" or "bad". It just is what it is.

And what it is -- is simply amazing.


May 27, 2008

Rocks in the Gallatin

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 -- Bozeman, MT

34 years ago, in the Summer of 1974, Dar and I were living in Fairmont, MN as a result of a job transfer to my first sales territory for Duo-Fast Corporation. We'd been married for just two years and were still childless. One day we decided to take a weeks vacation, get in my pickup truck, and head for Yellowstone Park.

I won't belabor the rest of that old story except for one small memory of an experience we had along the Gallatin River on our way to the western entrance to the park. We had stayed the night before in a motel in Bozeman. We got an early start and on our drive south that morning we stopped at a large pull-off between the highway and the river. Large rocks, boulders really, littered the area including a number of them out in the riverbed. For a few minutes we climbed around on the rocks and found it was possible to jump from rock to rock and get onto a large one out in the middle of the river.

It was a mountain-cool sunny summer day and we apparently hadn't had breakfast yet because we decided this would be a good spot to fill the morning void in our stomachs. The memory-snapshot I have is sitting on top of that rock, in the middle of the river with the fast-flowing Gallatin rushing all around us, eating a bowl of Cheerios while soaking in the sun and the wonder of the moment. It was an unusual moment in time that we've both reflected on over the years.

So, our objective yesterday, Monday, was to find that pull-off and find the boulder. High water from the heavy spring run-off would be a complicating factor, but we both remember that rock being large and thought that it'd certainly be visible if not accessible.

The search made us realize how much things change as time goes by. It's been 34 years, a long time by some standards, but just a snap-of-the-fingers in the natural history of rivers and mountains and rocks.

First we drove South along the river. On our first pass the spot didn't jump out at us like we thought it would. Trees have grown, there's been erosion, rivers change -- filling in material here and taking it out over there. It became clear that our search would need to be more in depth and we'd have to take those mental images we had and "age" them with what might have happened since.

So, after refueling in West Yellowstone, we drove back North with a more careful and detailed eye. The first possibility was an area that was now a small National Forest Campground. The area felt right and maybe the campground had been developed since we'd been here 34 years ago. Hmmm. But we didn't see large rocks and, while the water was high, I don't think it's high enough to cover rocks the size of those in our memories.

The second possibility was a good-sized pull-off, but there was brush and small trees that blocked views of the river in some areas. Further exploration did find a good collection of large rocks about the right size. They're strewn on both sides and in the stream bed itself. The largest of the suspect rocks were well out in the river and almost covered by water -- almost. They looked to be about the right size and shape. The brush and small trees that we didn't remember were growing in an area that appeared to be filled in by small logs and brush that perhaps got clogged up here over the years. The river may have then filled in that clogged up area with sand and dirt, which created a nice spot for trees and brush to take root.

While not definitive, that second spot is, in our minds, most likely that spot we remember from 34 years ago. We snapped some pictures and paused to let the senses soak in the moment... and the memories. I thought about how much things have changed in just the last 34 years and how much things must have changed in the more than 200 years since the L&C Gang passed through the west. Perceptions and memories are problematic -- fluid and always changing -- and sometimes memories can be more satisfying than reality. Wow.

Then I had a gas pain and a sudden yen for Cheerios.


May 26, 2008

Pompey's Pillar

Monday, May 26, 2008 (Memorial Day)-- Bozeman, MT

Trying to follow the L&C Gang through Big Sky Country takes a little "doing". More so than any other place they explored, they split up and criss-crossed all over the present State of Montana, especially during their return trip in 1806. Our challenge is trying to visit the important sites while keeping fuel expense under control.

Since the route of our exploration when we leave here will take us north to Great Falls and then east along the Missouri River, we needed to do a long day-trip over to Pompey's Pillar, 170 miles east of Bozeman along the Yellowstone River. We made that trip yesterday, Sunday, with my brother Bill as the tour-guide. The weather was cool, low 50's, mostly cloudy with occasional showers.

I never get tired of mountain vistas, especially when accented by low clouds and variable sunshine. The drive to Pompey's Pillar takes us over Bozeman Pass and then along the Yellowstone River as it runs north and east out of Yellowstone Park. The tallest peaks were hidden by clouds but their snow-covered flanks contrasted with the dark greens of the pines and the lighter greens of new grass sprouting from recently saturated hillsides. The scenery is mountain-man eye-candy as far as I'm concerned, and I just can't get enough.


Pompey's Pillar is a 150 ft. high rock formation right along the southern banks of the Yellowstone River about 25 miles east of Billings and less than a mile off Interstate 94. This is the location of the ONLY physical evidence that remains from the L&C Corps of Discovery expedition. On July 25, 1806, as William Clark and a portion of the Gang were moving east along the river, they stopped here. They commonly used high points like this to survey an area and improve the accuracy of the maps Clark was making. About 2/3 of the way up the east side of this sandstone and shale rock "tower", Clark carved his name and date in the soft stone. It's still there and now protected by the National Park Service from weather and vandals. Clark named the formation after Sacagawea's child, John Baptiste, who Clark affectionately nicknamed "Pomp".


Melting mountain snow and the heavy rains from the last few days have filled every river and stream around here with torrents of rushing water. The Yellowstone River at Pompey's Pillar was full, fast, and the water brownish as it churned up rock, sand, and dirt into a spring storm soup. Normally it takes about two months for water to flow from here to the Mississippi at St. Louis. I'll bet it's getting there a lot faster these days.

Arriving back in Bozeman about 6pm, we had dinner at The Garage, the home of the local soup-nazi. It was a long, but very enjoyable day.


May 25, 2008

The Missouri River Headwaters

Sunday, May 25, 2008 -- Bozeman, MT

A little catching up is called for.

This past Friday, Dar and I drove about 25 miles over to the Missouri Headwaters State Park. This is a significant Lewis & Clark site. The gang had spent the winter of 04/05 with the Indians in Fort Mandan, ND. In late March of 1805, they left these winter quarters and continued the journey up the Missouri River. Paddling, portaging, pulling, walking, and climbing their way westward, they finally reached the beginning or source of the Missouri here, where the park is today, in late July. It is here where three mountain streams combine to form the Missouri -- the longest river in the USA.

The three streams are the Gallatin, the Madison, and the Jefferson -- all of them named by L&C for prominent leaders of the day. They camped in this area for a few days to heal-up and explore. The determination was made to continue up the Jefferson, the largest of the three, which flowed in a southwesterly direction. They didn't realize it at the time, but it would take the group about 6 weeks to cross the Continental Divide and find their way to Travelers Rest near Lolo. They were looking for Indians with horses they could barter for, as without horses to make the severe mountain crossings the expedition would be in peril.

We met up with Bill after our visit to the park. He and I have an interest in Robert Pirsig, the author of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance". It was a book I struggled through when I was a philosophy student back in the 70's. Pirsig was an English Instructor here at Montana State back in the early 60's. After a little digging, Bill was able to find the location of Pirsig's office. Today, this little out-of-the-way hole in the wall room is a store room, but we were able to spend a few minutes in it, soaking in the views he wrote about in Zen. It was a quirky thing to do, but I enjoyed it.

While the weather Friday was tolerable -- cloudy but mostly dry -- Saturday it just poured all day. Buckets of water coming out of the sky -- standing water all over the place. As much as 6 inches of rain fell north of here around Great Falls.

Sunday, we're driving over the Pomey's Pillar, east of Billings. It's going to be a long day, a long drive. But if you're on the L&C trail, it's an absolute necessity to see. More about it tomorrow.


May 22, 2008

Still Winter in Bozeman!

Thursday, May 22, 2008 -- Bozeman, MT

The black weather-cloud that was over us in Vancouver has caught up with us again. About 20 miles before arriving in Bozeman yesterday, it started raining and snowing and it hasn't stopped yet. The projected outlook for the next 4 or 5 days includes rain daily. And snow above some elevation that right now seems to be about 20 feet above the bus-house. I actually heard a NOAA weather forecast for some higher elevations around here that called for up to 32" of snow today. We did pick up a couple books on the Global Warming problem so we have something humorous to read while huddled around our little electric heater in the event we're trapped in the bus-house by snow drifts this Memorial Day weekend.

This may be a very short summer for Dar and me. Fall is only a little more than three months away!

Today, brother/professor Bill did accompany us to the Museum of the Rockies -- an incredible facility for this town of only 30,000 people. In the next couple days we'd like to get to Pompey's Pillar and Yellowstone Park, assuming they're allowing something other than snowplows and snowmobiles into the park.


May 21, 2008

Over the Continental Divide

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 -- Bozeman, MT

5:00PM: A longer day driving than usual -- for us. It was 225 miles to our campsite at the Sunrise Campground just outside of Bozeman. The weather held out and we had no precip at all until just 20 miles or so from our destination. Then it started to rain and SNOW!.

On the way over from Lolo, we made a beef roast dinner. The roast, potatoes, onions, carrots, and seasoning were all loaded into our slow cooker, which sits nice and secure in the kitchen sink while we're moving down the road. I've heard of people doing this by running the generator while driving, but we did it today by running the inverter. So, courtesy of some solar power (the solar panels produce electricity while driving down the road) and the Cummins engine alternator, dinner was all prepared when we arrived. The only problem with this procedure is the odor of beef roast wafting through the bus-house while driving... it took all my willpower (not to mention Dar's defensive threats) to keep from pulling over for an early dinner.

We're settled here at Sunrise and expect to be here for a week. Even if the weather doesn't get much warmer or if the rain and snow doesn't stop, we'll still have a great time. There's a lot to see in South Central Montana. We're close to Yellowstone, a bunch of Lewis & Clark sites, some great museums, -- and brother Bill to show us around.


Moving to Bozeman

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 -- Lolo, MT

7:30AM -- 45f this morning with partly cloudy skies, and a good chance for rain today.

We're pulling up stakes today and heading to Bozeman, a drive of about 200 miles. My brother Bill is a Professor at Montana State, and we're hoping he'll be our tour guide for a few days. It'll also be a great place to get away from the Memorial Day weekend camping crowds.

Yesterday, Tuesday, we checked out Missoula and visited the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Established in 1877, Fort Missoula was intended to serve as a major military outpost for the region, primarily for the protection of a rapidly growing population of settlers. Being an open fort design, it never had walls or stockades.

One of the units stationed here in the late 1800's tested the use of bicycles for military operations -- with the hope that these two-wheeled machines could replace horses in some cases. In one of these tests the regiment rode from Missoula all the way to St. Louis, MO. I don't know why, but I smile when I think of a whole regiment of army troops trying to manage gear and weapons while riding bikes across the prairie. I'm sure the Indians were watching and laughing too, and probably wondering why they were loosing out to this kind of thinking.


May 19, 2008

Travelers Rest

Monday, May 19, 2008 -- Lolo Square Dance Center and Campground near Lolo, Montana

Yesterday, Saturday, we boogied out of our one-night stand at Lolo Hot Springs and headed down the road toward Lolo. (All these "Lolo's" are getting confusing.) The distance is only about 25 miles. With that short a distance to go it didn't make sense to take the time to hook up the car behind the bus-house. So Dar took the car, left about 20 minutes ahead of me, with the intention of scouting ahead and checking out the options.

On my way down the mountain I came upon a string of traffic stopped in the road ahead. My first thought was a construction zone. But it's Sunday morning! Then I saw people out of their cars and milling around talking to one another. Hmmm. Maybe it's an accident? As I drew closer to the stopped line of traffic, I could see smoke ahead. Hmmm. It must be an accident. Wait a minute... Dar went ahead of me... I hope she wasn't involved. About then I got a call from her on the two-way radio -- she was in the line of traffic well ahead of me and saw me drive up. So much for scouting ahead.

The story was that, somehow, a power pole had come down bringing hot power lines down and over the roadway -- stopping all traffic in both directions. The police, power company, and fire department where already there working on resolving the problem and getting the grass fire out. After about 45 minutes of meeting new friends in the vehicles ahead and behind, the road was re-opened.

And just a few more miles down the road Dar, doing the best 30 second scouting job I've ever seen, found the Lolo Square Dance Center and Campground. It's our kind of place -- not because of the dancing thing, which most of you know I don't do, but the campsites are heavily wooded and large, it's quiet, not crowded, and right along Lolo Creek. It didn't take long and we were parked, set up, and made the decision to stay here for the next three nights. It's one of those places that's peaceful and good for the spirits.

Since it was early enough, we visited the "must-see" Lewis & Clark site known as Travelers Rest, just down the road from our camp. This is the only L&C campsite along their entire trail that's location has been positively identified through archaeological study. (And we were there!) It's a Montana State Park Historic Site as well as on the National Register of Historic Places. Here, as well as at other L&C sites along our path, we found hosts who have made the study of this expedition their passion. They're full of knowledge and information and trivia that'll amaze. We're learning something new all the time.

We also heard about other people that have gone "over the top" (my comment) in their pursuit of the L&C Trail. There's one fellow, a dentist I believe, who walked from St. Louis to Ft. Clatsop at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. I don't know what he did with his dental practice, what caused him to make the decision to do it, or how long this feat took him, but this isn't the kind of thing most people would consider for their summer vacation. There's another guy who started at the mouth of the Columbia and kayaked all the way up the Columbia, Snake, and Clearwater Rivers on the L&C Trail -- against the current. When the mountain streams became too fast to paddle against, he sold his kayak and walked over Lolo Pass, down into Missoula, where he purchased a canoe. He then pushed the canoe on some kind of wheeled canoe-carrier and hiked over the continental divide at Lemhi Pass, where he met up with his girlfriend and, together, they canoed down the Jefferson River to the Missouri River, and all the way down the Missouri into the Mississippi at St. Louis. Sheesh, and I though we were doing something a little "over the top"... these guys can make someone feel a bit inadequate.

While I admire these feats of endurance, I'm not sure if should admire the people or consider them crazy. I do know a dentist that's a little off and I've admired his feats of courage and approach to life. I know another couple that have pretty much disdained conventional expectations for most of their adult life, preferring to work only to earn enough money to fund their next outdoor adventure to the Alaska or Canada back-country. In fact, this couple's approach to life was a factor in our decision to try an unconventional lifestyle. So I think I'm coming down on the side of admiring them. We need people like this... if for no other reason than to stretch the idea of what's "normal". It's good to be a little crazy.


May 17, 2008

Up and Over Lolo Pass

Saturday, May 17, 2008 -- Lolo Hot Springs RV Park

9pm Note: This entry will be post-published at a later date, as we don't have either internet or cell phone coverage here at Lolo Hot Springs.

Weather was warm, unseasonably warm, and bright blue clear skies. Even at Lolo Pass, the mercury was hitting the upper 70's. The locals were all grumbling: prefer to see the snowpack melt slowly and concern about fires. While there was above average snow in the mountains this past winter, the valleys below and to the east received less than normal precipitation. It's dry.

We left Orofino about 10am. Hwy 12 goes south for a while before turning more eastward at Kooskia. I don't know if it was the fact that it was Saturday morning or if there just isn't that much traffic on this route, but we encountered few cars along the way and even fewer trucks. It's always a concern of mine when driving this big bus-house down narrow two lane roads -- especially in mountainous areas where a shortage of long straight stretches make passing difficult. I don't like impeding other travelers. But Idaho has done a good job with this stretch of Hwy 12 by building short passing lanes at reasonable intervals to keep traffic moving and tempers in check. It's not that we drive that slow but most people in cars drive well over the speed limit and we keep it a little below. At any rate, there were few cars or trucks along the way today. There were also a good number of pull-offs -- larger areas where it was possible for us to pull off, park, and walk around a little. At one of these we had lunch.


It's about 75 air miles from Kooskia to Lolo Pass at the Idaho-Montana border. But the winding, curvy road puts about 100 miles on your odometer. The road follows the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers which were both about as full of water as they could be. In some spots we thought it'd only take another few feet of water to inundate the road we were on. These dense mountains are called the Bitterroots and it was these that gave the Lewis & Clark boys their greatest challenge. Where they though it'd be a relatively short trek up and down a single range of mountains -- like the Appalachians back east -- they were amazed to see mountains as far as the eye could see in every direction. Hwy 12 closely follows the route they took. It was an 11 day ordeal that almost killed every one of them. Snow, steep mountainsides, downed timber, lack of food, cold -- they endured it all. They were tenacious and tough, and incredibly lucky.

The pass at the border is a mile high. There's an excellent visitors center operated by the State of Idaho that includes a mini-interpretive center about the area. Snow was still piled high -- officially about 60 inches. But contained in that 60 inches of snow was 35 inches of water. All that hard water combined with 75 degree temps is what was swelling those mountain streams.

Just 7 miles below the pass is a place called Lolo Hot Springs. They have a campground there so we turned in and paid for one night. But lo, it wasn't the kind of place we've come to like. The campground roads were dusty, kids and teenagers outnumbered adults, motorcycles coming and going, late night parties we weren't invited to... we endured the night and resolved to move on in the morning.


May 16, 2008

Warm Sunny Friday Morning

Friday, May 16, 2008 -- Orofino, ID

8:00am My internal clock and sleep cycles must be driven by daylight. During the winter I have no problem climbing in bed early and sleeping soundly until 8am. But during the summer, with those long hours of brightness, I rarely get to bed before 11pm and as soon as the sun is up, I'm up. This morning I awoke at 5:20am and tried to get back to sleep until giving up and just getting up about 6am. It was just too bright.

We toyed with leaving the Orofino area this morning, a day ahead of our plan, because of the threat of some flooding here and along parts of our route over the mountains. But between the sense of adventure ("You call this a flood!??"), and a desire to spend a little more time on a nice day in the Orofino area, we canned the idea, stay for the day, and will head over the mountains tomorrow. Ain't it fun?

Speaking of fun... here's the latest hydrograph from NOAA for the Clearwater at Orofino. Click on the thumbnail for a more readable size:


They haven't updated the forecast today yet, but it still looks like we'll be OK on Saturday.

I'll also include, for posterity, a photo of the bus-house's rear end at the edge of the river. See, we've got at least 6 feet of breathing room.


So, we'll see how the day goes.


May 15, 2008

"God Willing and the Creek Don't Rise"

Thursday, May 15, 2008 -- Clearwater Crossing RV Park in Orofino, ID

10pm. Did I mention this morning that we're parked right on the banks of the Clearwater Creek here in Orofino, and that we're probably just 10 or 12 feet above the level of the water? Due to warm temperatures, the snow pack in the mountains east of here is melting fast and the river is rising. This past winter's snows were heavier than normal and the temps the past few days have been warmer than normal -- not a great combination if you live close to a creek or river in these parts. The NOAA hydrograph link I included in this mornings post has a forecast for the next few days -- by Sunday the river here in Orofino should be at "major stage", which is higher than it's been for many years. Major stage is about 10 feet higher than the river is right now, and it'd be real close to coming over the banks here at the RV park. As of now, that crest isn't predicted until Sunday. Did I mention that we're planning to leave on Saturday? If you live close to a wild river it's always nice if your house has wheels.

Today, we went to Lewis & Clarks "Canoe Camp" where the boys, in September of 1805, cut down 5 huge Ponderosa Pines and proceeded over the next 10 days to carve 5 big dug-out canoes from the logs with hand-tools alone. The Nez Perce Indians helped, mostly as process consultants, but the fact remains that the boys (OK, and 1 girl) accomplished this major task in just 10 days. When you see the size of the tree required and what's involved in the canoe-making process, the feat is truly noteworthy.

After Canoe Camp it was off to Weipe Prairie, where the expedition first ran into the Nez Perce Indians after their 11 day trek through the Bitterroot Mountains -- a trek which almost killed them. They were tired, starved, cold, and near death when they stumbled onto this small prairie where the Indians were living, tending their stock of horses, and preparing for the coming winter. The Indians helped them with food and information, and really saved their skins as well as the expedition. Today, there's a marker on the spot of first contact and a very nice interpretive center combined with the local community library -- both of which helped round-out our understanding of the events of that fall from our reading of the L&C journals.

Getting to Weipe is an exercise in driving up the side of a mountain. From the Clearwater River at Greer, just 7 miles upriver from our campsite, the road goes back and forth on switchbacks up the side of the river gorge. You start at about 1000 feet above sea level and get to more than 3000 feet above sea level at the top where the prairie is. The hairpin turns, my reminding Dar that the tie-rods on the old Blazer can't last forever, and a steady stream of loaded logging trucks made the climb tense at times, but the views along the way are incredible. Did I mention I like this part of the country -- very much?

Back home we ordered out a pizza and uncorked a bottle of cheap wine, both of which were savored as we relaxed at our campsite, watching a rising river and toasting another sunset.

Tomorrow, Friday, we're going to stay closer to home and get a few chores done. Then Saturday, God willing and the creek don't rise (too far), we'll be leaving Orofino and attempting our climb up Hwy 12 to the Lolo Pass Summit on the Idaho - Montana border.


Mountain Streams

Thursday, May 15, 2008 -- Clearwater Crossing RV Park in Orofino, ID

A short drive over to Orofino from Lewiston yesterday, only about 50 miles. But the drive was along the fast-flowing Clearwater River and around every bend in the road is a new visual treat. I don't know what it is but I feel at home amidst these steep hills and mountain streams.

At least this time of year the Clearwater is no lazy slow calm river. The weather is warming quickly -- predicted highs in the 80's this weekend -- and the above-average mountain snow-pack is melting fast. Where we're parked in Orofino, at the Clearwater Crossing RV Park, the bus-house is right alongside and about 12 feet above the river. But by Sunday or Monday they're predicting it'll rise by another 8 feet or so. We're keeping an eye on it as the bus-house is not seaworthy. Here's a link to the river guage here in Orofino: Link to NOAA Hydrograph

Today we're on the L&C hunt, checking out historic sites in the area.


May 13, 2008

Chasing the L&C Gang up the Hill

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 -- Hells Gate State Park near Lewiston, ID

So here we are in Idaho, in hot pursuit of the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery (about 202 years too late) as they head back east to report their findings to President Thomas Jefferson. The trail may be cooling, but our intrepid explorers are still able to find evidence of their passing.

The route today was down Hwy 12 from where it leaves the Columbia River near Wallula, WA. and heads east past Walla Walla (what a great name for a town)... (and what great onions they grow!) through the large rolling hills of Eastern Washington. We ended our travels today at Hells Gate State Park just south of Lewiston, ID. right along the banks of the Snake River. I was a little disappointed to find the Corp of Discovery didn't stay at this park despite it having full hookups and flush toilets -- but who's to say what mountain men of the early 19th century wanted!

But we're finding this park has it's problems too. First, water pressure. Experienced RV'ers carry a water pressure regulator with them, as they've learned that water pressure can vary from park to park. When a park has low water pressure, you fill the fresh water holding tank, disconnect from the park water source, and use your on-board water pump to live off your tank water. If water pressure is to high, you use that pressure regulator to keep the excessive pressure from blowing out your plumbing. The plumbing system of an RV is typically tested to 100 psi or more, but it's prudent to keep the pressure between 40 and 60 psi. We've been in parks before where the pressure is 80 or 90 psi -- you'll get a great shower but there's a real risk that somethings gonna blow and you really don't want to come back from a day of exploring to find water running out your front door.

Well, Hells Gate State Park has water pressure of almost 140 psi. Yikes! Wow! ManOMan! That's almost guaranteed to blow something. I asked a Park Ranger about it and he said "Wow, is it really that high?" and "We've had problems but no one can figure out what's wrong." I suggested making sure everyone who checks in is told about the problem -- he said they'd consider that. I hope so. Sheesh!

The other problem is one we haven't experience much... too much voltage. I'm not an electrician so I don't know what's causing the problem, but the park is running at 127 to 130 volts. Our surge suppressor, which protects the electrical system of the RV, is set to cut power too the bus-house if the voltage gets too high or too low. Tonight, it's cut off our power due to high voltage at least twice so far.

These modern day park issues reinforce the old early-American notion of self-reliance -- a trait that the L&C Gang held dear. Don't rely on others to provide reliable service or supplies, be ready to take care of yourself when necessary.

That said, we may be moving eastward tomorrow.


Wallula Gap

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 -- Umatilla Marina & RV Park, Umatilla, OR

This past Sunday our intrepid explorers set off upstream along the Columbia to check out a few Lewis & Clark sites between here and where it joins the Snake River at Pasco, WA. The Corps of Discovery traveled through this area in October 1805 on their way to the Pacific Ocean, and again in April 1806 on their way back east. The weather was partly cloudy but the wind was just howling -- 25 - 30 mph with gusts up to 40 or more.

Of particular interest is the geology of the area. In the big bend area of the Columbia River (where the river, which comes down from central Washington from the Northwest, makes a turn before flowing West, through the Gorge, and on to the Pacific) there's a gap in the high basalt buttes through which the River flows. This gap, known as the Wallula Gap, is only a mile wide and the surrounding steep-walled basalt cliffs are a thousand feet high. As the glaciers of the last ice age melted about 12,000 years ago huge quantities of water -- some say more than half the water currently in Lake Michigan, was trapped by ice and debris dams that became jammed in this gap. When the plug let go, a wall of water hundreds of feet high, moving at 50 mph, roared down the Columbia carving out walls of the channel and Gorge. This series of plugs and releases occurred dozens of times over a period of a few hundred years forming the River and Gorge as we know it today.

Another point of interest to me as I learn more about this area as it existed 200 years ago when the L&C Gang were traveling through is the large number of people that lived along the banks of these Northwest Rivers. The expedition was almost never out of sight of Indian villages which were "innumerable" in number. The expedition almost always had Indians traveling with them during this segment of the trip -- the "groupies" of their day. Some historians believe the area was more densely populated at the time than most areas of the East Coast. Certainly 10's of thousands of native people lived and thrived along the Columbia -- a far different picture than the image of these explorers floating down a sparsely populated and "undiscovered" river on their own.

Yesterday, Monday, the weather was just perfect. The wind had dropped to a gentle breeze. We stayed close to Umatilla and biked up and down this part of the river along trails mostly built by the Corps of Engineers in conjunction with McNary Dam right up river and within sight of our camp. We read and did more research on L&C, and I threw a couple small steaks on the grill for dinner. A good day.

Today, Tuesday, were moving over to the Lewiston, ID area. No reservations... we'll find something when we get there.


May 11, 2008

From Rain Forest to Desert

Sunday, May 11, 2008 -- Umatilla, OR

It was an easy drive over to Umatilla from The Dalles area yesterday -- almost ideal driving conditions. We used I-84 despite a preference for less intense roadways. With staying almost two months in Vancouver, Dar hasn't driven the bus-house since early March and she was eager to get back into the saddle. The trip was a little over 125 miles. We're parked right along the Columbia River at the Umatilla Marina & RV Park.

Traveling up (or down) the Columbia, you experience the most dramatic change in geography as anywhere in the world. In just a few miles you move from the rain forest (80 inches of rain or more per year) of the Cascades to the high desert (8 inches of rain per year) of Eastern Oregon and Washington... from dense forest with trees larger than most people have ever seen to barren hillsides with little more than sporadic grass and brush. You can literally see the line along the opposite bank near The Dalles -- there is dense forest... and there's barren hillside. Wow!

As we neared the intersection of I-84 with I-82 there are domed earthen bunkers -- thousands of them -- lined up like soldiers for miles on the north side of the road. This is the Umatilla Army Depot -- a 20,000 acre secure area, one of seven facilities around the country where all kinds of real-nasty stuff is stored. A search on the internet finds that those bunkers contain nerve agents (VX), sarin (GB), and mustard agent (HD) -- and that's the stuff they tell us about. It became known in the 1990's that the vessels that contain this stuff (shells and the like) are deteriorating and in danger of leaking -- not a good thing. In 2004 the Army began destroying this material through a process called high temperature incineration. I, for one, am happy to hear it's going away. I'm also very happy I'm upwind of the incinerator here at the RV Park.

Today we're planning to explore some L&C sites along the river east and north of here. In October 1805, the Corp of Discovery was anxious to get to the Pacific Ocean before winter. Some days in this segment they'd travel 40 miles or more as they paddled down river. They were making a run for the ocean -- like the two-minute drill, the last lap, the run to the barn. Tired, beat-up, tattered, cold, wet... they hoped they'd find a ship trading with the Indians and would be able to re-supply their depleted team. So they made haste as they headed west.


May 10, 2008

Upriver Along the Columbia

Saturday, May 10, 2008 -- Memaloose State Park near The Dalles, OR

Today we're heading upriver again, about 125 miles to Umatilla, OR., a town of about 5,000 people on the south shore of the Columbia where it begins it's big bend toward the northwest and into Washington. There are some good Lewis & Clark points-of-interest in this area as they spent a few days in this area preparing for the run downriver to the ocean.

Winds are light on our back, skies overcast, no rain in the forecast -- almost ideal driving conditions.


May 9, 2008

Exploring the East End of the Columbia Gorge

Friday, May 09, 2008 -- Memaloose State Park near The Dalles, OR.

We explored all day yesterday. By the time we got back to the bus-house, enjoyed a little wine, and had dinner, I was too tired to write anything that would make sense to anybody. We did have a meeting of the board of directors before retiring for the evening and decided that we'd stay here at least one more day. That took a little pressure off the guy trying to document our travels -- he can do it in this morning.

I've always heard how windy it can be in the Columbia Gorge, but it wasn't until the last few days that I've experienced it to this extent. Locals say it's been a windier than normal spring, but a brisk westerly wind is part of the environment here. Trees that grow in the direct path of the wind have their branches predominantly on the down-wind side of their trunks. Apparently, any branches that do get started on the up-wind side are bent and twisted by the constant wind and never have a chance to grow. Here's an extreme example:


For today's exploration we went west a few miles to Mosier on I-84. There we picked up another segment of the Historic Columbia River Highway and headed east toward The Dalles. I know I was generous with the superlatives a couple weeks ago when I reported on the western segment of this grand old road, and I'm feeling an urge to repeat my comments. Let me just say the Historic Columbia River Highway should not be missed when visiting the Northwest. It's simply incredible. We've got a few pictures and maybe a video of it that'll be online in our photo collection. I hope you have the time to check them out.

We stopped for a couple hours at the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center, billed as the Official Interpretive Center for the Columbia Gorge. Despite by belief that the term "interpretive center" was devised to dupe people like me into what's actually a "museum", I did feel that since it's "official" we really should check it out. I have to say I'm glad we did. It's a very well done and enjoyable facility complete with library, ongoing research, and a particular interest in the Lewis and Clark Expedition. link to website

At The Dalles, we crossed the Columbia to the Washington side and drove about 15 miles east to the Maryhill Museum of Art. In the past, when we lived out here, I'd drive up I-84 on the Oregon side and look up at this big mansion of a house amidst a park-like setting and wonder what it was all about. Yesterday, we finally got there.


In 1914, Northwest pioneer and entrepreneur Sam Hill, who also happened to be the spirit behind the building of the Historic Columbia River Highway, started construction on this house high above the river on the Washington side. His dream was to establish an agricultural community in this area and had purchased huge tracts of land for this purpose. Alas, the dream fizzled, and Sam lost interest in the house. He never did live here. But in the early 1920's, Sam was persuaded by an odd collection of well-to-do people from all over the world -- people he'd met through the course of business -- to finish the house as an art museum. He did and it was dedicated in 1926.

Dar and I are different people who take different approaches to museums. I think I've written about this before. I'm a soaker and a scanner. I may focus on one small area of a museum and then meander around soaking in a little of this and scanning a little of that. It's the macro approach -- I open my mind and let it flow in as a whole... in it's entirety. Give me an hour and I believe I'll have the theme of most museums down pat.

Dar, on the other hand, has to read every word on every display or piece of art. She doesn't know if we'll ever get back here so she has this need to do it all when she has the chance. It's the micro approach. If she could get an overnight pass, she would. I can't remember how many times museum guards have had to throw her out so they could close the place.

While our different styles have caused some tension in the past, she's learned to read my body-language to know when it's time to leave. When I'm curled up on a bench in the lobby, when I'm incessantly sighing, when my face is pained, my eyes crossed, and my mouth agape with drool running down my chin... she knows it's time to go.

They also had a bunch of the funniest looking chickens I've ever seen.


Sam Hill also build a replica of Stonehenge on his property, just a few miles from the Art Museum. It's a full size copy, but complete including the missing or out-of-place elements of the original in England. Built as a World War 1 memorial, it's been standing here since the 1920's.


The L&C Gang camped at a number of points in this area. They paddled down the river just a few yards from our campsite. As I gaze out at the vistas and dramatic terrain of the Gorge, I wonder what they were thinking as they saw these same things.


May 7, 2008

The Third "Hook" Day

Wednesday, May 7, 2008 -- Memaloose State Park near The Dalles Oregon

No one was moving quickly this morning -- or anxious to get the bus-house on the road. But eventually, after more coffee than either of us needed, things started to come together and we had everything in travel-ready condition by a little after 11am. Daughter Andrea brought Ryan and Evan over to make sure our "grandkids" tank was topped off. I was just going through the motions, like in a daze, you know?

After we were all set to go, in a typical display of procrastination, I proposed we should all have lunch together! Yeah, that's it, lunch! We've got to eat something anyway. We've got to keep our nourishment up. So off we went to Burgerville (a wonderful local fast food chain) and stretched out our time together a bit more.

By 1pm, we just couldn't delay any more. Now we had the clock pushing us too. So we hooked up the toad, shed a few tears, waved, and blew the air-horns a few times... and we were on the way.

I suspected we wouldn't be moving until early afternoon so picked a state park less than 100 miles up the road. Memaloose State Park is right along the banks of the Columbia River. It's a place for us to take a day or two to put ourselves emotionally back together again and to re-immerse in the journals of the Lewis & Clark Gang -- the theme for the next two months.

Along the way today, we made a big "hook" to the East -- the point at which our predominant direction of travel changes to a new major point on the compass. Last November we hooked from the South to the West in South Carolina. Then, in California at the end of February, we hooked from traveling West to a Northerly direction. And today, it was from Northly to Easterly. I don't know what to think about all this. It's almost like the corners of a racetrack. Are we racing around the country when we should be meandering? Hmmm?

Oh, and we needed fuel today. With today's prices, planning where to re-fill is becoming increasingly important to our budget. For example, here in the Northwest, fuel is more costly in Washington than the surrounding states due to taxation. By topping off the tank in Oregon this afternoon, (at 4.20!!!! a relative bargain!) we should be able to cross much of Washington and Idaho before needing to fill again in Montana, another state that has lower fuel tax and below average prices. Knowing your range and how states tax fuel can save a few bucks.

I'm tired. Till tomorrow...


May 6, 2008

Where Has the Time Gone?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

The past two wonderful months have evaporated faster than a puddle in the hot Arizona sun. But tomorrow, Wednesday, we're heading out, leaving our Vancouver Family behind. It'll be a sad day, with emotions raging and tearing at us -- after just two months there are roots developing that won't be easily pulled. On the one hand, we started this sabbatical project for the purpose of seeing and experiencing North America, and we've only just begun. There's so much more to see and do. On the other hand, we have two of the greatest grandkids ever (who have the greatest parents ever), and we know they'll have changed so much by the time we see them again. For two months, we've become part of their regular lives and now we're leaving. Will they understand? Will they remember us? The next time we visit will we be able to pick up where we've left off? I'm sure we will, but there's that lingering doubt.

Tomorrow, we'll be leaving them behind physically. But in our hearts they'll be riding along, right next to each of us, as we explore America in the bus-house.

To Gage, Andrea, Ryan, Evan, Shirleen, Duane, and the rest of the extended family here in Washington... Thanks so much for your hospitality, understanding, and warmth. We can't wait to return.

With Love...

Thom & Dar

May 2, 2008

Project Day

Friday, May 2, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

We had a nice day Thursday, yesterday. Since we're getting down to the last few days, we took advantage of the weather and finished up a few projects around the ol' bus-house.

First, we installed the windshield sunscreen that we'd ordered a few weeks ago. When we're parked facing unshaded sun, especially in the summer, that big windshield allows a lot of solar heat energy to come into the bus-house and heat things up. This sunscreen will reduce the heat-gain. It's made of a heavy woven poly fabric that blocks 90% of the incoming sun's rays. Because solar rays don't produce heat until they hit something, it's important for this material to be on the outside of the bus-house -- so the heat says outside. In addition to reducing heat-gain, it helps reduce damage to fabrics, plastic, and leather interior surfaces.

The process of installing the sunscreen isn't easy due to it's size. After borrowing a second ladder from a neighbor so we both had one, Dar and I went to work. The idea is to stretch it out in the approximate position it'll go and hold it in place with big strips of masking tape. Then adjust and adjust and adjust. Once it's where we want it, I've got to drill (yes, drill!!) holes in the exact right spot so the base portion of the snaps can be installed -- screwed into the hole and a small bed of silicone sealant. 7 snaps -- 7 holes, no major mistakes, and I think the job looks pretty good.


The sunscreen kit includes panels for the drivers side window and the passenger door window as well. Being considerably smaller, they went up quickly. Overall, we're happy with the finished product and are looking forward to a cooler summer.

The second project I completed was the installation of another fresh water filter in the outside water bay. The bus-house came from the factory with a "whole-house" water filter. The filter-element we put in this filter is a good one that removes almost all foreign particles as well as improving taste and smell. The problem is that it only filters water as it's going up to the faucets and fixtures to be used. Water that goes into our fresh-water holding tank isn't filtered until it's used. We wanted to keep the water in the holding tank as clean and odor free as possible too.

So, I ordered and installed a second filter right next to the first, but this one will filter all water coming into the bus-house even if it's going to the fresh-water holding tank. The filter element in this cannister is very much like the one above, but a little less aggressive so as to prolong it's lifespan.

A week ago I also installed an under-sink drinking water filter and separate drinking water faucet on the kitchen sink. This filter has a high quality ceramic cartridge and removes 99.99% of bacteria and other nasty bugs that can be in water from poor sources. The water that comes from this fixture is now filtered three times and should be better than most bottled water. We'd like to stop buying and hauling around bottled water if we can. It's expensive and heavy.

For dinner, we got together with Ron & Sue, and Tom & Rose from our old neighborhood in Vancouver. We had a lot of laughs, a great time. It was fun getting caught up and reconnecting with these good people.


Joke of the Day (from Ron Wiltsey)

These two old guys are talking. First guys says "Next week I'll have been married to the same woman for 60 years!"

Second guy replies "Wow, that's great. What are you doing to celebrate?"

First guy: "Well, for our 40th, I got her a trip to Italy."

Second guy: "That'll be hard to top. So what are you doing this year?"

First guy: "Bring her back."



Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...