Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Roosevelt Lake

In my post on Monday, I mentioned that Kettle Falls, WA, is on the shores of Roosevelt Lake, which was formed by backing up the Columbia River over 100 miles away at Grand Coulee Dam.

Happy and I took a nice long walk today, along one of the bluffs overlooking the lake. We got this nice panorama photo (Thanks again, iPhone!) and think it's worth sharing! (Click to embiggen)



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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WA Hwy 20: Plan C

The wildfires in north-central Washington remain almost entirely uncontained, and new fires are being reported throughout the area. Both my intended route west (WA20) and my first alternate (US2) remain closed. Here's a little graphic that may help you to better see the situation:



The Carlton Complex fire is huge, now approaching 400 square miles. That's at least four times the size of the Seattle metropolitan area. Here's a map that shows its approximate size and shape. Be sure to look at the scale and try to imagine if this fire was burning in your area:



It has become clear to me that another day or two isn't going to bring any hope of the road being reliably open. Even if it opens in one place, it's very likely to be closed again in another. The last thing I want to do is get stuck in the middle of all that. The small reward just isn't worth the big risk.

So, I'm now looking at Plan C: Heading south to I-90 then west to Ellensburg and approaching Seattle from the southeast. That probably means nothing for any of you who are unfamiliar with the roads in Washington, so here's another nifty little graphic that may make it clearer for you:



I'll shave some of that distance off by heading southwest out of Kettle Falls on state highways, instead of going down and around through Spokane. It should be a relatively easy two-stint drive.

After four solid months on the road, I'm really fine with this alternative. I've already seen and done plenty on this expedition, and I'm feeling ready to be in one place for a while again... Stay tuned!

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Monday, July 21, 2014

WA Hwy 20: Part 1 -- Newport To Kettle Falls

With the largest forest fires in the state's history raging out of control throughout north-central Washington, it is entirely possible that WA Hwy 20 will remain closed in places and I will not be able to complete my intended end-to-end transit. Nevertheless, I'm determined to give it a go and hope that my relatively slow pace of western movement will allow time for conditions to evolve in my favor!

WA Hwy 20 begins in the town of Newport, just inside the state's eastern border. Although it is a significant route across the top tier of the state, only a simple overhead sign indicates its origin.



Heading up the Pend Oreille River valley, the region is a mix of agriculture and forested mountains. As you can see, smoke from fires over a hundred miles away is dense enough to reduce visibility.



As the valley narrows, the road runs quite close to the river and offers a number of nice views. As you might imagine, the corresponding railway line is also quite near, just out of view on the left.



At the tiny crossroads town of Tiger, WA20 turns west to follow the Little Pend Oreille River. It makes a long, steep and twisty climb through heavily wooded forest, then over a pass before descending.



Heading west down the valley to Colville and Kettle Falls is a very pretty drive. Looking at the terrain, it's easy to see how the grass and timber can be so flammable in the dry season.



I'm in a perfectly satisfactory little RV park in Kettle Falls, a small lumber town where the river runs into Roosevelt Lake. The lake is actually a man-made reservoir of the Columbia River, backed up over a hundred miles from its use to generate power at Grand Coulee Dam.

For a thousand years before the Dam was built, this area was a major salmon fishing area for native peoples and a significant crossroads for trappers and traders. All of that is gone now, of course, though the small local museum and interpretive center do their best to preserve the memory.

My plan is to stay here for three days, partly to check out the area but mostly to see what happens with the fires and roads to the west... Stay tuned!

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Washington Wildfire Watch & Wait

Happy and I are now just inside the northeast border of Washington state, enjoying a few days of R&R in this lovely wooded campsite. It is quite large, semi-secluded and very peaceful... Perfect!



I think it may be Happy's favorite campsite ever, owing particularly to the surrounding woods. She has made herself quite a nice little alpine doggie den, in which she is quite well camouflaged. (Can you see her in the photo below left?) Her relaxation is complete and she's making the most of it!



I'm relaxing, too, though not quite as much due to challenges ahead in the form of huge, uncontained wildfires in the middle of the state. You've probably seen them on the news... They're raging!

My plan has been to drive Washington SR20 across the top tier of the state, all the way from the eastern border at Newport to Anacortes on the Puget Sound. It's a beautiful road that I've driven parts of before, and I've been looking forward to doing an end-to-end transit in the weeks ahead.

Because of the fires, WA20 is currently closed right smack in the middle of the state. I'm not planning to be there for about a week, and am hopeful that it will reopen by the time I get there. If not, I'll head south and take my old friend US2 across the mountains, though that road is also closed at the moment because of the fires. Worst case, I'll drop farther south and drive I-90 west to Seattle.

There's nothing I can do besides watch and wait, making short hops west as conditions permit... Stay tuned!

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

Glacier NP: "Going-to-the-Sun Road"

Glacier National Park's famous "Going-to-the-Sun Road" has been on my "Drive List" for years. Because it's only open for a brief period during the summer, I've never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. When I heard it had finally opened last week, I decided this was the year.

Starting from the east side near St. Mary, MT, the road begins as a gentle climb up the valley. A large fire to the north has unfortunately blanketed the area with a smoky haze, but you can still how beautiful Glacier NP is, and why it is one of the very best in the country.



A few miles later, the road ascends much more steeply. The abrupt drop-off and blasted rock (plus a couple of "interesting" tunnels) give you an idea of what went into building the road.



Just over the summit at Logan Pass, you get an excellent view back down the valley, and a good view across to your route down the other side. It's not as gradual as it looks!



There was a lot of traffic, so I tried to take my photos in the gaps. Don't let the single car in this shot fool you, it's a heavily traveled road full of drivers who want to go at all different speeds.



I can't say it's the best road I've ever driven, but it definitely deserves a place in the top dozen or so. The long, steady, winding route down the valley offers consistently beautiful views.



Down in the valley, the road follows a river to the main tourist/visitor facilities at Lake McDonald. From there, it's a short drive farther to the West Glacier gate.



If you ever visit Glacier NP, the "Going-to-the-Sun Road" is pretty much a mandatory activity. Plan on using an entire day to cover the 50 mile road at a good pace for viewing and frequent stops, then either turn around and go back the same way or — my suggestion — drive the very pretty US2 return route around the southern border of the Park.

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Sunday, July 06, 2014

Happy: States I've Peed In -- Update!

Macgellan says we've now peed in all the new states we're going to pee in for a while, so I thought this would be a good time to update my "States I've Peed In" map.

The yellow states are ones I peed in last year, and the red states are new ones I've peed in this year:



If you count them, you'll see I've peed in 31 of the 50 states so far. Macgellan says I've peed in more states than most people have... Is that possible?

If so, you really should get out there and pee in more states... It's fun and ever so relieving!

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Happy: Fireworks, Take Flight!

Hi!... I'm Happy... I'm always Happy... But I am not happy about fireworks!

In our travels, Macgellan and I have stayed in a lot of different places. Some of them have been great for dogs like me, most of them have been pretty good, a few of them have been kinda sketchy. Our campsite here in Malta, MT, has been the worst ever.

I haven't really minded the freight trains that have gone by every hour along one side of our campground, or the trucks that have sped across an old metal bridge along the opposite side. I haven't even really minded the millions of mosquitos that have constantly attacked me, because they can't seem to get through my thick Alaskan Husky fur.

What's been miserable for me has been all the pops, booms and crackles of fireworks. Every few minutes for two days now, there's been some loud noise that's made me hide under our camper or in my doghouse. I can't help it, they really scare me and make me shake, shiver and drool.

Macgellan has tried to comfort and reassure me, even taken me for extra drives so I can have some peace and quiet in my truck lair. Last night he said it was going to be the worst, so we were going to "take flight" -- which means "run away" -- from town for a while.

That's why you can see our truck parked at a turn-out about five miles out of town. We drove there at dusk and stayed for four hours, until well after midnight when the fireworks were supposed to stop.



We couldn't get out of the truck because the mosquitos would try to kill Macgellan, so we just stayed inside and pretended we were camping. I had my dinner and slept while he watched a movie and read his book. I could see lots of brightly colored lights flashing on the horizon, but I couldn't hear anything... It was great!

There were still a few bad noises when we finally returned to our camper, but they weren't too loud and didn't last very long. Macgellan has been packing up our camper this morning, so it looks like we'll be hitting the road and getting away from this awful place.

I sure hope there are no more fireworks wherever we're going... They do not make me happy!

Friday, July 04, 2014

US Hwy 191: The End At The Northern Border

The last 57 mile stint on US191 north -- from Malta, MT, to the Canadian border -- is basically more of the same: Mostly wide open grasslands with occasional terrain features to break the monotony.



Considering that there wasn't an official "Begin" or "End" sign for US191 at the southern border in Douglas, AZ, it didn't surprise me that there wasn't a similar sign at its remote northern terminus.

I didn't realize it when I snapped this photo, but in it is the last US191 sign, 16 miles from the border.



Morgan "point of entry" is larger than I expected for such a remote facility, perhaps due to its need to provide housing for personnel.

I didn't pass another vehicle the entire drive up, so I doubt that traffic warrants the facility's size.

I hopped out of my truck to see if there was a US191 sign showing from the opposite direction.

There wasn't, so this photo must serve to chronicle that I completed my border-to-border road trip.

What there was plenty of, however, were millions of mosquitos who instantly attacked me. They forced me to beat a hasty retreat to my truck, where I sat for a minute to reflect on my journey.

Driving US191 has been another excellent road trip. Getting out of the desert heat and finding my little Alpine paradise was a great start. The Coronado Trail, Canyon de Chelley, Arches National Park and Dinosaurland were all treats, a little revisiting of the past and much brand new exploration.

Grand Teton and Yellowstone Parks may have been a bummer for me, but the river valleys to the north and Livingston, MT, more than made up for them. Even the long haul north across central Montana has had a certain zen to it. I'm glad I changed my original plan from US95 to US191.

As always when I've completed an expedition, the question automatically arises, "What's next?"

I don't have a "plan" going forward, but I do have a destination: I've arranged to be in the Seattle area starting August 1st, for what I expect will be at least a few months of various engagement.

There's a lot of territory between here and there, with a lot on offer along the way. I have almost a month to make the transit, more than enough time to "follow my nose" and see what happens.

After three full months of documenting virtually every day, I'll admit I'm a little worn out from the "digital overhead" of reporting my findings on this site. So, I'm going to give myself a break and not declare a pre-defined expedition to chronicle. I want to just wander for a little while.

That said, you know I'm very likely to report any highlights... Stay tuned!

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