Wednesday, June 27, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 15...Wednesday, June 27, 2012...The Day of Spectacular Views

When I was a boy, I read a lot of "adventure books"...books about explorers like Columbus, Livingston, Scott and Lewis & Clark. And I used to dream about what it must have been like for these people to travel to new places and see spectacular things. So, when you wonder why I ever got into camping, the answer is pretty simple. I'm just living out, in a small way, the dreams I had in my youth.

I wish that you could have been with me today.

Up at 6:00AM on a warm and sunny morning (finally!). There's a gas station next store, so I grab a large coffee and relax with a cigar in camp before getting on the road.
A little before 7:00AM, I'm heading twenty miles west on Route 14 to the town of Carson. There's fog hanging on the Gorge this morning, and it's beautiful. At Carson, I turn north on the Wind River Highway into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It's named after a great conservationist and advisor to President Theodore Roosevelt. And...when President Roosevelt signed into law the act that created the National Service, he appointed Gifford Pinchot as it's first head.
It's an absolutely gorgeous morning...sunny and not a cloud in the sky. And, on this morning, I'm alone on the road. For almost fifty miles, I don't see another car...pure solitude.
So...I'm able to travel at my own speed (slow) and savor every foot of road as I head up, through forests of old growth trees, meadows of wildflowers, flowing rivers. It's a narrow and winding road...for me, one of the best drives ever.
Around 9:00AM, I reach the McClellan Viewpoint...and the parking lot is empty...I'm the only one there. And the view of Mt. St. Helens is, indeed, spectacular. If there is a piece of music associated with a particular place, I like to listen to it when I visit that place. So...I've listened to Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite while at the Grand Canyon...and Charles Ive's "The Housatonic at Stockbridge while looking out over the Housatonic River in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. And...this morning, I have Alan Hovhaness' Mt. St. Helens Symphony all cued up on my iPod. So I sit there, with this great view, and I listen for a half hour...every note from beginning to end. Quite a moment there.
My original plan was to take Forest Road 25 further north to Mt. Rainier National Park, but the road is closed...snow! So, instead, I turn west on Forest Road 90, later Route 503, west. More trees, lakes, a huge reservoir, some deer...awesome.
Around 11:30, I'm at I-5, which I take north to the Mt. St. Helens Visitors Center. From there, I head back east to get views of Mt. St. Helens from a completely different angle. It starts out fine, but soon I'm heading up and up. On the "Bill Thee Pants Wetting Scale", it reaches an 8 as I'm driving on a narrow road at 2000 feet, then 3000...all the way up to 3800 at Elk Pass. Along the way, I've got to go over the half-mile long bridge across a 2500 foot deep gorge at Hoffstadt Creek...that gets an 8.5 on the "scale".
At Elk Pass, I've had I turn around and head back down to sea level. The good news is that I bought a small fan, and the driver's seat should be dry in just a few hours.
My plan now is to head north to Mt. Rainier National Park, where I'll be camping for a week or so...I'm even planning a backpacking trip for there. But, when I stop at the Mt. St. Helens Visitors Center on the way back, I'm told that there are a lot of detours on the way to Mt. Rainier because of snow...snow??? late June??? Unfortunately, several people have told me that this is the latest summer in memory out here in the northwest. When I ask the nice lady at the Visitors Center about backpacking, she says long as I've brought along shoes. I'm thinking hiking shoes, but she's talking SNOWSHOES. I'm thinking that I don't want to get get stuck camping at Mt. Rainier late in the day if there's snow. we speak...I am comfortably "ensconced" in a nice KOA Campground near the Visitors Center. Tomorrow, I'll go up to Mt. Rainier early and check things out. I'll probably camp there, but backpacking is out of the question. the way...for the first time on this trip, I'll be sleeping with the Glock 9mm under my pillow. There's a danger out here...a danger that I had not anticipated...and it's name is Bigfoot.

I wish that you could have been with me today.

"The Way West"...Day 14...Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Another cold and rainy morning convinces me that I have made the right choice to pull up stakes and head north to Hood River.
I packed everything last night, so all I need to do is make that one last sprint to the pit toilet (yech!) and enjoy some hot coffee from the thermos.
I'm onthe road heading north just past 7:00AM. And, a little before 8:00, I arrive in Hood River. I stop for gas, then slide over to McDonalds for breakfast. When I'm at home, I never visit McDonalds (well...maybe Picnic Week, but that's it) but, on the road, it's an easy choice. Their coffee is good, and I usually get a sausage McMuffin with egg and a hash brown...fuel for the road.
Right over the toll bridge, on the Washington side, there's a Good Sam RV Campground, so I pull in there. Soon, I'm posting to the blog...and then, a hot shower (at 25 cents for 2 1/2 minutes).
Some winemakers in Walla Walla told me about a winery near here, Syncline, so I head about ten miles over there. Unfortunately, it's closed, so it's back to camp. I need groceries, so I head back over the toll bridge to the Oregon side, and stop at the local Safeway. I wish that we had Safeways in Michigan...they're clean, well-stocked and the staff is friendly. And...I have my Safeway "Value Card" from two years ago, so I save money. Today, I get a steak, some pork for stir fries, vegetables, cookies...and...two big slices of their great chocolate fudge cake. Back at camp, I empty the cooler, clean it out, throw in a block of ice and repack.
Up the road, a mile or so, there's an Eagles Club, so I decide to head there for an "early cocktail hour". Not too many folks in there, but I do get two free Silver Bullet drafts.
Back at camp, I read for an hour before dinner. Ah...dinner...I've got leftover Tandoori chicken, so I throw that in a pan with a bottle of Sharwoods Tikka Masala simmer sauce. I also have Bombay potatoes in a cooking bag, so those go in some boiling water. Now I just heat up some leftover rice, open a bottle of red wine and, in fifteen minutes, I've got a great meal.
After dinner, I read until sundown and head for bed. No...I didn't hike today or climb any mountains...but I had sunlight and the temperature was in the 60's. So...for was a good day.
I am really looking forward to my drive tomorrow. I'll be heading north on a small Forest Service Road to McClellan where, I am told, I should have a spectacular view of Mt. St. Helens...can't wait.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 13...Monday, June 25, 2012

It's a sound that I've come to know well these last five years. When you're in a tent, it's a "plop" sound. And, when you're in the camper, it's more of a "ping". Either way, the sound of rain is NOT what you want to hear when you wake up in the morning.
Bleary-eyed, I sit up and look outside. Yup...cold, dark and rainy. I bundle up, put on my shoes and then sprint fifty yards or so to the "pit toilet".
I recently read an article about several groups of scientists that are trying to achieve a temperature of "absolute zero" in the laboratory. At that cold of a temperature, the natural vibration of matter...atoms, molecules....ceases. It's too bad that these scientists are not here this morning to take some measurements on the seat in the pit toilet...because it sure feels like absolute zero.
Now I sprint fifty yards back to camp to sit in the Explorer (heat on) and have my morning cigar. And, after an hour or so, the sky clears a bit, and it stops raining. Now I'm able to get out and brew a pot of coffee...much needed this chilly morning. And, later, I cook up a nice breakfast of fried eggs, toast, orange juice...and spam. read that right...spam. Several years ago, when I was camping at the Burning Man Festival out on the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, I woke up one morning starving. Over at our main camp, someone was cooking up a breakfast of diced potatoes, eggs...and spam. I though then that it was maybe the best breakfast I ever ate. I always have cans of spam with me when I'm camping. It doesn't tastes pretty of're getting 100,000 times your daily requirement of salt.
By the time I finish breakfast, the weather has cleared and it's warmed up considerably. So...I put on my hiking boots and head out to hike the three miles or so around Lake Trillium. At the trail head, I'm able to get a few photos of that iconic view of Mt. Hood from across the lake. This is most fortunate because, ten minutes or so into my hike, the rain starts again.'s back to camp for a day sitting cross-legged in the camper reading. But, just like yesterday, the rain stops around 6:00PM, and I'm able to cook dinner. I've marinated a big batch of Tandoori chicken...I grill that and serve it with some Trader Joe's Indian Eggplant (in a cooking pouch) and a batch of basmati rice (2120...two cups water, 1 cup rice, 20 minutes). It's a hearty and satisfying meal after a strenuous day of sitting in the camper. And, I've got enough ice left for a Knob Creek Bourbon on the rocks before dinner and a cold bottle of white wine with dinner.
After dinner, it's actually nice enough to sit at the picnic table and read...I'm even able to get out a lantern and read more after the sun goes down.
I have made another "command decision". Rather than spend another day here in the rain, I'm going to head out tomorrow morning for Hood River and camp at an RV Park. They will have a shower...something that I've been looking forward to...and maybe the weather will be better farther north. In any case, I'll have a chance to relax and review my route to Mt. Rainier. It's a little tiny Forest Service Road that runs north from Carson, Washington up through the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to the Park. Along the way, I should get some awesome views of Mt. St. Helens.

"The Way West"...Day 12...Sunday, June 24, 2012

I'm up around 7:00AM this morning, but I'm too lazy to drag out the stove, pot grinder and French press to make coffee. So, my first stop is at McDonald's for a large black coffee.
Then, I'm on the road...up, down and along all those big rolling hills down to "The Gorge". Today, I'm driving the Columbia River Gorge between Washington and of the most scenic drives in America.
There's two ways that you can drive the can take Interstate 84 on the Oregon side which runs low close to the water...or you can take Route 14 on the Washington side which runs high off the water along large bluffs. This morning, I'm taking Route 14.
And it is a beautiful drive with view after view of the river far below.Soon, my fingers hurt. That's because they're wrapped around the steering wheel in a white-knuckle "death grip". On the "Bill Thee Pants-Wetting Scale" (with 1 being "dry" and 10 being "soaked"), I give this drive a 7.5. It's especially comforting to know that the other wheel could fall off the camper at any time...sending me plunging hundreds of feet down to a watery grave.
So, after two hours or so, I am relieved to be heading down and across the river at The Dalles, Oregon. Another half hour or so heading west (and close to river level), I'm at Hood River where I turn south to Mt. Hood. This route south is called "The Fruit Loop" because it cuts right through the heart of Oregon's fruit and vegetable growing region. Ever since I was here in 2008, I've been imagining the day when I could return to buy fresh fruit and make a turnover using my Coleman stove-top oven. Alas, that is not to be on this trip. Nothing is really "in season" yet...a few early cherries, and that's it.
I do get a few great views of Mt. Hood along the way. You don't really see much...then you turn a corner and...wham!...there it is..a big snow-capped peak. Around 2:00PM or so, I arrive at my campground...Trillium Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest. I chose this campground because the view of Mt. Hood from Trillium Lake is one of the most iconic images in the entire U.S. Parks/Forests system.
All day long, it's been bright, sunny and warm. But, as I'm heading into the campground, the sky has turned dark and cloudy. And, when I get out to register, I can feel that the temperature has dropped at least twenty degrees into the low 50''s cold.
The Camp Hosts are being cagey this day..."Well, we're pretty booked up right now. These three spots could be open, you just have to drive around and see". OK, I drive around...and I can't help but notice that 99% of the spots look open to me...and it's a Sunday when most people are leaving a campground. Anyway, all of the "three" spots are open, so I pick the nicest one.
About the time that I get out of the Explorer to set up camp, the rain starts. Not a heavy rain, just an on-again/off-again drizzle. it's not just cold, but rainy as well. It's never fun setting up camp in the rain...I have to do it in stages when there's a break in the drizzle. Even though this is my "Summer Camping Trip", I always come prepared for cold weather. At higher elevations, it can stay cold well into July and August. So...I haul out my "cold-weather" duffel's gor flannel shirts, sweatshirts and flannel-lined, I'm opting for all three.
I spend most of the afternoon sitting in the Explorer reading. I'm still engrossed in Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" which I first read when I was in High School. Around 6:00PM or so, the clouds finally break (a little) and the sun comes out (a little), and it warms up (a little). All I've had to eat today is an energy bar and a small bag of potato chips, so I'm pretty hungry. For dinner, I cook penne with vodka sauce...I cook the pasta, but I'm just heating up a bottle of Mario Batali's sauce...camping does involve a degree of personal sacrifice. I bought a nice wedge of cheesecake at the grocery in Walla Walla, so that's dessert. I also open up one of those bottles of table wine from Walla, all in all, it's a pretty good meal out here in the wild.
After dinner, I'm able to sit at the picnic table and read for awhile. It's not raining, but the temperature has been steadily dropping, and now I'm wearing a parka over my flannel shirt and sweatshirt. I can't help but think of my friend Ed and the night we spent camping last summer at Blomidon Provincial Park in Nova Scotia. The temperature dropped into the 30's and there was poor Ed all bundled up shivering at the picnic table writing in his journal. It's like that tonight here...deep in the Oregon forest.
When it starts to get dark around 9:00PM, I've had enough of the cold. Inside the camper, I shed the parka, but everything else stays on. Under the down comforter, I'm nice and warm...and soon fast asleep.

"The Way West"...Day 11...Saturday, June 23, 2012

So...this will be the last day/night for me in Walla Walla, so I really want to make the best of it. I've got some of yesterday's coffee in the thermos (still hot), so that's a good start.
My first stop is an early lunch at my new favorite taco "dive"...Tacqueria Yungapeti...naturally. I'm feeling adventurous, so I let the cute gal behind the counter pick three for me. I end up with chorizo and egg (one of my favorites), cabeza, and one that has beef, peppers, onions and cheese (like a Philly cheese steak). They are, all of them, delicious.
My friend, Spencer, wrote down a list yesterday of small, lesser-known wineries that he thought I'd that's where I'm off to next. Three of them are right in downtown Walla Walla, so I park near the transfer station for the bus. This turns out to be right next to the Saturday Farmer's Market where I buy some Walla Walla sweet onions and a pound of fresh asparagus.
My first winery stop is at a place called "Kerloo", and the winemaker is running the tasting room this morning. Their "specialties are Tempranillo (a Spanish grape), Cabernet and Merlot. I taste about five different wines and have a nice chat with the winemaker. All of the wines are great, but I limit myself to the purchase of one bottle of "table wine" which is a blend of all three grapes.
Next stop is a winery called "Rotie" which specializes in the grape varietals of the Rhone region in France. Wow...these are big, brawny, inky, deep reds...just what I like. Even their white, a blend of rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier grapes) is BIG. So...I buy a bottle of white and a bottle of their "Southern Rhone Blend".
OK...whenb I went in to Rotie, it was nice and sunny out. Now, when I come out, it's dark...windy...thunder and lightning. The wind really picks up...things are starting to blow over. Someone behind me says that this could be a tornado and...just then...a big wooden sign comes blowing down the middle of the street. My instincts tell me to seek shelter I run for my vehicle (yea, I know, not the safest place in a storm). Just as I get inside, the storm really breaks loose...thunder, lightning, driving rain and...then...hail. It's so loud, it sounds like someone is dropping buckets of marbles onto the Explorer from a rooftop. It's like that for twenty minutes and then...just like's over and the sun is out.
One more winery stop in town...Seven Hills. They're pouring a chardonnay, a Cab, a Merlot and a Syrah...all good. I opt for another table wine (Three-legged Red), a ball cap and a water bottle.
Next, I head west out of town on Old Highway 12 to one of the wineries that I visited on my first trip here in 2008, Reininger Winery. Their specialty is Carmenere, a grape that you normally see from Chile. They're also pouring four or five other wines as well. The girls at the tasting room are nice and friendly. They know my friend, Spencer, because his partner at El Corazon is the winemaker here at Reininger. The girls are cooking up some pancakes made with blueberries just picked from behind the winery...and, soon, I've got a plateful in front of me. Now, I (along with several other fellow "tasters") am trying to decide which wine goes best with pancakes. Our "consensus pick" is the Syrah...hints of maple in the nose...or maybe that's just the syrup.
A little ways down the road is L'Ecole 41, housed in the old Public School #41 building. At the tasting room, I meet a couple from Seattle, and we start discussing what many here have referred to as America's most exclusive "cult" wine...Cayouse. They make 800 cases (total) of Cab, Merlot and Syrah a year. The entire production each year is sold to people on their customer list...and the limit is twelve bottles. It is impossible to buy it at retail anywhere. And...get this...the waiting time to get on the "list" right now is FIFTEEN YEARS. Anyway, there's no "waiting list" at L'Ecole 41, so I dive right in. They make at least different wines...single grapes and blends...all great. One of the guys running the tasting room says that, while he has never drunk any Cayouse, he did see a bottle of it once at someone's home...all locked up. So, he says, there really is a's not a myth as some believe.
By now, it's late afternoon...time to head back to camp for a shower and a change of clothes before my last meal in Walla Walla.
I head over to the bus stop, and it's an hour or so before I figure out that something is wrong. Checking with the desk clerk at the hotel next to the bus stop, I find that my bus doesn't run on Sunday. So...I decide to call fot my private driver, Larry. There's only one cab company in town, and they only have one driver...Larry. So, over the last few days, Larry and I have become buddies. When he comes to pick me up, he doesn't say..."your cab is here". No...he says..."Mr. Thee, your car is waiting". This never fails to impress my fellow bar patrons...and makes me feel like a "big shot".
Tonight, my driver drops me off at "Saffron Mediterranean Bistro", which comes highly recommended by many locals. It turns out to be my best meal of the far. An appetizer of grilled Merguez sausage with homemade Harissa sauce is washed down with a few glasses of the Tempranillo from this morning's first stop, Kerloo. Then, an absolutely perfectly-cooked piece of Alaskan Halibut (my favorite fish) served on a bed of baby peas and pea shoots in a Veloute sauce...stunningly good...especially with a few glasses of a great Pinot Gris.Somehow, I've managed to save room for dessert (but you already knew that)...a cobbler of local berries served with homemade vanilla bean ice cream. All of this food has made me an "after dinner" drink, I have an icy bottle of Kolsch beer from Oregon...just like I used to drink in Cologne, Germany.
Three days of wine tasting has left me "wined out" (as they say). So...after dinner, I head up the street to the Red Monkey which advertises "Sixty Beers on Tap" kind of place. Soon, I'm sitting at the bar with a large draft Stella Artois in front of me, and I start talking to the guy sitting next to me, Manuel. Manuel, as it turns out, is a Techno DJ booked tonight at the Red Monkey. Now...Ilove Techno...I study it, research it and, most of all, I listen to it...a lot. But, since I'm about the only person I know that likes it, I've never had anyone to talk about it with...until tonight. So...for forty-five minutes or so, Manuel and I have the conversation that I've been waiting years to have...all about Techno. Among other things, we debate...
"What separates "house" from "deep house"?

Did "Kruder" of Kruder & Dorfmeister form "Tosca" to play something other than "drum and base"?

Is "Morcheeba", the "trip-hop" group better or worse with a new lead singer?

And, did "dub-step" evolve from the genre, "UK Garage"?

It's the most in-depth discussion that I've ever had on this subject. And...Manuel invites me to stay and listen to his sets because he'll "play things that I know you'll like". And he does...for the next three hours or so.
Meanwhile, I'm chatting up and buying a beer for the cute, red-haired, "Reubenesque" beauty next to me, Katie. She just got her real estate license and, pretty soon, she's telling me that she's got the perfect house for me in Walla Walla...big "industrial" kitchen and an acre of grapes planted out back.
And that's when I realize that I've got to get out of town...because I'm afraid. I'm afraid that if I spend one more day in Walla Walla, I'm not leaving here...I'm staying.
So...that's when I call for my driver, Larry. Back to the campground...and sleep.
I've got to leave here tomorrow...before it's too late.

Oh...and that sixth photo from the top? Dude...don't even ask!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 10...Friday, June 22, 2012

On my list of "Ten Places Where I'd Like to Live", there's a spot for Walla Walla. In many ways, it's the "anti-Napa Valley". There are no $8 million Renaissance mansions built by ex-Hollywood Producers turned amateur winemakers. Winemakers here are mostly locals...and many of them are making wine out of their garage. There's a cooperative spirit among winemakers here...if someone has a wine-making problem, the other vintners pitch in to help. They have a place here called the "Incubators"...small wine-making facilities that beginning winemakers can rent at a reasonable price while they perfect their techniques and ramp up production.
I don't know who creates these "polls", but Walla Walla was recently voted "Friendliest Town in America" The people here deserve that distinction. It's a small-town atmosphere with great wine and great restaurants. It's very much a "foodie" town...not just restaurants, but bakeries, artisan cured meat shops, gourmet coffee, etc. And the wines...Wow...I can't say enough about the wines. In two visits here and stops at, probably, thirty different wineries, I can state without hesitation that I've never tasted a wine here that wasn't outstanding. They're big, grapey, fruit-forward monsters of wine.
So...all that being can probably guess what kind of day I had today.
I was up early and preparing to make coffee when I discovered that I had lost the filter basket to my coffee must have fallen out of the back of the Explorer somewhere along the way. Fortunately, I have a backup option...heat water on the Coleman stove and make coffee in the French press, after a brief delay, I'm in business. Breakfast consists of last night's leftover charcuterie...salamis, prosciutto, cheese and baguette slices...good!
It's a leisurely morning to post on the blog...shower and change clothes...and plan out my day of wine tasting. When last here in the fall of 2008, my friend, Shannon, and I met a young winemaker by the name of Spencer Seiver...he took us on a tour of the cellars at Reininger Winery which included some tastings right out of the barrel. Spencer's still in Walla Walla...and now he has his own winery, El Corazon. That's my first stop around noon, but the tasting room doesn't open until 2:00PM, so I'll have to come back.
In the meantime, I head over to Tacqueria Yungapeti which has been highly recommended by several bartenders and bar patrons. When I arrive, I can see why it's been recommended...there's a line out the door and the place is packed. The tacos here are simple and very's not the cheesey, fat-laden "glop" that we're used to back in Michigan. Iget three Pastor (which is like a Mexican "Schwarma"), carnitas and chorizo with egg...and...they have Coca-Cola from Mexico that's made with real cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. It's a hearty and very satisfying lunch.
There is a "cluster" of wineries outside of town, near the I head over there. I stop and taste at five different wineries...Buty, Syzygy, 5 Star, Dunham and Walla Walla Vintners. I taste the whole gamut...Cabs, Merlots, Syrahs, Petit Verdots, Cabernet Francs, Carmeneres...and every single one is a knock-out...big, fruity, deep, luscious wines that you want to just gulp down. The winemakers are friendly, and eager to explain why the soils and climate here are perfect for wine growing. It gets pretty hot inside the Explorer, so I don't want to be buying a lot of "high-end" stuff...just a few bottles of entry-level table wine. When all is said and done, I end up with ten bottles and five ball caps...two of which were gratis.
Around 3:00PM, I'm back at El Corazon's tasting room, and I have an opportunity to spend an hour tasting and talking with my friend, Spencer. Spencer doesn't have many wines for sale...and that's good for him. His first two bottlings of six different wines sold out in a day...very impressive. But he's able to find a few good bottles tucked away in the back. One of these is his "Pistolero Cuvee"...he and another winemaker selected their best barrel of Syrah and blended them...a great example of the cooperative spirit here.
I'm back at camp around 5:00PM for some camping "housekeeping"...clean out and re-ice the coolers, get rid of some trash, reorganize things in the back of the Explorer (I've got to make room for all of that wine that I bought today).
Around 6:00PM, I'm on the bus for town and dinner at a place called "Whitehouse-Crawford" which comes highly recommended. I'm lucky to get a seat on a busy Friday night at the counter looking into the kitchen. The wines by the glass list is extensive...and I have a few glasses of the excellent Seven Hills Cab. For an appetizer, I have a warm salad of asparagus with truffle butter and a poached duck goes great with the Cab. My only complaint is that I'm not getting any truffle flavor as advertised. For the main course, I get a grilled rib eye with a porcini mushroom sauce...good, but not great...lots of fat and gristle in the meat. A scoop of chocolate and a scoop of salted caramel ice cream close things out. When I head out the door, it's pouring rain. So...I am forced to go back inside to the bar and drink more Cab while chatting up a few folks from Seattle.
After an hour or so, the rain stops and I head up to the bar at the Marc Hotel...very nice. More great wines by the glass...friendly barkeep and nice patrons.
Around 11:00PM, it's a taxi back to camp and bedtime...the end of a great, great day.

Friday, June 22, 2012

"The Way West"...Day 9...Thursday, June 21, 2012

Even after a late night, I'm still up at 6:00Am...a quick bottle of 5 Hour Energy and two cups of coffee...and I'm on the road.
I've really been looking forward to today's drive...especially the 100 miles or so stretch along the Clearwater River in Idaho.
But first, I've got to travel the 200 miles or so from Bozeman to Missoula...then a very narrow, twisting road through the mountains, up over Lolo Pass and down into Idaho. Then it's my second trip over U.S. 12 along the Clearwater River, through the Clearwater National Forest along the Lewis & Clark Trail. It's a beautiful drive with lots of curves and great views of the river. It's the very same river down which the Lewis & Clark expedition canoed in the fall of 1805. Another interesting fact about U.S. starts on the coast of Washington and has as it's eastern terminus the city of...Detroit (where we know it as Michigan Avenue).
Around noon, I'm out of the Clearwater National Forest and into a section of land, straddling Washington and Idaho, known as the "Palouse"...notable for it's large rolling hills and fertile soil.
The rest of the drive goes through arid, high desert country into Walla Walla. When most people think of the State of Washington, they think of the waters of the Seattle area and the lush forests along the coast. But all of that is on the western side of the Cascade Mountains Range. Once you cross over the mountains to the eastern side, it's mostly high desert...and about 2/3 of Washington is like that. The reason for this is that warm moist air from the ocean hits those mountains and is pushed up. This cools the air and causes rain to fall on the western side. This produces the lush rain forests, but leaves little rain for the eastern side of the mountains.
A little after 3:30PM, I'm in the city of Walla Walla and setting up camp at the Four Seasons RV Park. Somewhere along the drive, I've crossed into the Pacific Time Zone and picked up an hour.
Right across from the RV Park, there's a bus stop with buses running every thirty minutes to downtown...the fare is only 50 cents. At around 5:00PM, I'm sitting in the Vintage Wine Bar enjoying a few glasses of excellent local Cabernet from Woodward Canyon Estates. Regrettably, the best restaurant from my last visit, 26 Brix, has closed. So...instead I head for Brasserie Four for French cuisine. Onion

soup, a great Caesar salad and a massive charcuterie plate are all washed down with several glasses of another local Cab from Seven Hills Vineyard. After dinner, I've still got a little room for dessert, so I head for Colville Street Patisserie and a few scoops (Earl Grey Tea and Chocolate) gelato. A few more hours of barhopping...some excellent locally-brewed Pilsener back to camp.
Tomorrow, I've got a full day of wine tasting...and a chance to hook up again with my friend, Spencer, who is now running his own winery, El Corazon Vineyards...should be great fun.

"The Way West"...Day 8...Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Another fun night in Medora, but I call it an early evening...400 mile drive to Bozeman coming up tomorrow.
I'm up before sunrise and on the road to Bozeman. This will be my third visit to Bozeman. I like this atmosphere (Montana State University), friendly people, good restaurants and a great Eagles Club.
It's a nice drive...all Interstate, overcast (but no rain) and lots of mountain ranges.
A little after 2:00PM, I'm in town and checking in at the local KOA campground. I've got time to check email, post to the blog and shower before heading downtown by cab. My first stop is "Plonk", the wine bar...friendly staff and lots of wine to choose from. All I've had to eat today is some potato chips and a package of peanut crackers, so I'm pretty hungry. Looie's Downunder has the best steaks in town, so I head over there for a salad with real homemade Green Goddess dressing, a 10 oz. filet with Gorgonzola mashed potatoes and several glasses of red wine.
After dinner, I head over to the Eagles Club. On my last visit here, in 2009, I met these two guys...Ken and Rob...who made it a point to introduce me to everyone at the Club...I really felt at home and had a great time. Alas, both Rob and Ken are not in on this evening. I do, however, make new friends in Arlene and Mike...who buy a few rounds of 16 oz. Bud drafts at $1.50 each. Once again, I feel at home here...and linger until close to midnight.
A cab back to camp, and I'm asleep within minutes.