A Stop in Missoula

This year we took more time on the drive to and from eastern Montana.

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On the way home, we stopped to visit friends in Missoula. What a pleasant surprise this city held for us.

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Our friends gave us the tour of their old established neighbourhood near the hospital and the university. It was like a trip back in time. Mature trees lined the streets where houses of a certain age stood, proudly declaring their old-style designs.

It was already cold enough to keep us walking briskly in order to stay warm. We asked what happens to all the leaves – there were so many  with nowhere for them to go.

Apparently there is a day set aside when there is no parking allowed on these streets to permit the machine to come through and sweep up the leaves and take them away.

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The old style of houses and the mature trees along the street reminded me of long ago days when I walked home from school along a street just like this.

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It has been a refreshing break to visit civilized Missoula, but the sky is telling us it’s time to move on before the clouds release those snowflakes they’re holding. Snow would be pretty to look at but I’d rather not drive in it, and there was no doubt it was coming.

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On the Road

A bit of fog can add a beautiful touch to a scene, but …DSCN2727it can add a touch of tension if the fog is in the wrong place at the wrong time, refracting too much light straight into the driver’s eyes.

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A snow fence is a reminder that out here, the winters can be harsh. This special fence is meant to slow down (not “catch”) the blowing snow. The wind slows as it goes through the slats, causing the snow to drop just beyond the fence, rather than piling up against it. The snow fence helps keep the snow from blowing across the highway, thus diminishing the hazardous winter driving conditions.

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Nearing the summit of Lookout Pass in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains of the Bitterroot Range, it was chilly with snowflakes trying to stick to the road. At Exit 0, which is near the summit, we pass from Montana into Idaho and have to set our clocks back. Aren’t we lucky to be given an extra hour?

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Idaho, here we come.

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But it’s downhill on a wet, possibly icy, winding road dragging a trailer through sleet and fog. Will we end up driving over the edge? I left my claw marks in the door’s arm rest.

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Later, driving through Snoqualmie Pass in Washington, it’s a few degrees warmer, but the driving conditions still brought out the driver’s white knuckles gripping the steering wheel.??????????

Surprisingly, it was sunny on the coast. Driving along I-5 through Seattle was pleasant, if you didn’t mind the bumper to bumper traffic in many lanes. We didn’t care about that. By this time, we had that “horse to the barn” feeling, and the truck and trailer went ever faster and faster.

??????????A ferry ride from the city of Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, and we were almost home. The short drive up island seemed to take forever. At last we arrived. Even after a wonderful holiday, it was a beautiful feeling to drive down our own driveway once again.

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Trees and Trains

While travelling in Montana, one of the sounds we heard that we were not used to, was the rumble of the trains going by about every half hour.

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I’m guessing this one was carrying some kind of oil but we saw all sorts of things being transported by train – grain, coal, and even what looked like the shells of jet airplanes

??????????At first when trains went by at night in the distance, I wondered who had turned on the trailer furnace. The muted rumbling had a similar growl. But we soon got used to it. When you think about it, it makes more sense to move huge amounts of freight by train than by truck.

I wanted to post a few photos of Montana that I thought were pretty, and of course they will be of trees, grasses, and skies.

Crabapple trees near Fort Peck.

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A Russian olive tree.

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A lovely tree-lined driveway.

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Can you hear the soft swishing of the grasses in the wind?

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An undecided sky.

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Mysteries

My friends and I were out mushroom picking, looking for chanterelles in a new area. We found a few and were happily tromping through the woods when we came across other things of interest.  012

I found the remains of what I assume was a small deer. Who knows what it died of? Could have been a cougar, wolf, or bear, but the bones were lying there almost tidily. Maybe it just ate a bad mushroom, got a tummy ache and died on the spot.011

One of our party, found the remains of a much larger deer, and again, we have a mystery.

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How did the antlers get stuck in this stump? Was this buck trying to rub the velvet off his antlers when he got stuck in the stump? Seems to me it would take more force to bury his tines so deeply that he couldn’t get out. Maybe this buck was fighting with another over the girl of his dreams and the dream turned into a nightmare when he got stuck in the tree stump forever. What an awful death he must have had. Good old Mother Nature! (I told you in another post I don’t think much of “Mother Nature.” If ever there was a misnomer!)

Stumped - antlersMy first reaction was to ask my friend if she pulled out the antlers and brought them along for a souvenir. She said, “No, I felt that it wouldn’t be right to disturb the scene. That deer died there….” And of course, then I could see it her way and I felt ashamed to have had such a low and selfish thought. The antlers are still there, as far as I know.

OR – Maybe someone stuck the antlers there....

THEN, the weirdest thing happened. The three of us (we called ourselves “The Three Mushketeers,” just like the ones in my novel “The Wind Weeps,”) each saw a lake way down at the bottom of a drop-off. Nothing weird about that, except there was no lake in this area, that I knew of, and I wasn’t aware of such a cliff in the immediate area. I approached carefully, not wanting to slip over the edge. The other two “mushketeers” also discussed what lake that could possibly be below the cliff.

See the drop-off just beyond the stump in the foreground?013

Turns out it was a pond so still that not the slightest ripple gave it away. We all thought we were looking at faraway sky through the trees and a lake at the bottom. A real optical illusion.

Soon it was time to head for home. If my eyes had telescopic powers, I could have seen my house on the tiny point of land sticking out into the ocean below.017

A Crack in the Dam

On our way home from Montana, we usually take I-90 West from Spokane to Seattle and then follow I-5 north to the Canada-US border. 136 miles east of Seattle we stay at a very nice campsite on the Columbia River at Wanapum State Park.

It’s a lovely bit of greenspace in an otherwise dry scrubland. Approaching on I-90 from the east, we turn left for the state park, while to the right is a very neglected private campsite, picturesque but in disrepair.

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This year when we stopped at the state park, we had a surprise. We had no idea that the dam that is just to the south of the park on the Columbia River had a crack in it and Wanapum State Park had been closed since April of this year.

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See the dam on the far right, above? Click on the link to read the news story of the crack in the dam. Click on the follow up story here.

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The  photo above was taken in 2013.  The potential power behind this weight of water is mind-boggling.

This year’s photo below shows a much lower water level. The lower level was meant to take pressure off the 2-inch crack that ran along the dam for 65 feet.

Apparently, the release of pressure helped the crack to come together again and repairs are being made. Meanwhile, for the safety of the boating and camping public, the state park and access to the boat launching areas had to be closed.

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It was quite a shock to see the Columbia River so low here. A lot of shoreline that I had never seen before, was exposed.

We hope the repairs will be done as expected by next fall. We look forward to staying at this little oasis again.

Drive-by Shootings

The holiday is nearly over and it’s time to drag our little home on wheels back to the rainy west coast. Most of the photos on the way home were taken from inside the truck, so they will be a bit blurry but I couldn’t resist trying for some of the beautiful scenery that passed us by. So prepare for a few drive-by shootings.DSCN2697This photo (below) was nothing special but I love the way the blurriness caused by the moving truck made the picture look more like a painting.

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I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, “One day I want to drive through here without dragging a trailer, so I can stop anywhere and get out to take a good photo.” But then, the logistics would all change and in the end, it just wouldn’t work.

These rocky hills have the most fascinating formations. If I had very high and durable leather rattlesnake-proof boots, I’d love to clamber around on the hills and explore them up close. I’d take a bottle of Benedryl (in case of snakebite) and a cell phone just in case (not that there would likely be cell phone coverage). ??????????

And next time I’ll bring my fly rod. The rivers in Montana are so beautiful. I don’t know how many times we passed over the Clark Fork where it goes under the highway, but it gets more picturesque each time. There is a lot of drift boat fishing on the Clark Fork and the Missouri. I bet that would be loads of fun.??????????

Here is one of many spots that looks inviting for a bit of fishing if you’re camping your way through the state.

??????????It’s hard to drive by without stopping every ten minutes for another photo, and even harder to find a place to stop with a trailer in tow, if you really wanted to get that photo.  But at least I got a few shots as we whizzed past all the beautiful scenery in Montana. This is only the eastern and middle part. There is so much more I haven’t even seen yet. Adventure awaits.

 

Roughing it in Montana

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When we’re away camping in our trailer, I want to retain at least a few of the comforts of home. Staying warm is one of my big priorities. Our friends kindly let us park our rig at their house and one evening we had a camping style supper together.

In October, days in Montana can still be very warm, making me forget that summer is over. But as soon as the sun goes down, there’s a definite chill in the air.

We put our dogs in their kennels and pulled them closer to the fire. Notice the very smart, impromptu bonfire set up by our Montana hosts. The propane tank is definitely American. It’s BIG!

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We were all thankful for the warmth this little bonfire threw, especially one of the residents’ dogs. The picture is blurry, probably because the dog was shivering, but she was warming an important  part of her body.

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We were going out to hunt pheasants the next day, but we were somewhat handicapped. Ruby had a cut, still healing, on her shoulder, and she had something in her toes that was causing her a lot of pain, so we would be limited to using her only in emergency situations, like finding a lost bird. The bulk of the work would be done by our new addition, six-month-old Emma.

Emma had learned what a pheasant was only a few days earlier. We showed her a picture to remind her of what we were after.

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She bounced around the fields with great enthusiasm and actually put up a lot of birds. She very quickly figured out what to do. Amazing what genetic markers will do.

Back home in the trailer, she was tired and happy, if not too sophisticated with one ear flopped over her head, seeds in her eyes, and a feather stuck to her mouth. But she showed a huge amount of promise.

??????????She was a dynamo this year. She’ll be dynamite next year.