More than Just Potatoes

Original Post: September 8, 2015

There came a point in our trip when we knew it would be time to turn around and head back home.  Crater Lake didn’t really count (even though we’d changed directions), as it was still an amazing destination that I’d planned as part of the itinerary.

Idaho, however, was…well…


Before leaving for the trip, I’d asked a few friends who lived out west whether it was better to travel northern Idaho or southern.  We needed to get to Yellowstone and I wanted to do it as quickly as possible, but what’s a few extra hours on the road if the scenery is nice, right?  So we added an extra hour and a half and took the northern route as recommended.  Why?  Because it was pretty. 

Or so I was told.

As I’m really not being very fair to Idaho, I should probably clarify.  Northern Idaho is beautiful.  (I’d been told the southern route was all desert, and we’d really seen quite enough of that.)  Eastern Oregon and Washington, however, are not.  Having seen the west coast of Oregon on a past trip, I pictured all of Oregon to be full of the amazingly green, incredibly dark piney forests that make western Oregon such a draw to nature lovers and neohippies everywhere. 

In fact, I couldn’t have been more wrong.  After the mountains faded into the distance, eastern Oregon looks the way I expected Kansas to look. (For the record, I was wrong there, too.  Kansas is not grain.  Kansas is corn.  Oregon is grain.  Lots of it.)  And eastern Washington is very much the same.

Okay, so this part was pretty amazing.  Mountains, horses, and beautiful blue skies, and miles and miles of road to travel.

But this part?

On film, stunning.  In reality, breathtaking.  

For an hour or so.  

Hours upon hours?  Not so much.

Oh, come on. You knew we had to stop.

By the time we reached our cabin in Coeur d’Alene, I was very much contemplating the wisdom of my decision to travel northern Idaho, but Coeur d’Alene itself, particularly the lake, is beautiful.  Our first stop in Idaho, naturally, was this –>

You can take the boy out of Cabela’s (in Hamburg), but you can’t take Cabela’s out of the boy…hence why we ended up in Cabela’s (in Coeur d’Alene).

A few dehydrated meals later, we were back on our way and reached the Osprey Perch Cabin at the Wolf Lodge Campground within a half hour.  Nestled against the back of a mountain, it was a positively charming little A-frame…even if it did slant uphill and made me feel as though I was a little tipsy.  Seriously, It’s odd the way a slight incline outdoors does nothing to your equilibrium, but the same slant inside is downright disturbing. Still, it didn’t detract from the charm.

We finally had a slow evening to ourselves, so we headed to Lake Coeur d’Alene for Nate to try his hand at fishing.  I sat with camera at the ready, hoping to capture a bald eagle or two in the area, but to no avail.  However, I did manage to capture a spectacular sunset!

Lake Coeur D’Alene

Back at the cabin, we ate another dehydrated meal, shared a couple of mugs of hot tea and enjoyed the stars as they begin to dot the sky.  At least until the mosquitoes showed up.  Then it was inside and time for fun on the computer.  We actually had a few hours to load photos and view them.  Throughout the trip, I would try to download photos to my laptop every few days, but now I finally had time to look at them.  (Imagine that!)

In the end, I was glad we took the northern Idaho route instead of southern, but those 9 hours in eastern Oregon and Washington was quite the test.  A test of patience, a test of willpower, or a test of sanity – I’m not sure.  But it was a test.

But I did discover that there was more to Idaho than just potatoes.

Come to think of it, I didn’t see a single potato.  Maybe I should write the Idaho bureau of tourism.

No eagles, but plenty of osprey.

Let the Real Vacation Begin

Original Post: July 19, 2015

It wasn’t as though we weren’t already on vacation, but somehow it just didn’t feel like it when we were visiting someplace we’d seen before.

Day two was the start of the real excitement for me, and the beginning of the “real” vacation.  I couldn’t wait to see the miles we’d cover and all of the things we’d see.

As it turned out, the things we would see were generally limited to this:

And this:

And this:

Okay, so we basically passed farm after farm.  The pastoral land was beautiful (though nothing new to those of us who live in Pennsylvania), but the overcast skies were a bit of a downer. 

When we finally neared St. Louis, my excitement began to rise despite the clouds that threatened to suffocate us.  The famed Arch is The Gateway to the West and though it’s a manmade landmark, the sight of it rising above the mighty Mississippi River was highly anticipated.

We’re here! We’re really here!

The Jefferson National Expansion Monument (as the pamphlets proclaim this to actually be) has a history far longer than I want to delve into. (Or than you actually want to read, I’m sure.  If you really wanted to read about it, you’d be Googling that right now and not reading a travel blog…)  According to the pamphlet, “The Gateway Arch is a memorial site where you can contemplate the epic mass-migration and settlement of the American West during the 1800s.  Thomas Jefferson estimated that it might take 1,000 generations for Americans to fully extend across the vast continent.  Instead, in fewer than 90 years what Americans called the frontier had ended.”

Oddly enough, it wasn’t here that I really contemplated the westward movement of settlers through the country, which is sort of ironic since it’s the entire reason the monument exists. For me, that speculation would come later.

After we arrived at the hotel (with a fabulous view of the Arch right from our room), we went straight to the Arch to arrange a ride to the top on the tram.  “Are you claustrophobic?” the ticket agent asked us.  “Do you have a fear of heights?” she said.  Hmmm. I wasn’t either of these, but it’s amazing how quickly you reconsider things when asked questions like these.

The next open tram ride was scheduled for 6:25 pm and it was only 3.  Wait, what?  3?  Oh!  We passed through a time zone and didn’t even know it.  Sweet way to gain an hour in the day.  And what did we do with it?  Napped.  Yep.

When we finally did head to the Arch for our tram ride, we quickly discovered that we could have stayed in the hotel an extra hour.  One of the two trams was closed and the line for the other was looped through the lobby multiple times.  We sorely regretted not having stopped for dinner first.

We finally made it to the waiting area for the tram and watched as a couple of teenage girls balked last minute as soon as they saw what they’d be riding in.  What did it look like?  Like this:

It was a bit cozy to say the least.  A 4-minute ride 630 ft to the top and then we were able to appreciate 360 degrees of spectacular views.  If you ever have the chance to do it (and you’re not claustrophobic or afraid of heights), take the ride!  It’s worth it.

This guy looks awfully relaxed. Oh, that’s right. German chocolate cake martini.

Off to a fabulous dinner at Carmine’s Steakhouse with my dinner date, who got himself pretty loopy on a German chocolate cake martini while waiting for dinner to be served.

Excellent food, excellent company, and then we were on our way back to the Arch for some evening photos.  I’m glad we ventured out again, tired though we were, because that’s when we got the most spectacular shots.

I know, I know.  How many photos can one person take of a big metal manmade structure?  If I count all of the ones I deleted, I think probably 284, but no one’s really counting.  It seemed that every time I was finished taking photos and we were ready to retire for the night, I’d look back and see another angle or different lighting that made me want to try all over again.

It was a great “real” first evening of our vacation and I went to bed that night looking forward to traveling into new territory, places I’d never seen and would soon have the chance to photograph!  Bring on Day 3!