Friday, June 21, 2013

Whirlwind Tour

Home sweet vacation rental
On June 15 we checked out of the campground at America's Mailbox and drove back west along the I-90, getting off at Sturgis and driving to Deadwood, where we picked up US Highway 85 South. This took us through the towns of Deadwood and Lead. About 4 miles south of Lead is the turnoff to our vacation rental. We parked the motorhome in the driveway, used the combination to the lock box on the porch to obtain the key and went inside our new house for the first time. It is a log home with a large pine beams holding up the vaulted ceiling. There are five bedrooms which will each hold a queen sized bed and there is a foldout couch in the downstairs recreation room. The previous owner advertised it as sleeping 17, but a fair number of those people would have to enjoy the hardwood floors. We think 10 or 12 is a more reasonable number and then only if at least a couple of them are children. We went upstairs and downstairs, wandering from room to room debating the wisdom of our purchase. In the end, we decided we had probably done okay.

About the time we came to this conclusion, Lyle and Linda drove up, having gotten directions from us earlier in the morning. We dragged them through to look at all the rooms and tell us how wonderful it all was (I believe their commentary consisted of "Meh"). They would have loved to linger but they only had a couple of days in the Black Hills and Linda had carefully scheduled out a weeks worth of sightseeing, so we locked the house back up again and hit the road. First we stopped at a local biker bar for lunch where we had good beer and overcooked hamburgers, then we drove back up into Deadwood. It turned out that this weekend was designated as "Wild Bill Days" which they celebrate annually to commemorate the fact that Wild Bill Hickok came and lived in Deadwood for an entire couple of months before getting himself shot in the back of the head. The main effect of Wild Bill Days is that you aren't allowed to drive down Main Street and there is no parking to be had near the downtown area.

The Adams House.  Lurch answered the door.
Actually, we did finally find  some parking which cost Lyle an entire dollar which he groused about for the rest of the day. We decided to avoid the downtown festivities and instead went across the main highway to the Adams house where we took the 40 min. tour. It is a quite nice three-story mansion originally built in the 1880s by the Franklin family. It was purchased by William Adams in 1920. William figured out that you could make a lot more money selling to miners than you could being one and made a fortune in the grocery business among other things. After his wife and two daughters died he courted and married his second wife, Mary. This caused some consternation in Deadwood since he was 73 and she was only 29 and what's worse, she was from Lead for heaven's sake!  Anyway, William died of a stroke seven years later leaving Mary the house and $40,000. This was a significant fortune at the time but she shrewdly invested the money in Walt Disney and IBM stocks and eventually became a millionairess. She locked up the house in Deadwood and moved to California leaving everything untouched for 50 years. After her death the house eventually went to the city of Deadwood and was carefully restored to the tune of 1.5 million dollars. All of the furnishings are just as they were when she lived there in the 1930s.

After the tour, we drove up to the Mt. Moriah Cemetery where notable characters like wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried. It has apparently gotten a facelift along with the rest of the town and many of the old tombstones had been replaced, which upset Vicki who was hoping it would look like Boot Hill in Tombstone, Arizona. Instead, it looked more like Forest Lawn.

The following day we drove around the Black Hills in Linda's Outback. It seems a shame to own a car called the Outback and only drive it on pavement, so we spent a good portion of the day on gravel roads. First we drove down Rochford Road which runs close to our rental cabin. When you reach the tiny town of Rochford the road goes on but the asphalt does not. The unpaved road winds through the backwoods of the Black Hills following closely to the Michelson Trail which is a hiking/biking/snowmobile trail built along the bed of an old railway route. It was a gorgeous drive and the gravel road was at least well maintained. This took us down to Hill City where we got our pavement back. We drove down to Custer and then went in the west entrance to Custer State Park. Linda wanted to see some bison.

Bisonettes napping and snacking
There is a "wildlife loop" through the park which is a two-lane paved road but there are also half a dozen dirt roads that crisscross the park and we took off on one of these. After driving around a bit, we came across a modest sized herd of bison, maybe 60-70 head, of which about a third were bisonettes (or whatever it is you call bison babies). These are quite a bit lighter in color than their woolly parents and don't look that much different from regular calves.  A group of tourists had congregated along the edge of the road and the bison had decided to retreat up the side of the nearest hill offering us perfect pictures of bison butts. Fortunately, a couple of miles further along we ran into another, smaller group that did not seem to mind posing for photographs.

With Linda's bison appetite quenched, we took the drive along the Needles Highway. The Needles are a set of granite spires which were the first site contemplated for some presidential sculptures,
Lyle and Linda posing gracefully before the Needles
however the granite was not of particularly good quality (which is why they erode the weird way they do) so the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, selected Mt. Rushmore, a few miles to the northeast. The Needles Highway winds its way right through some of the rock spires and includes a couple of one lane, very narrow tunnels through the rock where you just hope the cars at the other end are going to wait for you to come through.  Finally, the highway goes by Sylvan Lake which has a particularly nice granite backdrop that makes it one of the most photographed vistas in the Black Hills.

Sylvan Lake
The next morning, Lyle and Linda headed back for Whidbey Island while Vicki and I stayed parked in the driveway our new house to await the Bekins truck containing all of our worldly belongings.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Becoming South Dakotans

From little Bighorn we followed I-90 down to Gillette, Wyoming. We pulled up in front of the office of the crazy woman RV campground and Vicki opened the door to get out sign us in. Normally that would cause the outside steps to extend so you can climb down. Not this time. The steps were not moving. Since the first inside step is about 3 feet off the ground, this presented a slight problem. Vicki slid down on her butt and managed to reach the ground in one piece. We registered and drove to the camping spot and discovered that it sloped down towards the front. By the time we had leveled out the motorhome, that front end was another eight or 10 inches off the ground, so once you got out of the motorhome by whatever means, you were looking at a 4 foot leap to get back in. It may surprise some of you to hear that I don't really jump 4 feet straight up all that well anymore. We ended up moving the picnic table in front of the door with one bench actually underneath the motorhome. We would then climb up onto the opposite bench, onto the tabletop and into the motorhome from there. Less than ideal, but it worked.

That evening we decided to eat at the local chophouse where our waitress informed us that the National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area. That meant high winds and potentially hail the size of half dollars. This was not happy news. There's no garage you can hide your motorhome in when hail starts coming down. While we ate our dinner I was googling "severe thunderstorm warning" and the information I found there was not particularly reassuring. The National Weather Service sites said the warning was in effect until eight o'clock. When we finish our dinner and went back to the motorhome it was about seven. The wind started picking up, whipping around the small awnings over our slide outs. About 7:40 it started raining to beat the band. Rain in a motorhome can create a whale of a lot of noise and make you pretty nervous. This is exacerbated when all you can think about is the effect on your rooftop air-conditioners and satellite dome of being pelted by 2 inch ice balls. By 8:15, the rain had stopped and the wind was slowing down and by nine it was essentially all over. No hail, no damage done. We lived to fight another day.

The next day we drove to Rapid City. We had several jobs we had to get done over the next two weeks. The first was to get the stupid step fixed.  Our mail forwarding service is "America's Mailbox" located in Box Elder, just outside of Rapid City. They were able to get us in contact with another roadside mechanic service similar to the fellow who help us out Eugene a couple of weeks back. He couldn't see us that first evening but made an appointment to come out and troubleshoot the steps following day. In the meantime we got out a small step ladder to climb up and down on, causing our neighbors to point and laugh at us. It's rated for about 250 pounds which I clearly exceed, so I was a little nervous but it did not collapse under me. The following morning we went to a local branch of Wells Fargo and set up local bank accounts, primarily to try to convince the state of California that we are really gone. Then we went back to the motorhome to wait for Mr. Fix-it. It turned out he had a job to do on a motorhome two spaces down from ours and when he finished that he came over to examine our steps. He crawled underneath and poked around, said he found a loose wire but fixing that did not make the steps work. He then went to his truck and came back with a hammer. He climbed underneath and (I swear I am not making this up) smacked the step motor with it right sharp. That did not solve the problem so he smacked it harder. And lo and behold, the steps started working again. I looked it up on the Internet, and apparently this is a fairly common solution to this particular problem. Who would have guessed?

Our next job was to obtain South Dakota identification in the form of drivers licenses. It turns out that in addition to handling our mail, America's Mailbox helps RVers go through the process of becoming South Dakotans. They have a small campground behind their office where we stayed for three days. The receipt proved that we had "lived" in South Dakota for at least one day, which is apparently all that is required. With this in hand, we chugged off to the Department of Motor Vehicles. In California, you would have had to call the DMV and make an appointment three weeks in advance. In order to cut costs, they're only open four days a week and even with an appointment you can plan to wait in line for pretty much an entire afternoon. We walked into the DMV in Rapid City with fear and trepidation but no appointment. We filled out the drivers license request form and waited for about 7 or 8 min. to be called. We showed them our California licenses which they kept, our passports which they returned to us and our receipt from the campground.  We got our pictures taken and they printed the licenses and handed them to us on the spot. Minimal waiting, no driving test, no written test, no demonstration of even passing familiarity with the South Dakota traffic code.  Just hand over your California license and bingo, you are a citizen of South Dakota. Couldn't be easier unless they came to your motorhome and did it at your dinette table. I am starting to like this place.

It is somewhat more problematic to register vehicles, which had to be done at the county government building. We were told that we could expect to wait for 3-4 hours to get that done. The good news was that for $30 we could sign a power of attorney for America's Mailbox and they would go to the County building and wait the three or four hours in our stead. It's less of a big deal for them since they do a dozen of these almost every day and only have to do the waiting once. So we smiled broadly, handed them our $30 and the registration fee (which is about a third of what they charge in California) and went on our merry way. This freed up an afternoon for sightseeing, so we drove through Spearfish Canyon and saw Bridal Veil Falls yet again. You will recall that we first saw it in Yosemite National Park, then ran into it again along the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon. We're beginning to suspect that it is following us because it appeared again in Spearfish Canyon, although it certainly was greatly diminished from its Yosemite glory days. I suspect we will probably see it again in Michigan but it will be such a pathetic trickle that it will hardly be worth looking at.

My brother Lyle and his wife wanted to see our rental house in Lead, South Dakota, so they were driving across the country a few days behind us. We expected to have dinner with them on 14 June but they didn't turn their cell phones on, so we couldn't arrange to get together. When we hadn't heard from them by 7:30, Vicki and I decided to have dinner at the Guadalajara restaurant, reputed to be the best Mexican restaurant in South Dakota. It was, in fact, very good and we enjoyed our meal there before driving back to Rapid City. It turned out that Lyle and Linda had finally arrived in Spearfish and decided to go out for Mexican food as well. They probably walked in to the restaurant about 20 min. after we left - a near miss.

So no pictures with this entry, but we will remedy that in the next post when we finally meet up with Lyle and Linda again.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Little Bighorn

Period weaponry on display at the visitors center
On June 25, 1876, approximately 2000 Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne warriors camped along the western side of the Little Bighorn River confronted about 700 members of the United States 7th Cavalry under the command of Lieut. Col. George Armstrong Custer. 36 hours later, 261 of Custer's company where dead including 3 civilians and all 220 under his immediate command.  The Native American contingent did not keep such records and estimates of their fatalities range from as few as 32 to as many as 300. In the days following the battle, the 7th cavalry survivors buried their dead in shallow graves where they fell. The bodies of the officers were recovered and sent East to be reinterred by their families. Five years after the battle, the remains of the common soldiers were dug up and reburied in a mass grave topped by a white marble obelisk listing the names of the dead. Where each body was recovered, they erected a small headstone type marker to show where each soldier had fallen. These dot the landscape along the course of the battle, giving a poignant  reference to the visitor's imagination as he tries to visualize the events of that day so long ago.

The Little Bighorn Memorial
The marble memorial is at the top of Last Stand Hill where Custer and his dwindling contingent fell as a group. It is the near to the visitor center and is the first place most visitors go when they visit the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. We chose instead to drive by this and begin our visit where the battle started, nearly 5 miles away. There is another memorial at that end of the battlefield where Major Reno made his failed assault down the bluffs overlooking the Indian encampment. This is where the little white markers start. Some of them have individual names on them, but most of them are anonymous soldiers of the 7th cavalry. In more recent years, similar markers made out of red granite have been placed to memorialize some of the Native American casualties as well but there are only a few of these. As you drive along the road marking the course of the battle, information placards tell the story, but the white markers in ones and twos and small groups give a human aspect to the information.  The Park Service also runs an informational program where you dial-up a phone number that plays little 1-2 minute spiels based on number codes posted along the road outlining the course of the battle as you follow its progress over the hills, along with readings from contemporaneous sources.

Markers for Crow scouts in Maj. Reno's unit

Little Bighorn River from Custer's Ridge
I had seen a documentary on the Battle of Little Bighorn only about 6-8 months ago and so knew the general outline of events, but being there gives a much better feeling for what it must have been like. The television screen doesn't really give you a feel for the terrain and the distances involved. The area is so hilly that two moderate sized groups could easily be invisible to each other from 50 yards apart. Today it seems quite beautiful and serene. Most of the battlefield is currently under private ownership and is used for cattle and horse grazing.  Horses wander the area freely and had recently foaled... we saw a few mares with their young colts from the road.

Horses graze on the battlefield
A lone pronghorn watches us from Sharpshooter's Ridge
The battle was clearly a tactical victory for the Indian nations, but strategically it was the beginning of the end for their resistance to US encroachment. The outrage it kicked up forced Congress to authorize more troops and money to end what most Americans saw as an irritating obstruction to our God ordained westward expansion. Within a couple of years nearly all of the Native American participants in the battle had been herded back onto the reservations and the era of the "Indian Wars" was over. Sitting Bull escaped north to Canada but five years later he finally surrendered and went on to tour with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.

Markers on Last Stand Hill
 As we approached the visitors center again, I got out and surveyed Last Stand Hill. Just below the Monument there is a fenced area wherein I counted 52 of the small white headstone markers. Like all of the others that we had seen, these were pure white-- raised letters on a white marble background. Except for one, where the background had been painted black to make the letters stand out more starkly. This is it.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Stage Stop and Other Adventures

Ekstrom's Stage Stop
From Coeur d'Alene, we followed I-90 across the Idaho Panhandle and into Montana. This stretch took us into the Rocky Mountains and we ended just short of the great divide. We drove past Missoula about 20 miles to the little town of Clinton and then to a small RV Park called Ekstrom's Stage Stop. The Ekstrom family acquired several early settlers log cabins and part of an overland stage rest station, dismantled them log by log and reassembled them along the banks of Rock Creek. They marked the ends of each log with chalk coding so they would know how to put them back together. Unfortunately, after the cabins were disassembled some major thunderstorms rumbled through the area and washed away the chalk numbering, so reassembling the cabins became something of a 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Sadder but wiser, when it came time to move the stage station, a much larger building, they used oil based paint to mark the joints. They put in a large lawn area with RV connections for about 20 units and now the children of the original owners run a bakery/restaurant and small RV Park, renting out some of the reassembled cabins to people without RVs. Part of their gimmick is they have a "pioneer special" at the restaurant daily which is supposedly a recipe unchanged from the 19th century meals that would've been served in the original stage station. Vicki had the special of the day, listed as "German roast beef", which was basically sauerbraten and which she said was pretty good. I'm not a big sauerbraten fan so I had a steak which was kind of dry. Oh well, they did have a nice salad bar.

That first evening we took a drive up Rock Creek Road after dinner since the sun doesn't set until after nine o'clock. It was a nice drive up a narrow two-lane road for about 20 miles. At one point, we saw a group of critters in a fenced pasture that looked odd. We weren't sure if they were sheep or goats. "Wait a minute", I said "those look like the bighorn sheep we saw in South Dakota last year". We had never heard of anyone domesticating big horn sheep and thought it kind of odd. As we were discussing it, this beastie shows up coming down the sheer cliff face on our right, trots across the road right in front of us and jumps over the pasture fence like it is no obstruction whatsoever.

Sheep Crossing

Well, that explained it. Looking up the cliff face we saw another dozen or so big horns wandering around about 100 feet above us. We also saw a few deer in the valley, the males just beginning to grow the new set of antlers they will need when mating season arrives in the fall.
Up the side of the cliff

The next day we rested from our labors. I'm not sure which labors those were exactly, but rest we did.

Saturday we had reservations at what was supposed to be a really nice motorhome park in Big Timber and we wanted to have a little time to enjoy it, so we got up fairly early, had breakfast in the stage stop restaurant and then got packed up and on the road by 10 o'clock. Everything went peachy for about 25 miles, then the motorhome started vibrating ominously and I pulled off the side of the interstate to determine why. The right front tire was mostly flat. It still had some air in it but poking on the sidewall revealed that it had delaminated from the radial ply. It was not going to be fixable like the one in Eugene. Fortunately, we have AAA service for the motorhome. Unfortunately, we were out in the middle of nowhere. We called AAA, they took our information and said they would send somebody out from Missoula which was now about 50 miles to our rear. The next sizable town was Butte which was 100 miles to our front. It took about an hour for the tow truck guy to show up and assess the situation. He told us he could put air back in the tire and see if it would hold but after I had him poke on sickeningly soft sidewall he thought maybe that wasn't such a hot idea. He had a limit on how far they could tow us, so going to Butte wasn't really an option. He spent about a half-hour hooking us up to the tow truck, then another half hour detaching the drivetrain from the motorhome so he would not wreck the transmission by towing it. We had to go 15 miles forward to reach the next offramp, so we were 60 miles from Missoula when we finally turned around and headed back.

There was only one RV dealership in Missoula and they didn't have anybody working on Saturday except the salespeople who were useless to us, so he took us to a truck stop just the other side of Missoula. We were not the only poor buggers on their work list for the day so it took a while for them to get around to us. They said the tire would cost $600 plus $66 to mount and balance it. Not having a lot of options, we told them to go ahead and waited in the little café connected to the truck stop sipping soft drinks and muttering under our breath. About 30 min. later, the mechanic came in with the classic good-news-bad-news routine. The bad news was that they did not have a new tire in our size. Most truck tires have 70 mm high sidewalls. Our tires have 80 mm high sidewalls. If we put on a 70 mm tire it would run but it would not make very good contact with the ground, it would cause the opposite tire to wear heavily and we would have to spend another $1200 to replace two front tires in the near future. The good news was, he had an "almost new" 80 mm tire that should work fine. Some guy had pulled in about three years previously having recently experienced the same dilemma as us and had opted to put on a 70 mm tire. When it became clear to him that that was not going to work very well, he pulled into their place and had them take off his nearly new 80 mm tire and put another 70 mm on so that his front end would match. That 80 mm tire they took off of his rig had been sitting in their storage garage for three years just waiting for us to come along. And since they had gotten it for free, they would only charge us $250 for it. The alternative was to get a motel room and wait until Monday for somebody to ship them a new 80 mm tire from Butte (if there was one to be had in Butte, which was not guaranteed).

I went to look at the tire with significant reservations, however it appeared to be in good shape, no more worn than our other tires with a good half inch of tread depth and no other visible problems. It had been stored out of the sun and the elements, so supposedly should not have deteriorated significantly, so I told him to go-ahead and mount and balance it. It turned out to be a Michelin tire which was almost but not quite identical to the other five on our rig, has the same pressure rating and should be a good match. According to the tire guy, there was no puncture or foreign object in our tire. His guess was that the pressure monitors we had installed to warn us about potential flat tires had vibrated loose creating a leak which caused the flat tire. It seems like everything we add to this motorhome makes our lives more miserable. We need to stop doing any kind of upgrades. Anyway, it took them about 40 min. to mount the tire, then we filled the motorhome with their gasoline and got back on the road at about 4:30, seven hours after the tire failed.

We now had to think seriously about our reservations at the lovely motorhome park in Big Timber. At 60 mph the trip would take 4.5-5 hours. Our GPS system estimated we would arrive there at about 9:18. The office of the motorhome park in Big Timber closed at nine and they did not allow late arrivals. We had to make up some time. Our rule of thumb now is we are not in any hurry and we go almost everywhere at 60-65 miles an hour. The GPS estimate assumed we would be going 65. I set the automatic speed control at 70 and kept one eye on the arrival estimate on the GPS. Minute by minute, I saw our estimated time drop back towards nine o'clock. We were just about even, estimated arrival time at 9:05 and only 25 miles to go but we had a small problem. I had to pee. I mean I reeeally had to pee. I pulled off the side of the interstate and ran back to the half bathroom in the middle of the coach (have I ever mentioned here that we have a bath and a half? Posh.) After heaving a huge sigh of relief, I made my way back to the driver seat. We had lost 2 min. I pulled back onto the road and cranked that puppy up to 75 mph. We used to run the Bounder at 75 miles an hour quite a bit. We've almost never had this rig at that speed and we had a recently replaced tire on one rim, but everything ran smoothly and we made it to the motorhome park with nearly 2 min. to spare.

They were actually very nice about the whole thing and it was really an unbelievably nice RV park. They put us in a camping site literally right on the bank of the Boulder River. The spring thaw is on and the flow in the river was phenomenal. There must've been tens of thousands of gallons of water flowing past us every minute. When you came out of the bedroom into the living area, all you could see out of the driver's side windows was rushing water. It was very disorienting, giving you the feeling that you were floating down the river on some kind of barge. The campground had a community campfire every night which was just breaking up when we got there, but we sat by the fire and talked to the one remaining couple for about 15 min. while the dogs relieved themselves at our feet.

We decided we were not in a rush to get out the next morning. We lazed around until almost noon there at the riverside enjoying what we could of this fantastic camping spot. Then we packed up and got on the road heading for Hardin Montana and the Little Bighorn Battlefield.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Heart of an Awl

After leaving Portland, we spent two days in a lovely Army Corps of Engineers project called Hood Park, near Pascoe, WA. The only RV connection there was electricity, but for just two days that's okay. We just filled our freshwater tank on the way in and we were fine. We arrived on a Saturday and the campground was nearly full, but the Army Corps of engineers was not aiming for maximum profits when they designed the place so there was plenty of room between campsites. On Sunday, about two thirds of the occupants vacated, leaving behind the unemployed vagrants like ourselves. It is a really nice place for a two or three day stop over on the (relative) cheap.

Coeur d'Alene from across the lake
Monday we packed up and headed to Coeur d'Alene where we had a reservation at a nice, if somewhat overpriced commercial campground. Here we have full hookups which allows us to do laundry in our tiny onboard washing machine. The amount of money we save not spending $3.50 - $4.00 a load at a campground laundromat almost makes up for the extra 10 dollars a night. Sort of. Anyway, it's a nice place right along the banks of the Spokane River.

I had always thought the name "Coeur d'Alene" derived from some kind of Catholic "Sacred Heart" something or other, having no idea what d'Alene meant. It turns out that the translation from the French actually is "Heart of an Awl", which is what the early French fur traders called the local Indians. It apparently has something to do with the tough trade negotiations the natives practiced. I guess it makes sense somehow if you are French. Then again, eating snails makes sense if you are French. So much for our etymology lesson of the day.

  The day after we arrived, we started out with breakfast at Jimmy's Down the Street, a breakfast and lunch café we had seen on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. One of the featured items on the television show was their pecan roll, so we ordered one to split between us along with our regular breakfasts. The roll was the size of my head. Really good though. We each ate about a quarter of it and then boxed up the other half for later consumption. It made a good bedtime snack. Going to bed with a mouthful of sugar is always a really good idea. One of our unofficial goals in our travels is to eat at whatever Triple-D joints we run across.

Beautiful farmland
After breakfast, we headed down the east side of Lake Coeur d'Alene on Highway 97. It is a huge natural lake which extends for nearly 30 miles. The road does not really follow the contours of the lake very well, hence we ended up driving through a lot of open farmland interspersed with forest areas. It was all green and gorgeous, particularly to people who have lived in Redlands for the last 20 years and are easily impressed. I'm always on the lookout for decrepit barns and buildings, which Vicki doesn't really understand. But these are structures that someone put a fair amount of time and effort into, structures that had a purpose. Then, for whatever reason, the purpose went away and the buildings were left to the vagaries of entropy. I think the decay process makes for interesting photographs. I'm a dweeb.


We went south as far as the town of Harrison, which was named after Pres. William Henry Harrison in exchange for his allowing the town to steal a large chunk of Indian land. Land in those days was pretty cheap. Particularly if it belonged to Indians. We then got on state Highway 3 and headed back north again through more horse and cattle ranches, farms and forests. We got back to Interstate 90 near Old Mission State Park.

Cataldo Mission
The old mission is the Cataldo Mission, the oldest extant building in the state of Idaho. Back in the 1840s, the natives noticed that about half of their population was dying from measles and smallpox and their land was being invaded by white trappers with rifles that beat the heck out of spears and arrows. Obviously their tribal medicine men were not up to the task. They needed new medicine men. Preferably white medicine men. So they sent a delegation east to St. Louis where they had heard the white medicine men hung out. It turned out the Catholic Church was happy to oblige. A group of priests came back under the leadership of Father Pierre-Jean De Smet to save the natives. The Indians were happy although they kept dying of measles and smallpox and white encroachment didn't let up. They initially built a church in 1842 set in a lovely valley with lovely annual floods. After a few years of this, they wisely moved their house of worship to its present site on the top of a hill in 1846.
Interior with huckleberry ceilings
Father De Smet insisted that the church be built by the tribal people so that they would be more emotionally invested in it. It is of old-style wattle and daub construction with slats placed over 10 inch thick wooden beams. The interior decorations were all produced locally.  Father De Smet turned out to be something of a painter and produced a number of devotional pieces of art. They made chandeliers out of used tin cans. Two wooden statues were essentially whittled since knives were the only tools they had for the work. The ceilings were turned blue by mushing huckleberries into the wood. All things considered, it turned out to be a quite traditional appearing Catholic sanctuary. Next to it is a chapter house for the priests which was built about 30 years later. That is, after the first two chapter houses burned down. In those days, any building you cooked in apparently had a fairly limited life expectancy.

Mission and chapter house

The next day we decided to drive north toward Sandpoint up on Lake Pend Oreille, which is even larger than Lake Coeur d'Alene. There was a farmers market scheduled between 3:30 and 5:30 in the afternoon that Vicki want to go to, having read all about the wonders of fresh produce on the road.  We took US-95 up but about halfway we got bored and took off on a side road that ran to the Pend  
Entropy, part deux
Oreille River at Priest Creek. We then crossed the river and took US-2 along the opposite bank to Sandpoint. When we got to the farmers market we discovered that all of the farmers were selling shrubs and garden flowers. There was no edible greenery to be seen. So much for the wonders of fresh produce. We got back on the road and drove up to Bonners Ferry where we discovered, not entirely by accident, the Kootenai River Brewing Company. We went ahead and had a seven glass taster tray to figure out what seemed good. The answer, unfortunately was "not much". Almost all of the beers on their list were significantly more bitter than what I would have preferred. They even had an "award-winning" rye beer which had taken the bronze medal in some international competition.  Meh.  The best of the lot was the porter, but even it was not good enough to make us belly up for a full pint. We turned around and went back to Coeur d'Alene taking a short section of the old Highway 95 along Deer Creek, another beautiful drive but only about 10 miles worth. Next stop is Missoula and we will lose an hour to Mountain Time on the way.

End of the line

Monday, June 3, 2013

Columbia River Gorge

The last day of May was pleasantly cool and partly sunny, a nice day for sightseeing. We had plans to drive up the Columbia River Gorge with my brother Lyle and his wife Linda, ending up at Hood River where the Full Sail brewpub is located. Linda wanted to go an extra 50 miles up river to see the Maryhill Museum of Art, so we were looking at a total 225 mile round trip, a goodly day of driving. We knew we would have to get an early start so we got up early and hit the road at the crack of 10 o'clock. Hey, I'm retired.

Vista House
Our car is too packed full of stuff to carry four people. Lyle's car would've taken all of us but they did not want the schnoodles riding in their new Outback (and the schnoodles had similar reservations) so we took two vehicles with Lyle and Linda mostly in the lead. If you are in a hurry, you climb onto Interstate 84 and haul up river at 65 miles an hour, but we were there to see the sights, so we took the old highway 30 which parallels the interstate but runs generally higher up the wall of the gorge. Back in 1916, when the highway was completed, the engineer in charge of the project talked Multnomah County into putting up a viewing point at the top of a basalt outcropping known as Crown Point. The result was Vista House, a kind of art nouveau building with restrooms, an elevated observation deck and stunning views both up and down the Columbia River. We stopped there and snapped the mandatory photographs, enjoying the views and weather, then moved on.

Latourell Falls from the parking lot
Our next stop was Latourell Falls, about 2 1/2 miles east. There are half a dozen significant waterfalls along this road that draw the tourist crowd (like us). This particular example drops 224 feet straight down over a basalt cliff. There is a trail that takes you from the parking lot to the foot of the falls. My traveling companions took the trail down but since the grade appeared to be about 15% I decided that the view from the parking lot was nice enough and waited on the bench for their return. Okay, I'm a wuss, so sue me.

The next waterfall on the road was Bridal Veil Falls. You will recall that we had pictures of this waterfall in Yosemite a few weeks ago. They have apparently recently moved it to Oregon and in the process it got broken into two pieces. Very sad. Anyway, there was no view of the waterfall from the road. You had to take the trail to go see it. The trail started out easy enough but soon became quite a bit steeper and involved a lot of stairs. These were mostly going down on the way to the falls but every step down had to be retraced on the way back. I decided to go-ahead and brave this allegedly easy hike but my pace was so slow my companions quickly left me behind. My wife, Vicki, moved much faster than I did. My brother Lyle, who is much more elderly than I, took this trek with no problems.  My sister-in-law, who is only four feet tall, outpaced me by a mile on a trail that was only 2/3 of a mile long.  73-year-old ladies with front-wheel walkers skipped past me whistling show tunes. It was truly embarrassing, but I wheezed and gasped and persisted and finally reached the falls. And this was on the downhill run. The hike back up the mountainside nearly did me in. Fortunately, there were benches along the path which saved me from the humiliation of  having to lie down in the mud to rest every hundred yards. Man, I have got to start getting more exercise. Not today mind you, but maybe tomorrow.  Or the next day. You know - sometime.
Lyle and Linda in front of Bridal Veil Falls, Oregon version

The next stop was Multnomah Falls, which is truly awesome. It drops 620 feet in two stages. There is a trail up to a view point with a bridge going over the lower falls. Lyle and Linda immediately started up the trail but, fortunately, someone had to stay at the bottom to provide photographic confirmation of their visit to the bridge and I volunteered. It seemed the brotherly thing to do.
Multnomah Falls

Lyle and Linda on Benson Bridge
At this point the day was definitely getting on. There were several more water falls and scenic views and pullouts we could have visited but Linda's Museum beckoned and it had a closing time of five clock, so if we were going to do more than admire the outside of the building we needed to move along. We got off scenic Highway 30 and pulled onto the interstate to make some real time. We traveled along the Oregon side of the Columbia River up to The Dalles, then crossed over to Highway 14 on the Washington side. We traveled through the tiny town of Lyle, snickering at the "Lyle Welcomes You" sign and finally reached the Maryhill Museum of Art a little before four o'clock.

       Queen Marie's Furniture  - I would have dumped it too
The Maryhill Museum of Art sits high up on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River surrounded by miles and miles of nothing in all directions. The building was originally intended as a mansion for entrepreneur Samuel Hill with construction starting in 1914. It is not explicitly stated anywhere, but by 1917, with the building still uncompleted, I suspect he decided that living out in the middle of nowhere was not as great an idea as he had at first imagined and he decided to turn the building into a museum (presumably for tax purposes) with the help of some of his artsy friends. The museum was finally dedicated in 1926 and holds a quite eclectic group of art objects initially donated by Hill and his friends and later
There were over 100 chess sets
added to by a Spreckels Sugar heiress. The collection includes a room full of works by Auguste Rodin, paintings by American artists, palace furniture from Queen Marie of Romania, over 100 chess sets, American Indian artifacts and other basically unrelated works of art. The house is three stories and I would guesstimate maybe 15,000 ft.², big for a house but not particularly gigantic for a museum. You could go through it fairly easily in an hour if you didn't dawdle. I dawdled, but mostly around the Rodin wing and the chess sets, not having a lot of interest in the rest of the collections.

The Rodin wing
The grounds around the museum were extensive and lovely and Vicki and I went back out after about 40 min. to let the dogs enjoy the large park and picnic area. Lyle and Linda stayed in the museum until closing time and then joined us. We drove back to Hood River to have dinner at the Full Sail public house. They have a full slate of regular beers but they also produce short runs of specialty beers. I had one of these, a "Vienna Lager" which was exceptionally nice. Reviewers on Yelp raved about the salmon fish and chips so I decided to go ahead and try them. They were okay but I think halibut makes better fish and chips and there are tastier ways to prepare salmon. Well, now I know. We got a sixpack of the Vienna Lager to take with us and headed back to Portland. We said goodbye to Lyle and Linda in the parking lot since we did not expect to see them again the next day. In the morning, we would pack up the motorhome and get back on Interstate 84 to start heading east.

Full Sail pub

Cooking on the Road

For the last six or seven years in our house I have been the primary cook. For me, the advantage of this arrangement was that it fell to Vicki to clean up the disaster area after I finished in the kitchen. Needless to say, when you have an automatic dishwasher and someone else is responsible for the rinsing and loading, you don't spend a lot of time worrying about how many pots and pans you are dirtying up getting dinner on the table. And for her part, Victoria was not above allowing the dishes to "soak" in the sink for two or three days at a time until there was a full dishwasher load to deal with.

Life in the motorhome is a little different. There is no automatic dishwasher, nor is there enough sink or counter space to let anything sit around soaking. Once the meal is over, everything has to be cleaned up and stowed or the living space rapidly becomes unmanageable. So when doing our meal planning these days, we think seriously about how we can get victuals on the table without dirtying up every cooking vessel and implement we own.

Bread Box
We also are learning to cook without an oven. Oh, we have something that looks like an oven sitting underneath the stovetop, but if you open it up and look inside you'll discover that it is actually a breadbox. If you wanted to try and use it as an oven you would have to remove one and a half loaves of bread, three boxes of crackers, a bag of animal cookies, several partially consumed bags of snack chips and whatever else has been thrown in there. Then you have to find some place to put all that stuff while you fire up the supposed oven to cook in it. It's really just easier to leave it as storage space and figure out some alternative.

I have rarely actually cooked anything in a microwave oven before. For 30 years, my use of the microwave has been primarily to boil water and to reheat food that had previously been cooked by more conventional means. Now I am starting to take the microwave in the motorhome a little more seriously. One thing that we recently discovered is that it does a fantastic job of cooking corn on the cob. You don't even have to shuck it. You just snip off the corn silk sticking out of the top, put it on a plate and cook it on a high for about 5 min. for the first ear and one or two additional minutes for each additional ear. It comes out cooked perfectly and when you then go ahead and take the husk off, all of the corn silk slides right off with it rather than clinging to your corn. Then one of us eats dinner off the same plate we cooked the corn on. You need to let it cool down enough that you don't burn your hands shucking it. I simply cannot believe that I have spent my entire life waiting 20-30 min. to get a pot of water boiling to cook corn in. Never again.

It looked just like this, I swear.
We also discovered that chicken cooks quite nicely in the microwave. Four to six pieces of chicken will cook in about 12-15 minutes.  It won't brown  of course but that's not too much of an issue if you use a recipe that cooks the chicken in some kind of sauce. I googled a recipe for chicken tikka masala since I had recently acquired some garam masala seasoning. It did not taste quite like the stuff we used to get from our local Indian take-out restaurant, but it did taste pretty darn good and was ready in under 15 min.

6 qt. Nesco roaster
In preparation for going full-time in the RV, we also acquired a 6 quart roaster. Yes, I know it looks like a crockpot but it's not. First off, it doesn't have a crock. The cooking vessel is a Teflon coated steel insert. It can function as a slow cooker (although it heats up quite a bit faster than a crockpot) but it can also function as a tiny oven, perfect for making a meatloaf or roast for two people. It heats up as high as 425° so it could also, I suppose, function as a deep fryer if you wanted to dump a gallon of oil into it and make enough french fries to feed 50, but we have not tried that yet. When using it as a slow cooker, it's nice because you can put in a plastic liner and then clean up just consists of throwing the plastic away. We're not sure at what temperature the plastic melts but the manufacturer doesn't recommend finding out, so we line it with foil when we roast in it.  I've dealt with enough teflon in my life not to trust that to solve all of the clean up problems.

We also have a small propane grill and, of course, the electric smoker which is really an RV luxury (I smoked some ribs and a tri-tip roast last week). In the past when we traveled in the motorhome we were vacationing and tended to eat out most nights. Now we are trying to cook in the motorhome to stay within our budget and have been doing pretty well at it. Now if I could just figure out some way to get the dishes to clean themselves.  Hmm... We do have two puppies with us...


Portland Food & Gardens by V. Rains

Our exhaust system troubles only made us lose about 3/4ths of a day site-seeing with Lyle & Linda.  Fortunately we didn’t lose any time eating.  Lyle and Linda are Foodies and when you are with them, you eat really well.  Our first night was with Roger’s & Lyle’s cousin, Pam and her husband, Brian, at McMenamins Rams Head pub and grill.  Portland is famous for its abundance of microbreweries and yummy beer.  So we had our first tasting then.  Hopefully Roger will address the beer better than I can.  We especially enjoyed the company & conversation.

The next morning we ate a wonderful breakfast at the Buffalo Gap.  Linda & I split an oyster omelet type dish, the name of which I forget.  You can tell I’m not a Foodie (but I really do appreciate one).  Linda would know.  We also split one of their humongous cinnamon rolls with bacon.  We were disappointed because we thought it would have cut up bacon mixed in but it was just placed on top.

Afterwards we toured the Japanese Gardens at Washington Park.  We didn’t have any sunshine but it didn't make much  difference.  It is mostly shaded by tall trees.  The Japanese Gardens are supposed to be the largest and finest outside of Japan.  They were lovely.  I’ll let Roger’s pictures speak for themselves.

Crane pond
Don't be koi
Rock garden

Next we visited the Rose Gardens while Roger walked the dogs.  Yes, they pretty much go everywhere with us.  Unfortunately they weren’t allowed in the gardens.  So I’ll let my pictures do the talking.

A type of rose

Another type of rose

Do you see a pattern here

Walking the dogs

We finished up the day with sample beers at the Deschutes Beer Pub.  We then went to dinner at Andina, a Peruvian restaurant where we met and ate with Richard & Donna, friends of Lyle & Linda.  The next couple of hours were culinary Nirvana.  Richard is clearly a Foodie, as well.  He decided we were going to sample at least half of what was on the menu.  The food was superb.  We tasted duck, lamb, chicken, scallops, asparagus, quinoa, rice, potatoes, etc.  The food & spices were all ones that we eat fairly commonly but the mixtures were unusual.  For example there were capers in the potatoes that were paired with the scallops. The meal was paired with a white wine from New Zealand & a Zinfandel from Chile.  We completed the meal with a passion fruit mouse and a mango raspberry sorbet.  Oh, and did I mention we had delightful conversation again?

Dessert for six