Hard to believe it’s been a year since our retirement. To celebrate, Joe and I took a break from boat work and set out on a cross-country road trip.
Our first stop was in Louisville for a visit with Mark and Erin Quinnan and their children (our great niece and nephews) Lyla, Beau and Jude. It was an evening full of fun and love.
Spectacular drive through the southwestern corner of South Dakota. We spent the night in the little town of Newcastle, Wyoming, where there are more deer on the streets than people.
Wyoming is awesome and overwhelming. The drive from Custer, South Dakota to Casper, Wyoming took us down the middle of an enormous coal mine, past countless oil rigs, and through endless sagebrush ranches.
Continuing westward, we watched farmers bale hay in lush, irrigated fields along the Wind River. Then we began the ascent through the multicolor painted cliffs and canyons of the Wind River Indian Reservation, eventually rising up to the majestic peaks of the Tetons.
Autumn was in full glory in the alpine valleys of Grand Teton National Park. Rivers and creeks twist their way through reds, purples, blues, and golds in the grasses, sagebrush, and shrubs of the meadows. On the slopes, yellow-orange quaking aspens shine among deep green lodgepole pines.
Driving north into Yellowstone brings something new at every turn. In the caldera of an ancient volcano, hot springs line the shores of sparkling blue lakes. Beautiful mountain vistas alternate with bizarre, extraterrestrial landscapes of geysers, fumaroles, and mudpots.
We saw numerous herds of buffalo and elk. It’s the peak of the elk rut. In the town of Mammoth, near the north entrance to the park, bull elk roam and bugle in the middle of the road.
First time in Montana for both of us. Wow, do we love this state!
In a big state with expansive views everywhere you turn, some of the little things stand out as memorable:
- Coffee served from the back of a Ford Bronco in Bozeman.
- Snack of elk jerky in the tiny town of White Sulphur Springs.
- In Great Falls, crossing the Missouri River for the eighth and final time. (First time was in St. Louis, about 1,800 miles back.)
- Overnight at a little inn on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
On the other end of the scale, the grand highlight of Montana was Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. Carved along impossibly steep mountain slopes, the road is an engineering marvel. Scenery includes glaciers, snow-capped peaks, tundra, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, and lush forest. It’s fifty miles of fearful, jaw-dropping awesomeness. I’m grateful to Joe for his expert driving on a road suited more to mountain sheep than a pickup truck.
Port Townsend on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula marks the farthest point from home on our journey—2,675 miles as the crow flies, or 4,412 miles as Joe drives.
Port Townsend thoroughly charmed us with its Victorian façades, eclectic shops, and deep maritime culture.
Highlights along the way include overlooking the Columbia River at Wanapum Lake in central Washington, cherry orchards on the eastern foothills of the Cascades, and playing peekaboo with Mt. Rainier as it hides behind clouds.
We loved visiting Joe’s niece Laura and her family in Seattle. They gave us a great tour of America’s hippest city. Favorite parts include Pike Place Market, the fish ladder at Ballard Locks, coffee roasting, and spectacular views of mountains and Puget Sound everywhere you look.
We spent a week meandering our way down seven hundred miles of coastline from Aberdeen, Washington to Mendocino, California.
As recovering horticulturalists, Joe and I were intoxicated by the magnificent flora of the Pacific Northwest. Everything grows here, really grows! The moist and mild climate suits the plant kingdom. The lush abundance of plants along the coast came as a welcome relief after a thousand miles of severely drought-stricken grain fields and sagebrush ranches.
A few of our favorites:
- In South Bend, Washington, “Oyster Capital of the World,” a roadside shack serving the best oysters, smoked and raw, we’ve ever had.
- At Ecola State Park in Oregon, hiking miles of lush coastal forest covered with ferns and moss.
- Exploring the cliffs, rocky beaches, and lighthouses along the Oregon Coast Highway.
- Twisting around the trunks of giant redwoods in Northern California.
- In the charming little town of Ferndale, California, coffee and boatbuilding under one roof at the Mind’s Eye Manufactory & Coffee Lounge.
The highlight of the week was California’s Lost Coast, a remote and sparsely populated stretch between Eureka and Mendocino. The coastal highway bypasses this area. We drove Mattole Road, a slow, sixty-five mile, half-paved road travelled more by ranchers than tourists.
The road begins in Ferndale and wanders through drought-parched farms before climbing into rolling hills and eventually around mountain tops. Here cattle graze steep meadows with spectacular ocean views. The road drops back down to sea level, where cattle pastures abut miles of ragged black sand beaches.
In the tiny town of Petrolia, site of California’s first oil well, the air is filled with a potpourri of eucalyptus, wild fennel, cattle, and cannabis.
Climbing again up into the mountains, we entered Humbolt Redwoods State Park, the state’s best preserved section of redwood forest, with thousand-year-old trees.
The trip continues in Part II.