Welcome to Chapter 13 of our On The Road series. This leg of the journey takes us through southeastern Washington, up to Spokane, and over the border to the Idaho hamlet of Hauser.
Leaving with heartache the beauty of mountains rising from the Wallowa Valley floor in Joseph OR, we drove a short time to our next destination. We had reservations at KOA’s Boyer Park and Marina along the Snake River in southeastern Washington’s Palouse Country. This KOA cost $50 a night and had the worst kept bathrooms of all the 30+ campsites we stayed in so far. When asked for feedback, I wrote that the showers were moldy with matts of hair, and that the men’s toilets were messy and unclean.
On the way to our campground, we drove for 20 minutes along a V-shaped section of Hwy 128 back into Idaho. Ahead of us loomed a large motorhome that had seen better days. It towed a pickup truck with a 30-foot beat up fifth wheel trailer attached. As the motorhome started crawling uphill, it stopped before the crest. The weight was too much.
We were stopped three car lengths behind the entourage, and couldn’t see beyond the blind curve ahead. We waited about five minutes. The driver in front did not move. Fortunately he didn’t roll downhill toward us. Finally an arm from the motorhome waved at us to pass by. As we did, we looked at the driver, who appeared done in. As we passed the three vehicles and returned to our lane, a logging truck crested the hill driving pretty fast in the opposite direction. It was a hairy scary moment. We hoped the motorhome driver was able to back down the highway.
At our KOA site along the Snake River, we watched a four-story high American Empress paddlewheel float by cliffs cut by the Snake River. Hundreds of no-see-ums flew up from the well-watered manicured campground lawn. As mentioned before, since camping in Abiquiu NM, they became my bane, inflicting dozens of itchy welts. At this location they feasted on my ears and along my hairline. Pesky devils! Thank goodness for the Skin So Soft Insect repellent I carried with me.
Owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the nearby Lower Granite Dam, the campground was recently leased by Kampgrounds of America. The area is popular with boaters. A downriver town of Almota was made extinct between 1963 and 1977 as a second dam was built, Little Goose Landing, which put the town underwater.
The Palouse is covered in acres of wheat, mustard, and legume fields for as far as the eye can see. The hills were created by glacial dust, referred to as Palouse Loess, blown by ancient winds and formed in patterns of gently rolling hills. Back in the 1800’s farmers discovered this country could grow wheat. Practicing the same method of dry farming today as they did in the late 19th century, crops are planted with the curves of the land, creating artful patterns on the landscape. The method of planting and harvesting resulted in tractors and combines tipping over sometimes along the landscape’s steep slopes. A young farmer invented a method to keep the machinery upright.
Raymond Hanson, a 19-year-old farmer in the Palouse in the 1940s, designed a mechanism that lead to building self-leveling combines. His invention allowed for the wheat cutter to adjust to the land’s contours while the cabin and driver remained intact.
We learned that the wheat here is not genetically modified. There is a sense of peace here in this farm country, where much of the landscape’s only vertical elevation comes from silos.
On our only whole day in the Palouse, we drove to Kamiak Butte County Park, located along Hwy 277 between the university city of Pullman and the town of Palouse. We climbed along switchbacks offering us vistas of the fenceless Palouse country. While admiring varieties of wildflowers we saw along the way, we met a couple of botanists who had published a book together. Calochortus: Mariposa Lilies and their Relatives, by San Francisco-area authors Ron Parsons and Mary Gerritsen. The book introduces novices and collectors to the art of growing these flowers. We stood talking on the trail for more than half an hour, sharing our mutual love of wildflowers. Ron showed us photos of brown and gold Lady’s slipper orchids they saw at Mt. Spokane, where we would be in the next couple of days.
Driving through the back-in time-town of Palouse at six in the evening, we saw a guy sailing down a steep hill on a skateboard, nailing the sharp curve onto Main Street. We smiled at him and he nodded at our our noticing his cool factor.
Driving west on Hwy 272 from Palouse to the town of Colfax, the sun sunk low on the horizon, creating rich colors in the fields. We stopped beneath some silos at a high point on the road. Gazing out on a field of mustard skirting stubbly fields with burnt sienna-colored earth, the landscape, the colors, the spirit of the land all combined, gave us a peak experience.
Mourning doves called. A murmuration of Starlings flew north. Redwing Blackbirds sang their distinctive tune, hoping a lady bird would choose them for a mate. We watched the hues of the hills change as shrinking shadows of grain silos formed patterns on the hillside in front of us while the sun slid behind a hill.
Back at the Snake River we saw about 50 juvenile White Pelicans skimming the water’s surface as they flew toward the fish hatchery below the dam.
Our next destination was Spokane, where we camped below the city’s water treatment plant at Riverside State Park Bowl and Pitcher, so named for a rock formation along the river. We were able to get the park’s remaining campsite. The temperatures climbed to the upper 90s as we drove to Spokane, parking in front of the lofty building for the Spokesman Review, Spokane’s newspaper since 1883.
We walked to the nearby riverfront park, admiring waterfalls and Spokane’s iconic curved bridge.
Overheated, we walked uphill to Tre Palline Gelato Napolitano, where a heavily made up pregnant woman served us refreshing huckleberry gelato. The tiny store was decorated in white frilly poofs and tiny chairs. We didn’t linger long because a boy lounging on one of the tiny chairs had a bad cough. Mindful of COVID’s variants spreading, after reading news reports warning of COVID spikes in Spokane County, we left the shop, nodding to a pair of homeless men sprawled nearby on the sidewalk underneath the shade of an overhang. Sharing looks, I felt such a sense of love from the men, who seemed grateful I didn’t look away when passing them by.
The bustle of the city was too much for us and we drove to the campus of the Gonzaga University, a Jesuit-based school. I sat in the church admiring the stained glass windows, the rounded dome of the sacristy, and marveled at the three priests seated there hearing confession in the open. The campus is named for Saint Aloysius de Gonzaga, an Italian aristocrat, who became a member of the Jesuit community in 1585. He died at the young age of 22 in 1591, after caring for victims of plague.
July 1, our thirteenth week on the road, we drove to Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park. We had hoped to see the Lady’s slipper orchids that Ron Parsons showed us, but they proved to be elusive. We enjoyed visiting the top of the ski mountain, and the picturesque Vista House, located at 5,800 feet elevation in the ski area and part of Washington’s state park system.
We drove east to Idaho to visit friends Bruce and Jenny Van Hoorn, who were remodeling a home they built on Hauser Lake, about 40 minutes’ drive east of Spokane.
Stopping by in nearby Spirit Lake first, we noticed an election sign supporting white nationalist candidate Amon Bundy for governor. A couple of street corner vans sold flags and banners condemning President Biden in Spirit Lake and nearby Rathdrum, reflecting some of the area’s angry politics. On the other side of the coin, kindness prevailed. Inside the Super 1 Grocery, my checkout clerk was friendly and said it gave her a headache to be mean.
Bruce and Jenn own a beautiful acre overlooking Hauser Lake. Jenn’s mom lives in a little mother-in-law cabin connected by a covered walkway to the shop. Bruce putters and invents in his two story shop. Although he’s been confined to a wheelchair following a car accident in the 1980’s, he lets nothing stop him from building and designing and fixing. He built a walkway down to the lake, refurbished the dock, and fashioned a lift that takes him to the second story of his shop.
Jenn manages technology, the garden, the lawn and the chicken coop, where her hens lay delicious eggs. A couple of dogs are their companions. Estes, Bruce’s dog, is a service dog, raised in a Canine Companion program at a Santa Rosa CA prison. Echo is Jenn’s dog, rescued from the Human Society, where she was sent after her owners never returned for her after leaving her at a vacation kennel. Both dogs listen well to Bruce and Jenn and love getting attention. They are terrific hosts.
On the day of our arrival Jenn drove the couple’s John Deere tractor down the driveway and bulldozed a pile of gravel so we could park Marion. We enjoyed watching Bruce conduct and Jenn move the dirt around.
The couple are remodeling their home and ‘camping’ using the shop’s restroom. They assembled a makeshift kitchen with stove, microwave, cabinet, and sink. Bruce cooked dinners on a Traeger, a slow-cooking/smoker two nights. On our last night, Jenn fried up Gulf grouper, battered in delicious Louisiana-style cornmeal. We sat outside for dinners on a concrete deck, looking out at the lake.
Saturday July 2, we laid a sheet of plywood under a tarp to keep the home’s future shower pan dry in expectation of the next day’s rain. Bill screwed the dock ladder to the floating dock. Bruce and Jenn’s friendly neighbors stopped by to say hello from their pontoon boat. I swam about half a mile along the shore, enjoying the first long swim in a lake in three months. I have so missed swimming in Goss Lake with my fellow mermaids on a near daily basis. Swimming in pools is exercise, and I’m glad we found public pools during this trip. Open water swimming that tingles my skin with its aliveness is what I really enjoy.
July 3 we planned to drive to nearby Coeur d’Alene. As we drove away, a warning system told us that something was wrong with our tire. We drove back to Bruce and Jenn’s. Jenn located which tire was low by pressing information buttons on the Toyota’s steering wheel. We had lost 10 pounds in the rear right tire. Bruce filled the tire with his compressor. Jenn, Bruce and I gazed at the tire as Bill drove slowly forward. Jenn noticed a big head of a nail embedded in the tread.
Given that we bought the car new in February, I phoned the Toyota Roadside Service number. We were promised roadside assistance for the first year. The woman I spoke with was of no help because she said we had to have a flat tire in order for them to come out and fix it. I suppose we could have let the air out. However, Bruce advised us we could not pull our trailer with the spare tire, so changing the injured tire to the spare was moot.
By Googling available tire stores, Bill found a Walmart open in nearby Post Falls. We drove over, carefully monitoring our sensors and relieved we lost no air by the time we arrived in the parking lot. We waited two hours to get the nail removed and the tire patched. We were grateful to find this automotive store open on a Sunday, when all the others were closed.
I write to salute Tonya of Post Falls’ Walmart automotive department. She fielded calls from sometimes rude callers, spent time with customers giving them exactly what they needed, and kept a sense of humor in the thick of busyness. Having to single handedly face the pressure of nonstop customer service, Tonya deserves five gold stars. By the time Bill and I left about 1:30, wait time for service had extended to four hours long.
We drove to Midtown in Coeur d’Alaine, buying a pulled pork sandwich at the Pilgrim’s Market. Our batteries were recharged driving through the pretty streets with remodeled homes.
It had started to rain. We found a park on Seventh Street with covered picnic tables. A young couple told us they were planning a baby shower for her best friend. We asked if it was OK that we spent 15 minutes eating our lunch at one of the tables and they told us we were fine. The couple were attractive and happy. They recommended we visit the local coffee and ice cream place, Panhandle Cone & Coffee. The laundry was nearby. The car wash was nearby. Everyone that we talked with and met were friendly and polite. That simple pleasure of engaging with good people charged our batteries.
There’s a real positive to being with people who take care of themselves and have some pride in their place.
We felt that hugely spending time with Bruce and Jenn. Their love for and pride of their property was reflected in their happy dogs and chickens and the beauty of their place. Sunsets there were magical.
Leaving July 4th, and heading for a campground on Sullivan Lake near Metaline Falls, WA, we were grateful to Jenn, who used their John Deere to turn Marion around so we could hitch Beatrix up and drive away.
The skies turned black and let loose where we breakfasted in Priest River ID. By the time we pulled into our campsite at East Sullivan Lake, we felt bedraggled. Our campsite was flooded and the campground was dismal with sickly trees. We left this campground for Noisy Creek Campground, at the southern end of Sullivan Lake. We found a great site, #3, right across from the pit toilet in a lovely forest of tall fir and aspen. We discovered Marion had sprung leaks, The dinette cushions were wet and water pooled on the fiberglass bench and in its storage bins. Bill fired up the furnace to dry our cushions and mopped up the rain. Marion will need to have her windows and belly band re-caulked when we return. She’s 43 years old, after all.
We read that Canada forbade bringing in cooked or raw eggs, some meats and fruit. We tossed these items before entering the border crossing at Nelway. We had downloaded the ArriveCAN app, filled out the questions, downloaded photos of our COVID vaccine forms, and entered our passport numbers. At the border, the friendly agent asked if we were planning to sell any merchandise, whether we had egg products, or if we had cannabis to declare. No. We were through in five minutes.
Now I’m sitting at the Nelson Public Library, grateful for its free wifi so I can publish this story. Look forward to spending the next five days in this lovely mountain town in the woods. We’re camping at the Nelson City Campground, a quaint place that reminds us of New Zealand. We met Lumen, a Nelson resident, who is camping here until she and her partner Alex can find affordable rent. Their landlord asked them to move as he moved in to their place. Lumen said it is nearly impossible to find good rentals nowadays for working people. Sounds like our woes on Whidbey.
That’s all for now, eh! Adios from Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate