Well, insofar as western Washington is part of the Redoubt. Spokane proper – not so much. More on that after the travelog.
The trip from Billings yesterday exceeded my every dream about the west. Montana is by far my favorite state at this point, and if it weren’t for the cold, I’d reconsider Idaho, at least at this point. There is so much to admire about Montana it’s hard to overstate. Just west of Billings on I94, you get your first glimpse of real mountains off in the distance. I thought they were the Rockies at first, but it ended up being a smaller range – the Crazy Mountains. Still very impressive to this comparative flatlander. With the mountains looming in the distance, every mile brought more and more of a picture of how agricultural this area is. Massive belts of corn stretched for miles, and some was being harvested while it was still green, meaning it’s feed corn for silage. Tons of cattle too, and perfect land for ranches – there’s a very wide plain on either side of the highway, spotted with buttes, and there are cattle everywhere. Seems like everyone raises beef cattle here – even people in broken down single-wides have a fenced area with a few head. I think that’s the thing that impressed me most about Montana. Everywhere that it’s possible to grow or raise something, people are doing it.
As we moved west and then north past Livingston, we got into more mountainous terrain. Still, there was a substantial plain at the foot of the mountains, and every square inch was covered with either something to eat, or something to feed something to eat. Most impressive was a recently harvested Wheat Montana field north of Livingston on highway 287. We lost track of how long that field went on, but it was at least two miles along the highway, and probably a mile back from the road. I can’t describe the beauty of a stubblefield like that. I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to see a field before reaping, and that I didn’t get to see an army of combines working a field, but still, that golden color of the stubble against the backdrop of the mountains was breathtaking.
As with every Montana city we passed through, Helena was more than I thought it would be. Again, the boom-town feel was there. We saw huge developments being built – single family homes and condos. The influx of people must be incredible, and it’s got to be due to the energy boom. Still, I wonder if they’re not setting themselves up for a bubble. I didn’t look at real estate prices, so I don’t have an idea of what the market is like – probably should be on the to-do list for the return trip.
We did spy a couple of disturbing trends. All through North Dakota and Montana, we saw homemade signs warning about methamphetamine – “One and you’re done”, “This is your brain on meth”, etc. Apparently crank is a big problem out here. Also, in Montana, the VFW has taken upon itself the task of marking every spot where a fatal accident occurred with a white cross on a pole. It seemed like there was at least one cross every couple of miles up 287. At one intersection I counted seven.
We wound north and west through Missoula, another booming town, and a college town to boot, and into the real Rockies. We topped out one pass at over a mile above sea level. Spectacular. Still, as inhospitable as the terrain was, anywhere there was a plain, there was agriculture. There’s a tenacity here that I haven’t seen anywhere.
We crossed over Lookout Pass at 4,725′ at about 3:15 Pacific Time. Curiously, just as we passed into Idaho, the odometer on the Quest clicked to 10,000 miles even. Creepy.
As for my first impressions of Idaho: sigh. Not great. This side of the Rockies is obviously vastly different in terms of vegetation. This is the wet side, after all, and where the Montana side had sparse stands of scrubby red pines, the Idaho side has huge, towering Ponderosa pines, plus fir and spruce, and all densely packed into true forests. There are only a few places where the canyon opens up and forms a plain, and there are settlements there, but the vibe is totally different. Despite the obvious bounty of rain on this side, there is little evidence of agriculture in the few little armpit towns between the Montana border and Coeur d’Alene. These were mining towns, and once that was no longer profitable, it looks like the people just gave up. None of the towns had more than 1500 people, and they were all seriously depressed looking place. One town – Kellogg, I think – was big enough to rate a Walmart, but the rest was just trashy and sad. The kids summed it up perfectly: “This feels like home.” And indeed, with the exception of the river, it felt like driving through the Naugatuck Valley. Now THAT was depressing – I drove across a continent to see this?
We wound up I90 into CdA and got a few glimpses of the lake, which was stunning. Unfortunately, with twists and turns in the road it was hard to see much of CdA proper, but it appears to be a going concern. Very built up, but not the boom town feel of the Montana towns. Comforting, in a way – it feels more sustainable here. We cruised through CdA and Post Falls, passed by one of the biggest Cabela’s I’ve ever seen, and into Washington. Spokane is huge and very spread out, and it was raining and cold by the time we crossed the city and got to our KICK ASS suite – more like an apartment. Two separate bedrooms, a living room with a 50″ LED TV, full kitchen and bathroom. Perfect base camp for the Corps of Discovery 2013 as we set out to explore the area.
Today is a down day – Sunday breakfast, newspapers for some local vibe, and maybe a hike on one of the trails outside of Spokane. The kids want to stop by the Cablea’s for donuts – I told them it’s not likely they have the same arrangement here as they do back home. Still, we may drop by just for fun, and to see how the ammo supply is. We haven’t gotten any real feel for prices in general yet – we just did a little fridge stocking at Walmart last night, and the prices seem pretty much on par with what we’re used to. I suppose that’s the Walmart effect in action.
But, as it stands, I managed to get my family 2700 miles across a continent without any major incidents, and everyone is pretty happy to be here so far. We’ve got some more long days in the car ahead of us, but the grind of the putting miles behind us is over for now. Unless they convince me to head to the Pacific…