Montana road-trip; November, 2015

Wednesday November 4, 2015:

We drove over Snoqualmie Pass from Seattle in the afternoon, rumbling along on studded snow tires. We weren’t looking for snow, but at this time of year we needed to be ready for it. We arrived at John and Debbie’s house after dark.  I took time to admire some of the beautiful scale models of historical western wagons that John has built.  Nearly all of them have won red or blue ribbons at state fairs.  Debbie presented a fine dinner featuring baked salmon; and we replied with fresh raspberries and coconut cream for dessert.

Rattlesnake lore

The evening topic was rattlesnakes, which aren’t uncommon in this arid country, and Pat’s brother Tim.

Once John and Tim were sitting on a culvert overlooking a stream. John doesn’t hear too well; but Tim heard a rattling sound. “Don’t move!” He warned. He moved quietly around, listening, and traced the sound to a small cave in the bank near John’s head. John jumped off the culvert and got away from there.

Another time, they were walking in tall grass near an old building. Tim said, “Don’t move!” John had stepped on a snake. Tim found a piece of iron and smashed the snake with it. It turned out to be a bull snake instead of a rattler–not poisonous.

Debbie once heard a rattle on her deck and was quite scared. But it was only Tim, hiding underneath and shaking pebbles in a 35mm film canister.

Remember who you are

Thursday, November 5:

After breakfast, we all drove with Debbie’s nephew Andy to the Wanapum Heritage Center, near the Priest Rapids Dam on the Columbia River. Pat admired the sweeping view of the barren, rugged East Cascade mountains beyond the desert, but John was unmoved. “There’s no trees,” he grumbled. He says it’s too hot here, too cold, and too windy.  Also there’s Washington State’s sales tax.

The center had opened just a few weeks ago.  It replaces a smaller one near the Wanapum Dam.  We admired a nice museum centered around a big room containing a traditional hut-phototule mat lodge typical of the tribe. It was about 30 feet long and ten feet high, with inclined walls made of reed mats tied to a wooden frame. The ends of the lodge were rounded, with the entrance at one end, a sleeping nest of mats and furs in the other, and a fire pit in the middle. The peak of the roof had a narrow opening for smoke. Dioramas, photos and many beautiful handicrafts filled the surrounding rooms.

The museum seemed directed at the Indians rather than tourists; “Remember who you are and where you come from,” exhorted a sign on a wall. Photography is not allowed. The center also has a classroom in which children are taught the Wanapum language, and a work area for archeologists restoring artifacts found in the area. At the time of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, the tribe numbered several thousand, peacefully fishing and gathering food; today it’s reduced to 65. The Wanapum never signed a treaty with the US and never fought a battle. Regardless, much of their traditional land was preempted for the Hanford Atomic Works that produced World War II’s atomic bombs; for a firing range; and for the lake behind the Wanapum Dam, which covered the tribe’s village. The tribe was given compensation by the utility that built the dam, including jobs on the project. John, Debbie and Andy know some Indians; they said the tribe was devastated by alcoholism.

Riders on the storm

I’d read of a winter storm warning for the Clearwater River area. So Pat and I gave up our plan to drive to Orofino, and headed northwest instead. We passed wrinkled yellow hills covered by sagebrush and tufts of grass; cliffs and bluffs of purple-black basalt columns loomed over them. Road-cuts on the highway revealed a very thin layer of soil on solid rock. It rained on the desert, a rare sight, as we skirted the north side of the storm.

We stopped in Moses Lake for a fine early dinner at Michael’s On The Lake (blackened salmon salad). We squeezed thru Spokane during rush hour, and crossed the Idaho border after dark. We stopped in Coeur d’Alene to wait out the storm; it was already cold enough, 29 F.

Friday, November 6:

We wound our way east thru the Rocky Mountains. The forest was frosted with snow, and we saw an inch or so of snow at the rest area near Lookout Pass. Many evergreen trees were turning yellow; larch pines do this, so we hoped that’s what they were. We had a second breakfast at Durango’s, a pleasant cafe in Superior, where John and Debbie used to live.  A scale model of a stagecoach was on display.  It was pretty, but we could see that it didn’t meet John’s standard.  He’d rimmed his wagon wheels with strips of iron shrunk onto the wheel by rapid cooling, just as real wagon wheels were once made.  But the wheels of this stagecoach were simply carved and painted.


We arrived at Pat’s aunt Virginia Riggleman’s house in Missoula in the afternoon. We had a nice dinner at the pub-like Montana Club with Ginny and her son Kim.

Saturday, November 7:

I had breakfast with Kim, and helped him load ten bags of leaves into his pickup and take them to a composting yard. Then we had another breakfast, and took nine more bags. On our way back, we saw a blue truck pull into the Riggleman’s’ driveway; it was Pat’s brother Tim and his wife Cathy. Ginny put on a fine lunch with roast turkey hoagies and we had a fun visit. After they left, we visited Ginny’s daughter Sandy and great-granddaughter Samaya, a voluble and cheerful baby.

We returned to Ginny’s house to play Casino. It’s a fun game that involves allowing the other players to try to capture cards that you want to keep.

Sunday, November 8:

Poor Ginny appeared this morning with a dreadful cold. Pat and Kim made a fine breakfast with steam-fried eggs and mushrooms.

Back through the storm

We said good-bye, and drove back west over the Rockies into Washington thru rain and fog. Cars seem to form a rotating convoy in fog. The lead car proceeds slowly, having no tail-lights to follow. Someone gets impatient and passes him, only to realize he can’t see anything; and the dance repeats.

Dinner was at Michael’s in Moses Lake. But Moses Lake’s queasy stockyard air dissuaded us from staying overnight. We moved on to Ellensburg for the night.

Canyon hike


Monday, November 9:

We were hoping to go hiking on our way home.  The weather forecast for the west side of the Cascades was pretty nasty, so we decided to hike first and then head west.  We drove down to nearby Umtanum Canyon, which we’d never seen in the fall.  The drive south on Canyon Road (SR 821) followed the Yakima River thru arid hills and rustic little farms painted in warm fall colors.  The canyon was quiet and lovely.  We met a few hikers, often with dogs; but they were very good dogs.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 1.19.19 PM


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s