Updated on August 4, 1998.
We visited Great Falls, MT for the Escapees
Fun Days (over the 4th of July), drove to University of Idaho
for the Life on Wheels Conference, and then started our trek through
Washington. In Washington we visited two Thousand Trails Preserves:
Little Diamond TTN near Spokane and Leavenworth TTN in the central
Cascades upriver from Leavenworth. At the end of the month we
journeyed west to visit Mount Vernon TTN preserve; you can read
about that visit in our August log.
We left Hardin and headed west on I-90 towards Billings through ranch and farmlands with the Bighorns in the distance. Billings is on the Yellowstone River between two bluffs topped by sandstone caprock. Even with the Co-Pilot GPS system, we were briefly lost after leaving the freeway searching for Montana Highway 3. When we found it, it headed directly towards the center of town, and a sign on the side of the street said "No Trucks".
I decided that did not apply to me (especially since they did not offer any alternative) and went ahead, stopping at almost every intersection for a red light. The oil pressure gauge started dropping out and the Check Guage light started flashing and pinging at me again. My blood pressure must have gone up a few points. Then I reached the place where the road started up the side of the bluff and found out why they did not recommend trucks on this route -- it was a really steep incline.
I made it up the hill, and upon reaching the top, found a level expanse stretching for miles to the north ahead of me -- some of the most boring highway I have driven. I jokingly told Alice as the road changed direction that that was the last change for the next 10 miles. It was 11 miles later before the road turned again.
After 45 miles of this, we turned west on US12 and followed the Musselshell river to Harlowtown where we turned back north on US191 and crossed the Judith Basin. The slow, rolling hills were being dry-farmed and were alternatingly green and sand. The Little Belt Mountains were in the distance. We were beginning to understand why Montana was called the Big Sky country. We came upon US87 in the middle of nowhere and turned west towards Great Falls.
Eventually we dropped down out of the basin plain into the small canyon formed along Belt Creek and approached the town of Belt. We pulled into town and found the Fort Ponderosa RV Park where we had reservations. As it turned out, the lady remembered taking the reservation, but she could not find it. A number of other reservations had been taken that would not fit. Luckily we got there early.
The RV park was a large grove of trees, and was designed for tent camping. We had electricity, but the voltage was low. When I tried to follow the path suggested to my camp site, there was a series of S curves I could not accomplish with my 34 foot 5th wheel. So I came around from a different direction and backed in.
We met several other couples who were on their
way to the Escapees FunDays in Great Falls. I worked on rig projects
and accomplished some. I also came close to cutting the tip of
my finger off because I did a stupid thing (no details, I am embarrassed).
We arose at a reasonably late time and started preparing the trailer for the trip to Great Falls and our second boondocking adventure. We dumped the holding tanks and filled the fresh water tank. On the way out, I thought I had avoided the trees, but a high branch reached down and grabbed the luggage rack on the top of the rig, ripping one side of it loose from the roof. That left some ugly holes in the rubber.
Venting my ire on Alice (I was really talking to myself), we left the town of Belt in a despondent mood and continued on US87 to the city of Great Falls. US87 becomes 10th Avenue South which goes about 3.5 miles before you reach the bridge over the Missouri River. With the Co-Pilot protesting that we were going the wrong way, we crossed the wide Missouri and turned north on 6th Street SW, crossed the Sun River, and continued towards the Fair Grounds. The Escapees Wranglers were at the gate to intercept us and guide us into the next available slot in the parking lot. There was a brief bit of consternation about us having three slideouts, and six workers were giving me directions at the same time, but it all worked out well in the end. By the time we arrived at 9:30, the parking lot must have already been 80% full; the bodashes Wranglers were doing a marvelous job.
I have another page to report on our Escapees FunDays so I can cross-reference it. It was a great rally.
We decided to stay an extra two days at the Fair Grounds so that the trailer roof could be repaired. Boondocking was working out well, and we enjoyed the company. As it turned out, over 200 of the 640 rigs also stayed, so we were not lonely. Nor could we move to where we had hookups.
Monday morning, we pulled out, did a quick dump, and headed out to Martin's RV Service Center. Martin Theis had more business than he could shake a stick at, but he quickly found room for me to back the trailer into and unhook. He took a look and said he would have it finished mid-morning. I asked about payment, and he said he took cash. I got the hint.
With three hours to kill, Alice and I went sight-seeing. We found our way down to the river and went by the new Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the Giant Springs (flows 134,000 gallons of beautifully clear water into the Missouri per minute). Then we drove down the river to see the dam at Rainbow Falls. The Missouri is a powerfully big river; by all reports it was a daunting experience for the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition who had to make an 18 mile portage around the series of falls to continue on to the Pacific. The largest of the falls is now covered by a man-made lake; maybe someday the dam will become obsolete and our descendents (or whoever replaces us) will have a chance to see the Great Falls again.
We returned to pick up the rig (one hour of
labor at $35/hr plus a tube of goop) and returned to the Fair
Grounds. We went shopping and found a great grocery store, buying
at least twice as much as we had planned. We also stopped at a
great bookstore and found a book on the geology of Montana. It
will be useful the next time we come through the state. I BBQed
salmon that night and we had watermelon.
Tuesday morning we rigged for traveling and zipped out of town, leaving our ice-chest sitting in the parking lot (I suppose that is where we left it; it's gone). We picked up I-15 and headed to Helena along the Missouri River. As we moved into the edge of the Big Belt Mountains the walls of surrounding the river became more percipitious. I-15 left the Missouri to take a short cut to Helena, and there we headed west on US12.
US12 is a nice, broad, four lane highway all the way over the Continental Divide. Just at the point where they have the shoulder prepared for installing chains, the inclination of the highway shifts gears, and continues for another 6 miles at a steady 8% climb (It was not until later reading "Mountain Passes" that I discovered what a grade it was! No wonder it was slow). I dropped the truck down into 2nd gear and just chugged along at 30 to 35 mph. At least at that speed you have a chance to see the scenery. I kept the speed low going downhill (also 8% for part of the way) and then speeding up at the chain-up level, made the run to I-90.
Turning northwest, we headed towards Missoula crossing the Clark Fork time and time again. We came out of the canyon into a wide valley which is Missoula. We stayed about four miles west of Missoula at Jim and Mary's RV Park. It was quite nice, and they did provide facilities to download email from the Internet.
Since we had hookups for the first time in several days, we decided to take showers. Both Alice and I experienced the same condition: the shower started warm and then cooled down. When I tried the lavatory faucet, the water was hot!
I had noticed this effect before, but it was not quite so pronounced. I started a search to find out what was happening -- and I found it. Our trailer has two "independent" instant hot water systems, one for the bath and one for the kitchen. When water starts flowing through one of the systems that is active, it starts heating it. The more flow there is the more heat is applied as the system tries to keep the temperature of the water constant.
By pushing coverings aside I discovered the
hot water lines from the two systems were connected! This meant
that when we were taking a shower the bathroom heater supplied
water, but that was mixed with water being supplied by the kitchen
system. Since that system was not active, it supplied cold water.
Depending on pressures in the pipes and the rate of flow, the
amount of water from the two different sources varied, so the
temperature of the water varied. I needed to cut the line between
the two systems. I spent the rest of the night dreaming about
how to do it.
Wednesday morning, I drove the truck over to load up on diesel, then we hitched up and headed on up I-90 following the Clark Fork. Half an hour into the trip it clouded up and started to rain; that continued until we were into Idaho. We stopped for lunch near Gold Creek where placer gold was discovered in Montana for the first time in 1852. At St. Regis I-90 left the Clark Fork and headed up the St. Regis River to Lookout Pass in the Bitterroot Range and on into Idaho.
I-90 drops down from Lookout Pass into a highly mineralized region around Wallace, Silverton, and Kellogg. Lots of tailings along side the road, and the Coeur d'Alene River is spread wide on tailing cobbles. Then the canyon narrows, forcing the road to twist and turn, but it is a fairly smooth drive so long as your speed does not become excessive. I held it to 50 to 55 during this section.
We were still driving between mountains when we came upon the upper reaches of Lake Couer d'Alene and turned off to our camp at the KOA on ID97. The campground is mostly on the side of a hill just above a marshy part of the lake. We warped our rig into the assigned slot and set up camp. There was just room to open the slides and put out the awnings.
We washed clothes and then went to town to find parts to fix the hot water problem. It took one and a half hours to find what I hope will work (to be installed sometime next week). Then we went to the Cedars Floating Restaurant and had an excellent meal before returning back to camp.
The KOA did allow modem access after about
9:30, so I was able to do a little bit of email and uploaded some
new web page info.
We had a leisurely breakfast and rigged for travel, waiting for the other rigs to clear out. The weather was partly cloudy and very pleasant. Making our way back to I-90, we turned west into Coeur D'Alene and took US95 south, following the shoreline of Lake Coeur D'Alene for a brief period, then moving on through marshy meadows. The two lane road then went up a grade and narrowed. It continued through rolling hills and farmlands to the south, never allowing us to really pick up full speed. There was not much shoulder, so I was not inclined to drive very fast in any case.
They grow a lot of wheat on the sides of the hills in the western part of the Idaho handle. In places the wind had knocked over the wheat, leaving swirly patterns in the fields. Alice kept wondering if there was any (alien) significance to the patterns, but they looked prettyrandom to me.
We stopped for a short break at a roadside rest, and a fellow traveler coming from the other direction warned me that there was major road construction and delays ahead. The word in the northwest is that it has two seasons: winter and road construction! We were stopped at three points, waiting almost half an hour for the pilot car to come back our way. The road we drove on was smooth, but there was just one lane of it.
By the time we arrived in Moscow, the compass in my head was 180 degrees out of whack, and I thought we were to turn left when we had to turn right. Alice corrected me, and in the confusion I ran over the curb, then finally got on track and we headed west through town to the University of Idaho campus.
We pulled into the gravel lot near the Univeristy of Idaho Kibbe Dome (indoor football field size) and parked our rig. We planned to boondock until Saturday morning when power would be available. Then on Monday we were to start the Life on Wheels (LOW) classes.
We met Mike and Pam Steffen, instructors at the LOW, who were also in charge of parking. They are full-timers though they still work most of the time on the road.
Since the oil pressure gage was acting up again, and I had the funny noise when turning, I tried to make arrangements for truck warranty service in neighboring Pullman, Washington, but they were booked. Spokane Dodge was also booked. I finally made arrangements to go to Coeur D'Alene for service around 7/20.
Alice and I walked to the Mall just west of campus for lunch at the Bonanza. When we started back we noticed the clouds were building in the southeast. We stood around talking to other boondockers as the clouds built even more. When the lightening started, I quickly put down the awnings. Lucky I did, because it really started to blow -- one rig had its awning torn out by the roots. There was not much rain, just wind, lightening, and some dust for about an hour. I had set up the DSS and tied it to the truck. It was shaking so hard in the wind we could not keep a signal.
There was a tornado sighted north of Spokane from the same storm front. After the storm passed and the sun reached the horizon, I took a beautiful picture of the Kibbe Dome.
Bright and early Friday morning, the 10th, Alice and I went across the street for the Dick Reed's Driving School. We were both enrolled, but Alice was the primary target for learning. After John Ward explained proper use of mirrors and how to make turns with a big fifth wheel behind, Alice got behind the wheel and started driving round and round the parking lot between the cones. John kept encouraging her to get closer to the cones, then she ran over a couple. At that point Dick explained to her it would cost a dinner if she kept wiping out his cones. He also suggested we get larger convex mirrors, which he had in stock. It made a big difference, and Alice became quite proficient in making the turns while avoiding the cones.
John then joined us as Alice took a couple of spins around campus with the rig. She did quite well, climbing only one curb and scaring only one oncoming driver half to death. John also gave us a hint on how to judge the height of upcoming obstructions by having a point on the windshield to use as a reference.
During the drive around town, the grinding noise was very noticeable going around corners, and John suggested it was the differential rather than the power steering gear box. Dick took the rig for a couple of turns when we returned and suggested we have the truck looked at and fixed before continuing with the class. So we took the rig back to the parking lot, unhitched, and headed for Pullman.
Steve, the service manager at Neill Motors in Pullman, drove the truck around a couple of times and said the limited slip clutch in the differential was grabbing, and it could be fixed simply by the addition of a special lubricant (which was not in stock at that time). He took off in his pickup to search for some, and fifteen minutes later the truck was ready to go. There was not charge.
Since we were in Pullman, Alice wanted to go to Basilio's Restaurant on Main Street. They served a fantastic spinach lasagna, so rich it stayed with me until bedtime. But it was worth the heartburn.
When we returned, the parking lot was crowding up, and there was no good way to remove our trailer to continue the driving class, so we dropped out. We did some shopping at the WareMart grocery store in the nearby mall (great selection), and started cleaning up the rig.
We met some nice neighbors. Tom and Kay Sekelias in the rig next to ours. They have been on the road for six months, so we shared recent learning experiences. On the other side was Bob and Laura Madigan, who have a web site at http://w3.one.net/~rlmadi. Bob does photography and writes stories of their RV travels.
I am getting behind, so I will move into fast forward.
The next morning we cleaned the rig and then
went to the Farmer's Market in downtown Moscow. I found a stupendous
cinamon roll. Even though we were boondocking, we took showers
in the rig on Sunday.
Starting Monday morning we went to classes. It started off on the wrong foot when we went the class on batteries and the substitute instructor did a poor job, including giving some misinformation about batteries. But the classes after that were quite good.
There are some good web sites discussing the
courses at LOW, so I will not go into details. However, some of
the important things we learned during the week included: some
great ideas on writing novels and articles(my first training in
the area); the good arguments for mid-sized trucks instead of
pickups for fifth wheels the size of ours; the real concerns for
the rig being overweight and some thoughts on what to do about
it; the secrets of brake controllers (and why the one I had was
not the right one -- since replaced); some practical aspects of
boondocking, and why Quartszite will be a lot of fun in January;
and what is right about our solar power installation.
We got up late on Saturday morning and started rigging for travel. After saying goodbye to several of our newfound friends, we headed over to the fairgrounds and waited in line to dump. It took about one hour in line, and 10 minutes to finish up. Then it was north through Spokane then up US Highway 2 to the Diamond Lake area. The Little Diamond Thousand Trails is just west of the lake.
We pulled in about 1pm and found a nice shaded spot to park the rig. Unfortnately (?), we are a little too far under the trees, so we have no satellite TV.
We collected email at the office on Monday morning, and then headed down to Ceour D'Alene for more warranty work on the truck. The Dodge dealership there is very nice. They repaired the oil pressure sender (again), adjusted the emergency brakes, and washed the truck.
We took it easy in Little Diamond. We drove
into Newport a couple of times, and I bought a Power Ball ticket
(nothing). We took walks around the preserve and met some good
After five days at Little Diamond, we were ready to head west to Leavenworth TTN. We were almost ready for travel by 8:30am; luckily a neighbor saw we had left the TV antenna upright and stopped us as we headed out before we did any damage. We drove to the main part of the park and dumped, then headed down US2 through Spokane to I-90 on our way to Leavenworth, WA, a distance of about 250 miles.
Eastern Washington is rolling hills until you get to the Cascades. We turned north off I-90 and followed the Columbia River up to Wenatchee. That is one big river! We then headed up into the mountains following the Wenatchee River to the town of Leavenworth. It is a quaint little town with a German decor; quite a tourist sight. There were signs about construction on the road ahead, so I loaded up with fuel. Good thing I did; we had almost a one hour wait further up the road, and there were no services.
We finally found local road 207 and 10 miles later found the TTN park. We checked in and found a nice sewered site. The weather was warm. It got hotter as the week went on.
Leavenworth TTN is a nice park with a small lake on the preserve. The creek that runs into the lake runs out and disappears into the field between the preserve and the road. I was told someone had caught a six pound rainbow the day before in the lake -- but you know how fishermen talk.
The camping spots are mostly nestled in tall pines and alders, making setting up the DSS dish a challenge in some cases. Since the weather was hot, the roads were a bit dusty. Many of the campers watered them down during the day as part of the dust abatement program.
The mountains that surround the preserve rise quickly from the flat land of the narrow valleys. Geologically speaking, the valleys were carved by fast rushing waters out of the modestly high mountains during the ice ages, then filled with lakes that in turn filled with sediments, creating long flat valleys that wind through the mountains. It is very picturesque.
We drove back to Leavenworth on Friday. Our GPS Co-Pilot suggested using Camping Road 12, rather than winding around on Highway 209. We found after about 4 miles that road squeezed down to two ruts on the side of a steep hill, so we turned around and went back to the Highway. We did see some interesting land on the side trip.
The town of Leavenworth has adopted a German Alps decor throughout, and it is a very interesting place to visit. While in the town, we found some tourist things to buy (hand-carved candles), and shopped for groceries.
Back at camp the time was spent lounging around in the heat and just taking it easy. The weather warmed even more, reaching 100 on Tuesday. The trailer projects were slowly but surely getting done, and I started working on my writing. We ran the air conditioner quite a bit, then the breaker in our section blew and they asked us to hold back on our use of electrical power. Luckily the evenings and nights were cool.
It took some asking around to find the right person for getting access to a telephone for Internet access, but I finally did (see Kelli in the Recreation office). I was able to get on a couple of times for email exchanges. I also uploaded the web page on Wednesday. Since the preserve is about 20 miles from town, they are limited in their telephone line coverage, so it is a matter of sharing the line they use for faxes and the guard shack.
There were several places to go see in the area, but we just took the opportunity to kick back and relax. It was a bit of reaction to traveling so fast and doing so much the first three months of retirement. But after seven days at Leavenworth, we were getting a little bored and ready to head to new country.