Road trip (3)

d8 :: MT ST HELENS WA :: Oct 8

We headed out of camp and drove 1 hr into the blast zone around Mt St Helens about 10 mi short of the peak.  We pulled off the main road onto a battered one-lane road “not suggested for use” due to overgrown trees and large cracks but we used it all the same.  We reached the Norway Pass trailhead at about 11 am, which was late enough for the sun to emerge and heat the earth around us.  When we headed out on our t 6 mi round-trip hike, we were met with a surreal Martian landscape of ashen soil and golf-ball sized volcanic stones.  All pre-1984 trees were blown over and decomposing.   Younger plants around Mt St Helens were sprouting up through and amongst the volcanic ash— including plenty of blueberries with fruit and bright yellow and red leaves.  Unfortunately the blueberries had a slight ashen taste, but were so plump and round that I couldn’t help but stuff my face till my finger tips were blue.  I should point out that Wendy only ate one blueberry, so maybe I will get some rare fever in a few days and fall ill. The only other person we encountered was a park ranger in the parking lot, what a quiet and peaceful trek. Photos of the hike are on flickr under day 8.

At the end of the hike we scurried down the slopes of the mountain and drove on to civilization and the Peuget Sound Area.  Dad/Cliff gave us a great Google recommendation for tent camping in Kopachuck State Park buried in old secondary growth conifers on the shores of the Peuget Sound outside of Tacoma, WA.  We were the only people in the Park aside from the campground host!

d9 :: PEUGET SOUND WA :: Oct 9

We left the state park early and headed 1 hr north to Seattle for some architecture sightseeing.  Our first stop was downtown Seattle where we picked up an American Institute of Architects (AIA) sightseeing tour map to get our bearings and then grabbed a snack of fish and chips at the waterfront markets (beware a tourist trap!).  We headed to the Seattle Public Library designed by Rem Koolhauss, which happens to be one of the most playful, smart, and well-used public buildings I’ve ever seen.  Next we visited a college campus near downtown to see the Chapel of St Ignatius by Stephen Hull.  “The chapel was a simple, open space that had thoughtfully designed openings that collected natural light through muted colored glass,” said Wendy.  We then went to an old Gas-works plant turned public park; north of downtown on the water this park was a great place to watch the sunset across the city skyline.  After playing among rusting skeletons of exposed steam pipes, turbines, gears and obsolete steel armature, I could easily see this park single-handedly doubling the number of aspiring young engineers across Seattle public school system.

We got a great tip from Wendy’s sis, Hannah, to eat at Paseo’s, a Cuban hole-in-the-wall, restaurant in NW Seattle on Freemont between 42nd and 43rd.  There was a line out the door, which from my SF experience is a good thing and worth the wait. As soon as our food arrived two of the five tables in the restaurant opened up—we had our pick, unlike 90% of the patrons who did take-out. Wendy had a spicy grilled scallop sandwich and I had the house special, a fatty roasted pork sandwich with large slices of grilled onions, aoli, and pickled jalapenos.  We shared rice and black beans, which were so amazing I could have ordered just that and had one of the best meals of the whole trip.  After Paseo’s there wasn’t much left to do in Seattle—that is how satisfied we were—so we headed East till about 11 pm when we hit a wall and sprung for a cheap roadside motel.

d10 :: SEATTLE WA :: Oct 10

A driving day with not much to report besides amazing scenery, a misspelled “expresso” road sign, and a brief stop in Spokane, WA for lunch in a park.  In the Pacific NW espresso is more than a fad it is a business plan.  We saw white-capped mountains while passing through the Shoshone and Clearwater National Forest in Montana, and were a bit surprised by the cold weather (17 F).  We decided that since it was colder than our sleeping bags were rated (25 F DL; 20 F WL) that a hotel wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

We chose the wrong weekend to be in Missoula, because it was not only a home football game but Homecoming weekend. Ugh!  Every hotel room was full, except the one waiting for us ;).  Our La Quinta motel faced a gas station and a Irish Bar / Casino, even though there was a beautiful stream passing 20 ft behind the property.  If I had my way I’d move the retaining wall and chain linked fence in front of the gas station and bar and have a creek-side entrance.  If it weren’t so damn cold we would have liked to camp.  Too bad northern Montana was experiencing record low temps for October 10-11 (as low as 9 F). Believe me, we would have liked to stay downtown, but with homecoming weekend we took what we could get.

d11 :: MISSOULA MT :: Oct 11

Late in the morning we drove North of downtown a couple miles for a day hike in the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area on snow-covered trails.  It was cold (25 F) though we were in the wind-shadow of a canyon and after moving around we warmed up quickly.  After the hike we wisely stopped in a camping store so we could buy proper winter hats and I picked up a winter jacket—anything could be warmer than the thick surfer hoodie and tattered wool sweater that I had been wearing.   By suggestion from a friend Laura, we ate lunch at Bernice’s Bakery (http://www.bernicesbakerymt.com/) for a veggie quiche and a bunch of day-old / half-price oatmeal muffins.

From our initial minutes in the old downtown Missoula, the city of +50,000 seemed like a quiet mountain town with a small thriving university (U of Montana).  The city is the second largest in the state behind Billings, and the Missoula metropolitan area hosts 1/10th of the state population (Montana has 1 M people).   After driving around the whole town for 1.5 days we saw Missoula in a different, less appealing light.  The city has three distinct business districts that tells a nice story about urban growth:

1) A 1890s – 1920s historic downtown with multi-story brick and stone buildings.  Small blocks, slow traffic speeds, and crosswalks allow bikes and pedestrians to flourish.  Bars, shops, and restaurants exist but so do vacant or underutilized spaces (ex: winter restaurant hours 10am – 3pm).  Mixed-use present. (Livable grade: A)

2) A 1960s – 1970s business district a few miles south of the Clark Fork River with mini strip malls and small shops with individual parking lots.  The shops’ glimmer is fading, looking like it never shed its post-winter rock salt, dirt and grime.  This area is somewhat connected to bordering neighborhoods and newer neighborhoods grew around it. The district makes no effort for mixed-use spaces. Bikes use the roads, cautiously. Odd traffic retrofits and non-gridded streets are problematic.  It appears that the lower traffic speeds and volumes that make bike/ped work only because the car traffic has moved to the newer shopping center. (Livable grade: B)

3) A 2000s – Present business district several miles west of downtown that is easily accessible by car using the first of three interstate exits heading East into Missoula, but is not easily accessible from downtown.   This district appears to have grown out of the typical interstate exit gas stations into more elaborate and newer big box stores (Target, Walmart, chain fast food).  Livable city planning was apparently not considered at all.  In this new development the city of Missoula either sold out or got squeezed out… was this growth used to increase the tax base?  Either way the results are disastrous for non-car oriented culture (Livable grade: F).

In thirty-year cycles Missoula had a chance to (re)focus growth to downtown.  Each generation of developers, beyond the Depression Era folks, destroyed an otherwise beautiful mountain town. City planning was set aside in the 60s and 70s southern commercial build-out, and then the same mistakes were repeated on a grander scale in the 2000s. You will love Missoula if stay within walking or biking distance from downtown (1-3 mi radius?).  The downtown motto is “buy local” but I feel it is too little too late.  The new commercial district has already been built, and for every person spending money downtown, there are 10x more people shopping out of town.

Slightly frustrated with Missoula, we headed out for the 150 mi drive to Salmon, ID— an amazing drive South along a wide valley on route 93, paralleling snow covered peaks in the Bitterroot National Forest.  Midway to Salmon, ID we crossed the Lost Trail Pass (7,000 ft) that we knew was clear of snow by checking the Idaho Transportation Department mountain pass cameras (http://511.idaho.gov/staticMap.asp?display=mountain).

We entered Salmon, ID at sunset and took a walk down Main St (it is the main st), passing 3 saloons, a coffee shop, 2 real estate shops, and no chain stores besides gas stations (ha Missoula, it can be done!).  Pick-up trucks parked in front of a bar that had severed moose and deer heads poking out the back surprised us.  Oyster was pretty interested in those trucks.

We stayed at a typical cinder-block motel with the room door opening onto the parking space.  We cooked tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches on the stoop alongside hunters who were grilling steaks on a gas powered mini-Webber grill.  These hunters were nice, jovial, and not as scary as the guns and monster trucks they own.  The best thing about the hotel, besides the cost ($50), was the local Lemhi Co newspaper, The Recorder Herald (66 cents).  I am so surprised that an area with such a small population can produce a quality weekly paper that is as detailed as it is.  Every birth gets ¼ page and every death gets ½ page, and silly stories about neighbors who did something different gets ½ page.   Although the paper wasn’t free of typos or grammatical mistakes, the articles were genuine and upbeat.

An example of news from the Herald:

Salmon, ID residents competed in the US Bowling Congress Women’s Championship in Reno, NV.  Of note, Colleen Kerines (age 80) did pretty damn good, won a little money, and got to visit Nevada relatives.  [not direct quotes, just paraphrasing the article]

Here are some brief quotes from Police Reports in the Herald:

September 29. “A main is walking south bound on Hwy 93 South who seems to be confused and is walking close to traffic lane”

October 1. “Cows are on the road”; “A deer has been hit on the highway…”

October 2. “A man is reportedly walking along the highway with a blanket”

October 3. “A man, who seems disoriented, is reportedly walking on the side of the highway” ; “Caller complains about hunters shooting from the road” ; “The driver of a big, black Dodge with Oregon plates, stopped in the middle of the road to shoot at some elk.”

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