• One Minnesota Writer

The 2016 Summer Road Trip: A Long Drive Across the West

It rained the day we left Medora, North Dakota and headed toward the state of Washington. My husband Mick and I gave ourselves two days to cross Montana, Idaho, and Washington to reach our destination of Port Angeles, on the edge of Olympic National Park. The first few hours were soggy, but we had coffee and my iTunes library connected to the car stereo.

The first rest area we stopped in was at Wibaux, Montanta, where I wanted to get a state road map. I like state maps, with their little symbols and folds and the details that are left out of a larger atlas. I like the people in the welcome centers who, full of state pride, ask if we would like to sign their guest register. We signed the one at Wibaux, and noticed two young men talking to the older woman working there.

Mick nudged me. “Hey, those are the two guys who sat near the door of the pub in Medora last night.”

I looked at them. Yes, yes they were. And they were from Minnesota, too, as we discovered by their entry in the visitor log. We chatted for a minute – they were heading to Billings that day and we were heading to Butte – and then we got in our respective cars and sped off.

Damned if we didn’t see them at the next rest stop we pulled into. I can’t remember where that was, but it was still raining. We wondered if we would bump into them again before Billings.

We didn’t. Our next stop was at a place called Pompeys Pillar National Monument, part of the Lewis and Clark Trail, in Worden, Montana, just a bit east of Billings. The Lewis and Clark expedition stopped here in 1806 on their way down the Yellowstone River, and William Clark’s signature is etched into the stone pillar there. The signature has been preserved under glass. The name Pompey comes from nickname Clark gave to Sacagawea’s son, who accompanied her on the expedition.

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When we arrived in Butte, our overnight stopping point for this segment of our road trip, we visited the Butte Brewing Company first. After a blonde ale for me and a flight of assorted beers for Mick, we took a look at the Berkeley Pit. The Berkeley Pit is an example of a former open pit copper mine that was run first by Anaconda Copper, and later by Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), and closed in 1982. The pit, a 1700+-foot deep hole, has filled with water now that the underground pumps are turned off. The water is full of heavy metals and chemicals, and has a pH of 2.5 (acidic), which means it’s not so great for living things. It is being monitored as the water level rises. Clean-up efforts are ongoing.

I enjoyed the brewery a lot more than the open pit mine.

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The next day’s leg took us through the rest of Montana, Idaho, and into Washington. It was our longest day of driving so far as we covered over 600 miles. The best part of this drive was coming upon the Columbia River. The area is breathtaking.

Columbia River Gorge

Our first view of the Columbia River at Vantage, Washington. It was a welcome sight after the drive through dry eastern Washington.

We held onto that image later when we hit the Seattle-Tacoma area at rush hour and sat in traffic for a long time. Our goal was to get to Lacey for the night before heading to the Olympic National Park area. Once we got to our hotel, we asked the desk clerk for a place to walk to for dinner; we were so done being in the car. He laughed with us and directed us to an Irish pub. Perfect.

We recovered enough the next day to take a detour through Washington’s capital, Olympia. What a beautiful city! The climate is perfect for all kinds of flowers and trees, which made the area around the Capitol into one glorious garden. It was our last major stop before heading north to Port Angeles, where we would stay for our first forays into Olympic National Park.

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We were excited to be on our way to the park that shaped the length of our entire road trip.

What next? Mountains! Ocean! See you next week.

#montana #photography #roadtrip #washington #travel #butte #olympia #lewisandclark #columbiariver

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