While there was no gorgeous sunset to mesmerize us during this ferry crossing, we stayed entertained.
The drive took us into the center of Vancouver and across its harbor via the Lions Gate Bridge.
The Beartooth Highway, which crosses mountainous passes between Montana and Wyoming, was distinguished as “the most beautiful drive in America,” and the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, British Columbia, was by far, our most beautiful drive in Canada.
The first half of the 120 kilometer drive hugs the coastline of Howe Sound and offers breathtaking views.
There are several lookout points to safely take in the beauty which stretched the hour and half drive into two and half hours.
Whistler, British Columbia
It was late afternoon by the time we arrived and checked into Lost Lake Lodge, located in a wooded area west of Whistler Village near Lost Lake Park. Although drained from the day’s travel, we explored the area by foot after eating dinner.
We discovered a series of foot and bicycle trails that we later learned were cross-country and biathlon tracks used in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The trails were fabulous for forest walks, and we were able to use them to bike into the heart of the village and all over the Whistler area.
We fell in love with Lost Lake that first evening in Whistler. Not only is it peaceful and beautiful, but it’s also off the tourists’ beaten path (hence its name).
We’d end each day with a walk or ride to its banks, stopping to watch for tiny Western Toads migrating out of area marshes.
Alta Lake is the area’s main water attraction with its beaches and canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddle board rentals. Challenging due to steep hills, we bicycled around the lake via the Valley Trail, a great way to experience both Whistler’s beauty and eccentricities.
Old Jalopies Along Valley Trail
Another great (but pricey) way to observe Whistler’s majestic surroundings is via the Whistler-Blackcomb Peak2Peak Gondola. Glass-bottom compartments cross the world’s longest and highest free-spanning wires joining Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.
Probably not an ideal ride for the faint of heart.
The $53 pass gave us all-day access to lifts, providing easy access to great hiking trails. We rode to the top of Whistler Peak for more phenomenal views.
Then hiked down to Harmony Lake and continued onto, and looped around, two lower lakes.
A steep, and somewhat strenuous trail, but we loved hiking among the fir trees, around glacial lakes, and along rocky ridges.
Our time in Whistler helped to rejuvenate this road weary traveler. It’s lovely and relaxing. In fact, Whistler is one of only a couple of places we have revisited since concluding this six-month tour.
After a restful night in a Seattle hotel, and a fun breakfast at the Totem Diner in Everett, we entered British Columbia, Canada — a detour from our original plan to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca via Port Angeles, Washington.
Our mistake was assuming our second ferry crossing experience would be as our first, where we drove to the landing, purchased a ticket at a drive-up booth, and then drove directly onto the ferry to cross Lake Champlain.
All crossings to Victoria from Port Angeles were sold out by the time we rose and attempted to purchase a ticket. In fact, our only option was to drive into Canada to the Tsawwassen Terminal, catch a 6pm ferry across the Strait of Georgia to Swartz Bay, and then drive 30 minutes to Victoria.
It was a long day, but the sunset views across the strait were well worth the trek.
Our cozy Airbnb apartment allowed us quiet time to sleep in and recuperate from the previous day’s travel.
It was afternoon before we ventured into downtown Victoria, where vibrant colors enhance the city’s energy – it was bustling, yet laid back and friendly.
The city’s center surrounds a busy harbor and is comprised of a mix of Victorian architecture, modern condominiums and shopping/tourist areas. It works, and we enjoyed walking around the harbor interacting with street artists, musicians, and other tourists.
Fisherman’s Wharf & Whale Watching
We arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf well before our scheduled tour in order to explore the area and try Barb’s famous fish and chips.
Barb’s lived up to the hype. We both agree they were the best fish and chips of our six month trip, a perfect mix of crunch and tender flaky cod. And not too greasy.
Eagle Wing Tours had favorable reviews and offered a wide range of whale viewing opportunities.
Although a beautiful, warm day, the speed of the boat amped up the effects of wind and sea spray requiring us to break out our rain gear.
The waters surrounding the San Juan Islands provide an ideal home to wildlife, and the perfect feeding environment for Orcas.
Subsequently, Victoria is home to many marine biologists who study and research the great mammals. Their decline in population, compounded by a lack of new births, is the greatest concern.
Orcas roam about in groups referred to as pods, and we encountered both the K and J pods during our outing. Overall, we witnessed six full breaches, and too numerous partial breaches and fin and tail slaps to count.
It was an incredible and magical day!
Our stay in Victoria passed quickly and did not allow time to explore all that Victoria has to offer, including Butchart Gardens. Gladly, we would have another opportunity to revisit the city three weeks later.
The immensity of Mt Rainier dominates the landscape from every approachable vantage point.
After connecting up with US-12 in Yakima, we entered the park’s east border via state highway 410.
The 14k+ mountain also dominates its national park. Within the park, it is not possible to traverse around the mountain by car. Getting from one area to another takes time and planning.
After much research, we chose White River Campground located more centrally within the park along the northeast facing slope.
White River Campground
White River offers convenient access to the hiking trails that attracted us. Plus, it sprawls along the bank of the White River, a raging storm of a river furiously fed by three glaciers.
We loved the non-stop sound of water forcing its way down Rainier’s slope, tossing boulders out of its way.
Because White River campsites are issued on a first-come-first-serve basis, we had a “Plan B” reservation at a campground an hour and half away in the southern end of the park. We were able to cancel that reservation after securing site D17…
Loop D, Site 17 – White River Campground
located directly across from the Glacier Basin Trailhead and a short walk to the Wonderland Trail.
The nearest supply and grocery store is 25 miles away in the community of Greenwater.
Glacier Basin Trail
From our campsite, we followed Glacier Basin Trail into a thick grove of fir trees and past numerous creeks and waterfalls.
Just shy of a mile, we veered onto the Emmons Moraine Trail: a one-mile (roundtrip) excursion overlooking Emmons Glacier and a beautiful glacial lake.
Instead of trekking the additional 2.2 miles to Glacier Basin, we headed back to camp for lunch and a nap (I was fighting a cold).
Re-energized, we hopped on our bikes and coasted downhill for six miles, past the Ranger Station to Highway 410. In hindsight, we both agreed the roundtrip hike to Glacier Basin would have been easier than the steep ride back up to our campsite.
Sunrise Area & Wonderland Trail-North
Sitting more than 2,000 feet above the White River Campground, Sunrise has a restaurant, lodge and visitor center. It’s accessible by heading north (away from the river) on the Wonderland Trail for three miles, a strenuous hike due to the rise in elevation.
We opted to drive since we’d planned to hike some of the area’s many trails. Sunrise Park Road climbs up from the campground access road, through a series of sharp curves, switchbacks, and outlook points. Gorgeous drive! It provides many photographic opportunities of Mt. Rainier and its surrounding mountains, valleys, and glacial lakes.
Sunrise has ample hiking options for every level. From Sourdough Ridge we headed west to Frozen Lake…
Mart at Frozen Lake
looped south around Sunrise camp and Shadow Lake, then caught the Wonderland Trail back up to the Sunrise parking area.
The loop provided varied hiking environments, conditions and wildlife experiences.
The Wonderland Trial encircles Mt. Rainier for 93 miles across varied terrains and elevations. It is a popular trail for fit and fervent thru-hikers.
With our tent and camping gear broken down and packed away in the “Escape Mobile,” we had yet to brave crossing the “bridge” over the White River to venture southward on the trail.
Trey went first.
Since we lacked the time and transportation to one-way hike to an access point along the campground road, we hiked only about 1/2 mile in before turning around and departing the campground.
Mt. Rainier stands out as a highlight among our camping adventures – it was our first experience among glaciers, and is a truly majestic towering beast of a mountain.
After grabbing dinner at the Old Town Café in West Yellowstone, we gassed up the “Escape Mobile” and headed north to connect with U.S. 287 — a highway we had traveled countless times across north Texas, but never across Montana.
Hands down, the Montana portion is more interesting and beautifulwhile traversing the east bank of the Madison River, between canyon walls, and along the shorelines of several lakes.
Positioned in the lower western sky, the sun provided great photo opportunities of the lakes. (Photo above is Hebgen Lake.)
A particularly long stretch of a lake prompted our curiosity and called for us to stop at its overlook point. Quake Lake had been formed exactly fifty-five years prior when the combination of an earthquake, massive landslide, and subsequent rushing, rising water flooded the valley.
Just minutes after the quake and slide, the new lake began forming. In the following weeks, it grew to encompass an area five miles long and 190 feet deep.
The formation of the lake came at a great cost – twenty-eight people died the evening of the earthquake, either by drowning or being crushed in the landslide.
For Trey and I to be the only individuals standing above the former campground on the 55th anniversary date of its tragic demise, was surreal and humbling.
Before continuing the drive to Butte, where we would spend the night, we said a short prayer in honor of the lost souls.
The 316 mile trip from Butte to Spokane…included a seventy-four mile trek across the top of Idaho.
As we approached Idaho, the trees grew dense, steep ravines began crossing under Interstate 90, and fall colors dotted the hillsides.
We were in Idaho just long enough to realize we should have planned a stay there. Next time.
After settling into a hotel on the outskirts of Spokane, we headed downtown for dinner and a walking tour of the city. Spokane was a pleasant surprise because we had no expectations. No thoughts whatsoever, other than a place to sleep for the night. I think perhaps its location in eastern Washington, and its lack-luster name, conjures up images of dust and doldrums.
Spokane is the opposite — lively and lovely. The Spokane River runs through the city’s center. A river walking path was being extended as a part of a larger Riverfront Park renovation plan.
On to Mt. Rainier…
We stopped at a lookout point outside of Vantage, Washington to bask in our first sight of the immense Columbia River. Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park lay just beyond the opposite bank and was once home to the Wanapums, an indigenous, peaceful tribe of fishermen who are near extinction.
Old Stagecoach/Mail Route
A few hours after crossing the Columbia, and after refueling both the car and our bodies in Ellensburg, we soon caught our first glimpse of the mammoth Mount Rainier. The sighting renewed our energy and enthusiasm for the remaining two hour drive to our campsite.
Upon entering Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance (located on the Montana-Wyoming border) we were greeted by Buffalo, and more buffalo escorted us throughout the 85 mile drive to the Grant Village Campground.
First stop along the trek was an overlook view of Tower Fall, the famous 132 foot waterfall of the Yellowstone River.
The overlook sits at the junction of the Yellowstone River and Tower Creek which also permitted us to experience the strength of the water forcing its way through the canyon.
There is no shortage of wonders along Grand Loop Road which wends through the heart of Yellowstone and around the north shore of Yellowstone Lake. For this reason, the two-and-a-half hour drive took us about four hours, getting us to our campground with just enough daylight to set up camp and grab dinner at Lake View Cafe.
Grant Village Campground
Grant Village is located in the southern end of the park on the “west thumb” of Yellowstone Lake, and within the volcano’s caldera. Our third experience camping, and our third experience pitching our tent in the rain.
What a great camping experience! Our site, 391 on Loop K, was spacious and sits near the ledge of a shallow ravine.
Yellowstone is wild, and camping provides a great opportunity to experience that wild. On several nights we were awakened to the howls and barks of wolves running through the ravine below.
The third morning we woke with the sun and to a strange snorting noise outside our tent. A quick look out the window eased our minds – the noises were from two elk cows and four calves grazing just outside.
The calves decided to nestle down in the grass around our tent and keep us company through breakfast.
With everything one would need from restaurants, showers, a post office, and general store, Grant Village is truly a village. We particularly enjoyed exploring the campground by bicycle and the Ranger’s educational presentations at the visitors’ center.
Yellowstone’s supervolcano incurred three major eruptions over the past 2.1 million years, and it’s doubtful another one will take place within the next 10,000 years.
Grizzlies’ forage after dark in the summer months and during the day in the spring and fall.
The native lodgepole pine tree has a second type of cone that opens only under the extreme heat of fire assuring the species’ survival
There are more than 10,000 thermal geysers in Yellowstone, and Trey attempted to see them all! Kidding, but at times it seemed as if that was his goal.
Of course Old Faithful was a must-see, and due to its southern location, it was our first stop.
Most of the geyser touring areas line Highway 191 on the park’s west side. Raised boardwalks varying in distances from a quarter mile to two miles cut between geysers and keep visitors safe from the unstable, scalding hot ground.
While visiting each geyser area was impossible over a five-day period, we exhausted ourselves checking out Old Faithful Basin, Biscuit Basin, Fire Hole Loop, and Norris Geyser Basin.
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton’s north entrance is located 54 miles south of Yellowstone’s Grant Village which made it ideal for a day trip. After checking out Lewis Falls, we headed out of Yellowstone via the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.
Lewis Falls, Yellowstone
Snake River, Wyoming
The Parkway follows the Snake River and then Jackson Lake, with the Tetons laid out along the other (west) side of the lake.
The day was spent mostly touring the park in the “Escape Mobile.” There is much to see by car including Signal Mountain, which offers great vantage points for both the Tetons and the Snake River Valley to the east.
The initial plan was to hike around Lake Jenny, but we decided to explore more of the park rather than spend the day on a 7-mile hike.
As an alternative, we chose the shorter Taggart Lake-Beaver Creek Trail, a 3.8 mile loop. Instead of looping, we hiked about a mile-and-a-half in and backtracked. The trail offered gorgeous shots of the Tetons.
Tetons from Taggart Lake-Beaver Creek Trail
A lovely day that we ended with a fabulous dinner at the Jackson Lake Lodge, donated to the park by JD Rockefeller, Jr. Despite being under-dressed in our hiking clothes, we were seated at window table with a prime view of the Tetons.
Great food! Afterwards, we stepped outside and onto the Lunch Tree Hill trail for a short hike up a ridge overlooking the valley and Grand Tetons. Trey was hoping to see moose, but the sun set while we waited.
Having depleted most of our energy, we opted to pull up stakes in Yellowstone a day early, breaking up the 500+ drive to Spokane. We toured another geyser basin on our way to the west exit, where we were escorted out by more buffalo.
Note, though visiting Yellowstone in mid-August, we kept our jackets handy at all times. The evening temperatures fell into the 30’s, and some afternoons brought sudden, but short-lived, storms and hail.
We experienced two firsts during our stay in Red Lodge – we saw our first bald eagle in the wild, and we saw our first sign of the coming autumn. Both of these firsts took place while rafting (without a camera) on the Stillwater and Yellowstone Rivers. We had been hoping to spot a bald eagle as they’re pretty common in the area; the changing leaf colors on Aspens and Cottonwoods was a surprise though. It was early August and autumn was arriving. We would follow its arrival from that point across the remaining west and into the northwestern states and Canada. Much like we had followed the hydrangea bloom up the eastern states and into Vermont.
Red Lodge is a former mining town and retains the rugged charm of its past in the late 19th century brick buildings that line its main street, Broadway Avenue. We stayed in one such building, The Pollard, which claims to have hosted legends such as Bill Cody, Calamity Jane and Harry Longabaugh, a.k.a. the Sundance Kid, who ended up robbing the bank housed on the building’s first floor.
There’s not a whole lot to do in Red Lodge other than strolling Broadway’s sidewalks to browse gift shops and scout restaurants, of which there were many. Nightly dinner options were difficult decisions due to the many amazingly good options. We particularly enjoyed Bridge Creek Backcountry Kitchen & Wine Bar and the Carbon County Steak House, where we dined on fresh Alaskan Halibut.
For as much as Red Lodge appears to be the standard western outpost trying to attract visitors with a taste of the past, in actuality, we found it to possess a progressive sophistication. This was evident in the food, the local market and the people making a living there. There was also a yoga studio that offered destination hiking and yoga trips in the mountains that I sadly had to miss. We will have to get back there.
The adventure starts at the city’s perimeter where the Montana wilderness begins. We had received a warm welcome, loads of helpful advice and maps at the visitor’s center on our first full day in Red Lodge and then immediately headed out of town via West Fork Road to a trail labeled as a good “conditioning hike.”
The Basin Creek Lakes Trail ascends steeply for two and half miles following Basin Creek to a lower lake and then continues for another mile and a half to an upper lake.
We opted to turn around at the lower lake for a total roundtrip hike of five miles. We had started to turn around after about two miles because I was growing more apprehensive as we headed further into the wilderness. We were in the middle of grizzly country and seemingly alone on the trail…bear bait. Just as I had talked Trey into turning around a group of twenty-somethings caught up to us and then quickly passed out of sight. I decided I could make it the rest of the way and the reward for my bravery was the gorgeous scene and the serenity of the mountain lake.
Our other outing was the aforementioned rafting trip. Adventure Whitewater is located 35 miles outside of Red Lodge near the community of Absarokee. In addition to bald eagles and fall colors, our three-hour/half-day ride included rapids on both the Stillwater and Yellowstone rivers, swimming among the currents and jumping off a giant boulder. Trey enjoyed the jump so much he hiked back up onto the rock and back-flipped off.
The drive to/from Absarokee wends through the foothills of the Beartooth Mountains and was gorgeous as the sun and an approaching storm highlighted the golden rolling hills.
Our last evening in Red Lodge was spent doing laundry (there’s a nice laundromat on south end of town) and filling our coolers in preparation for five nights of camping in Yellowstone National Park.
We headed to Yellowstone’s north entrance via the Beartooth Highway (U.S. Highway 212) which the late Charles Kuralt proclaimed to be the “most beautiful drive in America.”
We have to agree with Mr. Kuralt. We experienced many wondrous pathways during our U.S. tour, and Beartooth tops our list and provided us with the unique sense of driving on top of the world.
We departed Black Hills National Forest with the sunrise and via the infamous community of Deadwood, South Dakota.
Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming
After breakfast wraps and coffee at Wild West Espresso in the also infamous ranching community of Sundance, Wyoming, we detoured 27 miles from Interstate 90 to Devil’s Tower, our nation’s first national monument under the Antiquities Act.
We were greeted by grazing buffalo and longhorns – sights we had not seen since leaving Texas.
We were officially in “The West” and it was exhilarating! That feeling was amplified at our first glance of the massive igneous rock protruding from the horizon – Devil’s Tower, or Bear Lodge, one of its many native names.
The tribes of the northern plains consider Devil’s Tower sacred and regularly conduct ceremonies or leave prayer clothes and offerings at its base. Visitors are reminded to respect and honor these traditions. As we strolled around the tower’s base on the Tower Trail, we sensed a hallowedness among the rocks and colorful cloths tied around tree limbs and branches. The feeling was no less, and perhaps greater, than the feelings we experienced within the great ornate basilicas we had visited.
This church however was formed from and by the earth, rises 867 feet above it, and hosts a diverse group of plant and animal species. Its great columns cling tightly together in their battle against the elements and gravity. That’s what it looked like to me anyway. Kiowa legend states that the rock had been sculpted by the claws of a great bear – it’s easy to see that, too.
We had heard from a ranger that golden eagles were in the area and we spotted one fly over and around the tower’s top a couple of times, but the eagle was too quick for us to snap a photo.
Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana
We arrived at the Little Bighorn battlefield as a park ranger began recounting the story of the U.S. Army’s 1876 effort to end the centuries old independence, cultures and customs of the northern plains’ native people.
Thousands of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho had joined forces in a valley east of the Little Bighorn River where they outnumbered and overwhelmed General George Custer’s regiment of 262 men. It was one of the northern plains Indians last successful battles in preserving their identity. We had been starkly reminded of their eventual defeat while driving through the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations on our way to the battlefield.
The young ranger confidently relayed the battle scene while pointing out specific hills and slopes that laid out before him and the crowd that had gathered. He was Crow and a U.S. government employee.
Lacking the time for a guided tour, we walked along Battlefield Road and walking paths surrounded by tombstones that had been placed where bodies had been found.
Last Stand Hill and the Indian Memorial are easy walks from the visitor’s center.
We left the monument feeling somber and wishing we had been able to spend more time there.
As it was, we had two more hours left of the seven and half hour drive to Red Lodge, Montana.
This is a record of Trey & Martha's 2014 U.S. travel adventures