Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Mountains, Rivers, And Roadway

I first fell in love with Big Sky Country in 2005, when my family stayed in Gardiner, the tiny town at the north entrance to Yellowstone. At the time, it was partially due to my restless mind, as I had returned from Russia only a couple weeks before. In Gardiner, I had found a quiet but active little town and the kind of setting my exhausted brain needed to recover. Yellowstone as a whole was a reprieve, one I had protested when I realized we'd be taking this family vacation right after my trek to Russia. In the end, though, it had left me energized -- in no small part thanks to a little town that had seemed fairly ignorant of the noisy tourists on their way to the geysers.

That love extended as I made my way through the state. Cities along I-90 here are stunning through no effort of their own. Every one of them gets the elegant backdrop of this or that mountain range, and after that it's just a matter of not making a mess. This was partially why I had chosen to camp where I did; my evening alongside the reservoir had been truly relaxing, the gorgeous setting and placid lake exactly what I needed.

[Sign a mile later: "Controlled Burn. Do not call 911."]
As romantic as my view of the mountains, they are indifferent and occasionally hostile; after a night at the reservoir, I wake up to rain and dismantle my tent in a downpour. Poorly. As I flee for the highway, I wonder if the far-off haze is more rain or smoke from the fires plaguing the area this year.

They, too, have been fighting the natural cycle, as all inhabited forestland does. This year, nature seems more insistent. The campground I just deserted had closed only three weeks before thanks to an encroaching fire. But this seems to increase the allure of such wildland, and as I head toward the Idaho border, I find myself hoping I can return much sooner this time.

I cross my last mountain pass and I'm on to my next state.

The most perplexing thing about northern Idaho is that anyone lives there at all.

Do not mistake me. It's a gorgeous chunk of countryside. But it's also harsh and unforgiving.

It is, like so many of the western states, a product of gold mining and circumstance. Trading posts set up in mountain passes became towns; routes established because this hillside was marginally more forgiving than that one eventually became highways. Populations grew, decided to strike out elsewhere, and mountain villages clung to life over the course of decades.

I have to wonder how many of those settlements sprang up simply because a band of frustrated pioneers had had enough.

As soon as I arrive in Spokane, I don't feel quite the same way. Maybe it's the oppressive heat -- it's over 90 here, hot and sticky and unpleasant. Maybe it's the fact that I get lost almost immediately. Either way, the spell of my day in the mountains has been broken.

I get set up at a tiny, crowded state park campground. I'd chosen the location mostly because it was a convenient distance between Bozeman and Portland, and this particular campground had showers.

Which, as it turns out, cost fifty cents for every three minutes.

No matter. The morning's rain had left me feeling clammy and gross, and I want to be clean for my drive into the city the next morning. I buy a couple shower tokens and explore the park.

This is the Bowl & Pitcher section of Riverside State Park, a somewhat hidden gem of a park right in town. It's gorgeous with plenty of walking trails throughout -- even if the cramped, kind of crappy campground leaves something to be desired.

It doesn't really matter. I'm just here to sleep. (And shower.) Tomorrow, I'm headed toward Portland and the Columbia River Gorge. I need my rest.


1 comment:

Amanda said...

Everything looks so beautiful. Enjoy the rest of your drive!