30 September 2012

2012 WILD WEST Oregon 6 - Visiting Ashland and Shady Cove


Back-tracked 50 some miles from Ashland to Shady Grove OR. That was it for driving. An E-Z, relaxed day, all in the state of Oregon. 


Woke early and did some window shopping, as things weren't open early on a Sunday. Stopped for coffee at the outdoor Water Street Cafe (also the exact name of our fave coffee shop in Kalamazoo). Saw the Shakespeare "Globe" theatre again and bought a T-shirt from the theatre gift shop (first souvenir of the trip). Most stores and eateries are the same as nine years ago, but a few new fun places to browse. Strolled through Lithia Park and watched a hoola-hoop class going on.

Finally meeting up with people we know and are special to us in some way. First, had lunch with our cutie-pie niece, Brooke. She suggested Standing Stone Brewery. Once there, we remembered being their nine years ago on our last trip to Ashland. Mimosa and breakfast burrito for Deb; beer and fish-and-chips for Brooke and Mike. Food was as outstanding as we remembered. Wonderful to hear all Brooke's happy stories and accomplishments. She's doing well.

Back-tracked from Ashland to Shady Cove to visit with the Armstrongs, arriving about 2pm. Been way too long since seeing this fun couple. Their lovely home is situated with a spyglass view of the Rogue River. Deer and fawn run through their yard. Peaceful. Felt like the good old days....like home. Don has a fantastic billiard room. Joy has a top-notch knack with decor. Great guest digs. Splashes of humor around. (I'm told these are mostly Don's idea). We felt so at home that we did a load of laundry. Good timing...had just run out of "necessities."

With a gazebo and several outdoor decks to choose from, we chit-chatted til 5:30pm, then drove to dinner. Fine outdoor deck dining along the Rogue River at this Mexican cantina. Weren't so fond of the ever-ready strolling mariachis, but the sunset view of the river and raspberry margaritas were outstanding. Then more chit-chat and imbibbing into the wee hours back on the Armstrong homestead.

Their black and white springer spaniel is a sweetheart and a gentle soul. If it could be guaranteed that we would have a dog like Chadwick, it might be possible to switch us from the cat to the dog world!!

2012 WILD WEST to Oregon 5 - High on Crater Lake


We drove 520 miles from Ritzville WA to Crater Lake OR to Ashland OR. Left about 9am and got settled into our hotel about 9:30pm. That was 9 hours 54 minutes of driving time per the GPS. Lowest elevation around 128 feet along the Columbia River and highest was over 6,000 feet near Crater Lake.


Finally seeing something other than cornfields and rolling hills, it was a pleasure to be in the mountains, green leaf and evergreen trees, multi-colored wild flowers (instead of mostly yellow). Fall not evident yet. Seeing lots of trains. Counting cars and most have 90-130. Usually multi engines (two or three) and no cabooses any more. Back to cows. I love hollering "MOOOO" out the window. They always turn to look. 

Arrived at the Columbia River area of OR. Followed it a ways and stopped at several scenic lookouts. It is a mighty river. It may not be as long as the Mississippi, but it is broad, blue, and beautiful. Tug boats pushing bigger boats up and down the river. A huge dam releasing water at a reasonable pace. 

Windy. Many, many, many turbines lining the north side of the river. Like huge white flowers on a farm, nicely spaced. Must be thousands. Very impressive. The most we've seen in a bunch ever.

Forging south, turned off the freeway in the tiny town of Rufus onto an OR Scenic Byway (US-97). Signs along the road warn of deer and ELK. We got a decent view of Mt. Hood, but it was hazy and cloudy today.

Arrived at a smallish town named Madras OR. Hungry and spotted a triple-D type (you know Guy Fieri from Food Network) dive. It was Mexican and we've been craving "out west" Mexican for years. We ordered our faves--veggie burrito & margarita for Deb and chili rellenos & cerveza for Mike. We were not disappointed. IT WAS GOOD!

Continued on to Crater Lake (one of the must-sees on this trip). We were down to two clicks left on the gas meter, so fueled up at Crescent OR just before going into Crater Lake National Park and really glad we did because we did not see another gas station for over 80 miles. At one point going down the hill from Crater Lake our MPG average was showing 61.8 MPG. That was the best MPGs we'd ever seen on the Prius, but it didn't stay that way very long as we started back up hill to Mt. Ashland.

For years we have been yearning to see Crater Lake. We had gotten close several times on our trips to Ashland to the Shakespeare Festivals. But today was THE day. And today was national "Public Park" day, so we did not have to pay the $10 park fee. Bonus!

Although we were not able to get reservations in the Lodge, Crater Lake did not let up down. This lake is the result of an old volcano thats "lid" caved in after it became inactive. So almost perfectly round with a little island to one side. Views all along the rim were outstanding.

Water was not as blue as expected until we got to the Lodge. From that angle it was that purest, icy blue you see in photos. Went into the park lodge--chateau-style built with huge logs, fireplaces roaring, cocktails and soup bowls in the lobby for those that could not get into the restaurant, rocking chairs on the outdoor veranda watching sunset on Crater Lake. Can check this off our bucket list. Outstanding!

But (always a but) the night drive between C.L. and Ashland was a bear. After dark, narrow windy road, lots of traffic, an unknown road to us. Delayed for a while due to an accident scene. Two motorcyclists misjudged a turn or something. Lots of flashing lights and emergency vehicles. Weird, in the middle of this pristine forest. Glad the clean-up crew was quick. Hope no one hurt. Passed through Shady Cove where we will return tomorrow to see the Armstrongs. Happy to arrived at the hotel in Ashland. The Best Western Bard's Inn was not a particularly inviting lodging. Basic, pricy, but at least clean and right in downtown. B.W. went back down a notch from Ritzville.


We have been watching for wind turbines all along our route. Want to see more of that new eco-technology. Have seen one here and there. One at a MN shopping mall. One at a stadium. But once we hit the Oregan Columbia River corridor, they were everywhere. Bravo OR, for best use of wind farms so far. And OR ties with MN for best rest areas, as well.

28 September 2012

2012 WILD WEST to Washington 4 - Behind Schedule


We drove 612 miles between Billings MT (happy duck pond by our hotel) and Ritzville WA at the corner of I-90 and US-365 where we turn south. Sounds grueling, but we are having a ball. As it took us longer than we thought because of our late start (10am), we are a bit behind schedule. Arrived in Ritzville about 8pm. High elevation point was 6,393 at the Continental Divide (the REAL one) just east of Butte MT. Another hazy day.

In our hotel parking lot started hearing a weird clunk sound under the car as we were leaving. So we went to the Toyota dealer and putzed there a bit. They think it was a stone stuck somewhere in the exhaust and that it came out naturally because the sound had stopped after driving it a bit. Said this was common in the Prius around there as there are a lot of gravel roads. Nicely did not charge us. We were still nervous and did not want to be stuck way out in Nowhere MT, but we did not have a problem the rest of our trip.

Montana was flat most of the way and then got into some hilly/ mountain/ evergreen tree area up to the Great Divide. Crossing here was nothing like the Sierras or Rockies further down south. Not as high or curvy, but lovely.

We have loosely been following Northwest Flight 393's flight route back in the early days. Mike and I both worked this flight and wondered about the little towns. It went something like Philadelphia / Detroit / Milwaukee / Minneapolis / Fargo / Jamestown / Bismarck / Billings  / Butte / Bozeman / Missoula / Spokane / Seattle. I had to take it once from Seattle to Detroit. That was hell wondering if I would get bumped at every stop. Somehow made it without a hitch.

Took I-90/94 across North Dakota and Montana and side-tracked on the business routes to see downtowns of all these old "cowboy" towns on our route. Bozemen was by far our fave. We took a walk downtown to loosen up. It was lively, hustling, interesting stores, updated, street art. No empty businesses. We stopped at the People's Food Co-op and it was like stepping into a mini Dean & DeLuca. Later in the car, we discussed if we would rather live in Half Moon Bay CA or Bozeman MT, and we agreed Bozeman was best. Of course, it isn't winter right now. As a matter of fact it's in the 80s.

Lots of bee hive/supers along the highway. Traveled along the Yellowstone River for quite a while. Starting to see sheep instead of cows. Lots of timber trucks on the road. Saw signs for Horse Fest and Raptor Fest. Had lunch at an Italian place called Chef's Garden in Butte MT. Very "mocked-up" decor, but VERY good food. Taking a lot of photos from inside the car as we travel along. Mike says we need a pope-mobile for better shots and 360 degree range, because sometimes we pass things too fast for me to get a good shot, but if we stopped at every point I want a shot, we'd still be in MN. On the radio heard a recent crime in this area is someone is cutting off horse tail hair. Bummer, they can't swat flies and look nekked. About 30 horses, so far. Cruel.

Ritzville was named after a guy named Mr. Ritz, not related to the Ritz Carlton. We had a bad experience with a Best Western in Yuma AZ years ago, but the only hotel in town was the Best Western Ritzville. We like to stay at historical hotels and the one in Yuma was advertised as "the oldest B.W. in the U.S." We thought that would be cool, but when we got there we realized that apparently it had not been renovated since it was first built. We had the room closest to the road and there was a 3/4-inch crack under the room door. Every car that drove by had its headlights flashing under the door. We were supposed to stay three nights, but left after one. So we were quite leery about this B.W., but it was the best hotel on the trip so far. Very modern, comfortable bed, nice breakfast, nice personnel. Woke in the morning with a lovely view of a harvested corn field, and neat and tidy farm.

27 September 2012

2012 WILD WEST to Montana 3 - Buffalo to Billings


Still trying to figure this blogging thing out, plus I'm working on Mike's laptop and Microsoft (instead of my iMac). But anyway today we drove about 528 miles, travel time was 9-1/2 hours with actual driving time of 7 hours 46 minutes. Speed 75 MPH all the way. That's the legal limit for cars and trucks!!! Very cloudy all day, so easy driving for Mike. Bad for photos.

Highest point we noticed for the day was just east of Bozeman MT at 5,424 feet. I say noticed because the Garmin does not tell you the high/low for the day, just what it is at the present moment. (Wonder if there is an app for that?) So you need to be alert to the high/low areas when driving, to try to catch those spots.


Started off the day at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown. Bison is the scientific name for buffalo, if you wondered. Very cool. Included is the biggest buffalo statue in the world which was built in 1959. Lots of Indian clothes and household items made from buffalo parts, buffalo art, taxidermied buffalo and other animals, and buffalo history info. Live buffalo roam free-range here, but were out of view at the time we visited. They also have three albino or white buffalo, considered sacred by native Indians. There are two pastures, one on either side of the freeway connected with a large tunnel. But the buffalo will not wander under it. Experts think it is because of the highway vibration. So in essence one herd has become two over time.

Driving on we noticed a road sign stating Continental Divide, Elev 1490. This confused us as we had always known the C.D. to be the highest point in the Rockies and we were in eastern ND. Well, it turns out there are several "continental divides" in the U.S. This is the Northern Divide and has to do with drainage. 

Waters to the north and east of this sign enter into the Red River/Nelson River drainage, leading northeastward toward Hudson Bay. Waters to the south and west of this sign enter into the James River/Missouri River/Mississippi River drainage, leading southward toward the Gulf of Mexico. TMI for the moment, but for more info, go to: www.nationalatlas.gov/articles/geology/a_continentalDiv.html

Next stop was Bismarck, capital of ND. Their capital building is a 16-story art deco building. Looks very out of place in the middle of the great plains. Must be the tallest thing around for hundreds of miles. As you enter you see the Rough Riders Hall of Fame. Surprising who is included--Peggy Lee, Lawrence Welk, Louie L'Amour (western novelist), Eric Sevareid (old time news journalist, and old rough rider herself (wait for it) Angie Dickinson!! The interior of the public areas of the building were fantastic.

As we continued on finding many small ponds, but they must be rich with salt. Dried salt rings circling most of them. Also found nice road art here and there. Trees turning but no red colors, only shades of yellow. Listened to NPR radio news, including a National Native NPR station.

Had a great lunch at a quaint, romantic, cowboyesque town of Medora ND, named after the wife of the man who established the town. First choice was in a cozily restored hotel (lobby left) at Theodore's (after Teddy Roosevelt) Dining Room, but closed for lunch. Second choice was closed for a private funeral after-party. Last choice Boots Bar and Grill. Mike tried a ND pastie. Not as good as the Up North Cafe in Richland MI, but pretty good.


We give ND the best road conditions award up to this point. They were perfectly maintained. Also, had a unique rest stop in old gas station decor.

Montana gets the worst rest stop award. They were poorly maintained (dirty and in poor condition), many of the stops you have to go off the freeway and onto public roads to get there!!, and no recycle bins. They did play the weather report in the bathrooms though. A plus, I guess, especially in winter.


Well, I guess the news you want to hear is when will they be at my house. Our next stop is Crater Lake, Oregon, but I see on the GPS that it is 700 miles from here in Billings (our overnight). So I feel we won't be in Ashland or Rogue River til Sat.

2012 WILD WEST to North Dakota 2 - Mighty Miss


Drove 449 miles from Eau Claire WI, through the whole state of Minnesota to Jamestown, North Dakota (about 1/3 across that state). Highest point we noticed this day on the altimeter was Alexandria, MN at 1,406 feet. Lots of construction in MN so again much driving at 45 MPH. Some spots were one lane and so narrow with concrete barriers on the left side, I told Mike "I need my bite guard--NOW" as my teeth were so clinched.


Lots of water in this part of the country, especially in the Wisconsin Dells area. And almost every hotel has a water park attached so folks can enjoy "water" during the winter months.

Crossed the Mississippi (always a big thrill for us) just before St. Paul, but we took the bypass this time instead of I-94 through downtown. The crossing was a dud. Bridge was a big concrete blob and the guard rail so high you could hardly see the river. 

But we did stop at the first rest stop after the bridge and took a lovely trail walk along the Mississippi head waters. So far MN wins it for best rest stops, usually with a "water feature." 

We also saw our first wind turbine...in the middle of a shopping center at Maple Grove MN. Just love seeing those gentle giants working with the wind and will be watching for them across the country. We also saw some long trucks transporting turbine blades and nacelles. There must be a factory close by. Will try to get a photo of that as they usually come in "lots" of three.

Stopped at Alexandria MN for lunch. It was lovely little town with a small community theatre. They let us peek inside.
Drove by Sauk Centre MN, on which I think the mythical town of Lake Wobegon is based. Passed through St Cloud and thought of old NWA friend Barry Flueger, first person we knew that died of AIDS. Corn harvesting all along the way.

Yaah, North Dakota. Legal limit on the road went from 45-65 to 75 MPH (even trucks)! Checked out Fargo. Much bigger than we pictured. A real mix of old and new, high class and low brow. Saw one of the NDSU team Bison art projects. Went into a quaint violin shop (did not "fit" the town) and tasty old world bakery


We thought we might stay in Fargo tonight, but once we got there it was too early to stop and it just did not have enough character for use to spend much time in, so we plowed on to Jamestown ND. Had dinner at Grizzly's Saloon. A big Grizzly met us at the door with a marshmallow in its mouth. Later we found a signature dessert of the joint is fire-roasted marshmallows at your table. Fun.

Just to let Jim S know, we had the best Long Island Ice Tea ever (after Gizzard City) here at Grizzly's Grill.

Antiques on Broadway in Fargo is probably the best antique store we have ever been in. Not the biggest in size, but packed with the good stuff. This is the old camera area.

26 September 2012

2012 WILD WEST Michigan to Wisconsin 1 - Out of the Gate

Deb had her last physical therapy session this morning after knee surgery and then a quick stop at the gynecologist (annual check-up and everything peachy). Now really on vaca. It is 10:51am on September 25 and we are headed out the door momentarily. All you airline people know what that means!!2012 Wild West 


We left home about 11:30am. Drove 480 miles from home to Eau Claire WI. Drove much of the way in Wisconsin at 45 MPH due to road construction--giving us great gas mileage, but poor progress time.


As we have mostly seen Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and much of Wisconsin, we plowed through. About 45 minutes through Indiana. Best thing we saw there was the Indiana Welcome Center / rest area. Growing around the site were beautiful 6-foot tall sunflowers. In the ladies' room was a lovely bouquet of sunflowers and a teacup filled with sunflower seeds with an offer to "help yourself." I had one. Tasty.

Chicago was its usual traffic hub-bub with two areas of stop and go. This will probably be our worst traffic nightmare of the whole trip and we are glad to get through it early. Got a lot of good pics of the skyline and White Sox (I think) stadium.

In Wisconsin, finally getting into some beautiful (non-city, non-industrial) country. It's apparent that fall is coming here a little sooner than Michigan with many more gold, rust, and maroon trees starting to color. Highway getting hillier and more scenic. We discovered the "altitude" setting on our new Garmin. Highest elevation we noticed today was 1103 feet near Pigeon Falls, WI.

We arrived in Eau Claire, WI about 7:45pm and decided to overnight here. It is a college town with a real cute downtown that was booming. As we are playing it by ear, we did not make hotel reservations in advance. There was a big Menards (company like Home Depot) convention. Finally found a Comfort Inn with rooms. It was basic, clean, fine. Nice inside pool area, but kinda strange. Interior walls and ceiling were knotty pine. Seems like an odd medium to use in such a humid area. Looked cool though.

24 September 2012

September 26, 2012 - Electronics

It used to be just a camera. Now it is several cameras, tripod, binoculars, monocular, laptop, pedometer, GPS, cell phone, Kindle, chargers for everything, etc. Luckily we ordered the iPhone 5 the moment it was available on pre-order, got it as promised by Apple on Friday, and got it set up at Sprint on Saturday. This is our first smart phone, so we really wanted it for this trip. Big learning curve though, so if you call us in the near future, hopefully we can actually answer.

We did not, however, get our fab Nikon P510 back from the repair. Just bought it about 6 months ago and it was making grinding sounds when adjusting the lens. The shop said it looked like sand in the lens. Had we been to the beach? Yep, we had but not in a sand storm.

Recently we haven't been able to take any extended trips due to 3 geriatric cats--Max, Annie and Rico. The last died this past May and this is why we are now taking some long trips. But back to the sand story. We had taken the three cat cremains to Lake Michigan shore to "set them free." Well, the wind was squalling and we both got covered with "cat dust." It might sound gross, but they had been our babies for about 17 years each. I guess they were just getting in our space one last time. Needless to say did not advise this story to the repair guy.

September 24, 2012 - Clean and Sip

We really like coming home to a clean house and clean sheets after a vacation. So today is a heavy duty cleaning and laundry day. I kept trying to do it throughout this weekend, but that project went no where fast. Mike is cleaning the kitchen and car. I'm doing the rest.

And the last day before vacation is considered a semi-vacation day at our house, hence the pink Moscato (Italian champagne) bottle in my right hand. It's kind of a reward system. I do a major project like clean the toilets and then I earn a sip of pink Moscato. I complete a load of clothes and I earn one more sip. I vacuum all the carpet and I earn another sip. You get the idea. This all works very well. I get the job done and am really happy doing it.

Vacuuming is always the last task. Oh, wait a minute…. I'm running out of steam, and apparently so is the vac. Line busted. Boo hoo. Forced to stop. What a pity!!

Move on to the last task. Now I must get serious about juggling clothes for hot and cold weather and figuring out what suitcases will work best in packing the car. Too much, too little, yes, no, help! Oh, well, I guess we’ll buy it if we forget it. Good back up plan. 

23 September 2012

September 23, 2012 - A Travel Blog ?

No more geriatric cats to care for, so hitting the road big time. Mike said let’s do a blog, so folks will know how close we are to invading their life for a dinner or a night.

Taking advantage of our new AAA membership. Books are not in order, but illustrate the "magnitude" of our first road trip. This pile is nine inches high!!

Depart home on September 25. Taking the northern route, then south through California, then Arizona, then heading north home (not sure what route for the last leg). Home on Mike's BD (October 13). Three theatre tickets, jury duty for Deb, and a few doctors appointments the next week.

Sorry we can't stop and see EVERYONE we know. If we are planning to see you, we have sent you an email already. If we can fit anymore folks in, we'll let you know as we get closer.