I turned left out of the parking lot and headed west: I had, quite literally, turned a corner. From now on every mile I drove was with one goal in mind: getting the rental car back to its ‘home' in Seattle and making my flight to Seattle. To make my journey more interesting, the nice people at the West Yellowstone Welcome Center had just provided me with a personalised route that took me across Montana via the nearby Madison Canyon Earthquake Area, through the gold-mining towns of Virginia City & Nevada City and along the Pintler Scenic Loop to Missoula, where I would spend the night.
Arriving in Missoula mid-afternoon, I grabbed my copy of Room$aver (for those of you who don't know, this is a fantastic little handout full of discount coupons for motel and hotel accommodation) and set off to find myself a room for the night. There were three options in the book - one had closed down, another was an absolute flea pit and then there was the Bel-Aire Motel in the centre of town. I figured that this was the place for me and, despite the seedy looking owner in his string vest doing his best to put me off as he checked me in, it was a great little place; worth every cent.
After a trip to the local Walmart I left town, thoroughly refreshed from a good night's sleep, and continued on along the route suggested by the nice people back in West Yellowstone. That route took me north to Ravalli, home of the National Bison Range, then onwards along the eastern shores of Flathead Lake to Glacier National Park.
Back at the Bel-Aire (sorry, I just love that name, so forgive me for repeating it!) I had checked the National Park Service website for the status of the famous Going-to-the-Sun road and had been disappointed to discover that it was still closed. Now, after enduring two months of ‘sorry - closed for the season', imagine my delight when I arrived and was informed that the road was in fact open after all. It had opened; get this, one hour prior to my arrival. I almost literally jumped for joy! I'd heard great things about the road through the mountains and I was anxious to check it out for myself. With all the stops for photos, the slow-moving tourists (don't you just hate em?) and a lengthy stop at some road works just prior to the start of Logan Pass, it actually took four hours to reach the Rising Sun Campground on the far side of the park and I settled in for the evening in front of the campfire: the perfect end to the perfect day.
The following morning I headed back across the Logan Pass and took off in the direction of Coeur d'Alene where I was looking to spend the night. With the satnav suggesting an eight-hour drive I didn't linger too long in the park but an easy five hours later, I was beginning to regret my decision as I approached the Coeur d'Alene city limits! Of course, everything happens for a reason, and it did allow me to check in to a very, very nice hotel in nearby Spokane for an absolute pittance. (Thanks again, Room$aver!)
The following day was 4th July - Independence Day - and I headed to downtown Spokane expecting a carnival atmosphere but it was disappointingly quiet so I headed back to the hotel for a few hours to take advantage of the fast internet connection and do some research for later in my trip. I considered taking off in the car again but, taking advice from those who suggested I was suffering from road trip fatigue, I decided to take a day off from driving instead. I was soon bored and headed back to the riverfront to see how the party was progressing. Thankfully it had livened up somewhat.
By the next morning I couldn't wait to get on the road again. The Independence Day celebrations had been fun to watch - the fireworks were pretty spectacular - but, as a non-native, I'd felt somewhat out of place, especially after the reception I got in a nearby bar when one of the local drunks realised I was a Brit. To say I was pleased to finally get back on the road was an understatement!
I was now almost back at Seattle but, rather than make it easy on myself and head straight for the airport, I decided to keep one more previously planned appointment: with North Cascades National Park. My route there would take me right past the Grand Coulee Dam - the largest electric power-producing facility and the largest concrete structure in the US - so I took the opportunity to stop off and take them up on their offer of a free tour of the place. If you ever happen to be passing, I can highly recommend it.
North Cascades, when I arrived, turned out to be a small and relatively inaccessible park but I liked it a lot. There are no roads within the boundaries of the park at all which, outside of Alaska, is probably quite unique amongst the national parks of America. Not that you'd realise it by looking at a map - not unless you looked closer than I did - as there appears to be a road running right through the middle of the place. On closer inspection this proves not to run through the park at all: but through the Lake Ross National Recreation Area which bisects the North Cascades National Park and cuts it in two. The reason for this strange situation? Simple: they're not allowed to build dams and string power lines through national parks. Whilst it is a shame to see the beauty of the area scarred by these additions I think it actually offers a far more visible example of the damage we are doing to the planet than is offered by the receding glaciers that the rangers are at pains to point out to visitors. Get off the beaten path - into the ‘wilderness' - and the place is a real beauty. Worth every mile of the long detour.
And then it was over. After 6,968 miles;, 29 days, 23 hours, 47 minutes and untold amounts of gas (I chose not to add it up for a reason) I was finally back where it had began: Seattle Airport. My flight was several hours away but the check-in clerk was happy to move me to an earlier flight - thank god for proper airlines - and I made my way through security, toasted the culmination of a mad month with a Guinness and boarded my flight. I wasn't driving today - come to think of it I wasn't driving for the next month - and, let me tell you, I was seriously excited about that fact! Bring on Alaska!
Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity
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