We set off west from Tacoma , quite late after our visit to the Lemay museum, towards the first destination on our road trip - Spokane. The trip would take about 3 hours so we wouldn't likely arrive until after 8pm. Although America is a car nation, little good can said about its roads. The quality of some US highways are very poor, which takes its toll on car tyres. On the highway east we passed five cars stopped on the side of the road with blown tyres. These are modern cars mind you, not some old rattle bangers with worn tyres? Modern cars and new tyres. I can't remember the last time I saw someone with a blown tyre in Australia and I haven't had to change a tyre myself in over twenty years.
The scenery on the road wasn't amazing. Time and the miles slipped past. Nevertheless, without any detours or delays we still arrived later than expected. We pulled into the first dodgy looking motel in downtown Spokane and Shelly jumped out. It was full. We tried another. It was also full. Suddenly something a shop assistant in Seattle said came back to us. This was graduation weekend and every college in the country was putting on a show. Spokane was the home of Washington state university. Everything was going to be full. It was now nearly 9.30 so we decided we'd grab something to eat while we could then, if we had to we'd drive out of town and hope to find something on the highway. We settled into an Irish bar and had a couple of beers with a ruben sandwich and BLT. It was simple food at its best and one of the best meals we'd had to date.
We hit the road, trying a few motels along the way, without any success. A navigational error out us in the car park of an expensive looking hotel so we said what the heck. Fortunately for us they gave us a cheap rate - it was after 10.30 after all - and we checked it. We we less than five minutes drive from the centre of the city.
The next morning we set off for Spokane's number one tourist attraction - the Spokane cascades. This series of small waterfalls is situated in a park right in the heart of downtown. Pedestrian bridges criss cross the cascades providing good viewing opportunities. There is even a gondola ride that takes you out over the lower reaches. The gondola ride advertises itself with shameless American hyperbole as "voted the best gondola ride in the world.' These sort of ridiculous claims appear everywhere in America without any sense of irony. Local beers, restaurants, motels, tourist attractions, all make outrageously self confident claims to greatness without ever explaining just who 'voted' and in what context.
The gondola ride is relatively short, starting at the old hydro-electric power station (a great example of turn of the century industrial architecture), crosses the lower reach of the rapids to a point mid-river, beneath Spokane bridge. It's a leisurely (15 minute) ride to nowhere, which we enjoyed in good spirits and then set off to our next destination - Whitefish.
Whitefish is a small town situated on the western edge of the Glacier National Park. The journey itself was uneventful. The further east we got the more impressive the scenery. It was a long drive though and by the time we arrived in town it was late afternoon and pouring with rain. We stayed at a motel a little way out of the old downtown. For entertainment that evening we visited the local bowling alley. It was very quiet but the food was excellent and the beer very cheap - $2 pints of the local! The place was just beginning to fill up when we stumbled out at 11.30pm.
Glacier National Park
It was a relatively short drive from Whitefish to Glacier National Park. At the gate however there was notice advising that the main road through the park was closed at about the 25 mile point. I was a little dubious about proceeding, especially at a cost of $25. I mean, how much were we going to see, but the Park Ranger advised that there was still some great scenery. I grudgingly paid and we entered the park. The lakeside village wasn't much to see and I was beginning to regret coming. We shouldn't be wasting our time here when we could be heading towards Yellowstone. But we drove on around the lake, heading north. It was a good thing too. A couple of miles along the lakeside we saw a view point and pulled over. The view was stunning. From this angle the lake was mirrored like glass and the light was just perfect. There wasn't a ripple to be seen. We took a dozen photos and enjoyed the scene in relative quiet (there was hardly anyone around). We only moved on after another group of tourists arrived and decided throwing rocks into the lake was the thing to do.
We drove on to the Glacier Park Lodge, a magnificent old hotel built in the late 1800s. We got out and wandered around through the lodge and admired the scene. Around the lodge were parked dozens of the Park's distinctive tour coaches. Specially built in the 1930s, these old buses had had been servicing the Park for decades. They had all recently been completely overhauled and given new diesel electric engines and modern chassis' and suspension. They looked just the part.
The road was closed north of the Lodge so we turned around and headed south. It was only a short visit, but a very pleasant one. The scenery was lovely and it was worth the price of admission, but now Yellowstone was calling.