Putting a beloved friend, or a beloved place, in your rear view mirror is never easy. The shared history comes flooding back as you drive away, leaving you wondering when next you will be reunited. I have felt that more times than I can count on this trip. It serves as a reminder of the depth of feeling that passes from person to person and from person to place. We need both in our lives.
From Big Sky, my road turned south, briefly passing through Yellowstone National Park before hitting Idaho. Yellowstone has always seemed like the proper way to finish my trip, so this drive-by didn’t count in my book. The wintery silence and chilled beauty of the pines dusted in fresh snow, however, was totally captivating for those few minutes of driving. Before long, my road snaked westward once more, crossing into Idaho.
Idaho is a strange place. I’ve always associated Idaho with the jagged Sawtooth Mountains and the meandering Snake and Salmon Rivers. This trip, on the other hand, began with a drive across the volcanic plain that bends through southern Idaho. Aside from the occasional cinder cone and crater, this section of Idaho looks flat and feels empty. Curiosity abounds here. The Idaho National Laboratory, an 890-square-mile, secretive research facility that has a history of nuclear research surrounds the road in every direction. Outposts with antennae and satellite installations dotted the horizon, collecting all manner of clandestine information. I’ve even heard rumors that nuclear submarines go through testing underneath the INL in a massive aquifer. Clearly, this is also a place where my imagination began to run rampant. That said, when you come out of the INL, you pass through Arco, which proudly proclaims its status as America’s first nuclear powered town… With that kind of Cold War era propaganda, it’s hard not to get conspiratorial!
Just west of the INL is Craters of the Moon National Monument. This landscape is just as stark and empty as the INL, but for an entirely different reason: it was an active lava flow millions of years ago. Beginning about 16 million years ago, a hotspot on the border of Idaho and Oregon began to migrate, following an east-north-east trajectory. That same hot spot created the volcanic plain through which I was driving and is now responsible for the geothermal activity under Yellowstone. So cool! I can’t even imagine what it would look like here during any other season. Even with the accumulated snow, I could still make out cinder cones, lava stacks, craters, arches, and a jagged horizon of razor sharp rock. The snow had undoubtedly filled in some of the most dramatic parts of the landscape, but it was still otherworldly. I will definitely have to swing back through here once the snow has melted!
After passing through Craters of the Moon, I had hoped to visit Sun Valley en route to Boise, but diminished visibility and an impending storm forced me to take a more conservative route. Still, I ended up driving 30 mph in driving snow over a mountain pass that was all but deserted. The descent, however, yielded improved conditions with every turn. Soon, I had hit Boise and was off to bed.
With my westward exploration of Idaho complete, I turned north. I followed Route 95 in and out of the clouds as I wound through a steep valley filled with freshly dusted pines. It was one of the most magical roads I had been on so far. From thick woodlands to wide-open plains, I meandered north, always surrounded by mountains. I even attempted to venture into Hell’s Canyon, but was rebuffed by deep snows near the pass. Finally, I hit Lewiston, passing by an epic manufacturing or industrial plant of some sort before crossing into Washington. Spokane was my goal for the day, so I rode the gentle undulations of the palouse until I tucked in for the night.
The next day represented my final push to the coast. That night, I would sleep in Seattle. For me, that is about as exciting as it gets. I decided to follow Route 2 all the way to the coast. This decision proved impossible, since part of the road was closed. Aside from my minor detour, Route 2 made for an excellent exploratory venture across Washington. It began in rolling hills and awful visibility, then slowly opened up as the landscape flattened out. Finally, the road climbed into the mountains and the clouds enveloped my field of vision once more. With each mile, I could feel the temperature warming. Soon, the gentle snow had turned to a light rain. The warmth generated by the Pacific felt glorious!
As I got closer to Puget Sound and the Pacific, I could feel the environment shifting around me. Eastern Washington had few forests, but the western half was lush and alive with the deep green of coniferous foliage. The massive forests ran alongside the curving roads, creating tall corridors of spindly trees and dense undergrowth. Where the plains of North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho had felt barren, this felt alive.
After abandoning Route 2 in Everett, I joined the steady, molasses-like flow of Seattle traffic heading into the city. It was time for some urban adventures in the glorious Pacific Northwest. It was also high time for a shower.