Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Palousey, a Creamery, and a Winery – all in Moscow, Idaho

Our bus wheels finally got rolling after our scheduled 8 am departure from Dent Acres was delayed due to the automatically retracting steps not automatically retracting.  Ugh, just when everything seemed to be working great!  This happened once before and the solution (as told to us from a trusted mechanic) was to apply a sh*#  load of silicone and hit it with a hammer.  The silicone would clean off the road dirt and the hammer would provide enough force to get the gear turning.  Surprise, we have both of those “tools” and since I know nothing about repairing mechanical things who was I to object.  But when that did not work on the first try, bolts started coming off and more problems erupted.  We planned on heading to Moscow, Idaho – a college town just a couple hours up the road – so off we went with steps that did finally retract but made a repeating banging noise as they went in (we kept our fingers crossed and said a prayer to the step gods every time we opened the door).  Certainly Moscow must have an RV repair shop that can quickly and easily (but as experience has proven - never cheaply) get the bolt back in place and stop the banging.  Not so fast, as fate would play out, the small town repair shop would be booked until mid-July so the banging was destined to continue … and so was our nomadic lifestyle. 

What drew us to Moscow in the first place was the Appaloosa Horse Museum.  But what we found was a full day of activities that had us dropping Spirit at daycare so we could get an early day start on our long day’s adventure.  (Before you start feeling sorry for the lively pup since we ditched her with strangers just know that she loves spending a whole day romping with strange dogs.) 

Moscow sits on the Idaho border just across Washington State in an area known as Palouse Country – a name it gets from sitting in the Palouse River drainage.  And with that said now I can tell you the colorful history of the Appaloosa horse.  Early white trappers and settlers saw the Nez Perce Indians with these distinctive horses and their noticeable spotted coat patterns and gave them the name “A Palouse Horse.”  Then it became “A Palousey Horse” and finally the name "Appaloosa" stuck.  Today, many owners affectionately call them  "Appys."




The Nez Perce took great pride in their horses and careful breeding produced strong and steady horses suitable for their rugged and harsh environment.  That all changed in 1877 when the tribe rebelled against the U.S. government and a war ensued.  The tribe fought and fled from the U.S. Cavalry in an unfortunate escapade that had them fleeing their homeland and traveling nearly 1,400 miles across country unfamiliar to them.  When the tribal leaders finally surrendered in Montana, they were forced to relinquish their horses and the Appaloosa breed began to die. 


The breed was all but “lost” until 1938 when an avid Appaloosa breeder by the name of Claude Thompson recognized the importance of preserving and improving this unique American horse and he established the Appaloosa Horse Club.  The Appaloosa Museum and Horse Club are based in Moscow and continue to encourage the perpetuation of this uniquely American Breed.


We enjoyed the small (but very nice and informative) Appaloosa Horse Museum but my mind frequently wandered to our next destination that would have us crossing the border into Washington.  The neighboring town of Pullman is home to the Washington State University and a famous creamery called Ferdinand's.  I am not one who is very eager to be back on a college campus but when I found out that the university had a creamery with world famous ice cream and cheese, I was ready to enroll.  Luckily it was not hard convincing Betsy to make the trip across the border to partake in my indulgence of sweet butter fat.  Let me just say, the cappuccino chocolate chip paired nicely with a scoop of huckleberry and we enjoyed both while watching students flavor cheese curds for the famous Cougar Gold Cheese.

 



Since we were starting to like hanging out on this college campus (which is actually quite attractive) we decided to check out the Grizzly Bear Center just a few blocks away.  The center has been in existence since 1986 and houses live grizzlies that are used in research to gain a better understanding and knowledge necessary to conserve bear populations around the world.  The number of bears fluctuates between 8 and 10 and is the only program in the world to house adult grizzlies for research. Pretty cool!



The campus turned out not only to have a creamery and bear research facility but an art museum, arboretum, botanical center, wildlife conservation center, and veterinary anatomy museum as well but we skipped the cultural side of the university because we had one more thing to do in Moscow before picking up Spirit and heading to dinner – check out the oldest winery in Idaho - Camas Prairie.

I know some of you wine snobs are turning up your noses and rinsing your palates as I speak, but come on this is the oldest winery in Idaho, established in 1983.  O.k., so we gave a little chuckle when we saw that statistic but for a tasting of 6 wines for 2 bucks it was worth a try.  And, we did actually end up buying a bottle of cabernet sauvignon.  The wine was good but we had a bitter taste in our mouths when we found out we could have bought it $3 cheaper in the local food co-op. 


And speaking of local co-op, check out one of our purchases (and I'm not the butcher in the picture below who wanted to hitch a ride to Montana with us) I'm referring to the house-made brats.


Moscow was a great two-night stop for us with a fun day filled with stuff to do, an incredible food co-op where I could stock up on cheese, and a pizza restaurant that had us returning two nights in a row.

It is hard transitioning from our Dent Acres paradise but we know that other wonderful places and people are lurking...and ice cream, wine, and pizza help.



Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Bittersweet Goodbye

Well, our three months has flown by and now we find ourselves packing up the patio furniture and preparing to get the wheels rolling again.  We can’t say enough about how much fun we had with the people we worked with.  There were many laughs, jokes, and a total light-hearted attitude that made the work fun. 

Betsy and Ken singing "Islands in the Stream"
A couple of nights ago we had a going away party complete with Mexican food and a jumpin’ karaoke machine supplied by fellow work campers “Kowboy Ken" and Shari.  Just when you think you are not into karaoke and would never get up and sing in front of people – you just might find yourself heading to the microphone.  Could it have been the wine, bourbon, or beer that was wetting our whistles and prompted us to reveal our musical debut?  Or was it just the fun, laid-back attitude with our fellow work campers that begs you to let down your inhibitions and embarrass yourself just a little?  Ken (one never to be too serious) had us rolling with laughter with his antics and Shari saved us with her true musical talent and wondrous voice. 

Me, Ken, Shari, Brittney, and Betsy
Fellow campers enjoying the music and great evening.
How is this for a backdrop to our party?
Dent Acres turned out to be one of our favorite campgrounds that we have visited in our three years of motorhoming.  And aren't we glad since we committed to spending three months there?  Our stay here started off with cool spring weather that even brought snow flakes and reminded us that we were in the north but ended with glorious sunny days filled with summer warmth.  Slowly we watched the water in the reservoir climb to full pool as it rose nearly 80 feet.  The trails filled with spring flowers and before we left, deer and elk calves showed up around the campground.




I think Spirit will be the most disappointed when she finds herself in a postage stamp-size KOA dog park instead of countless miles of pine forests and the cool water of the reservoir. Our last nights even had the "supermoon" waxing noted in this photo.


Mighty dog did her best to retrieve the largest sticks possible and carry them home a mile.
But it is time to return to our nomadic lifestyle and say “so long” to our neighbors (a.k.a. other work campers) as we set our GPS for northern Idaho and Glacier National Park.  The group of volunteers we worked with were so much fun and we shared many jokes during our impromptu "staff meetings," campfires, and picnics.  We will miss them terribly, wish them safe travels, and hope to see them somewhere down-the-road.

Staff meeting with the gang.

As our time was coming to a close we were trying to cram everything into our last few days off work.  That meant we had to spend more evenings fishing at the dock, return to Elk River for another sweet taste of huckleberry ice cream, and check the wildlife camera one more time.




Please, can I have a lick?
Look what else I found made with huckleberries!
While we never captured the image of a bear or mountain lion we did get a kick out of seeing the elk fawn and mother
from the wild life camera.

A very special thanks goes out to "our rangers," Andrew and Brittney and also Deb for choosing us to be their volunteers and giving us a great Idaho experience.  We will forever be grateful.  Who knows, maybe we'll be back one day.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Huckleberry Ice Cream Along the Elk River Scenic Byway

Our beautiful campground sits midway along the Elk River Scenic Byway so we are lucky enough to traverse a portion of this 57-mile route every time we go to “town” (Orofino, Idaho). The twisty, turny, windy road gave us a jolt of scariness when we came up it for the first time in the motorhome nearly two months ago.  I am a big fan of shoulders and guard rails when there is a 100-foot drop off next to the road but obviously not all road engineers find that necessary.

As you leave Orofino and set out on the byway you make a quick ascent which provides an outstanding view of the Clearwater River snaking its way through the valley.  A short distance out of town and you are bewildered by expansive views of crests and canyons that remind you that the western sky is big.

Keep driving and you leave the rural areas in your rear view mirror and transition into the small farms and ranchettes surrounded by dense forest.  The narrow road forces drivers to keep their eyes focused on the road and a passing logging truck reemphasized the need for guard rails.



Pretty soon you realize you are descending the mountain and feel as though you are going to plunge into the Dworshak Reservoir when luckily the Dent Bridge comes into view.  Many times we have made this drive and have always been treated to interesting wildlife viewing whether it is elk grazing in the fields in the evening, wild turkeys strutting in the afternoon, or ospreys tending to their nests atop the Dent Bridge.



Since we are never in a hurry and elk are BIG animals, they always have the right-of-way. 
Besides we love watching them.
Midway along the route is our campground, Dent Acres.  The campground used to be an old homestead and orchard so there is plenty of history but all that remains are a few old posts and apple trees not yet ripe for picking.

The road from our campground to Elk River is a short 13 miles but beware the drive takes nearly 45 minutes.  This gravel road meanders through logging country and 25 mph is about as fast as you will go.  This portion of the drive reminds you that logging was, and still is, big business around here.

Pine trees are known as "green gold" around here and logging operations are extensive.
The quaint little town of Elk River is a cross-roads that attracts recreationists looking to camp, hunt, fish, snowmobile, or ride ATV’s. In fact, this town probably has more ATV’s than vehicles.  When we arrived at Dent Acres people told us to go to Elk River because of the ever-popular huckleberry ice cream.  Exploring small towns is definitely our thing, but even more so when there is food involved. 

Even the dog gets a ride on the 4-wheeler.
The derelict Elk River public school reflects a more prosperous and booming time.
Once again we were treated to the beauty of a field of camus lillys.
We did some research and found out there is more to Elk River than just ice cream and the drive through town was worth it. Just north of town is the Elk Creek falls which is a beautiful system of cascading water that plummets down through ancient lava flows.  A series of wide trails link the upper, middle, and lower falls and makes for a great hike in the cool woods and a perfect place for a lab to wet her paws.


















About this time we were starting to get hungry and the craving for soft creamy huckleberry ice cream and a calorie-hypted lunch was beginning to dominate our thoughts.  Enough falls, let’s go eat!  In town we found the Log Inn which served up a great hamburger (yes, we are still on a hamburger kick) in a place decorated with historic photographs from the days gone by when Elk River was a thriving mill town thanks to the Potlach Company opening the largest electric-powered sawmill in the country.

The mill is no longer in operation but the old Clearwater - Potlach fire camp from the early 1900's still exists and houses firefighters. 

A dam across the Elk Creek was constructed in 1909 to form a "millpond" which was used to store logs for the sawmill.  Storing the logs in water was an efficient way to move the logs as well as keep them from drying out or becoming laden with insects. 
Sorry, I just had to do that to you - at least you won't exceed your daily caloric intake by just looking.
Next on our list of Elk River tourist attractions was the cedar grove that is home to one of a few old-growth cedar groves in Idaho and birthplace of the state’s champion western red cedar (estimated at over 3,000 years old).  The dense grove provided some well needed shade from the warm afternoon and we were a gasp at being amidst so many towering old trees.


Don't think I forgot to mention the ice cream - I was just saving the best for last. The General Store that sold the frozen goodness was a "we-have-everything" store.  Most people come for the huckleberry ice cream or a milkshake but you can also pick up your mail, purchase fishing lures, buy booze, get a leg hold trap for a nuisance animal living under your house, find out who is leaving prank calls about your wife, and get a hot lunch.  We did not just settle on two ice cream cones; instead, our lust for sweets overtook our better judgement and prompted us to pick up a slice of huckleberry pie and huckleberry taffy. 


This was on the bullentin board sandwiched between the
apartment for rent and the offer to take you elk hunting.
Elk River was a fun day trip and I have a feeling when the urge for ice cream comes calling, we will be back.