This was the last trip I took with Ria. This took place in Fall 2021.

We started our journey on a Friday in late September and ended up in Fargo, North Dakota. The next morning we stopped at the Fargo “Walk of Fame” next to the visitors center. The walk of fame winds a couple of blocks in a semicircle with each celebrity leaving a message in the cement sidewalk panel. It’s kind of an eclectic variety of celebrities ranging from Bill Gates to Conway Twitty.

The celebrities can write anything they want. Some will opt for the boring hand or foot impression, while others will write a message or drawing. One of Genes’ favorites was from Alice Cooper which read “ School’s Out – Your Pal, Alice Cooper. (1)

We then proceeded across North Dakota to the little town of Belfield. It was Genes’ birthday and Mary surprised Gene by having a room reserved at the “Trappers Inn” which has a trappers theme with the major entry or passage doors having beaver traps for door handles. There were numerous traps and animal mounts on the wall and a nice local products gift shop and adjoining restaurant. Really a nice place with a friendly vibe and folks sitting out front of their motel rooms visiting with each other. The next morning we stopped at the restaurant. The breakfast entries seemed way too big so they said we could order off the kids menu which turned out to be plenty big enough. 

Then we drove several miles down the road to a place right off the highway called “Painted Rocks”, an expansive view which was breathtakingly beautiful.(2) A few miles West took us to Teddy Roosevelt National Park which has a 35 mile loop drive through the Park. We didn’t have any expectations, but were really surprised at how beautiful it was.(3) We also saw a nice variety of wildlife including mule deer, antelope, wild horses, wild buffalo, etc.(4). A giant buffalo stood 30’ off the road and we were glad he was content to ignore us. One of our favorite wildlife experiences we had there was where the road passes slowly through a giant prairie dog colony with hundreds of heads popping up all around you.They are protected here and pretty tame.  They are so cute and would stand only a few feet from where we parked. Gene wanted to take one home, but Mary convinced him the Park would frown on that. Gene also had the idea to take a photo of him hovering over a hole as if to grab one. We decided against this idea because our luck would have a Park ranger show up and give us a lecture on the proper way to interact with wildlife. 

After making it through the Park we drove to Lewistown, Montana for the night. We had planned on checking some attractions in the area and then on to Glacier National Park on Monday. The weather called for ice and snow that evening which would have canceled our Glacier trip. We decided to run right up to Glacer, getting there around 3 in the afternoon.

We were unsure what to expect, but the weather was great and the crowds were a fraction of what they would have been in the summer. The ride through the Park on winding mountain roads was incredible with one amazing view after another. (5) Just one of those places that is really impossible to capture by camera. The lesser crowds meant much less tailgating with many spots to pull out and sight see or let others go by. The Park was really everything we dreamt it could be and then some. On our way out to Kalispell we had to process what we had just seen and how lucky we were to be flexible in our travels and beat the weather. 

The next morning we stopped in Libby, Montana for breakfast and marveled at the delicious spring water they served with our meal. Perhaps it was a contrast to the chlorinated city water you get at motels.

Just past Libby there was a place called the Ross Creek Giant Cedars which we didn’t have on our agenda, but we decided to check out (6) It’s in NW Montana near the Idaho border. The last four miles wound up a mountain road with turnouts at the corners so two cars could fit. You could not have taken a Winnebago or camper up there. Where the road turned sharply next to the cliff there would be a rusty guard rail which was not too comforting. More of a warning than a deterrent. We got to a small parking lot with outhouses. A short walk took us back to a grove of magnificent cedars, some being 10-12’ at the base. There was one car there when we arrived(never saw the people) and one car coming in when we left, so it was a very nice, almost spiritual experience.

Now the gift shops were selling a lot of Huckleberry products which must be a big crop in this area. Just north of Coeur D’alene, Idaho we ran into a lot of fruit stands which were still selling fresh picked apples, pears, and peaches. What a treat to eat this fresh picked fruit. We never tasted a pear so good in Wisconsin. 

We ended up staying at a funky retro motel in downtown Coeur D’alene called the Pink Flamingo. Each room had a theme and ours was the “fishing room” Our supper was at a cool restaurant downtown.

The next day we made our way to Wenatchee, Washington. We ate at a unique restaurant off the beaten path called Tropical Salvadoreno. The woman who owned it was from El Salvador and created her own version of fusion cooking. You could hear her pounding out the tortillas with her own hands. 

The day after found us in Everett, Washington, just north of Seattle. It was still early so we drove into Seattle and went to the top of the Space Needle, which was on Gene’s bucket list. Inadvertently we went at the perfect time because we got to see the Seattle skyline while it was still light. Then it transitioned to a beautiful sunset followed by all the city lights turning on at night.

Next day in the morning we headed back to Seattle to see Pikes Market(7) The traffic was heavy and parking was difficult, which required a lot of walking on hilly streets. When we tried to leave there was an endless traffic jam taking us hours to leave. We eventually made it to Aberdeen, Washington and were relieved to escape the big city nightmare (can you tell Mary and Gene don’t like big cities).

The following morning we drove to the beach by Ocean City and saw our first real view of the ocean. (8) It was now October (off season) so the beaches were wide open, allowing vehicles to drive on the hard packed sand for miles if they wanted to. Mary and I weren’t quite that adventurous, but we did drive a few blocks down and have a picnic on the beach. 

From here we took a side road to Humptulips, Washington on the way to the rain forest. At Quinault we stopped at a cool internet cafe and then on to a 35 mile loop drive through the Quinault rain forest. The moss covered rain forest was amazing and beyond our expectations (9) We didn’t realize how many giant trees were found in the rainforest. On our way out we encountered a small herd of elk near the road and it was fun to watch them for a while (10)

The next morning found us working down the coast to Astoria at the border of WA and Oregon. We stayed at a privately run motel 6 which was the nicest motel 6 we had ever stayed at. Throughout our trip we never pre-booked any motels (other than the Trapper Inn) and never had a problem finding a room. We were also delighted to find that most motel rooms were often half or less in Oct. compared to what summer charges would have been.

In Astoria we went to some fancy restaurants along the waterfront but they were all too busy so we took a walk downtown. Near the end of the street we noticed a small sign for a Bosnian restaurant called Drena Daisy. We were intrigued and went inside to be seated immediately An elderly couple served us one of the best meals we had in a long time. Gene  said the cabbage rolls were easily the best he had ever eaten. Almost by accident, we had stumbled into the best restaurant in Astoria. 

Morning found us driving the famous Highway 101 (Pacific Coast Highway) which runs along the entire Oregon coast. The north section has a lot of recreational and commercial fishing. The weather was beautiful and there seemed to be endless beaches and ocean cliffs to view or explore. 

Every few miles there was another small town with its own version of restaurants and gift shops. Near the small town of Yachats we stopped to eat at a restaurant called “Luna Sea” (11) They had a sign out front stating they only used fresh caught wild seafood and would never use farmed seafood. There were fishing boats and crab traps piled next to the restaurant. Needless to say, great  seafood dinner.

A little further south we hit Florence and a big area of coastal dunes which was cool to see. (12) The loose sand here was hard to walk in and a number of local operations offer dune buggy rides. Other people rent or bring their own Atv/Utv to ride on the dunes. We enjoyed the Yachat area and wished we could have explored it a little more. Our day ended in Florence.

On Sunday we continued south. It was foggy which limited our views while driving, although you could still get a decent view in most areas if you parked. The fog was getting pushed into the cliff shorelines. As it crashed over the road it swirled wildly as if it were alive. 

Along the way we stopped at a town called Banson to eat and shop at some interesting stores.They had a large sculpture of a seal made from trash people had collected on the beach. (13)

We also stopped at a farmers market along the way. It was neat to see local produce and buy rocks right from the collectors. 

Near Gold Coast we found a small gift shop which sold local products. They also made many products out of a local tree called Myrtlewood. You could watch the workers making stuff in a room next door. Gene bought a new walking stick and Ria bought a kitchen tool and trout fly earrings (Later I had the walking stick burned with electricity and the cracks colored with light reactive pigment by Rowyn Designs)  We made our way to Brookings for the night. 

Across the bridge from Brookings there is a small town called Harbor which has a few yuppie tourist restaurants along the waterfront, but we were too tired to search so we stopped at a place called Pacific Sushi on the main street in town. On the outside it looked like an old bar/supper club like you would see in Wisconsin. We were  surprised to find a group of young sushi chefs working like mad and mostly a young crowd. 

Gene says -” Full disclosure, I was never a huge sushi fan. I’ve tried sushi many times in Wisconsin and never could get as excited about it as some of my friends are. It’s highly unlikely the places in Wisconsin are air freighting never frozen fish overnite to their restaurants. In Wisconsin I could not tell one fish from another and even doubted the fish was what they said in the sushi. It was ok, but I never got the great interest”

The sushi at Pacific Sushi was fantastic. The taste of each seafood, whether it was fish or crab, was distinctive and delicious. I felt like the flavors were exploding in my mouth. I am now a big sushi fan, as long as I go to Pacific Sushi. 

Tuesday we headed down to northern California to see the Redwoods. We went to an area north of Orick and drove the Drury scenic parkway route which is 30-40 miles long and drove by hundreds of massive Redwood trees. There were countless places to pull out and walk around (14) 

We had seen stories in the news about the Redwoods further south where they had spent millions building wood walkways to keep people from walking on or touching the trees. By contrast, in the areas we went to you could walk right up to the trees and touch them or walk inside if they were hollow. There was no point in comparing trees because each one was a magnificent treasure in its own way. After finishing the loop we drove back towards Crescent City (Yes Dorothy there is a Crescent City) 

Along the way there was a tourist attraction on private land where you could drive up a steep hill and at the top drive through a giant Redwood tree. Some decades ago the owner had cut a large square hole in an already partially hollow tree so you could drive your vehicle through it. Yes, a corny idea that would probably not be done today, but it was long since done so we thought why not enjoy it (The truth is, this was a bucket list fantasy for Gene) At the entrance no one was at the booth, with a homemade sign saying they trusted us and we could leave the money in a box. We folded up the mirrors on the truck and made it through with an inch and a half to spare on each side (15)

From here we went to Jeremiah Smith Redwoods State Park. Here there were some really huge trees with numerous places to drive or hike through the massive Redwoods, each one as  amazing as the last. No photo can capture the grandeur of these treasures (16)

From here we worked our way NW through the Smith River Wilderness on our way to Talent, Oregon to visit Marys’ sister Anne and her mate Bruce who are both accomplished artists. The drive through the Smith river and Rogue river National Forest was enjoyable, but by the time we got to Medford we were tired so we spent the night there.

The next morning we got to Anne and Bruce’s recently purchased home, which is in a real pretty, quiet neighborhood on the edge of Talent, Oregon. (17) They took us on a tour of the area, showing us areas where forests, and even dozens of houses had been destroyed by recent  forest fires. We got to see numerous vineyards, pot farms, and orchards. At one point we drove by a large pear orchard where the trees were just packed with fruit, falling to the ground not getting picked. We really didn’t know why? No market? No workers?

Anne had mentioned there were no houses behind them, just a set of railroad tracks. So the next morning Gene was up before everybody else so he made his way to the tracks to take a walk. Right behind there was a sizable vineyard which was cool to see. A ways down the tracks a good sized outdoor Pot grow was nearing harvest. Gene used to grow Pot so he would never mess with somebody else’s grow, not to mention it may have been under more surveillance by the owner than was obvious.

Gene Says -”; As a long time Cannabis consumer it was refreshing to see the freedom enjoyed in Washington, Oregon, and California where recreational Pot is legal. We stopped at several dispensaries and found them all to be run professionally. Statistics in these states show no increase in teen use, crime, or traffic accidents compared to national levels. Meanwhile they are generating millions in tax revenue that would have otherwise gone to the black market”

Oregon had the cheapest Pot and we enjoyed the funny dispensary names. The next day Bruce and Anne showed us more of the nearby city of Ashland. Really a dedicated Arts community so it’s little wonder they were attracted to this area. Quite a nice food Co-op, interesting shops and Art studios.

That evening we went with Anne and Bruce to a sushi restaurant they frequent in Ashland called Kobe. We were surprised to find out they were familiar with Pacific Sushi in Brookings and they enjoyed it as much as we did. The Kobe was in a serene location with a stream crossing through the yard. Great food and a wild racoon playing by the stream as we left. 

In the morning we took various roads and highways on our way to Burns, Oregon. The area north of Valley City called Albert Rim was scenic (18) We learned that we had passed very near Oregon’s largest geyser by Lakeview and didn’t  even know it. Too far to backtrack. 

In Burns we stayed at a really nice motel called Rory & Ryans Motel. We also checked out a cool old rock shop that had been around for several decades. Kind of a fluke that it was still open because the owner was out of town and the guy running it didn’t want to shut down till the owner returned. We bought some unique rock items here.

Saturday found us driving across lower Idaho to Pocatello. We made a few stops, but did drive through old lava fields. The Travelodge room we got in Pocatello really sucked so it will be a long time before we would go to another. We were glad to leave Pocatello.

A few miles north of town on Highway 15 we were getting low on gas so we pulled into a small gas station which turned out to be a really nice Native gift shop. 

As we got into Montana there was a highway rest stop at Lima, Montana. To get to the rest stop you had to pass by Jan’s restaurant which promised Good grub and friendly service. Both were accurate, plus a cool gift shop where we bought a number of things. (19) Once again the spring water was delicious and Ria took a large to-go cup of water when we left. If you think these people were hicks, maybe the 15 electric car charging ports in front of their restaurant might make you reconsider. The people were so friendly and the atmosphere so mellow that it really transformed our attitudes for the rest of the day. What a Great place!

 As we got closer to Butte the rocky scenery was quite unique and stayed that way for about 25 miles east of town. We spent the night in Billings and headed out the next morning as the forecast was for heavy snow in a day or two. 

We stopped in Sheridan, Wyoming and enjoyed the dozens of metal sculptures throughout the downtown area. At one point we were a couple of blocks off the main road in Sheridan and we stumbled upon a few blacktail deer wandering through town in a very tame manner. Gene was going to see if they would eat some of the carrots Anne had given us, but we thought the locals might discourage feeding the deer. 

Throughout Wyoming we started seeing groups of antelope along the highway. Many groups were down in valleys or ravines where you had to be looking for them, so I would wager the majority of traffic didn’t even see them. There was one old buck with huge horns that didn’t seem to mind the traffic and was grazing on the highway right of way. 

A little further down the interstate  we stopped by the little city of Buffalo. A really cool little town well worth the stop. We’ll let you discover it yourself.

It was starting to snow, but not enough to delay us. The big snow was coming tomorrow. We stayed in Rapid City, South Dakota at a La Quinta which we found to our surprise included a waterpark (still only $75 for 2 people, gotta love those off season rates) We could have checked out a lot more attractions in the area, but we were now more anxious to to avoid the storm. We also reasoned that Rapid City was not far from Wisconsin and might be a nice short vacation sometime.

A while after we left Rapid City we started to get low on gas and each off ramp we encountered didn’t have gas. We realized the next off ramp at Kadoka better have gas. As we went up the ramp my low fuel alarm went off and we knew we would never have made the next one. We were lucky to get fuel, but this stop turned out to be lucky in other ways. Near the gas station there was a fantastic sculpture of a leaping deer. (20) It was made of locally found objects such as railroad spikes, hammers, car parts, gears, etc. One of the most interesting sculptures we had ever seen, and we would have never known it was there as there were no signs for it on the highway. This same area had some neat “old  school” motels that we thought might be worth checking out on another trip to the badlands. 

We continued to Chamberlain, South Dakota where another lucky break occurred. Gene had seen a news story about the Native dignity statue. He thought it was at the Akta Lakota Museum in Chamberlain so we worked our way through town to the museum. As it turned out the statue was a little further down the interstate at a rest stop (which we later checked out and is wonderful). The museum was very nice and had one of the best Native gift shops we had ever seen. We bought a number of beautiful items including Genes psychedelic buffalo. One of our favorite stops which we found by accident. I would wager most travelers going down the interstate stop at the statue and never bother going into town to see the museum. 

After stopping at the statue (21) we went on to the last stop of our vacation, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. (22) I’m sure you’ve seen stories on the news about it. Each year they make a new version. This year’s version cost over 130,000 dollars to build. There was hardly anyone there. There were some kids on a scaffolding nailing new corn halves on one corner for next year’s project. Would I drive hundreds of miles out of my way to see it? Probably not. If you’re driving the interstate it’s only a couple miles out of the way and it’s free. 

The area between Rapid City and Billings we passed through yesterday now had 10-20”of snow. We learned the importance of being flexible in our travel plans. The folks who plan it all out and reserve all their motels a month in advance would have missed out on a boatload of things we were still able to see. Not to mention they would have been stranded in a snowstorm. 

So there you have it. Our trip was an epic adventure and there’s not many trips where you can knock a half dozen things off your bucket list.

Happy Trails!  Live it Up! Gene & Ria