Thursday, June 30, 2016

The awesome scenery of Montana, Idaho and Washington on a 327 mile ride

We didn't expect today's 327 mile ride from Missoula, Montana to Walla Walla, Washington would take us through such a wide variety of landscapes while traveling primarily west on Route 12, the Lewis and Clark Highway.

We started riding south from Missoula on Route 93, and quickly joined Route 12 headed west over the Lolo Pass through the Bitterroot Mountains, with views of snow covered 9,137' Lolo Peak.

We stopped at the visitor center just before the Idaho state line, reading about the park, the Lewis and Clark expedition that traveled through this area in 1805-1806, and watched prairie dogs hard at work.

On this part of their journey, Lewis and Clark were searching for a river connection between the Columbia and Missouri Rivers. This area is part of the ancestral home of the Nez Perce who helped  guide the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Route 12 twists and winds its way west through northern Idaho, hugging first Lolo Creek and then the Lochsa River. We knew we were in for fun when we saw this sign:   

We zoomed our way through the dense cedar forest, watching the shallow, rocky bottom rivers flow alongside us. Mike quickly passed the few cars and trucks we came upon, giving us the opportunity to enjoy the curving, twisty road.

We stopped for lunch in Kamiah at the Hearthstone Bakery and Tea House on the Clearwater River. This was the waterway Lewis and Clark had been searching for, and they were finally able to build canoes and travel on the river instead of horseback.

The restaurant is beautiful inside, with tin ceilings and Victorian decorating touches. The sandwiches and salads were wonderful, and we looked longingly at the baked goods displayed in the front case.

Not far west from Kamiah we entered Lewiston, an industrial town of about 30,000 at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers. It's the most inland seaport on the West coast, 465 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. We stopped at the 18th Street Bridge, the first bridge built across the Clearwater in 1913.

As we rode across the bridge over the Snake River, we entered Clarkston, Washington and the landscape changed completely. We were now in the Palouse, a region of large, round, rolling hills that were formed by centuries of wind blowing dust and silt and are today covered with wheat, barley, and grass - but no trees.

The size and scale of the hills is amazing. I spent most of the ride wondering how farmers were able to drive tractors up and over the sides of these steep, round hills. The wind is being put to good use with numerous large windmills scattered over the hill tops.

We ended the day riding into Walla Walla, only 13 miles north of the Oregon border. We're looking forward to tasting local wines and exploring the history of this area before we continue on our journey to Portland, OR.

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