Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chapter 31 - Clarkston to Missoula, Montana

Wednesday, July 22nd:
The distance from our campsite in Clarkston, Washington to our new campsite in Missoula, Montana, the Missoula KOA, is 220 miles.  Almost the entire drive is on U.S. Route 12 through Idaho.  This road which was previously known as the Lewis and Clark Highway, and is now named the Northwest Passage Scenic Highway, has to be one of the top scenic highways in all of the United States. The highway follows for much of its length the Clearwater River and the Lochsa River, and then once we cross the Lolo Pass at 5,233 feet, the highest elevation of todays drive, we followed the West Fork Lolo Creek down into Missoula. The Lewis and Clark Expedition followed these rivers on their famous journey west back in 1805. Also interesting about this route is that a little over a third of the drive runs through the Nez Perse Indian Reservation.

No part of the drive however, is on a road that is straight or even level as the highway follows along the winding courses of the various rivers. Then depending on which direction you are traveling, in  our case east, the road rises against the rapidly falling river water that is running to the west ultimately to the Pacific Ocean. The photo of Kathy and Cabo that was taken when we briefly stopped to rest and let traffic pass us by, clearly shows the fast moving rapids of the Lochsa River.

Our total drive time with a few stops took us almost 5-1/2 hours which works out to an average speed of only 40 miles per hour.  While we were delighted with the spectacular scenery all along todays drive, the driving was also stressful and we were really ready to relax once we arrived at the Missoula KOA around 1:30 pm Mountain Time.  The remoteness in the area of Hwy 12 through Idaho is well illustrated by the fact that at one point the distance between gas stations was 90 miles.  Thanks to Miss Garmin, we purchased gas at the last station before the 90 mile void, which we welcomed, but it was undoubtedly the most primitive (1950s) gas station I have stopped at in fifty years and gas sold for $3.599 per gallon.  Ouch!

The KOA campground was large and by the end of the day mostly full, but our setting was very nice as we were under a shade tree plus we had full hookups including WiFi and cable TV and the temperatures were only in the high 70s.  Other than a quick trip over to a nearby Walmart we stayed "home" for the rest of the day.  Frankly, while we had not studied a list of tourist attractions here in Missoula, the size of the metropolitan area, population around 113,000, and the traffic that we encountered coming into the city did not leave us excited to go exploring after our long tiring drive.

Thursday, July 23rd:
One thing about changing time zones and losing an hour as we drove east, was that we slept in an extra hour (at least by my watch). Actually it was Cabo who alerted us to get up as he needed to find a tree or fire hydrant as soon as possible.  It was 6:30 am Mountain Time. I spent a few minutes during breakfast reviewing the various brochures that we had picked up when we registered at the campground office and after discussing the alternatives with Kathy, we decided to drive to downtown Missoula to see what they have to offer. Our first stop was at the St Francis Xavier Church which was built back in 1889. The church was actually easy to find as the downtown area was not large and the high steeple of the church was visible from several blocks away.

Fortunately the door of the church was wide open which is often the case with Catholic Churches. After Kathy spent time inside while I watched Cabo (it was unclear whether dogs could worship inside Catholic churches), I too visited the inside of what turned out to be an incredibly beautiful interior. While the stained glass windows were wonderful they were not entirely unique.  What was really special about the entire were the paintings on the walls and ceilings that we were told were painted by one of the brothers of the Society of Jesus who worked for the church as a kitchen worker. The photograph may not show it but this guy was a true Master, apparently with special gift from God. Fortunately his artwork is still shared with visitors more than a century later. 

Kathy, Cabo, and I walked around three or four blocks through the downtown Main streets.  What surprised us was the general quality of the stores and much like Walla Walla, the quality of the architecture of their exteriors.  There were lots of various art stores, book stores, specialty clothing stores, small restaurants, plus many others that in part undoubtedly attracted the many young college students that we watched walking the streets, undoubtedly from the nearby University of Montana. One of the many stores that we entered was this bookstore where they were pushing a new book on "The Oregon Trail."  The sales girl told us that the author of the book, Rinker Buck, was going to be in the store tonight to autograph his books.  Tempting, but I suspect we will not attend.  Besides, that is old hat; we are now on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

We spent about two hours downtown between visiting the church, walking in and out of stores, and walking past several of the public buildings including a large Missoula County Courthouse that shows in the photograph below. The photograph to the right was taken of Kathy looking at real estate listings here in Missoula. Unlike much of the real estate for sale in the coastal states, the selling prices for homes here in this area appears to be more reasonably priced, about 25% lower.

This last photo was taken of Kathy and Cabo in front of the Missoula Capital Courthouse.  After visiting the downtown area we drove out to the west side of the city to visit the Historical Museum of Fort Missoula.  Unfortunately and not unsurprisingly, Cabo was not allowed in the museum.  We were able however, to drive around the grounds and look at some of the historical structures that had been relocated to this large 32 acre park. Frankly, this museum and the grounds were not unlike some of the other similar historical museums that we have visited.  Cabo saved us the $12 entrance fee. Thanks Cabo.

Tomorrow we head for the Butte Montana KOA on the way to next weeks visit to Yellowstone National Park.  


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