Day 1 : November 19 Billings to Helena, MT
I am writing this in the warm comfort of our Greyhaven in the Yellowstone River RV Park. We are in Billings and it is a grey and overcast morning. It is chilly, in the 30′s, but not bitter outside. I just have walked the pups and am enjoying my morning coffee with pumpkin spice creamer. Yumm! John is still asleep. After yesterday’ travel, he’s pooped. It was just an extremely long travel day yesterday. I got up around 2:30am having slept about 4 hours. John did not sleep at all and stayed up. It was pouring rain when we arrived at Newark. After boarding, the plane was suddenly delayed about an hour since it had to return to the gate. Apparently one of the flight attendants had a family emergency and had to disembark. A replacement was found and we continued on our way.
The flight out to Denver was beautiful (great breakfast of a cheese omlette), where we quickly switched planes and continued on to Billings. This plane was filled with mainly oil industry roughnecks, including one woman dressed to the nines and carrying a hardhat. Once in Billings, we collected luggage and the pups, who were jumping with joy to see us. As I picked up our suitcases, I happened to notice that the luggage carousel was full of large rectangular gun cases. It is hunting season out here in the mountain west. John got a rental car (a new Hyundai Santa Fe…nice large 3 row seater…very comfortable) and then collected the Greyhaven from the dealer just outside Billings. We headed to the Yellowstone River RV park and got a site for the night. The park was empty and basically shut down for the season, except for one area of sites. As I walked the pups later that night, I saw a group of hunters in camo gear discussing their day around a campfire.
Today, we plan on heading west towards Helena, and then northward up to Glacier National Park. Although the main attraction, the ‘Going-to-The-Sun’ road is closed with snow, we want to see the mountains and whatever we can of the glaciers.
We traveled about 240 miles northwest from Billings, along lonely and desolate highways to Helena, the state capital. It began as a decent traveling day, but the winds picked up in the afternoon and made driving challenging. The terrain changed from open grasslands and sprawling cattle ranches, to a valley along the Musselshell River. Then, the road began to climb into foothills and we found ourselves finally in between snow covered mountain ranges and forested hillsides. We traveled till near sunset and stopped for groceries just outside of Helena. I managed to pick up new flannel bedding and an inexpensive Crock Pot! Yummy stews are now on the menu! We then got a campsite just north of the city. As is usual with most campgrounds in the winter, there was no water available at the sites (closed for winter). But not a problem. We set up for the evening and I made scrambled eggs, bacon and home fried potatoes for dinner. Afterwards, I got out the new crock pot and put in all the ingredients for a yummy beef stew to cook overnight. Off to bed early. (We could smell the stew cooking all night!)
Day 2 Nov. 20 Helena to Kalispel, MT
We awoke this morning to a winter wonderland! About an inch of snow fell overnight. When I walked the pups at about 3am, the moon was still out and shining behind a veil of thin, high clouds. The temperature had fallen and it was bitter. Both pups had curled up tight with us all night long.
It was bitter cold out (14!) when we headed to the local shopping areas after breakfast to pick up a few essentials. First stop was to Petco for decent pup food, then to Sportsman’s Warehouse for gloves, wool socks, and flannel shirts. Then, we went to Albertson’s (grocery store chain here in the west) for lunch and dinner items, had a quick bite to eat while parked in the lot, and finally we were on our way. The roads were covered with dry blowing snow and were not slippery. We took it slow and easy traversing a 6300′ pass just west of Helena, and the road was OK. The temp dropped to 4 degrees at the summit! Once on the other side, we descended into a glacier-carved, wide u-shaped valley. Sheltered from the wind, the temp rose up to 35 degrees. We took Rt. 83 northwards towards Kalispel and were greeted with stunning views of the – Northern Rockies on one side, and pine forest and open water lakes on the other.
We noticed many summer and hunting cabins along the lakeshores, most of them occupied. The route also took us along famous trout rivers like the Blackfoot and the Flathead (both native american tribes in the area). Toward nightfall, which was around 5pm, we decided to find a safe harbor. The first RV campground we stopped at near Evergreen advertised it was open year round, but, after calling the number by the office and waiting, no one came to greet us. We left and drove up the road a half mile to another campground. We got a site, filling our water tank before setting up. Dinner was the fabulous crock pot beef stew…yummy!! No cable or satellite, so we watched an episode of Downton Abbey, season 3 before retiring for the night.
Day 3: Nov. 21 Kalispel to Whitefish, MT
The morning dawned bitter cold. I started to feel ill on towards midday. Hope I am not coming down with something. We did not travel far today, just 30 miles north or so into Glacier National Park via West Glacier and to Apgar Village. We were surrounded by 10,000′ snowy peaks and were amazed by the views. We were disappointed to find the Visitor’s Center closed (open only on weekends), so we did not obtain our cancellation stamp. We did visit a gift shop next door where we bought some handmade items. We drove up about 10 miles of the Going-To-The-Sun road along the shores of Lake McDonald and stopped at the Lake McDonald lodge where we walked around the huge empty and closed lodge, taking lots of photos of the mountains and lake.
We turned around and headed back out of the park. I was starting to feel worse so we decided to stay closer rather than travel west into Idaho. We drove to Whitefish, a beautiful year-round resort town with lots of outdoor sports and activities (skiing, hunting, golf, lake boating). However, now in the winter, most things were closed. We did find a very good RV campground with full hook up and a friendly manager. We set up for the night and relaxed for the evening.
Day 4: Nov. 22 Whitefish, MT
We decided to stay another night here at Whitefish. The weather was cold and clear, with no chance of snow. The surroundings were nice and I felt a little off all day yesterday. After lunch time, John and I walked across the street to a local mall and perused the various shops, stopping in a craft store, a Christmas shop, then doing some grocery shopping for ingredients for another crock pot supper. This time, I decided on a chicken stew. Back to our cozy site where John did some work and I did some needlework on a new pillow cover. On cable TV, we watched some of the many tributes and remembrances of the JF Kennedy assassination which occurred this day 50 years ago in Dallas Texas. To bed early.
Day 5 Nov. 23 Whitefish, MT to Sandpoint, ID
Like yesterday, my insides were not feeling all to well. We decided to travel north into Canada after we broke camp and crossed the border by Roosville. The Canadian border patrol guard was polite and trusting. We found ourselves in a wide valley with very high snow covered peaks on both sides. These were the southern part of the Canadian Rockies and they looked spectacular.
We headed westwards, towards Creston, but decided that getting our Idaho stamp was an important part of the trip. We crossed back into the US at Eastport, BC and into Idaho, then stopped at Bonner’s Ferrey to pick up some groceries. It was growing dark, so we quickly continued on to a lone open campground just south of Sandpoint. Before we went to the campground, we drove around the small town of Sandpoint admiring their downtown dressed in Christmas lights. The campground was a Travel Park right off the main highway. My stomach was still not feeling well and John and I butted heads. I went for a nap and stayed in bed for most of the evening.
Day 6 Nov 24 Sandpoint, ID to Republic, WA
Sunday today and halfway through our journey. I got up feeling better after taking a few probiotics and some Tylenol before going to bed last night. It was bitter cold this morning when I walked the pups at around 4am. The frozen ground shone like diamonds in the light from my headlamp and the stars above were very bright and clear. All night long, we hears the sound of train whistles up and down the valley.
Winter camping is very challenging. We were lucky to find this campground open year round on our iPad apps. It was the only one open in the upper panhandle of Idaho. Most if not all campgrounds are closed till May up in the mountains. The very few that are open have limited facilities, such as only one or two rows open and only offering electric and sewer, no water. We do have water here, but we fill our tank, then tuck our water hose inside so it does not freeze solid. Also, we have noticed there are no other motorhomes on the highways traveling about. Maybe the one or two cab trailers over pickup trucks, but no Class A or Fifth wheelers anywhere. We are out of our element for sure, but I think heading west and nearer to the ocean we will start to see more. Off into Washington state today and hopefully along more spotty scenic roads.
Day 7 Nov. 25 Republic to Anacortes, WA
We managed to get away early today, turning the Greyhaven westward and aiming at the traverse of the mighty Northern Cascade mountain range. We were not sure we could make it since it was well over 200 miles and there were no open campgrounds along the way till the small town of Rockport on the other side of the range. The day was cold and clear once more. I am very suprised at the way the weather has cooperated with us all during this trip. We have been watching the news and have heard of a huge winter storm forecast to sweep up the eastern seaboard and through New Jersey between now and Thursday, which is Thanksgiving Day. Heading west, we came upon two very scenic and quaint mountain towns at the foothills of the Cascades. They were called Twisp and Winthrop, and both were on the beautiful Methow River, but we could not stop at either to walk around since we needed to cross the mountains in one shot and hopefully before sunset.
It was a long, steep and winding highway up to Washington Pass (5477′) where we were above the snow line. Coming down to the second pass, Rainy Pass, we were surrounded by a winter wonderland of heavy snow-laden trees. This pass is closed in the winter, and again our luck held this trip for us to make this traverse and in good weather. The roads were wet from melting ice, but were gritted. Once over both passes, we started our descent down the other side, narrow and winding. John had to stop briefly as the motorhome suddenly went into neutral and we smelled a burning smell. We let the transmission cool a bit and it seemed alright after that. We stopped briefly at a trailhead where we got the pups and went for a short walk out on the snow and into the deep, dark pine forest. Both Daisy and Shelby were romping around like school kids on the first snow day! The snow was about a foot thick and we saw snowshoe tracks leading off on the trail up the canyon.
Back in the Greyhaven, we continued down, down the valley, following a small trickling stream of runoff which eventually became the huge, powerful Skagit River. Ah, back in civilization and back into warmer temperatures (40′s). We decided to head to the coast and to Anacortes where we knew there was the Fidalgo Bay RV Resort, a campground we stayed at about 5 years ago.Before heading there, John wanted to stop by a Walmart to pick up a small flatscreen TV for the bedroom in the RV to replace the old one, which has no HDMI connector. We got a small 29″ Visio and then headed to Fidalgo Bay.
The office was closed, so we picked a site by the waterfront and then crashed for the evening. I guess the descent in altitude affected my ears because they would not clear easily, and when they did, I was very dizzy. My appetite was gone as well, so I just had a few bites to eat for dinner as we watched a episode of ‘Downton Abbey’ on the new small TV. Off to bed soon after.
Day 8 Nov. 26 Anacortes, WA
I am writing this as I sip morning coffee on the shores of Fidalgo Bay while we are camping in one of our favorite RV campgrounds, Fidalgo Bay Resortnear Anacortes, WA. To our right is a huge oil refinery, and stretching before us is a huge bay with calm waters. I have spotted several groups of Bufflehead, a solitary common Loon, a Belted Kingfisher and a cormorant hinting for fish.
Today was spent running around, already getting things ready for our return to New Jersey. Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, and Friday many businesses are closed. I must admit, I already am missing the high plains and mountains of Montana. There is just something about the cold crisp air and the wide open valleys that stirs my psyche. The air here is heavy with moisture and being by the sea evokes a different mindset than being up in big sky country.
We dropped the old, heavy and out of date TV at a Goodwill Center in Mount Vernon after fiddling around Anacortes trying to find the recycling Center near downtown. We also had a bite to eat in town. We then drove a little ways to Burlington where we did some shopping at Costco (shrimp!) and Home Depot. We then took the pups for their vet check at the local PetSmart/Banfield Vet clinic. The vet said they were good to fly except that their rabies certificates did not state the vaccine lot number. She would not sign the certificae unless she had that number, so she contacted Readington Animal Hospital in NJ, who said they did not have that info either. Ugh. So, both pups received a new rabies vaccine and were cleared to fly. By this time, it was after 5pm and it was dark out. Back to our campsite at Fidalgo Bay and a cilantro lime shrimp and pasta dinner!
Day 9 Nov.27 Anacortes, WA
Today, we hung around this quaint town, doing some grocery shopping and having a fabulous lunch at Anthony’s Seafood restaurant right on the waterfront. John had cod and chips and I had a ponzu salmon on jasmine rice. To die for!! Spent the day relaxing on Fidalgo Bay, watching ‘Gone with the Wind’ and enjoying another shrimp dinner.
Day 10 Nov. 28 Anacortes to Kent, WA Thanksgiving Day
We traveled south towards Seattle after a late start. The day was warm, upper 40′s, and clear. However, when we apprached Seattle downtown, the entire area was blanketed in low lying smog/fog. We first went to the SeaTac airport to pick up our rental car, then traveled a short distance to our ‘campground’, a dingy trailer park located in an industrial area. Not the greatest, but it does offer storage and close camping to the airport.
We had our Thanksgiving dinner at a local Denny’s. Turkey and all the trimmings. Back to the RV to watch TV and read a bit before retiring for the evening.
Day 11 Nov. 29 Seattle, WA
Black Friday dawned foggy with drizzle. We almost were tempted to join the thousands in stampeding the local malls, but thought better of it. We did move our campground to the local KOA and spent part of the day setting up storage at a local secure RV/boat storage facility. Watched the rest of ‘Downton Abbey Season 3′ and just relaxed for the remainder of the day.
Day 12 Nov 30: Seattle, Wa to Newark, NJ
We left Seattle around 2pm, after putting the Greyhaven to sleep in Renton, in a gated storage center and with a protective roof! Direct flight back home. Arrived after midnight to an empty Newark airport. Pups were OK. Very glad to be back home.