Day 15: Melrose to Whitefish, Montana

We were clearly not destined to return to the sun-drenched days we’d enjoyed when we’d first arrived at The Big Hole River. Being with our good friends we still had a great time and had loved our exploration of Anaconda and Butte. However, in the freezing, below 28 degree temperatures, there was no further fly fishing or floating the Big Hole and now it was time to continue on.

We’d kept a close eye on the weather hoping to see an improvement, especially as our next destination was about 300 miles to the north.

Would we be able to make it through the snow in our little car?

We were carrying snow chains but I had serious reservations….

Snow covered car in Montana o our American Road trip

As did our friends as nervously they opened their gate and waved us goodbye.

My driver of course was supremely confident, certainly a little ‘dusting’ of snow was not going to stop us, or alter our itinerary! After a fairly substantial amount of snow, which mercifully did not require chains, battling through torrential rain we tore passed the pine forests and lakes aware of how different it would have all looked in the sunshine. Finally we arrived at our destination; the delightful little northern Montana town of Whitefish, just 100 miles from the Canadian border.

Day 16: Glacier National Park

‘Tomorrow is another day’ and we were hoping for clear skies or at the very least no rain. We’d come a long way, over 1500 miles, to visit this national park gem. The route through the park is called ‘Going to the Sun Road’, surely that would be a good omen?

It was not to be. The rain which hadn’t stopped all night was determined to stay. The stunning views we’d ogled over in glossy brochures were invisible, shrouded in low cloud and mist. Conditions were so poor that ‘Going to the Sun Road’ was closed, there was no sun!

Lake McDonald was blanketed in clouds.

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana

The trees dripped miserably aside the swollen river bank, the startlingly azure blue water rushing by.

You know what they say; ‘only mad dogs and Englishmen’! This had to be another optimistic Brit battling the elements like us…..

Day 17: Whitefish to Spokane, Washington

The rain continued on through into the next day. We spent more time than we’d intended in our hotel, the recently opened Firebrand. Central to everything it was a great refuge, trendy and inviting and its’ restaurant delicious.

We’d enjoyed lunch by the lake at The Firebrand’s sister hotel, The Lodge at Whitefish but by the morning of our departure the inclement weather meant we’d barely seen Whitefish. Before we left I grabbed an umbrella and took myself on a quick tour.

Streets in Whitefish, Montana in the rain

Despite it’s watery guise, Whitefish was really charming and quaint.

As we began our journey south on scenic Highway 2, the blue skies eventually returned.

We were headed for a night stop in Spokane, Washington.

Day 18: Columbia River Gorge to Hood River, Oregon

We took the freeway until we reached the ’84’ Freeway where the road met the Columbia River Gorge. It was yet another remarkable journey that far exceeded expectations.

Across the gorge we could see the path of the ’84’ trailing beside the river. We were on the on the other side, on the more scenic Highway ’14’, traveling in the footsteps of the 19th century American explorers Lewis and Clark. The road rolled and twisted between a diverse and dramatic landscape.

Rocky outcrops and barren hillsides suddenly gave way to strips of lush vines which vanished almost as quickly as they’d appeared.

The hilltop ridges became lined with windmills.

And in the distant skyline the snow covered peak of Mt Hood became visible.

Mt Hood eventually dominated the skyline as we drove closer towards it. Situated in the Cascade Volcanic Arc, Mt Hood is a potentially active stratovolcano. It lasted erupted on 21 September 1865, but because of it’s potential to cause devastating damage and loss of life it’s activity is closely monitored…. Soaring up to an elevation of 11,250′ Mt Hood is home to six ski areas and the nation’s longest ski season.

The occasional train followed along beside us chugging its way along the tracks which ribboned between the river and the road.

Finally we crossed the Columbia River into Oregon to the town of Hood River on the other side of the  the water.

The Hood River Hotel

Our night stop was The Hood River Hotel in the center of this delightful little town.

The present day lobby was built as an annex in 1912 to the original, much smaller wooden hotel. It became the hotel lobby in 1926. The entire building was restored in 1989 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. It was lovely place to stay.

Day 19 McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon

We awoke the next morning to yet more streaming skies.

The short freeway drive to Portland was somewhat perilous but by the time we left the freeway the clouds began to part. Our destination was McMinnville in Oregon’s beautiful wine region of the Willamette Valley. As we meandered through the pretty countryside we were reminded of England it was so picturesque and green, doubtless because just like England the region is blessed with a lot of rain!

Before reaching McMinnville we passed the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. It appeared unexpectedly, making a stunning statement on the horizon, a ‘747’  floating on top of a building amidst the vines. It was an irresistible stopping point for my pilot husband!

Inside was the famous Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ incredible 1947, H-4 Hercules, airlift flying boat. Intended for transatlantic flight transportation during World War II, it was not completed in time to be used in the war. We’d previously explored it years earlier at its former resting place beside the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.

We didn’t linger for too long, the surrounding countryside and wineries beckoned us enticingly.

We were not disappointed with either the views or the wine!

We knew the region was famous for it’s pinot noirs and with good reason

Our bed for the night was in The 3rd Street Flats in the middle of McMinnville. It was superb, spacious, beautifully equipped, and excellent value, we wished we could have stayed longer!

The next day we departed through the vineyards and orchards somewhat reluctantly for Eugene and on to the last stop of the trip, possibly the penultimate……