DNA X #20 The Bitterroots
Heading out of western Wyoming, we crossed into Idaho and traveled up the eastern edge of a state best known for its potatoes. To the east we can see the Bitterroot Mountains so named after a small, leafless plant with a fleshy root that provided food for Native Americans. The road weaves through a wide valley avoiding the increasingly ominous range. This is the same route the Lewis and Clark Expedition followed and as the valley narrows we enter Salmon, Idaho. Here the road follows the winding Salmon River up a narrow canyon, The DNA X crew has a road to follow but the Lewis & Clark Exp. ran into the biggest obstacle of their journey – crossing the Bitterroots. They had to find the “K’useyneiskit” – the Nez Perces’ name for the northern trail over the mountains. The weather was deteriorating into winter. Food and supplies were short as they attempted to find a way over this “horrible mountainous desert” (M. Lewis). They had the fortune to get help from friendly Native Americans who knew how to survive crossing the treacherous Bitterroots.
climbs up the weaving pass over the Bitterroots and we enter Montana appreciating the advance of modern road building. We are heading for the small town of Darby where we will stay at the Triple Creek Ranch. Situated on 600 acres with the nearby CB Ranch adding 32,000 acres to explore, this Montana hideaway is unique. We book a cabin at the last minute, this seems to be the way we travel, and lucky for us they had room. It was also one of their “Artist’s Weekends” where well known artists come to conduct a painting workshop. Since I like to paint this was a special treat! The all-inclusive ranch has 23 “cabins”, not to be confused with the shack we found during DNA X #18. These are more like houses; we were ready to move in permanently! The staff is professional, friendly and very accommodating. The ranch manager Bill took us on a wildlife tour of the area where we saw elk, deer, a bald eagle and a variety of migrating birds. Other activities to enjoy include going on a real cattle drive, helicopter tours of Glacier National Park, fly-fishing or trail rides along the Lewis and Clark Trail. What ever you do it’s a special place to explore.
We leave Montana via the Lolo Pass and go back into Idaho as we drive west. Eastern Washington State opens up before us as a sagebrush plain and feels like eastern Wyoming. Eventually to the west we see the Cascade Mountains appear and then – is that a cloud or…? Looming high above the rest of the scenery is the snow-capped cone of Mount Rainer. Enormous and free of clouds, it towers over the landscape. Over 14,400 feet high this active stratovolcano is considered one of the most dangerous in the world. Covered by 26 major glaciers, its summit has two volcanic craters. This combination of ice and layers of deposits have the potential to produce a catastrophic explosion. Two other famous stratovolcanos, Vesuvius and Krakatoa demonstrated this potential in the past. We cross the Columbia River following I90 heading west and decide to stop for a rest in Seattle. After the solitude of Montana, the hustle and bustle of the most northern city in the contiguous US is a shock. The traffic is horrendous! Still the massive profile of Rainer is visible and a reminder that this city sits on an active fault line. At once modern, corporate, industrial and international this city is surrounded by dense forests (lots of lumbering) and Puget Sound (great seafood). Check out Shuckers Restaurant in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. Their fresh salmon, steelhead and Dungeness crab dishes are wonderful. We explore the famous Pike Place Market where fresh everything has been sold since 1907. We move on, knowing we are so close to the Pacific Ocean. We go as far west and north as we can and find the coast at last on the Olympic Peninsula. We all stare (Pip too) at the endless horizon and the sense of satisfaction that we made it… we found it! It’s a beautiful sight! We turn and it’s not west anymore…south we go.