Newport, OR to Missoula, MT

June 28, 2004 - We left Newport, OR and headed to Mt. St. Helens. We decided to break the trip up into two legs with a stop at Camp Rilea, an Army training base near Astoria. The campground was an asphalt parking lot with a bathhouse in the middle. The sites were very close together but were full hookup, including CATV. About 9 miles south, at Seaside, we had dinner at Riverside Bar-B-Que. This place was featured in the Jan/Feb, 2004 issue of Country Discoveries magazine but I wasn't too impressed.

It was a short drive the next day to Castle Rock, WA, where we hoped to find a nearby campground. We stopped at the Mt. St. Helens visitor center on highway 504 and right across the road was a state park with a campground. After checking out the visitor center, we drove through the campground. This was the only campground where the sites were too small for my RV. I probably could have squeezed into one or two sites but it would have been a very tough maneuver. Even navigating the road through the campground was pretty hairy. Too bad, because the campground was heavily forested with a real woodsy atmosphere - just the way we like it.

We drove back down the highway to Mt. St. Helens RV Park. The park was OK but, like most private RV parks, the sites were very close together. The park was on a hillside and each row was on a different level so we had a nice, unobstructed view out our rear window of the surrounding forest.

Since we arrived in this area so early, we decided to see Mt. St. Helens that same day. The day was sunny and clear and I didn't want to miss the view of the summit. On my first visit five years ago, most of the mountain was shrouded in clouds. But we weren't disapppointed today.

I can't begin to describe the devastation that still exists almost a quarter of a century after the mountain exploded and sent a deluge of mud and debris down the the north fork of the Toutle River. In this area, the lumber companies harvested much of the downed trees and replanted seedlings. Now, 25 years later, the restoration of the forest is almost complete. When I first visited Mt. St. Helens, I approached from the northeast near Spirit Lake. This area was allowed to recover naturally and all the downed trees remain. And near the mountain, the area looks like a moonscape.

July 1, 2004 - It was a nice drive to the Escapees Evergreen COHO SKP Co-Op in Chimacum, WA. These Escapees Co-Op parks are great places to stop for a while and take care of housekeeping chores. They have nice, clean laundry rooms at affordable prices. Many of these parks also have a place to wash your tow vehicle and some even allow you to wash your RV. You won't find too many other RV parks that will do this. Since many of the park residents remain throughout the year, there is always a full schedule of social activities.

The RV park is near Port Townsend which has a vibrant downtown area with many good restaurants. Joy Luck Restaurant served some of the finest Chinese food that I have eaten. Nearby Fort Worden, now a state park, was the location of many of the scenes in the movie, "An Office and a Gentleman" starring Richard Gere. One could spend a month or more in this area seeing the sights.

One of the main reasons for coming to this area was to visit Olympic National Park. We were not disappointed. We saw only a fraction of the park with trips to Sol Duc Hot Springs and Hurricane Ridge. The views from Hurricane Ridge were awesome.

July 8, 2004 - After a very pleasant stay at the Evergreen COHO SKP Co-Op park, we set off for Grand Coulee Dam with an overnight stop at Lake Easton State Park off Interstate 90 at exit 70. This was a beautiful drive through the Cascades and the campgound was nestled among a conifer forest with paved interior roads and pull-thru sites. Washington has some pretty nice state park campgrounds and this was one of them. But we were in a rush to get down the road, so we didn't even unhook. We did take a nice bike ride around Lake Easton.

July 9, 2004 - Shortly after leaving Lake Easton, we left the Interstate and took highway 97 up to Leavenworth, WA. This town was featured in the May/Jun, 2001 issue of Country Discoveries magazine because it looks like it was transported from the Bavarian Alps in Germany. Every building in the downtown area was build with this architectural style, even the gas stations and fast food restaurants.

After a few hours of sightseeing, we arrived at Wenatchee Confluence State Park but, since this was Friday, the campground was full. So we continued on to Steamboat Rock State Park at Banks Lake near the Grand Coulee Dam and got the last available campsite in the campground. Whew! If we are going to travel on summer weekends, we better start making reservations.

We toured Grand Coulee Dam that afternoon and returned after dinner for the Laser light show. They open the dam spillway gates to allow water to flow down the spillway which provides a "white canvas" that the laser uses to draw its images. Quite a spectacular site and it was free, too.

July 10, 2004 - I had been posting reviews on the Escapees RV Internet Forum about some of the campgrounds we had visited. A fellow Escapees member, Jack Mayer, notice I was headed in his direction so he invited me to stop by Wolf Lodge Campground in Coeur d'Alene, ID where he was workcamping. Jack is one of a growing number of RVers that have purchased a converted class 8 tractor to pull his large fifthwheel. He had a white Volvo tractor with an Autoshift transmission and very nice custom bed that he and his wife, Danielle, designed. He needed something that big to tow his Royal International fifthwheel. We enjoyed our brief visit with Jack and Danielle and also spent an afternoon in Coeur d'Alene, located on the shores of a beautiful lake.

July 12, 2004 - The next stop was Jim & Mary's RV Park in Missoula, MT. It was here that I fell in love with Montana. Now I know why they call this Big Sky country. If we had no family ties back in Virginia, this is where we would spend the warmer half of the year. We would have to leave during the winters, though. It's beautiful country and the people are right nice, too. Missoula is also a good home base for visiting Glacier National Park.

We debated whether to drive up to Glacier or take the RV. Since we wanted to visit other areas, such as Kalispell and Whitefish, we decide to take the RV and made reservations at Mountain Meadow RV Park in Hungry Horse, MT. This RV park combines the setting of a National Forest Service campground with the services of a modern full-service RV park. The sites are located in a dense forest of conifers with some undergrowth which provides a sense of privacy. The sites are spaced well apart except for some double length pull-thru sites. The interior roads and sites are gravel and are wide enough to accommodate big rigs. The campground is on a hillside so some of the roads are steep but I had no trouble with my 12,000 lb. fifthwheel. Sites are full hookups (no CATV).

Only two restroom/shower facilities and each restroom had only one shower. This did not seem to be a problem since most campers were in self-contained rigs and did not use the showers. The restroom/showers were modern, clean, and in good repair.

There is a small fishing pond stocked with trout. Fishing is free and no license is needed. It is catch and release or 40 cents an inch if you want to take it home. A modest camp store is in the office and includes a nice, but small, collection of new and old video tapes and DVDs for rent. A telephone hookup is available in the office for e-mail. This campground was also the most expensive one of my trip, costing almost $29 a day after tax.

When it comes to magnificent views, Yosemite National Park has long been my favorite, followed closely by Grand Tetons National Park. But that changed when I took the Going To The Sun road across Glacier National Park. Wow! Pictures barely capture the grandeur of the place so I hesitate to describe it with words.

Yosemite has two great views that almost every visitor has seen - Inspiration Point and Glacier Point. Glacier National Park has views like that around almost every bend in the road. It also has two glacial lakes, Lake McDonald and St. Mary Lake that rival or surpass the beauty of Jackson Lake or Jenny Lake at the Grand Tetons.

Going To The Sun road clings to the side of the mountains as it winds its way through the park and the view is seldom obstructed with trees. Waterfalls are everywhere, at least at this time of the year. As you approach Logan Pass, either from the east or west, the views keep getting better. I haven't been to Canada or Alaska yet, so maybe better views are to be seen. But, until then, Glacier National Park is number one for me.

We returned to Jim & Mary's RV Park in Missoula for two more days before continuing our trip.