Photos that go along with this blog: https://adobe.ly/32gXCNg
By Annie Lindgren, Sunshine Ink
I set out on a road trip, March 9, to desert country. As Pandemic hit America, I decided to stay on the road, exploring the backroads of America in my Subaru Outback with my Golden Retriever Maverick. See prior blogs on other states visited.
In mid-May, I planned a return home to Colorado, to celebrate my son’s 21st birthday, get my car into the shop for maintenance, and my dog to the vet for a hotspot. The car repairs took longer than expected, and we were home from May 20 to May 28. Though I spent a weekend at my son’s house, and camped with a friend.
I was curious about Idaho, having heard beautiful things about it. I made a dip in the year before and had traveled through on previous road trips, but had never really visited the state. It was time.
On May 28, after a short but productive and familiar faces filled layover in Colorado, I headed West across the north end of the state, staying in the area just north of Dinosaur National Monument on my way out. The park itself closed to camping, but there was BLM camping in the outskirts.
I continued west, and through Northern Utah, I visited the Flaming Gorge area and Ashley National Forest. A few nights spent in Ashley National Forest included elk, moose, and deer sightings. There was still snow higher up. I discovered a lot more people out camping than I had been experiencing, and that campgrounds were open in Utah.
Snow in the higher elevations changed my planned path a few times, as roads were still closed. I wanted to visit Bear lake, so I decided to go there instead of visiting more of the area east of Salt Lake City. Bear Lake was stunning and peaceful, and I stayed for four nights at a campground with surprisingly good service. It was the first campground I stayed in for two full months on the road, and the first time I paid to camp for even longer than that. It was nice seeing campgrounds opening up again. We stayed at Rainbow Cove. I left as storms were supposed to move in, and I was low on food to get excited about. I got a lot of work done while there. The clear aqua blue water made for breathtaking views and sunsets, and the spawning fish made for interest along the shore in the mornings. I only wish I had a water vessel with me. I will return with one.
It was June 4 when I finally entered Idaho, driving up the West side of Bear Lake, I learned more of the history. The lake, cut in the middle by state lines, obtained its stunning blue from calcium carbonate in the water. Drove north on 89 through Paris, and stopped for groceries in Montpelier. It was a small rural town with one grocery store. I only saw two people wearing masks, though the grocery store was taking precautions. I then took 30 up to Soda Springs. In Geyser Park, a geyser on a timer was human-made in that man drilled down into it while looking for hot water. They had to put it on a timer, where it goes off every hour, to keep it from harming Old Faithful’s grandeur.
I headed south into Cache National Forest looking for camp. There was much to choose from, though all contained an excessive amount of mosquitos. I found a spot along a ridge with great views and a trailhead. I enjoyed fresh food for dinner and had a long phone call with my mom. We didn’t stay to hike the next day, because the mosquitos were too bad. It was the worst I had ever experienced (and I camped at Wonder Lake in Denali National Park, Alaska). The terrain was beautiful and reminded me of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. An abundance of flowers and some lingering snow. I had to turn around after finding too much snow on the road, backing the Subaru a long way down a road before I found a space to turn around in. We made it back up to Soda Springs in time to catch and on the hour geyser.
I decided to head west to see the City of Rocks National Reserve area, and camp in Sawtooth National forest. Stopped in Lava Hot Springs along the way. Idaho has quite a bit of geothermal sites. Hot springs are found throughout the state, and much volcanic rock. Castle Rocks State Park was a beautiful area, and we went for a hike, seeing rock formations and pictographs. This is a great area to return to with a climbing partner. While the parking lots were near full, it was a small area, and we only crossed paths with one couple during the hour-long hike. Unfortunately, they had off-leash dogs, one of which got in a fight with Maverick. I was the only sustain any injuries, a big bruise, and scratch on my left thigh.
I then headed into the Independence Lakes Basin area to try and find camping. There were quite a few people out, but also open sites. It was late, but I decided to drive all the way up to the end of the road. I found stunning views. Flowers and aspen everywhere. I saw actual sheepherders at the end of the road and decided to head back down in elevation to find camp. It was supposed to rain. Found a perfect spot along a creek with great visibility. It did rain, but in the morning there was a dry spell when I was able to wash my hair with water from the stream.
I then drove up towards Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Drove around the sites, and found awesome volcanic terrain. Mav was not allowed on the trails, but I power hiked them, knowing there was a storm coming and grateful for cooler weather. The wind blew hard at the top of the cones. The last eruption was 2000 years ago, making for very interesting terrain. It was so rugged that plants weren’t growing in many places. There was a campground at the entrance, that cost $5 to camp with my national parks pass. I decided to stay there, even though there was not much privacy. There were suitable wind barriers and mud-free ground for the upcoming storm. A cold front was moving in, and we spent time in the car out of the weather.
With the storm coming in and a need for internet, I decided to get a hotel room in Hailey. It was a lovely room at the Airport Inn. The most expensive room of the trip, but also the most enjoyable. There was a bike path that went alongside the parking lot, perfect for walking Mav. In town, I found a Natural Grocers and a liquor store. I decided to try some Idaho Potatoes Vodka because it seemed appropriate. Got some food to get excited about. I got to work on all the things I needed the internet for. The storm wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but got cold.
I drove up 75 through Sun Valley, and into the Sawtooth National Recreation area. Then down 21 through Idaho City. There was snow in the higher elevation. It was a beautiful drive with a lot of camping and hiking along the way. I was bummed it was not better weather for hiking. I decided to head back south, where the weather was warmer. I liked the sound of the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation area and found camping in Celebration Park. This was an interesting area with trails, a historic bridge, a River, and petroglyphs. It was a dryer area than I had been in, and the river was mossy green. The camping was nice for $5. We went exploring and saw a beautiful sunset.
I wanted to see more of this area, so I headed further south and east, to where I found more camping at the Cove Recreation site along C. J. Strike Reservoir. I found a spot along the lake, a covered pavilion, a picnic table, a cemented area with fire pit, water, trash, and a toilet for only $5 a night. It was a treat to have living spaces outside of the car, and I enjoyed a couple of days to get caught up on some work projects. The service was great. This is where we celebrated 3 months on the road, June 9. We would have stayed longer if it hadn’t been for some major heat moving in. Temps in the upper 90’s sounded miserable, and like it was time to head north again.
I decided to head towards Lake Cascade and took Highway 55 north. The campgrounds seemed full, with no private spots, and I saw National Forest camping. Found a forest road in thick forest, with a good view and places to explore, and went with it. It amazes me the places I can take my Subaru. Might have added some scratches from bushes. Had a scare with Maverick when he took off after something in the woods, and didn’t come when called when we had been out scouting camp. I found him waiting for me at the car. The following day we explored the circumference of Lake Cascade, which had fields of flowers, elk, and lots of birds.
A check of the weather revealed more weather coming in, so while I had planned to head north, I decided instead to head east back towards Stanley and the Salmon River. The weather looked more bearable in a few days, near Salmon. While I tried to find camp at Redfish lake (per a suggestion from a BLM officer I met a few days before), I found the campgrounds full. Lots of people out. I backtracked and went down Iron Creek road, just west of Stanley. There was designated dispersed camping that appeared full, and the campground at the end of the road felt more expensive than it was worth. I parked at a trailhead and we had a lovely hike into Salmon Wilderness area. The water was deep, clear, and cold. The mountains still with snow. I would love to return for backpacking into this area. On the way out along the road, I found a great designated dispersed camping area. It was a mosquito-filled space in the evening, but the views and flowers made it worth it.
The following morning I enjoyed camp until the storm came in. Packed up and headed back out towards Stanley, and then up north on 75, towards 93, where I would follow the Salmon River. I visited several ghost towns along the way. I took the Custer Motor Way, saw Bonanza Ghost Town, learned about the Yankee Fork Dredge of the Yankee Fork Historic Area. I also saw the Bayhorse Ghost Town. There was a lot of mining in these areas, and the ghost towns are well-preserved in places. The Salmon River was beautiful to drive along, and as we neared Salmon the terrain changed from tree-filled forest to more of an open smooth mountain terrain indicative of volcanic rock. Saw a hermit house of Dugout Dicks along the way in looking for camp. I ended up at Morgan Bar Recreation site, where there were covered picnic tables that would help in the rain.
I decided to stay in this place for two nights, and that I would take a day trip drive up into the Salmon-Challis National Forest to visit another ghost town of Leesburg. I got off track a few times and explored forest roads; it was a wild mountain area. Maverick had fun running off steam as we visited Leesburg. It rained on and off and even snowed in the higher elevation parts we visited. We returned to camp and learned about a trail we could take, which we did, and during which Mav rolled in fresh cow manure. So we returned, and both had a hair wash. We were the only ones in the campground the second night.
The next morning, tired of rain, I packed up and decided the next night would include a hotel room. We ended up finding a cheap place in Missoula, Montana. It was not a very clean feeling space, but I got laundry done, found groceries, visited Cabela’s, and got caught up on internet stuff.
I had been sleeping poorly for the entirety of the trip. I am a light sleeper usually, but I had not found a mattress combo that worked and had several air mattresses gain leaks along the way. I found a cot mattress that looked perfect. I also needed a better frying pan. The aluminum camp pan I had been using just burned food and my hands. A new frying pan would help with that, and be suitable for cooking a variety of things. It was fun to walk the aisles in Cabela’s to see what other options were for more comfortable camping.
On the road again, we headed west back to Idaho. After a turn around to retrieve the frozen food I left in the hotel room fridge but didn’t remember about until 30 minutes down the road. Took 93 down to 12 the first time, and then 90 west to a Petty Creek road cut off down to 12 the second time. The drive along 12 was beautiful, with a wide river, tall tree forests, and lush surroundings. We explored the woods a little but wished the weather had been better for more of a hike. I headed north on 12, after Kooskia, and ended up finding camp just north of Ahsahka, at Dworshak Dam and Reservoir. Free camping in a parking lot where it would not be muddy. We went for a sunset hike and got muddy anyway, but worth it for the sunset lake view.
The following day we moseyed up 3 towards Couer d’Alene. All through mountain terrain and Saint Joe National Forest. After reuniting with Interstate 90, we headed south on 97 to explore Lake Couer d’Alene’s outskirts. I found camping at a campground along the lake, and we hiked trails in the evening. There were friendly people at this campground that helped a long spell of little communication with others. If the campground had not been so costly, I would have stayed. The area is proud of its lakefront spots.
The next day we headed on, but not before exploring some marsh areas and the lake’s remainder. It cost to hike there too, so ended up heading on, and looking for camp in the Couer d’Alene National Forest. My first attempt to find camp was already filled by a guy living out of a Scamp camper and towing it with a Toyota car. My mom had a Scamp she was willing to sell me, and I had worried about if I would be able to pull it with my car and still do National Forest camping. The answer was clearly a ‘yes’, and this guy gave the setup raving reviews. He also told me how to get down to the river where there would be plenty of camping.
Earlier in the day, I had run into a man (who stopped to help with directions) who suggested it was not safe for a woman to be camping alone in the woods. I had received this message a few times in Idaho, and I concluded that it was not common for women to be adventuring alone in this state. My response was to find an off-grid spot along the Couer d’Alene river, where I would stay for a few nights. Here we walked miles of forest roads surrounded in a forest that was so thick you couldn’t walk into it. You couldn’t even see beyond the surface of it. It felt big, dark, and intimidating. Knowing we were in bear country, I carried mace. I spent time at camp writing, reflecting, and thinking about what needed to happen next. I wrote about how women safely solo adventure.
I made some big decisions. I decided I could not sustain in the car. It was impossible to keep clean, and had reached a smell of ‘bear’. It was claustrophobic when I had to be closed in due to rain. It was hard to keep mosquitos out, and I often lay awake at night, swiping them away. There just was not enough space. Getting out of the elements was nearly impossible. I couldn’t focus on work when I was continually battling elements. I wanted to make it a few more weeks to see friends for the 4th of July in Montana, but my confidence was wavering. I was growing very tired of living out of the car.
We moved on after a night of lots of quad and dirt bike traffic on the road late at night. There was a lot of recreation happening in the woods. On the drive out, I observed coves in trees that looked like war zones from target practice. Most filled with people shooting and adding more holes in the trees. I headed out to a campground on the west side of the area and found camp at Mokins Bay Campground in Idaho Panhandle National Forest. It was a rainy stay, but we still fit in an evening walk down a forest road.
Next, we headed north and visited Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge on the way up to Bonners Ferry. This was a lush terrain filled with birds, flowers, and a river running through. It rained much of the time but added to the lushness. We ended up at Smiths Lake Campground, a free campground with a recent renovation, which led me to believe we might be the first campers at the spot I chose. It was Father’s Day, and it was special to find a bald eagle in a tree near the dock, at the peaceful Smith Lake. That night someone played Journey’s ‘Faithfully’ on repeat until the police showed up. I may never hear that song without thinking of this camp spot. We stayed for two nights, with a resupply trip to town, and time spent getting caught up on work, as it was not raining. We took hikes on trails that went throughout the forest. It was definitely bear country, but beautiful.
The people of Idaho that I crossed paths with, were mostly country folk. It reminded me a lot of Missouri. I even met a couple guys who were out crawdad hunting. Lots of people fished, hunted, and shot guns. Farmers everywhere, and a lot of trucks. Everyone was friendly, and quick to offer advice if I looked lost. I just had a feeling of not belonging, despite my own favoritism for country folk. I stood out in my Subaru and solo travel lifestyle. There were parts of Idaho that reminded me a lot of Colorado, with a broader range of food choices and outdoor activities. Whitewater rafting was very popular, as was hiking and backpacking, and they had good beer. Forty percent of Idaho is National forest land, and there are a LOT of wilderness spaces. So much more to explore.
I have a friend in Columbia Falls, MT, who allowed me to stop for laundry and social hours. It was nice to be around people, but I was also struggling with exhaustion, and some depression spurred from nearly a month of no familiar faces. Maverick got in a fight with a neighbor dog who approached the car when his food was out, which sent me in to tears. Washing my bedding didn’t help the smell of the car as much as I had hoped it would. I decided I couldn’t keep up this lifestyle until after the 4th. I was exhausted. Instead, we would head to Missouri, where there was a Scamp camper waiting for us.
In review of this leg of the journey, I saw I was constantly traveling. Tom Petty’s ‘Time to Move On’ was stuck in my head throughout the state. I craved a space that I could stay in for a while, but the most I was ever able to achieve was two nights. The weather was such a factor. It is no wonder that I got exhausted, with trying to fit work and exercise in there wasn’t much time to relax. I looked forward to having a camper, that had everything I needed inside, in a space where I could reside comfortably from the elements. It would also allow me to stay at RV parks occasionally, and avoid hotels.
After a morning of getting caught up on work while I had internet, I drove east along Highway 2 towards North Dakota. As I drove along northern Montana in the storms, I observed a green cloud of pine pollen like a dust storm. Montana is an absolutely beautiful state, and I had seen portions of the drive the year before when I spent three weeks in the area. I have much more of Montana to see, so will be back. I headed south from Havre, MT, in to the Beaver Creek Park area, to find camp, which I did along with a great place to hike. It rained the whole drive heavily, but broke for dinner and a hike along Bear Paw Nature path. Beautiful area, lots of aspen and flowers.
The next morning it was a long day of driving east. We crossed into North Dakota, and then left Highway 2 east of Williston, where I took 1804 east and then south. After two failed attempts at finding empty camp spots, we ended up in a great spot along Lake Sakakawea’s shore. It was nearly 9 pm by the time we got there but still saw a beautiful sunset.
The next day we went South, and got on 94, which we took east into Minnesota. Stopped in Melrose, MN, and camped in Sauk River City Park. Visited the liquor store a few blocks away, to get some local beer, then went for a walk after dinner. We had a wing of the park to ourselves but had several visitors there at sunset and sunrise. Might have been where the youngsters went to hang out. Our yard had a disc golf course, playground, and baseball field, and ducks were in the river running behind camp. I felt grateful it was the last night sleeping in the car, not remembering the last time I had a good night’s sleep.
The final push to Missouri, drove south through Iowa, to Bethany Mo. My mom lives in the country east of town. She had the Scamp all set up and ready to go, and we were able to stay in it while we were there. We arrived on June 27, which was Maverick’s 5th birthday. I had stopped in Minneapolis to get him birthday gifts, including a new harness. He had new toys from mom as well. My mom has a big young dog who Mav hadn’t met, named Lilly. Once they figured each other out, they had a lot of fun playing.
I spent time cleaning out the car, getting the camper organized, visiting with mom, getting wiring added to the car, and enjoying the good parts of Missouri. It was otherwise a hot, humid, and bug-filled visit. I spent the first 23 years of my life in Missouri, so I was familiar with the climate. I felt mostly gratitude for the nostalgia of feeling ‘home’. I met several people who were amongst mom’s friends and support network, and they were all friendly and helpful. Though no one, other than my mom, seemed worry-free about me being out traveling solo. I am grateful to be raised by a woman who encouraged adventuring and independence.
We left Missouri on July 2, as I wanted to be home for a July 4th with family in my favorite town, Wellington, CO. The 13hour maiden voyage across 36 through Kansas went without issue. It felt good to get home. I rent a house with my brother, in Fort Collins, and we have a fenced-in side drive perfect for parking the Scamp, as I continue to make it home.
Being home was an adjustment, and it took me a while to recoup from the feeling of exhaustion. The four months prior had been filled with so much. Depression had set in somewhere in Northern Idaho, and I had trouble shaking it. I wondered if it was merely part of life in this new normal. I thrive on having things to look forward to, but ‘adventuring with friends’ and ‘traveling to other countries’ were no longer on the list of options for the near future. I was grateful to spend time with my family (son, his girlfriend, and my brother) for the 4th, watching fireworks, getting the kayak out, and learning how the Scamp worked.
There were other nice things about being at home. It was lovely having a full-sized fridge, a Trader Joe’s and Sprouts close to home, a kitchen with my favorite appliances, a comfortable bed, running water, and a yard for Maverick. I found comfort in how many people were wearing masks in Fort Collins. People seemed to be taking things seriously. I spent time getting the Scamp ready for travel, knuckled down on getting caught up with work projects, emptied a storage unit, worked on some home projects, did some volunteer work, tended to relationships, and made time for exercise in the mountain air. Maverick enjoyed being back because my brother gives him loads of attention and ball tosses, he has the freedom to roam, gets to see his dog pals, and hangs with his Italian Greyhound roommate ‘Morley’.
We will be hitting the road again around the end of the month after getting all caught up. Stay tuned for more blogs about my Journey as a whole, and my takeaways.
Here is an album of pictures from this leg of the trip: https://adobe.ly/32gXCNg