It was just a short jaunt up the coast to McMinnville, Oregon, where we stayed with Sarah’s friends, Jordan and Megan, on their incredible farm. Their kids were generous and welcoming to ours, inviting Griffin and Maggie to have a slumber party with them in their epic loft (with passages into multiple rooms upstairs… top-of-the-line cool). That was fun, but it turns out that five kids in a loft can generate a lot of heat. On the following night they all elected to sleep under the stars on a second floor deck. Other highlights of the visit included lots of time in their amazing garden, candle-making, churning butter, cookie baking, and cherry picking.
After Seattle (for days 8-12 if anyone is counting), we headed along the coast to Florence, Oregon to rendezvous with Andrew’s brothers and their families. They drove up from the Bay Area, meeting us as far south as we could get on this trip. Click below to see larger versions of the pictures in a slide show. It was a great visit!
Our first destination goal was Seattle, to visit Sarah’s uncle Bob and aunt Carol. After four plus days on the road, we were all looking forward to staying in one place for a few days and catching up with family.
Our first day, Wednesday, we got to hang out with Carol while Bob was finishing his work day. We enjoyed a walk to a local park where there was a fantastic playground and a hopping weekly farmers market. After going back to the house, the adults chatted and prepared dinner, and the kids were happy to have a table to spread out their Legos.
Clearing the table for Legos actually lead to a serendipitous highlight of our trip. Carol had a pile of mail she was moving for the kids, which caught Griffin’s eye. He saw a flier and said, “Is that Yayoi Kusama?” Carol, stunned, looked at Griffin completely speechless, wondering how he knew this artist.
A little background: The week before we left on our trip, Griffin and Maggie attended a week-long art camp with a local artist, Kari Maxwell. We met Kari a few years ago when we bought a painting from her at a house party. I later found out in addition to being a very talented painter, she also has classes and workshops for children called the Create Everyday Classroom. I signed the kids up for a camp they could attend together (the first time they fit into an age category at the same time!), and it happened to be the week before we left. The kids came home overjoyed each day with their experiences with Kari. She’s a teacher who is focused on process, and Griffin and Maggie each came away with so much knowledge and desire to create! On the first day of camp, they learned about Yayoi Kusama and her Infinity Rooms. This study obviously made an impression on Griffin.
Back to Seattle: Griffin recognized Kusama on a flier for the Seattle Art Museum, which was hosting a huge exhibit starting that Friday. We could not believe the synchronicity! Carol informed us that the advanced tickets had been sold out for months, but we figured we could swing by the museum so the kids could at least see a poster. We made plans to head there on Friday.
On Thursday, Bob took the day off to take us on a ferry to Bainbridge Island. The kids had never been on a ferry, and they were surprised to learn that being on an island felt like being on the mainland! We had clear views of both downtown Seattle and the ever elusive Mount Rainier. It was a beautiful day. We ended it by eating dinner out on Bob and Carol’s newly refurbished backyard patio. We all slept like rocks.
Friday, we were excited to learn that Carol was not needed at work, so all seven of us headed into downtown to hit the famous Pike Place Market. We took public transit, and riding an accordion bus was nearly as exciting to Griffin and Maggie as the destination itself. At Pike Place, the kids were in awe of the hoards of people, the flying fish, and the seemingly endless choices for what to have for lunch.
After a sunny meal overlooking the sound, we headed to the art museum. Shockingly, there were rush tickets available to see Infinity Mirrors, so we snatched them up! We were all so excited. We never would have even thought to go to this amazing exhibit had it not been for the kids, and there was something incredibly special for everyone that Griffin and Maggie were the leaders of this particular adventure. The infinity rooms themselves were other-worldly, and we all felt so lucky to have gotten a chance to experience them. Griffin and Maggie were the only children there, too, and we had several docents express their delight that we had three generations attending the exhibit together.
After a really wonderful visit, we bid farewell to Bob and Carol on Saturday morning. We barely scratched the surface of Seattle, so we’ll be back!
Our fourth day on the road seemed destined to be an utter train wreck. First, we all got a terrible night of sleep (due to the unwrecked trains at the last campsite). Second, after crossing Idaho and coming into Spokane, Washington, our air conditioner died at a gas station. Temperatures in eastern Washington were pushing past 90 degrees. This was not fun.
After finding a shop that could tackle the car on short notice, we discovered that we weren’t far from a public pool. So we grabbed the swim bag, slathered on the sunscreen, and spent most of the afternoon playing at the pool. This was totally fun!
It was also just what we all needed after three days of driving. Oliver got to enjoy his first time at a real pool; he was mesmerized by the water, slapping his hands on it and looking surprised (and satisfied) every time it splashed up in his face. Eventually, perhaps overwhelmed by the stimulation, he took a long nap on a towel, causing no end of comments from astonished parents about what a good baby he was. (I had to agree… it was blissful sitting under the umbrella, reading a book, while the older kids romped and the car was repaired a few blocks away.) Alas, we did not take any pictures because we were in survival mode, but we can recommend the Witter Aquatic Center if you’re ever in Spokane on a hot afternoon. This reminds me, too, of what a great resource public pools can be on road trips. We have fond memories of spending an afternoon at the pool in North Platte on our 2010 drive to Minnesota, as mentioned in this post.
Turns out that our air conditioner was damaged by some sort of small rodent that climbed in, chewed up some wires, and died. They fixed the wires and got the system working again, but could not find the body of the culprit. How did we know the merry villain had not escaped the unscathed? Why, the sweet smell of decomposition now scented our AC. Why choose new car smell when you can get dead mouse? (Fortunately, hot, dry weather encourages rapid mummification.)
I don’t think we left Spokane until five-ish, but we made it to a campground in the Snoqualmie area of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, just east of Seattle, with enough light to pitch our tents. In the morning we got to experience the full beauty of the Kachess Campground, easily the best campground of the trip. There are tons of forested sites along the shores of gorgeous Kachess Lake with trails meandering along the bank. See the pictures below.
We continued our journey across Montana today. Not much to note about the drive, though we did stop for frozen custard along the way. The day ended, however, with the worst camping experience of our trip.
Our original destination was the Trout Creek Campground in the Lolo National Forest. When we arrived, however, the site was deserted and there were signs posted that the water had been turned off due to high bacteria counts. In retrospect, we wish we had simply camped there… it was remote, quiet, and beautiful, and we could have purchased a few gallons of water in town. At the time, however, it felt a bit creepy being completely deserted. The creek, too, was running high and fast, with no safe swimming spots, so it seemed unnecessarily risky for the kids. The Lolo forest is large, so we figured other campgrounds would be similarly lovely with safe drinking water.
We proceeded to the Slowey Campground, described on the forest service website as “a great place to rest after floating the Clark Fork River or just sit and enjoy the river go by… There’s much to like about this campground near the river’s edge with open areas beneath the big pines.” We knew it would be close to the highway, not nearly as remote as Trout Creek, but after our lovely experience along Hyalite Creek at Langohr, we figured the Clark Fork River might create pleasant white noise. Wrong! Not only was the river silent, but there were freight train tracks on the other bank. These rails were heavily used all night, and the acoustics of the area made it feel like the trains were barrelling right through our tents. Because of an at-grade crossing, too, each train was preceded by the bells warning of the gate closures and nearly constant air horn blasts from the locomotive. Trains came just about every hour, so it was a night of very little sleep for the parents.
Griffin’s question suggests just how often the trains came through: “Is it just going around and around in a circle?”
At sunrise we introduced the children to an authentic ethical dilemma: we left camp without paying.
We left the Day’s Inn bright and early and headed west across Montana. We found a wonderful campsite in the Langohr Campground in Gallatin National Forest south of Bozeman. It was an ideal day without too much driving. We arrived early enough to set up camp, cook a delicious dinner (pasta with sausages), and get to bed on time. We pitched our tents next to a turbulent brook that cooled the air and made it especially easy to sleep.
Griffin befriended a neighboring camper from North Carolina who was an avid fisher. He and Griffin spent a lot of time in the evening and morning fishing, whether wading in the brook, standing on the bridge, or walking along the bank. Although they didn’t manage to catch any fish, they had a great time trying. (Griffin points out that they didn’t have any worms, which may have had something to do with it.)
This is the first post in a series about our summer road trip from Minnesota to Washington and Oregon, passing through the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.
Starting odometer: 144,354
We aimed to depart at 9:00 AM and were under way by 9:45—this was amazingly good timing for us. With young kids in the car, our general goal was to drive for only six-ish hours per day, leaving room for plenty of pit stops, slow starts, and time in the evening to set up camp and explore before bed. On the first day, however, we decided to shoot for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a little over eight hours away. We loved camping at this relatively obscure park during our 2014 road trip to California, and we figured that we could push hard on our first day.
Imagine our surprise when we rolled into the park to discover that the campground, largely empty in 2014, was entirely booked! Not only that, but every nearby campground was also booked. Apparently there was a wildly popular vintage car show going on over the weekend. Doh! [Note for our next road trip: camping reservations are a good idea.]
We looked ahead on the map and found Makoshika State Park in Montana. This would get us a few hours ahead and the park looked incredible. We went for it, racing to get there before sunset. The park was as beautiful as advertised and the campgrounds were fantastic. Campsites were spread out around gorgeous canyons with plenty of privacy. Alas, even this 11,000 acre park was fully occupied. We enjoyed watching the magnificent sunset from the bluffs and then accepted defeat, tucking our tails between our legs and “camping” at the Days Inn in Glendive. Dinner consisted of granola bars since we couldn’t use our camp stove to cook a proper meal.
It was not the best start. On the bright side, all three kids were awesome in the car for a very long driving day. Admittedly, the older two watched movies for most of the day, but Oliver was surprisingly easy going about being strapped into his carseat for 10+ hours. The driving felt relatively easy, even though it ran long and ended in disappointment.
A few innovations we implemented for this trip:
- We gave the kids their snacks each morning and let them decide when to eat them throughout the day. Seems like such a simple thing, but on past trips we would centrally manage the food and it was a constant source of conflict. This time they each had a labeled ziplock with all of their options. Sarah even organized things so that they could refill the bag each morning from the big food bin in the rear. They had a list of things that they should put in (e.g., 2 Lara bars, 1 popcorn, 2 trail mixes, etc.). They loved it and we avoided all of the arguments and cries of imminent starvation.
- Sarah purchased small items as daily gifts. Each was wrapped and the kids looked forward to receiving them. Examples included fidget spinners, card games, activity books, etc. (Technically, Sarah came up with this idea for the 2014 trip and we continued it this time.)
- Storage baskets for Griffin and Maggie mounted on the seats in front of them. They held books, art supplies, etc. (Despite this, however, the back seats were usually an appalling mess by the end of the day.)