Pacific Northwest’s Crater Lake, Grand Coulee Dam, Dry Falls and Spokane make for wonderful week of exploring!

Our destination: California to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Canada, via the Trans-Canada Highway and a return through the USA’s East Coast, Midwest and historic Rt. 66.  We sketch out a 9,000 mile, 69 day trip with a tiny Scotty teardrop travel trailer, fresh vistas to explore and new people to visit. Along the way we will attend two classic travel trailer rallies, two family reunions and one high school reunion – both spouse Susan and I looking forward to such a journey of exploration!

On our first day of the trip we head due north on I-5, past regal Mount Shasta, and turn onto Hwy. 97, stopping for a brief tour of the intriguing Veterans Memorial Sculpture Garden, just 10 miles north of Weed, CA. At Dorris, CA, we admire the world’s tallest flag pole, 200 feet, with huge flag flying at half-staff, constructed by the Dorris Lions Club in 1996.  This former dusty, hard-scrabble lumber town is hustling for some sort of recognition! Crystal clear blue skies, 99° temperatures follow us into Oregon.

Just past Klamath Falls, we stop at the old Ft. Klamath site, on Hwy. 62 on the approach to Crater Lake. Ft. Klamath was founded in 1863 to protect settlers and prospectors from the Modoc, Klamath and Northern Piute tribes and grew to four dozen buildings including a stockade, sawmill, stores and barracks. The fort hosted a post office beginning in 1879, though by the mid-1880s, the Army’s protection was no longer needed and the fort closed with the 14th Infantry Regiment’s move to Vancouver Barracks in 1890.

We continued onto Crater Lake, used our America the Beautiful senior pass to gain free admission into the park ($10 for life, offers free admission into national parks and ½ price on most federal campgrounds!).

Wizard Island, a volcano within a volcano, floats in the cobalt waters of Crater Lake

At our first stop at the Crater Lake overlook, I am reminded of the wdords of prospector John Wesley Hillman, who, searching for gold in 1851, discovered Crater Lake. “I knew when I gazed upon Crater Lake that even though the West was filled with undiscovered wonders, Crater Lake would hold its own”. Shortly after, a young women exiting a car from Indiana exclaims,  “honey, look at this – it’s absolutely overwhelming”. Crater Lake’s cobalt blue waters and almost as blue skies never fail to impress.

Native Americans witnessed the crater’s formation about 7,700 years ago, when the towering 12,000 foot-plus volcano thundered with a huge eruption that collapsed the huge mountain into the crater below. Now, the crater, fed by rain and snow, is the deepest and arguably the purest lake in the USA. We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Crater Lake Lodge, and spent a quiet night at Mazama Campground, seven miles below Rim Road. The next day, we toured the 33 miles of Rim Road overlooks above this stunning lake.

Old McCormick tractor, Chevy and Chrysler lie in weeds with old Hotel Shaniko in background.

Heading north through Central Oregon we stop at Shaniko and Kent, Oregon (neighboring ghost towns) on bone-dry Hwy. 97. Shaniko developned believing the railroad was about to reach their town – the rail-line was rerouted and this interesting town with huge hotel, two-room schoolhouse and scores of buildings has become our favorite Oregon ghost town.

We descend into the Columbia River Gorge, turn east on I-84, finding the river laced by huge dams, the gorge becoming low, rolling hills with huge wind turbines standing 200 feet tall. At Umatilla, OR, we skirt the vast Umatilla Army Depot, with hundreds of ammunition bunkers lining the hillsides to fuel our country’s war machine.

Our Scotty teardrop in front of Grand Coulee Dam – with the North Power Plant in distance.

We pass Connell, WA, a class B basketball state powerhouse, with rolling wheat fields stretching as far as the eye can see. Grand Coulee Dam and Dry Falls State Park are on our circuitous route to Spokane, WA. Grand Coulee Dam, constructed 1933 to 1950, was, until recent years, the largest concrete structure in the world. Almost a mile wide and 400 feet tall, it dams the mighty Columbia, impounding vast Lake Roosevelt, extending 145 miles upstream almost to Canada. The huge dam generates enough power to satisfy two cities the size of Seattle and provides irrigation water to tens of thousands of arid acres for growing wheat, alfalfa, beans and lentils.

Dryfalls, once the largest waterfall in the world at the end of the last ice age!

Twenty miles to the southwest is Dry Falls State Park. Near the end of the latest ice age, some 20,000 years ago, ice dammed both the Clearwater River and Columbia River, with trapped waters inundating much of northeastern Washington, Idaho and western Montana. Melting ice unleashed this huge lake, thundering down Grand Coulee and over Dry Falls, creating a raging waterfall five times the length of Niagara Falls and scouring a deep gorge.  After the huge lake’s release, water returned to the earlier Columbia channel and the falls ran dry.  It’s a truly spectacular and sobering landscape, allowing your imagination to visualize the huge ancient waterfall.

We spend two nights in Airway Heights, WA, just west of Spokane, a sprawling city tied to Fairchild Air Force Base, in a huge Indian casino, Northern Quest with nine-story hotel – emblematic of the new Native American culture in north eastern Washington. The casino is hosting my spouse’s 50th high school reunion, she a Spokane native.

Friends Janet, Diana and Chuck Boehme pedal past 'little red wagon' in Spokane's Riverfront Park

Then it’s on to two days with old friends in Spokane, WA, boasting one of the most fully-developed biking and jogging trail systems in the country for a town its size. We pedaled along the Spokane River, through its lovely downtown Riverfront Park, once home to Expo 74, the world’s fair that brought 6 million visitors. Beautiful views, interesting statuary and a huge ‘little red wagon” dot this 100 acre city park.

The Centennial Trail runs through the Park, and extends west for 15 miles and 30-some miles east to Coeur d’Alene Lake, connecting with another 100 miles of trails along rivers, lakes and into the mountains of Idaho. The trail system is a bikers or runner’s delight! The city is currently revamping Riverfront Park, repaving downtown streets and adding new downtown residential to the old Spokane Chronicle building and Bon Marche building. Plan to visit – and bring your bikes!

For more information: Crater Lake National Park,; Grand Coulee Dam,; Dry Falls State Park,; Spokane, WA,

Tomorrow, it’s on to Idaho, Montana, Glacier Park and soon up into British Columbia.  I hope you’ll follow our voyage of exploration in coming weeks. Contact me at; or follow us at Happy travels in your world!

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