Victoria, British Columbia  7/7 – 7/21 (Part 2)

Victoria, British Columbia:  Fort Victoria founded in 1843, incorporated in 1862, became capitol city of British Columbia when it joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871.

Victoria is not as old and historic as some of the cities on the East Coast, but it is still a city with many classic old buildings.  The British Columbia Legislature Building looms solid and stolid over the wide expanse of lawn, harbor, and tourists.  We took a tour and, while suitably impressed with the rotunda and the many beautiful panels of stained glass, we were a little disappointed that we could see so little of the massive building.

British Columbia Legislature Buildings
The dome over the rotunda
Legislative Chamber
Stained glass panel from stairwell

Just out of the downtown, we found another classic old building.  This one actually lays claim to the title of “Castle”.  The Craigdarroch Castle was finished in 1890.  Prominent businessman and politician Robert Dunsmuir and his wife, Joan, built a lavish home for themselves, overlooking Victoria.  It may have been an ostentatious display of wealth, but to me, the home feels lavishly appointed and furnished but never garish.

Period costume and furnishing from the early 1900s
The table set for breakfast


The master bedroom has a unique bathtub / toilet combination
Exquisite stained glass windows are throughout the castle


Among the classic old buildings we like to see are the cathedrals.  Maybe it is the English influence, but these did not seem as ornate as many that we have seen in the States.  Instead, we found them simple but elegant; more handcrafted wood than gold leaf.

St. Andrews Cathedral
The altar at St. Andrews
Church of Christ Cathedral
Pulpit and arches

The Royal BC Museum is full of exhibits chronicling the development of Victoria, from the First Nations, to the pioneer days, to the gold rush, to the modern industries.  It is a bewildering maze of displays that wander and branch and climb up and down stairs.  It was fun to explore, but you might need a guide to find your way out again.

These carvings represent old legends of the gods
Military uniforms from the Colonial period


Coal mining was once a big part of the economy


With civilization comes beer


One thing that sets Victoria apart from many cites is that it is on an island.  The downtown harbor is a busy jumble of boats, water taxis, seaplanes, ferries, and cruise ships.  It is also the starting point for whale watching tours.  We booked a tour on a nice big, stable boat and went out to have a look.  We saw humpbacks!  They come to the surface, blow out a big spray, grab a couple of deep breaths, and then plunge down to the deep water for as long as 15 minutes before surfacing again.

Victoria Harbor is also a seaplane airport
A humpback whale diving
It is nap time for these sea lions

The rest of our time was mostly spent wandering about the town.  Victoria seems bigger than it really is.  Downtown is a constipated maze of streets with most of them going one-way in the direction I am not.  Bicycles are everywhere; both part of the congestion solution and a contributor to it.  There is no place to park ANYWHERE, unless you happen onto a lucky spot.

In the chaos that is downtown Victoria, bicyclists have their own lanes and lights

We enjoyed our time in Victoria.  The scenery was wonderful: brilliantly colored flowers; deep, dark ocean; tall verdant forests; oddly attired urbanites.  We met with new friends and fellow travelers, Diana and Larry, for dinner and a nice sightseeing drive around the island.  We enjoyed caesars with our gracious and cordial host, Gary.  Great people, nice city.

Next up: Olympia, WA

Victoria, British Columbia 7/7 – 7/21

Victoria, British Columbia: Population = 85,792 (Metro area = 383,360), elevation = 75  feet, Average January low temp = 38.5º, Average July high temp = 74.8º, Average snowfall = 10.35”

From Tacoma, our route leads us across the famous Narrows Bridge, North through Puget Sound.  On a map, this area looks like a big chunk of Washington is breaking away from the mainland, leaving behind a maze of water-filled cracks.  Up close, there are gigantic tall trees with velvet coatings of moss, rising up out of lush beds of ferns.  Long rows of snow covered mountains loom on the horizon.  We are driving country roads through small towns.

The original Narrows Bridge twisted and turned and buckled under high winds then collapsed. The new bridges seem pretty solid.
A woodland trail near Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

To get to Victoria, we have to cross the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a ferry.  The easiest way for us to do that is to spend the night in an overpriced but shabby hotel in Port Angeles and then catch the ferry in the morning.  We found some passable BBQ and beers and made the best of it.

Half rack at the Coyote BBQ
Looking back over the Strait of Juan de Fuca at Port Angeles and the Olympic Mountains

The next day, we drove over and got in the “first come, first served” line that boards after the (sold out) reserved ticket holders.  No problem getting on.  With Gypsy stowed away on the Auto Deck, we went topside to watch the scenery.  It was sunny and windy and the ship had a roll that made walking a straight line a challenge.  Just 90 minutes later, we were in the harbor at Victoria.  This is a busy little harbor, full of water taxis, seaplanes, fishing boats, sailboats, and now, a big ferry.

The harbor in downtown Victoria

The weather on Vancouver Island provides for a long, moist growing season, so the profusion of flowers and trees is remarkable.  The most famous garden is The Butchart Garden.  Robert Butchart once ran a lucrative limestone quarry.  When the limestone was exhausted, his wife, Jenny, converted the remaining pit into a floral showcase.  Over the last century, the Butchart descendants have maintained and enhanced the gardens.  Today, they are a National Historic Site of Canada and host to over a million visitors annually.

Entrance to the Sunken Garden
Looking down into the Sunken Garden
View from the log cabin in the Sunken Garden
The Ross Fountain dances in the pond
Hostas and ferns abound in the Bog Garden
Stop and smell the Rose Garden
Simple but elegant, the Japanese Garden conveys tranquility
The burbling fountain adds sound to the Italian Garden

And, finally, just because I love flowers, a collage of closeups.

Next up: more of Victoria

Crossing Washington 6/30 – 7/7

Ellensburg, WA:  Population =  19,786, elevation = 1,542 feet, Average January low temp = 18.6º, Average July high temp = 82.7º, Average snowfall = 22.6”

From Spokane, we find ourselves on Interstate 90 again, rolling toward the sunset.  We are past the Rockies and onto the High Prairie.  The land rolls and undulates, here and there sprouts of scruffy pines, over there a little water.  Moses Lake flashes by, surprisingly vacant of human settlements.  Then suddenly, the bottom falls out.  Just off the highway, there is an enormous gorge.  The Columbia River has spent millennia carving out a deep valley here.  The sheer cliffs show layer after layer of rock deposited here then sliced by the patient river.

Pines and ponds on the High Prairie
Columbia River Gorge. That little white spot near the cliff is a motorboat.

Our first stop is Ellensburg.  Kind of in the middle of nowhere, but a nice town for a little break in the driving.  We find a couple of nice breweries and some good food, so we are content.  On Saturday, there is a farmer’s market with wonderful arrays of fresh produce and handmade foods and crafts.  It would be great to have a kitchen so we could cook up some of these treasures.

Death by beer at the Iron Horse
Saturday at the farmer’s market

Strolling around town, we find the Kittitas County Museum.  They have tales and artifacts of the old cowboy settlers, of bankers and bank robbers.  Over in this room, antique cars and a very quaint bicycle.  Over here, samples of petrified wood, identified by species of tree.

Being a cowboy was a tough life
1923 Ford Model T Speedster
The Bear bicycle features stamped metal wheels
Several species of trees, all petrified

There is another “must see” in Ellensburg; the Dick and Jane Spot.  Artists Dick and Jane, and many others, have been decorating this house and yard for the past 35 years.  If something decays, something new goes in its place.  There are over 10,000 bottle caps and thousands of reflectors incorporated into the artworks.

Puyallup, WA:  Population = 38,670, elevation = 46 feet, Average January low temp = 37º, Average July high temp = 77º, Average snowfall = 39.36”

Our route takes us up and over the Cascade Range to our next stop in Puyallup, WA.  This is a suburb of Tacoma, just a quick run through twisting, turning construction detours to get downtown.  The last time we visited Tacoma, there was enough mist so that we never really saw Mt. Rainier.  This time the air is crystal clear and the mountain is stunning in its size and proximity.  Cloud banks actually dash against its lower slopes, leaving the peak afloat above.

Looming over the landscape. And 58 miles away.

We are only visiting for a few days, so we make the best of our time.  My old pals, Kay and Butch, live nearby so we visit with them on the Fourth.  Great seeing you guys!  Then we ran over to Tacoma for food, beer, and another peek at the glass bridge.  We took a look at the State History Museum too, while we were there.

Great happy hour!
Glass creations by Chihuly enliven the Glass Bridge
Ancient petroglyphs tell a story
An amazing bit of engineering… a fish cleaning machine
Pacific Brewing Co. makes a fine red lager

We kind of flew over the Northern states to get to the West Coast.  Now that we are here, we are going to slow down and try to get a real feel for the cities.  We may even settle down in one of them someday so we want to be sure.

But first, a nice touristy visit to Victoria, BC

Crossing the Rockies 6/23 – 6/30

Missoula, Montana:  Population =  72,364 (Metro area = 116,130), elevation = 3,209 feet, Average January low temp = 18.3º, Average July high temp = 85.9º, Average snowfall = 37.9”

Heading West from Manhattan, along Interstate 90, we find ourselves rising up into the Rockies.   We pass soft-edged mountains, dotted with sagebrush and tough little pines.  We pass sharp craggy peaks where great brittle looking layers of granite loom over the highway.  At one point we chug up and over a pass and we are at the Continental Divide.  Everything from here on is headed toward the West Coast.

Rocky Mountain sagebrush

Our first stop is Missoula.  This is a scenic town, surrounded on all sides by mountains, with the roaring Clark Fork River coursing through its middle.  As luck would have it, there is a big Classic Cars festival going on and rooms are hard to find.  We were able to snag the last room in a hotel so we are only staying a couple of days.  Too short a time to really explore the city.  And… oh crap, I feel a cold coming on.

The standing wave on the Clark Fork River is a good place to surf and raft

The cars are at Caras Park, on the riverside, at the edge of downtown.  There are food and drink vendors under tents and oldies rock-n-roll trickling out of tall speakers.  The day is bright and beautiful and the classic old cars shine like jewels in the sun.  The crowd does the slow stroll past the many memories lined up here, pausing to talk about the one they used to have.

On the way back to the hotel, we spot the venerable old St. Francis Xavier Cathedral so we slip in to take a look.  There is a wedding going on, which adds to the atmosphere, and the music is lovely.  The artwork is wonderfully ornate.

Spokane, Washington:  Population = 215,973, elevation = 1843 feet, Average January low temp = 24.7º, Average July high temp = 83.8º, Average snowfall = 44.9”

Interstate 90 winds through the mountains, gradually losing elevation as we roll through Idaho and into Washington.  The highway roller coasters up, down, and around the mountains as we swoop lower, toward the high plains.  First though, we are stopping in Spokane.  We unpack, go out to have supper, and grab a few groceries.  By now Marylu has the cold too, so it is nap time.  We spend the next few days relaxing, napping, reading.  Finally, on a nice warm day, we got out to see Manito Park, with its many gardens.

The Japanese garden
Orchids in the conservatory
In the cactus room of the conservatory
Formal English garden
In the Rose Garden
Stopping by for a pint.  Gotta stay hydrated with a cold, you know.

We did not really get to explore much of Spokane.  I am sure it is a great city with lots to do, but we didn’t do it.  Maybe next time.

Next up: Washington

Manhattan, Montana 6/16 – 6/23

Manhattan, Montana:  Population =  1,631, elevation = 4,245 feet, Average January low temp = 14.1º, Average July high temp = 83.4º, Average snowfall = 86.1” (Climate data from nearby Bozeman, MT)

Once we pass Billings, we are mostly ascending into the Rocky Mountains.  We are skirting the big peaks by driving through the valleys between island ranges.  The first major range is the Crazy Mountains (Crazy Peak 11,214 feet).  There are a few fun legends as to why these mountains have this name.  My favorite, and probably most plausible, is the one involving Chief Plenty Coups.  He went to these mountains on a four day vision quest.  On his quest, he foresaw the coming of the white man and their cattle.  When the white men did arrive and asked about the mountains, members of Plenty Coups’ tribe tried to explain, using sign language, about the visions and the Great Spirit.  The white men thought they were crazy.

The Crazy Mountains

Summer can be a hard time to travel.  The weather up here in the Northern States is fine and everyone is having their town festival, fair, 5K, bike race, car show, or some other version of outdoor get-together and eat and drink and watch stuff.  So rentals are hard to come by.  The towns along Interstate 90 through Montana are no exception.  We couldn’t find a AirBnB for the right price in Bozeman or Belgrade.  But then we found a great home in Manhattan.  The owner, Joe, is an easygoing, affable, outdoorsy man’s man kinda guy who converted a simple house so it looks like a log cabin inside.  We shared a beer with him and heard the tale about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld on a cliff.  If true, a good story, if not true, a good storyteller.

Cozy and interesting, nice wood, could maybe use a woman’s touch?

Manhattan is a nice quiet little town, except for the frequent trains, blatting off their whistles all hours of day and night.  It is about 9 miles from Belgrade and about 20 miles from Bozeman.  The food is OK, there are locally brewed craft beers in the bars, and the people are nice and friendly.  We stopped by for the first Farmer’s Market of the year and had snacks and chats with locals who said the Market gets bigger later in the year.

A fine day for a little farmer’s market with the good folk of Manhattan

From our base camp in Manhattan, we set off to explore the neighborhood.  Belgrade (population 8,254, elevation 4,459) is just a 10 minute drive down the Interstate.  They are a little bigger and have a lot more businesses, bars and restaurants.  There are a lot of steakhouses around here.  Montana is cattle country.  Frankly though, when the steaks are running north of $25 a copy, we prefer to just buy some and grill them up ourselves.  Ribs though, that is another matter.  It takes time, equipment, and lots of experience to put out good BBQ ribs.  We found the Bar 3 Bar-B-Q, hiding in the shadow of a grain elevator, serving up St. Louis ribs and brewing beers.

St. Louis ribs with dill potato salad, hopping John, and a fine amber ale

The next stop on the our trail was Bozeman (population 43,405, elevation 4,820).  Where Billings is a working man’s town, Bozeman is more of a college town.  The gentrified downtown is home to many fine shops, trendy and eclectic restaurants, and more than a few breweries.  The bicycles are many and fearless.  Tattoos and piercings are to be seen everywhere.  On everyone.  Just off the college campus, we found the Museum of the Rockies.  They have a planetarium and a few other exhibits, but my favorite exhibit was the dinosaurs.  Apparently, this was a great place for dinosaurs to come to to get fossilized.


Dinosaur shell fish
Even with feathers, these guys are pretty scary
One huge T-Rex skull

From Bozeman, if you get on highway 191 and head South, you are following the course of the Gallatin River all the way to Yellowstone National Park.  We decided to take a little drive on a nice day and see where the river went.  We saw tall grassy mounds, deep pine forests, and  sheer rocky cliffs along the river.  A few brave souls passed by clinging to big rafts bouncing over Class 2,3,and 4 rapids.

Jagged sheer rock cliffs tower over the canyon
The Gallatin River flows fast and cold from the melting snowcaps
Guided rafting tours are available for the hearty and brave

Eventually we came to the Big Sky ski resort.  We had been seeing an impressive peak looming over all else above us.  Then the signs pointed the way to Big Sky.  The resort is a massive campus sprouting lifts all around.  There must be hundreds of named ski runs.  As an ex-skier, I squint at the jagged peaks way up there in double diamond territory and shudder just a little.  Not even on my best day…

Are those ski trails?


That is a LOT of ski runs!
In just a few months, there will be powder again at the Big Sky

Next up: Missoula, Montana

Billings, Montana 6/11 – 6/16

Billings, Montana:  Population =  157,048 (metropolitan area = 166,855), elevation = 3,123 feet, Average January low temp = 15.6º, Average July high temp = 89.4º, average rainfall = 33.08”, Average snowfall = 55”

We are doing the 80 MPH speed limit on Interstate 90 and still, people fly by us on their way to Somewhere.  I guess when the distances are so great between Here and There, the locals tend to grow a heavy right foot.  The landscape changes from flat to steep, plateau to valley, dotted with bushes to covered with pines.  We pass over a final ridge and there, off in the distance, I see tall buildings, stark against a backdrop of snow covered peaks.  Looks like an interesting shot so I grab my phone, turn it on, unlock it, bring up the camera app…  and the shot is gone.  In its place is a massive refinery.  Columns bristle from a maze of pipes.  Flames sprout from a thick dark pillar of steel.  A smell like burnt asphalt pervades the area.

All this hardware turns crude oil into money

In a way, the refinery hints at what Billings is all about.  Billings is a working-man’s town; it is not pretty, but it has a job to do.  It lies along a river, but, more importantly, it lies along a railroad.  There are tracks right up snug to the downtown that carry endless cars full of oil and coal to caches near and far.  The downtown tapers off into small industrial businesses and warehouses to the East.  Older, drab residential neighborhoods lie South.  The newer housing and retail developments sprawl to the West.  To the North, high up on the ridge of Rimrock, is an eagle’s eye view of the whole city.

Looking East toward the city and refineries
Looking West toward the outer ‘burbs and the Front Range of the Rockies

There are a few interesting things to do in Billings.  TripAdvisor points out a mansion tour, art galleries, museums.  We visited the Western Heritage Center.  The building looks historic outside, but sadly, the displays inside were just kind of a jumble of various old stuff they collected.  The one high point was “The Real West” collection of quotes and photos from the pioneers.  These are a rare, often poignant, glimpses into another time.  (I hope you can read the text)

Another interesting thing we found to do was to visit the Pictograph Cave.  We learned that a pictograph is painted on a wall, a petroglyph is carved into it.  After a long drive to the outback and a fairly grueling (for us) climb up the side of the cliff to the cave, we found ourselves in a half bowl shaped indentation in the limestone cliff.  Close examination revealed just a few dots to me.  The drawings of what used to be there just make it all the more tragic that the paint has faded away and flaked off.

The trail to the Pictograph Cave is steep and winding
Details of the cave paintings, as seen long ago
Above the row of dots, there are a row of red rifles. Can you see them?

Running around town, we found a few good restaurants, some fun stores, and a LOT of breweries.  On the day before we left, there was the Alive After Five mini-festival.  Every week, all summer, they pick a downtown block to close off then they set up a stage for a band, and a row of food, beer, and drink tents.  The weather was fine and the band was good.  Great people watching.

The Scheels superstore has wildlife displays
Alive After Five celebrates summer in Billings

Montana is an outdoor tourism state.  If you are going hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, skiing, or off-roading, Montana is probably going to be lots of fun for you.  If you are just passing through and don’t do any of the outdoorsy things, it is going to be a long trip.  Big, bustling towns are few and far between.  Rentals are scarce and expensive.  Sorry Montana, but I am looking forward to Washington.

Next up:  Manhattan, Montana

Crossing the Prairie 6/5 – 6/11

Crossing the Prairie  6/5 – 6/11

All too soon, our visit to MInnesota, to family and friends comes to an end.  It is time to pack up and roll on down the road.  But where to now?  The West Coast is calling to me again.  After all of our travels, I think the Eugene, Oregon area is still my favorite.  Marylu is not so sure yet.  So there are more cites left for us to see and even some to revisit.

Eugene, OR is lush green, blanketed in tall trees and fields of flowers. Just beyond the distant mountains, Mother Pacific rolls her pretty waves.

From Minneapolis, we take Interstate 94 North and West, heading for North Dakota.  We know from previous experience that North Dakota is, shall we say, “scenery challenged”, so our plan is a series of short stays in hotels as we hop across the state.

On the way to Fargo

Our first stop is Fargo.  Fargo is a busy, industrious city, with a population of over 120,000.  There are lots of great places to eat and drink.  This is also a city with a sense of humor about itself.  At the top of the list of weird things to do in Fargo is to go see the Wood Chipper.  You know the one… from the movie.  (Thanks to Rita and Dagan for a nice visit and some great tourist info!)


The Wurst Bier Hall offers a world of sausages and beers
A fine beer and a handsome logo
The world’s most famous wood chipper. Love the sock!

From Fargo, it is a short hop to Bismarck.  This is the capitol of the state, and the capitol building is unusual.  Most capitols have two wings and a dome in the middle.  This one has a round wing, divided into two halves, where the House and Senate meet.  Attached to the round wing is an 18 story office building where most of the state functionaries are located.  No dome but a nice observation deck on the top floor.

Early photo of the North Dakota capitol building shows the two wings
The House chamber features innovative lighting and fine woodwork.

Bismarck is also a great town for food and drink.  We found some very nice breweries who are cooking up some fine beers.  Our favorite place to eat was Sickie’s Garage, who are famous for their burgers.  In between beers and burgers, we visited the State Historical Society Museum and learned a few things.  North Dakota used to be covered by an inland sea and, apparently, dinosaurs came here to die in the mud and be preserved.

Tater Tot Hotdish Burger: tots, corn, green beans, cream of mushroom soup, hamburger. Genius!
Bisons were much larger, with bigger horns, way back when. This guy is fighting two saber tooth tigers.
This monster fish could easily swallow a fisherman whole.  And I would not mess with that turtle behind it either.

Still headed West, the prairie starts to get more interesting.  We start seeing rolling hills.  Those turn into peaks and wide valleys.  At Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the landscape descends into the chaos that is the Painted Canyon.

Ruler straight lines of power cross the prairie grasses
The Painted Canyon shows off a palette of limestone, sandstone, trees, and grasses

At Glendive, Montana, we are, I hope, getting close to the end of the prairie.  The horizon is closer and lumpier.  Not a lot going on in Glendive, but they do have a new brewery.

good luck with the new brewery. So far. so good!

The road to Billings has even more prairie for us; miles and miles of flat grassy lands, broken occasionally by ridges and canyons of pale sandstone.  We are steadily gaining elevation as we cross the vast plateau.  Just as we start to see the signs and buildings and refineries of Billings we spot, far off in the distance, the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains.  We are at the end of the Great Prairie.

The ridges are getting higher, the road is getting steeper

Next up:  Billings, Montana