Photo: DeVoto Memorial Cedar Grove, Clearwater National Forest
July 10 – Left Missoula on a slightly overcast morning that turned into a light rain for an hour or so. Some how missed the sign for US 12 around Lolo and traveled nearly 20 miles down US 93 before realizing something wasn’t right. The good thing was, after turning around and going back to the junction of US 12 to continue on the proper route, we found one of the ubiquitous “coffee huts” in this part of the country. This was good. It seems that folks generally like their coffee weak in these parts, whether in restaurants or gas stations, it just has no body. So these coffee huts sell shots of espresso…we figured missing the turnoff was do to mediocre levels of caffeine. Two Americanos with 3 shots of espresso please and we’re back on the #US12adventure.
Through the Lolo Pass west of Missoula US 12 begins a descent into a canyon of deep cedar forests that are a part of the Bitterroot Mountains, eventually running parallel to the Lochsa River. At some point the DeVoto Memorial Cedar Grove appears on both sides of the highway. Walking on the lush forest floors is a restorative experience. The tall trees and the lush forest floor give off a soothing vibe. A 5-minute look turned into a 45-minute walkabout that included a riverside chill out along the river. See pics of the “green “ on the Gallery page of this blog.
US 12 clears the dense forest of the Bitterroot Mountains and then runs into the town of Kooskia and then Kamiah, our destination for the night.
July 11 – After a peaceful night in Kamiah with a dinner of take-out dinner of so-so chicken and a wonderful bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in our room at the Clearwater 12 Motel, we headed west again on US 12 in the Clearwater River Valley.
There’s something very soothing about driving along an active river that has a mix of slow and quick-moving currents on a beautiful sunny morning. In this case the crazy heat that has been greeting us everyday has not yet arrived at 7 in the morning so it’s still comfortable to get out of the car for a more favorable photo view, or just soak in the fresh air.
US 12 has a history of changes in its run from Detroit to Aberdeen. In addition to having been moved around within Detroit and across, Michigan, the western terminus was changed three times until being finalized at Aberdeen, WA. The highway has also paralleled with several special highway designations including the Yellowstone Trail, the Lewis-Clark Trail, the Nez Perce Trail, and the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway. US 12 has many personalities.
Turning on to Idaho Route 7 for a short side trip takes us to the village of Weippe (pronounced wee-up) where Lewis and Clark with their Corps of Discovery first met the Nez Perce people in 1805. Meeting at Weippe Prairie just outside of the current day town, a friendly relationship was forged between the leaders of the expedition and the Nez Perce that lasted until Lewis and Clark returned to Washington.
Continuing the drive along the Clearwater River, we arrive at the town of Orofino and see signs for the Dworshak Dam…after many miles of lovely natural scenery we decide on a short side trip to visit a man-made creation. Just outside of Orofino the Dworshak Dam stands at 717 feet high making it the highest straight-axis concrete dam (even after taking the tour I’m not quite sure what that means) in the Western Hemisphere. The most obvious result of the dam is the 54-mile long Dworshak Lake. A group of photos of the dam will be posted on the Gallery page.
Near the end of the route in Idaho was a stop at the Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor Center. This small museum and interpretive center had a number of interesting exhibits connected to the Nez Perce culture, including exquisite bead and leather works. Included in the collections are personal items that belonged to Chief Joseph. If you aren’t familiar with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce I suggest a little research.
In late afternoon the cities of Lewiston, ID (the end of US 12 in Idaho) and Clarkston, WA are the stop for tonight. The two cities are surrounded by sweeping vistas of grain fields and split by the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers. This area is known as the “Banana Belt” as it tends to have warmer temperatures than the regions around it. We spent the night at a Quality Inn & Suites and it gets the award for the best (strongest in flavor and kick) at any of the lodging places so far…no need for extra espresso.
July 12 - Heading west out of Clarkston, WA we drove through the Snake River canyon, once again enjoying the view of a major river environment. Emerging from the Snake River canyon we drive into a sea of amber waves of grain as the land rolls in all directions. A new kind of pretty.
Continuing through this grassland belt is a group of small towns of different looks. They include – Pomeroy, Dayton, Waitsburg, and Dixie – before heading into the decidedly more upscale city of Walla Walla. If you’ve seen today’s FB posts you know I just love saying and writing “Walla Walla.” And when you add the state, it’s the total full mouthful: Walla Walla Washington! Say it several times, aloud. Isn’t that fun? After lunch in a delightful restaurant “Graze” we’re back on the road to our night’s destination of Kennewick, WA.