Week 46: The Reverse Oregon Trail to the Moon

We first arrived at the Pacific Ocean in late January, and it was a constant companion for months.  But in early May, we finally hit our northward limit near Seattle, and it was time to hitch up our wagons, turn the corner, and bid a sad adieu to the West Coast.

We drove southeast across Washington, Oregon, and Idaho for two long but beautiful days, and it was fascinating to watch the terrain change before our eyes.  As we crossed the spine of the Cascade mountains, the pristine evergreen forests suddenly disappeared, turning into scrubland that reminded us of West Texas.

As it turns out, while western Washington is the wettest place in the country, the eastern parts of Washington and Oregon are high deserts.  Fresh off of redwoods and rainforests, it was a sudden transition, but a welcome one – because the desert is freaking awesome.

Grueling Pace

We covered a lot of ground in two days.  Our first night was spent at a Wal-Mart near La Grande, Oregon, an area which seemed pretty empty even to us.  The Wal-Mart parking lot was quite popular, though, especially among travelers – so much so that there was actually a placard where we parked our RV suggesting things to do in the area.

The next morning, we stopped at the excellent National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City, which was filled with cool displays about life on the actual Oregon Trail.  Sadly, there were no monocolor terminals available to play the original game (which we have a “slightaffinity for), but it was fascinating nonetheless.

Here’s a fun fact we’re pretty sure we saw here: people constantly tried to bring their 1,000+ lb cast iron stoves in their wagons with them, only to have to abandon them along the trail because of the weight.  A local entrepreneur realized this and began collecting the stoves from the trail, then bringing them back and selling them to new trailgoers, thereby creating his own, stove-based internal economy. Smart!

After checking out the museum and learning some interesting tidbits, we went outside and took a short hike through the blazing desert sun – still weird to think about in Oregon – for some pretty scenery…

… and a view of the actual wagon ruts from the actual Oregon Trail!

Wait, the actual Oregon Trail?  From the 1850s?

Well, that’s what they claimed, but upon reading the fine print, we discovered they were “reproductions” of where the wagons would have rolled.  Eh, close enough.

Fording the Snake River

After the Interpretive Center, we headed along essentially the reverse path of the old Oregon Trail.  Southern Idaho is basically one big mountain range with a giant valley cutting a pass through it – you can see it with Google Earth – and there’s really only one sane way to go across it.  We used the same way the settlers did, just slightly more easily.

We stopped for a few days in Twin Falls, Idaho, in the center of the valley.  We aren’t sure what we expected from Idaho, but it was surprisingly prosperous and normal.  We stocked up on supplies (but no cast-iron stoves), ate at a restaurant called Jakers (!!), and found out that there actually are two waterfalls in Twin Falls.

Oh, and the falls are spectacular.

Shoshone Falls claims to be the “Niagara of the West,” which is pretty questionable considering there were like 20 people there (and no casinos).  That said, it roars with some serious force.  The Snake River Canyon that it sits in is no slouch, either – a full mile wide, Evel Knievel once tried to jump the gorge on his “specially engineered rocket motorcycle,” but he failed when his parachute opened immediately on takeoff.  (A bummer to be sure, but it definitely could have been worse.)

The whole gorge area was extraordinarily beautiful, including the other waterfall and the Perrine Bridge crossing the chasm.  We really knew nothing about Twin Falls and didn’t expect to wander into something like this, but that’s basically why the West is awesome.

Crater Faces

The one thing we did expect to do in Twin Falls was visit Craters of the Moon National Monument, and it didn’t disappoint.  The “craters” are just remnants from an ancient lava flow, but they look otherworldly, especially in a setting like Idaho instead of Hawaii.

The lava field shown above is the North Crater Flow, and it’s only about 2,000 years old – a baby, really.  The oldest lava fields in the park are around 15,000 years old, and although they are currently “dormant,” they are expected to erupt in less than a thousand years. We thought about waiting around a couple hundred years to watch, but alas, our roadtrip schedule was unforgiving.

While the lava fields were pretty neat, our favorite feature of the park was the cinder cone. Inferno Cone is essentially a 160 ft tall sand dune made out of volcanic ash.

The only downside, and it was a big one, was the ungodly strength of the wind that day.  It was constant and oppressive.  Climbing up the Inferno Cone required pulling our hoods down and walking nearly parallel to the ground.  And since the ground was literally ash, we were under constant assault from airborne particles seeking to make their way into our eyes, ears, noses, and especially mouths.

Got some cool pictures, though.

After recovering from the volcanic ash pelting, we moved on to check out the Spatter Cones, the “Old Faithful” of Craters of the Moon. It’s pretty obvious why:  Old Faithful spews out hot water every 35-120 minutes, while the Spatter Cones spew out hot lava every… well, 500-3,000 years.

OK, maybe the comparison is a bit overblown.  Still, the Spatter Cones were pretty neat, and frankly, this is one eruption we’re thankful not to have seen in person.

The final feature at Craters of the Moon were lava tube caves. We really wanted to explore them, but it required a little hike to get to the caves, and we had hit our limit of bone chilling wind and volcanic cinders raining down on us.  The lava tube caves will have to wait for our next cross-country RV road trip.

On our way out we snapped a few more pictures.  Even the side of the road was cool.

Chekhov’s Interpretive Center

Whew!  This was a long blog post.  [Ed. note: Heather really loved Craters of the Moon and made that section approximately 800 times longer.] But hold on for one more second, because we’re about to tie this entire thing together with a bow.

Remember how we started this post with the Oregon Trail? Well, just outside of Craters of the Moon is a rather pretty area known as Goodale’s Cutoff.

Pioneers on the Oregon Trail used Goodale’s Cutoff, an alternate route along the trail, to skirt the lava flows and avoid potential Shoshone Indian attacks along the Snake River. The Cutoff paralleled the Oregon Trail for some distance, before rejoining it in… Baker City, home of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center!

And so, just like the moon’s orbit, we have come full circle.

Roadtrip Time Travel

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Indiana Dunes State Park, near Chicago, seeing lots of old friends.

Next location?  Still TBD.

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Week 45.1: North Cascades National Park

As a day trip from our campground north of Seattle, we headed out to North Cascades National Park.  The park is situated northeast of the city, very close to the Canadian border, and all we can say is:  Wow.

North Cascades is a stunner.

North Cascades is somewhat unusual in that there isn’t all that much to do – the park is mostly undeveloped, save for a village servicing the hydroelectric dams and some hiking trails and overlooks.  We were there in early May, and as it happened, that was too early in the season even for most of the hiking trails.  (You’ll see why later.  Foreshadowing!)  So, although we love to hike at national parks, we just drove through and enjoyed the views.

Jack Kerouac once worked as a fire spotter at North Cascades for a few months, at the colorfully-named “Desolation Peak,” and we can see the appeal.  The views here are incredible.  The lakes are bright blue, colored by “rock flour” – stones ground to dust millennia ago by the weight of the glaciers.  Most have since retreated, but the park still holds many of the country’s glaciers.  In fact, in many ways, the park is like a less-developed version of Glacier National Park.

U.S. Route 20 runs through the park, and it had only just opened when we arrived.  We didn’t fully understand why until the road began to climb – and the snow piled up alongside us.  Soon, we were driving past massive snow banks, 10+ feet high, the road cutting sharply through the drifts.  In May.

We were wondering about the mammoth job required to clear the road, which can receive up to 40 feet of snow per year and is prone to massive avalanches.  However, when we reached the pass which marked the unofficial end of our scenic drive, we got to see it in action:  the road crews hadn’t quite finished with their snow removal.  The scenic overlook was completely snowed in, with two gigantic plows waiting to finish the job.

Of course, we had to get a picture.

Luckily, a fellow tourist alerted us to an alternative overlook a mile down the road, where we enjoyed a truly epic view.  North Cascades is definitely a “show, not tell,” kind of park, so we’ll leave the rest up to the pictures.

Roadtrip Time Travel

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  “Chicago,” which really means “an hour away from Chicago in Indiana.”

Next location?  TBD.

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Week 45: Seattle & Vancouver, Eh?

After an impressive showing by Olympic National Park – which earned a gold medal in “wettest national park” and a bronze in “most deserted” – we headed east to Seattle.  With a tour guide assist from a friend, the Emerald City turned out to be a pretty excellent place – as was Vancouver, its friendly neighbor to the north.

Pacific Northwest, you’ve got it going on.

Seattle’s Best

Since we were staying fairly far away from the city center, we decided to tour Seattle in one epic day, just as we did for other favorites like San Francisco and Savannah.  We started out early with some pastries from Pike Place, the famous fish market (it has lots of other types of shops as well), and then wandered around downtown for a bit, enjoying the quiet before the city woke up.  A particular favorite was the Olympic Sculpture Park.

We then tried to stop by the Space Needle, but sweet zombie Jesus it was crowded.  So we bailed, and made up for at an excellent overlook in a tiny city park.  In the background, you can even see the iconic Mt. Rainier.

Soon afterwards, we met up with Eliz, Jake’s old law school classmate, and her husband Rick.  Rick and Eliz graciously volunteered to give us a tour of Seattle, and just like our “local’s tour” in Los Angeles, it was fantastic.  There was some touristy stuff, like the Fremont Troll (located under a bridge, of course), but we also enjoyed just wandering around the neighborhood and a local marina.

The weather was beautiful, so we picnicked on the beach with awesome Cuban sandwiches and freshly shucked oysters.  Later, we headed to a brewery – one of, like, fifty in a four-block radius – and the superb Gas Works Park, created on the site of an old industrial building.  On such a nice weekend, the harbor was busy with boats and kayaks, but we watched in amazement as a Tailspin-style seaplane nonetheless landed on a tiny patch of open water directly in the center of all the activity.

This is apparently pretty common, but, man – gutsy maneuver, for everyone involved.

We finished the day off with some incredible sushi and a drink that was, essentially, alcoholic green tea.  Thanks for showing us an amazing time, guys!

International Suspension

Speaking of day trips to big cities, we decided to hit up Vancouver while we were “in the area,” i.e., about ninety minutes away.  This was actually our first time leaving the country on this road trip, despite being within spitting distance to Mexico in both El Paso and San Diego, but everything went smoothly.

Well, mostly smoothly.  We stopped in Vancouver’s Chinatown to eat lunch, but when we went to pay at the parking meter, we suddenly remembered that… Canada has its own currency.  Oh, right.  Coincidentally, all of our debit cards had just expired and we hadn’t yet received the replacements, so an ATM was out, and Heather ended up circling the block while Jake made a quick exchange at a local bank.

After lunch, we toured around downtown before checking out the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park.  Stanley Park is a gorgeous area with a great view of the downtown skyline – a view that we got to see twice, since we totally missed the exit from the 15-minute, one-way scenic drive on our first attempt.

As we said… mostly smoothly.

Our final stop made up for all the mistakes.  Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is one of the coolest theme parks we’ve ever been to, because the theme is “trees.”  It’s set in an old-growth forest, and numerous elevated walkways stretch between the ancient giants.  It was a very fun place to explore, and we were happy to see that all of the bridges are secured by pressure-fit collars, so nothing harms the trees.

There was also a huge river gorge, crossed by the namesake Capilano Suspension Bridge.  It’s 450 feet long and pretty impressive in person – as well as, umm, bouncy.

Even cooler was the steel-and-glass Cliffwalk, a beautiful architectural marvel that made us gulp just a little bit, despite being hardened by previous cliffside hikes like Camelback Mountain and Pinnacles National Park.  Luckily for us, the bolts held firm, and we have to say: this was one of the coolest things we’ve done on this trip.

Natural Selections

There was plenty more in the Seattle area, including a visit to the spectacular North Cascades National Park – blog post coming next – and a pretty hike to a local waterfall.  (If you’re read our prior blog posts, you may have noticed that the Pacific Northwest is big on waterfalls.)  We’ve collected a few pictures from the hike below.

Before we sign off, we’d like to note for posterity that the drivers we encountered in the Seattle area were exceptionally great – polite, patient, and careful.  In other words, the complete opposite of drivers in NYC, Boston, and Los Angeles.  Thanks for restoring some hope for humanity, Seattlers!

Roadtrip Time Travel

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Madison, Wisconsin, donating an unhealthy amount of blood to the local mosquito population.

Next location?  Chicago!  And then… somewhere.

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Week 44: Olympic National Park

We left Portland near the end of April, driving sadly away from the land of food trucks and fast Internet to the far northwest. We made slow time along small, curvy, quiet roads, until we reached our destination: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The region is dominated by Olympic National Park, which fills the center of the broad peninsula with mountains, lakes, and rainforests.

It is stunningly beautiful.

Olympic is a wild place, yet. The forests feel ancient, like remnants of a more primitive time, and the waves crash onto the shore with fury. It won’t last – Seattle is not far, connected by large highways that will, in time, change the park irrevocably, smoothing the raw edges. The transition is inevitable. But right now, it still feels untamed, and we were thrilled to get to peek behind the curtain of civilization at the backdrop of the real, natural world.

It probably helped that it was the off-season.

Hoh Tell

The main draw at Olympic National Park is a scenic drive into the mountains at the heart of the park, particularly Mount Olympus. Unfortunately, because of snow and seasonal closings, that road was closed when were there, so you’ll have to wait until we get to the North Cascades to see some mountains. We did get to see something even cooler, though: the Hoh Rainforest, the wettest place in the continental United States.

Hoh is an epic forest. The trees are covered with moss, huge ropes and blankets of it, and everything is deeply, deeply green – not the bright, kelly green of spring, but something darker and more mysterious. Out of sight of the other visitors, it felt a little spooky.

It was also wet, of course. We spent a lot of time taking off and putting on our raincoats, as rain came in short, steady bursts that always ended just after we got everything out of our packs. We could have left our raincoats on, but it was warm and the humidity was impossibly high, making hiking while covered up very unpleasant.

That said, it was a pretty amazing place to walk around. Like Fern Canyon, it felt positively Jurassic.

As we were leaving, the ranger on duty mentioned we could see Mt. Olympus from the road on the way out. We were a little bummed that the scenic drive was closed, so we followed his directions: drive 17.2 from the visitor center, stand on the painted spot on the asphalt, and look northeast. Well, we dutifully reset out trip odometer, drove 17.2 miles, found the paint spot, and looked northeast, but… no mountain.

Oh well. At least we got to see a lot of moss.

Twilight Beach

On the way back from Hoh, we stopped at a “beach” on the Pacific coast. The scare quotes are because the waves are wicked and wild here, and instead of sand, the beach is littered with giant logs.

How do the logs get there? So glad you asked! They fall over somewhere, get swept down a river to the ocean, then the waves launch them onto shore during storms.  Like the equally wild Cape Perpetua in Oregon, it’s certainly striking, and hey – if you like to tan dangerously, this is the beach for you.

By the way, to get to the coast, we passed through the town of Forks, Washington.  The name sounded familiar, but we couldn’t quite put our finger on it. Then… we saw the sign, and it opened up our eyes.

Yes, Forks and nearby Three Rivers are the setting for the Twilight books and movies. In real life, there isn’t a lot going on – this is pretty remote country, almost as far north and west as you can possibly go in the continental United States. However, we did find the vampire / werewolf “treaty line,” along with a few scattered signs and banners that looked like they had seen better days.

Someday, when today’s tweens are older, this will be a nostalgic vacation getaway spot. For now, we’re sticking with Cabo – the vampire threat level is “high,” after all.


There was lots more to see at Olympic National Park, including the comely Crescent Lake. (Our thesaurus is running low on synonyms for “beautiful,” and we haven’t even hit Utah!) We passed by it every day on our drive, and every time, we just had to stop and take pictures.

We also hiked to Sol Duc Falls, a… pulchritudonous… waterfall with an unusual three-fall design. Looks man-made, but it isn’t (we hope!).

And speaking of threes, we actually thought we found Sol Duc about three times before we go to the real falls – there are a lot of waterfalls here!

Our final visit was to Port Angeles, the big city in this area. We got some great burritos from Little Devil’s Lunchbox (great name) and watched unimaginably giant barges float into the harbor, bound eventually for Seattle or Alaska or Japan or who knows where. The Pacific Northwest is pretty cool like that.  Then, it was on to Seattle.

Roadtrip Time Travel

Roadtrip Status

Still alive?  Check.

Where are you now?  Fargo, ND, home of… something, probably.  We’re just happy our Sprint hotspot works again.

Next location?  Bemidji, Minnesota, and the headwaters of the Mississippi.

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Week 11.5: The Greenbelt in the Beltway

Hi friends,

We’re a bit further behind than usual after spending the last 3 weeks in El Paso making some major renovations to our RV:  we replaced the floor, the countertops, faucets, a sink, a backsplash, and more.  Not to toot our own horns, but it looks pretty great!  We’ll post some pictures soon.

In the meantime, let’s reminisce about that time we went to Washington, D.C.  Cue obligatory White House selfie.

Capitol Camping

After leaving Pennsylvania behind, we headed south towards Washington, D.C., with some trepidation.  We’ve had bad experiences on the Beltway before, but this trip was mercifully smooth.  We headed to a national park right inside the Beltway called Greenbelt Park.  Greenbelt Park is spacious, cheap ($16 a night),  wooded, and totally empty – apparently because nobody knows about it.  From their website’s FAQs:

Why haven’t I heard about Greenbelt Park or the Greenbelt Park campground ? Since we are a federal government agency, we cannot spend taxpayer dollars on advertisements. We rely on word of mouth, Internet, and campground directories. We are a hidden jewel of the National Park Service.

They claim to have never been totally full, and when we were there on a warm weekend in September, we were nearly alone.  We saw more deer than people.  Definitely unusual for a campground near a major city, so if you’re in the area, you might want to check it out.

Though, you might want to avoid the bathrooms.

They weren’t moving.  Just staring.

Incidentally, the campground is extremely close to an Ikea.  We went over and strolled through, to dream about throwing away all our crappy RV furniture and replacing it with real furniture.  Or semi-real; it is Ikea, after all.  But it turned out there was nothing there we really wanted (or could fit) except Swedish meatballs and a 99¢ toilet brush.

Well, we got the meatballs, but the line to buy the toilet brush was about a half hour too long.  So, we gave up and, seeing nowhere else to return it, hid it in a potted plant.  Sorry, Ikea!

Social Medium

Most of our time in D.C. was spent visiting friends, and we won’t bore you all with the details of people you may not know, but we will say thanks for a great time to Nila & Patrick, LD, Rachel, Ashi, Alex, and the other folks we met up with.  We had delicious Sri Lankan food, delicious beers, and even an accidental front-row seat at a bar for the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight.

We did want to give a special shout-out to our friend and unpaid social media coach Kaoru, who allowed us to crash at her place and taught us how to use Twitter for personal benefit (our favorite kind of benefit!).  Also, how to use it at all.

Kaoru was once the “Bravoholic,” which is like being an addict for social media about terrible reality shows, and now she is our “social medium,” a new term we just invented for probably the four millionth time.  Among her other duties, she politely yells at us when we fail to post things correctly, which is frequent.  She also helped us get free cupcakes, using the power of social media.  Oh, and!  She taught us what all the buttons do in the Twitter app, which sadly is not a joke.

We wanted to say thanks for the help, so please feel free to visit her blog or twitter or instagram or… smoke signal region?  Whatever the kids are into now.  Everyone else, try to think about you how you can earn your own paragraph.

Nothing Mundane growing its social media presence (via GIPHY)

Strolling The Mall

We have both been to D.C. several times, but we decided to walk around and see all the tourist-y stuff again anyway.  We took the Metro into downtown and although we walked about 8 miles, according to our pedometer, it felt like we barely scratched the surface.  We saw the sculpture gallery, Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, WWII & Korean War  Memorials, the MLK Memorial (surprisingly weird), and many more miscellaneous fancy buildings.  We have photos of some of our favorites below.

Sculpture Garden

National Museum of Natural History

Just like A Night at the Museum, except not at night, and without Ben Stiller or Owen Wilson.  And nothing came alive.  Otherwise, exactly the same.

We really enjoyed the gem and mineral collection at the museum. Our take aways:  (1) the Hope Diamond isn’t all that big, and (2) minerals grow in crazy, cool ways – they can look furry, defy gravity, glow in the dark, and a million other naturally occurring, wholly unnatural things.

Monuments & Stately Buildings

Washington, especially the Mall, is just packed full of monuments and memorials. We tried to look up how many official monuments there are in DC, for a “fun” trivia fact, but our google-fu failed us.  So we are going to say there are more than… five! Can you believe it??

Our favorite part?  The below sign on the new Trump Hotel, very close to the White House.  It reads “Coming 2016, Trump.”  Amusing, but also, please God no.


What’s next:  Currently, we are back in El Paso for a home-cooked Thanksgiving.  We’re headed back soon to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where the sunsets are beautiful and the medicinal hot springs can out-cure any brand of snake oil.

Obligatory social media self-promotion:  If you want to follow along and you haven’t yet, please Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@NothingMundane) and/or Instagram (NothingMundane) to make sure you get all the updates.  It will help us make Kaoru proud.

Shamefully missed a prior post?  We made a list of the most recent ones, just for you.