Day 1: Tacoma to Missoula

Columbia River - Vantage, WA

After running an errand and gassing up, we hit the road at eleven. Stopped for lunch in Ellensburg, WA at a hundred-year old diner called The Palace. Old place; fresh food.

Took a detour to check out the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park in the town of Vantage on the Columbia River. An enthusiastic ranger gave me a brief tour of the interpretive center while Angie waited outside. I learned that petrified wood is both wood and not-wood, full of basalt and agate and whatnot. I also discovered something truly startling: there were once rhinos in Washington. Before massive statewide lava flows covered them up, vaporizing all organic matter and making a perfect imprint of their bodies in the process, a la Hans Solo in carbonite. Rhinos in the Pacific Northwest, I shit you not. Native gingko trees, too. Mind: blown.

Gingko Petrified Forest State Park

From there it was a long monotonous trek across the desert farmland of eastern Washington to Spokane. Turns out Spokane is actually a very pretty and stately old city, with a goddamn waterfall rushing right down the middle of it. We took a brief pit stop and snapped a few photos at the Riverfront Park before heading on. It was getting late in the day and we still wanted to try to get in to Missoula by sundown.

We just barely made it, slipping through the gorgeous forests of northern Idaho and Coeur D’Alene and catching the edge of a massive electrical storm off to the northeast in Lolo National Forest and Bison Range. I know that there is an implied rule among photographers and bloggers stipulating that photos of sunsets are punishable by death, but it was my first time in Montana. There is a reason they call it Big Sky Country, folks. Go there and see if you can’t help yourself to a few dozen shots of pure heavens.

Forgot about the hour time difference — we’re on Mountain time now. Rolled into Missoula at ten o’clock, after most restaurants are closed. Found a busy-looking brew pub near the U Montana campus, the Iron Horse Bar and Grill, which actually turned out to be quite good. I had a sandwich of beef tenderloin medallions with caramelized onion and Sriracha mayo, plus a pint of fresh Moose Drool (don’t worry, it’s a delicious brown ale made by Big Sky Brewing Company). Checked into our room at the Holiday Inn amid the crackle and flash of lightning and the low rumbling of a full and slightly angry belly.