Road Trip to Glacier. Day 1 – Columbia Gorge

Visit date: Thursday July 8, 2021

I am a librarian at heart I suppose; I just have to organize things. When starting a series of travel posts I wonder whether it would be better to post day-by-day or place by place. Either way has complications: what if I’m doing many things on one day; on the other hand, what if I’m visiting a place for more than one day? Finally, I have to just choose so I can start writing and posting. Being who I am, I compromised and am doing mostly day-by-day but crossing over days when I want.

I thought our road trip days were behind us. Our last long trip was driving coast to coast from Portland to New York and back in 2016 (you can review those posts here). When we got back we were exhausted from the fun we had, but also from driving 7,157.5 miles – that is a lot of car time. We both swore “no more”, but as always I got the itch to hit the road. Emerging from the pandemic shut-down Carla surprised me, telling me she also wanted to get out again and see the country. There is just no substitute I have found that allows one to see a lot of the country in a short period of time.

I sprang at the idea; I have been thinking a trip along US Highway 2 would allow us to spend some miles along the the old Great Northern route – now the BNSF highline road from Leavenworth, Washington to East Glacier, Montana. Carla yearned for travel enough to agree to my train-centric plan! We worked out a detailed agenda that would take us through Glacier National Park, then return south through Lolo Pass and into the small wine-tour town of Walla Walla, Washington.

Here was our planned itinerary. Spending 2 nights in many of the places promised to help relieve that road trip grind. Over the next few posts you’ll see we had to make adjustments along the way.

  • Leavenworth, Washington – 2 nights
  • Couer d’ Alene, Idaho – 1 night
  • Flathead Lake, Montana – 2 nights
  • Through Glacier National Park and into East Glacier, Montana – 2 nights
  • Lolo Hot Springs, Montana – 1 night
  • Walla Walla, Washington – 2 nights
Planned route of our Summer 2021 road trip

I thought driving up the Columbia Gorge on the north side would be a great way to catch some train action – I’ve had great luck there before, but also some misses. As we crossed the I5 Interstate Bridge in Vancouver to turn onto Washington Highway 14 we saw a stopped BNSF grain train, and soon saw another westbound train. We stopped a couple of times in my favorite spots and waited. Eventually we saw a highliner – a truck mounted on railroad wheels – rolling down the tracks and I realized there was likely track maintenance going on that would stifle traffic for most of the day.

Hope against hope, I went to the spot of one of my favorite train pictures: Columbia Hills State Park. As an additional inducement, it is home to some ancient petroglyphs and pictographs, giving Carla some time to explore while I sat track side. I waited.

Not a train in site – looking east from Columbia Hills State Park

and waited

Nope, nothing to the west.

Not a train, but I did see some barge traffic on the river:

Oh well, I gave up and headed up to join Carla to see what she found. She pointed out some of her favorites.

“Spedis Owl”- Petroglyph

“Spedis Owl” Petroglyph

This rock with many petryglyphs

Various Petroglyphs

I don’t know the name of this one


I did some research on these images but couldn’t find a lot of detail. The best I could find was this page about Lewis & Clark’s Columbia River – 200 Years Later. Perhaps the most famous petroglyph in the area is Tsagalalal (“She Who Watches”.) You need to take a guided tour to see her and we saw no schedule in site. The author of the page tells us that there are two types of Native American rock art:

 “petroglyphs” and “pictographs”. Petroglyphs are images carved into the rock surface. Pictographs are images painted on the rock.

By this time we were ready to get to Leavenworth and still had a few hours of driving to get there so we hit the road.

So, Day 1: no train pictures, but still some sites to enjoy. We had a nice evening in Leavenworth, which I’ll write about next.

Hmm, another classification conundrum. Should I add this post to my “Trains” category even though there are no actual pictures of trains? Sure; afterall, the purpose of the drive was to get train pictures.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.