Road Trip Northwest USA
This article is about the journey back from the Northwest USA to the Midwest.
I traveled west by automobile as far as one could go—to the Pacific Ocean.
For the vast majority of the return trip, I chose to stay off the Interstate Highway System, and drive on the northernmost Federal Highway in America, US-2.
I didn't want to visit the State of Washington—the only state in America named after a president—without seeing the Pacific Ocean. It takes a few hours to reach the ocean west of Seattle, driving through small towns and forest. I saw on my map places named Ocean City and Pacific Beach. I imagined artists' enclaves of old hippies, on a cliff with the ocean ferociously spanking the rocky shoreline. I was in for a surprise. When I got to the ocean, there was a beautiful, wide sandy beach—virtually devoid of human beings. The little villages had no artists or hippies. They were run down, nearly deserted, with only a couple hundred inhabitants. Having lived in Florida for 18 years, I had no idea people would not make commercial use of such a place.
The rest of my trip would be eastbound. I drove through the state capital, Olympia, which has 50,000 residents. Mount Rainier soon came into view, at over 14,000 feet one of many active volcanoes in Washington. I drove through the city of Tacoma, 1/3 the size of Seattle. Tacoma is known as a blue-collar town of 200,000 souls. It looked like a nice place to live.
The metropolitan area of Seattle-Tacoma has the 15th most people in America (3.4 million). The northernmost major city in the United States is Seattle. A light drizzle or mist is present many days of the year in this major seaport. Seattle is the home to Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, and Starbucks. Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam all hailed from there. Seattle is one of the most congested cities in the USA, and features some of the most expensive real estate. It boasts the most college graduates of any city—more than half the adults holding a Bachelor's Degree—and is the most literate of U.S. cities. Seattle is a very progressive city politically, since it has a far larger percentage of Atheists and people who practice homosexual behaviors than any other city in America.
Wenatchee is in the middle of the state, and home to 30,000 souls. It is the apple capital of the world. Wenatchee straddles the magnificent Columbia River—4th largest river in the U.S. and with 14 dams, it is easily the river that produces the most hydroelectric power. Nearby are the Bavarian village of Leavenworth (pop. 2000); and the lovely town of 4,000 named Chelan (deep water), which is on Lake Chelan, a 55 mile-wide, narrow beauty.
I encountered a fierce, blinding dust storm in Eastern Washington before driving through Spokane, the 2nd largest city in the state and a bastion of conservatism. Washington borders British Columbia, Canada, and features a wide range of topography including the ocean, mountains, rain forests, desert, and mucho agriculture. Next stop Idaho.
Idaho is one of the fastest growing states (population wise of course). There are 40% more people living there than 20 years ago. Idaho is a conservative state. It is known for its forests, mountains, ski slopes, timber industry, and yes: potatoes (1/3 the U.S. crop).
Coeur D'Alene is home to 50,000, and a gorgeous town where tourism thrives. My father had told me not to miss it as he considered it the nicest town in the country, with the nicest people.
Sandpoint was perhaps the most beautiful place on my trip, surrounded by water with huge mountains in the background. 7,000 people are blessed to call that place home.
Bonners Ferry is near the Canadian border. 3,000 folks live there. It is eight miles from where the Ruby Ridge tragedy took place, and the area outside of town is sort of known for survivalists, and polygamous Mormons.
Montana means mountain in Spanish. It is a land of cattle ranchers, lumber harvesting, and wheat fields. About a million persons live there, spread out over a huge area. People don't nose into each other's business much out there.
The first major landmark I encountered was Glacier National Park. Home to 25 active glaciers (hence the name), Glacier National Park covers a million acres. It is celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year as a National Park. There is a large grizzly bear population, hundreds of lakes, and six mountains that peak at over 10,000 feet above sea level. Unfortunately for me, most of the park was closed. I learned that it is July before the winter snows are cleared off the roads through the park.
I spent the night in Havre, Montana (pop. 10,000). It is in the middle of the northernmost part of the state, and the halfway point between Seattle and Minneapolis, Minnesota. The tourist attraction there is the underground area "Havre beneath the streets." One can see purple squares on sidewalks around town that are actually skylights for the underground. For decades the underground was a place of brothels, opium dens, and honky tonks—as well as a bank, drug store, and funeral parlor. I had noticed that on my map, and during my drive across the 677 miles of Montana, that there was a tiny town about every seven miles. An elderly lady bartender explained that the old steam trains on the Hi-Line Railroad that US-2 runs alongside needed water every seven miles, so a hamlet would spring up around the water station (later a coal station).
North Dakota is on the High Plains. It has the 3rd fewest residents of any state, about 650,000. Largely an agricultural area, North Dakota has the most religious people in America, the most churches per capita of any state, and the lowest unemployment.
Grand Forks is home to 100,000 souls in its metropolitan area. It sits on the Red River, which is prone to major flooding. Minnesota is just across the river. Grand Forks is a college town surrounded by farmlands. Nearby is a major Air Force Base.
Fargo, made famous by a movie not filmed there, has 200,000 inhabitants including the city across the Red River, Moorhead, Minnesota. The largest city in North Dakota, Fargo is a conservative place, notable for its extremely low rates of crime and unemployment. It has been recognized several times as one of the best places in the country to open a new business, and by Money magazine as the best place to live in America.
Minnesota means "sky-tinted water." The state is known as the "Land of 10,000 Lakes." Minnesota features large swaths of agriculture, forests, and wilderness areas. 60% of the people live in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The citizens of Minnesota exercise more than those in any other state, and are among the healthiest, the wealthiest, and the most literate in America. The world famous Mayo Clinic is there. Among famous natives are Lawrence Welk, Judy Garland, and Winona Ryder.
The Twin Cities, the 16th largest metropolitan area in the country, has 3.2 million residents. There are three major rivers there, including the Mississippi. Bob Dylan, Prince, Garrison Keillor, the Coen Brothers, and the cartoonist Charles Schulz all hail from the Twin Cities. Major corporations such as Cargill, Target, General Mills, and 3M were founded there. Universities and parks abound. The Twin Cities ranks near the top of American cities for its level of Christian worship, and charitable giving. Minneapolis (the name means water city) is the newer city with the skyscrapers. It is heavily populated with people of Scandinavian descent. St Paul, named after Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ, reminds one of a European city with Victorian architecture. It has a predominance of people with German, Irish, and French ancestry.
Well, that's it. Sure, I drove through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana on my way back to Michigan, but I didn't see much from the Interstate. I have written quite a few Hubs about interesting places I have visited. I'll list links to some of them below.
More by this Author
A brief History of Chicago Illinois: Great Chicago Fire, L Train, the Loop, Old Town, Maxwell Street, Stock Yards, world's first skyscraper, Windy City, Great Migration, Jane Addams, and World's Fair.
Fifty years ago Detroit was among the richest cities in the world and offered perhaps the best quality of life of any city in America. Today, it is bankrupt, the most dangerous place in the country, boasts 78,000...
Laura Ingraham, whom I met once, appears often on Fox News as a political commentator. She is a breast cancer survivor. Laura Ingraham is a bestselling author and the sixth most popular radio talk show host in...