Tally Yes! Tally No!!!

While we were at Marcus Island Chuck was talking with another couple enjoying the spectacular view. They asked where we were headed. When he said Whitefish, they said “Tally Lake.” “Cally Lake?” “No Tally Lake.” The gentleman had grown up in Whitefish and said we had to go to nearby Tally Lake. Thinking that since they liked Marcus Island as much as we did this must also be a great spot, we put it on our list.

He didn’t mention that it was 3.5 miles down a narrow, bumpy dirt road. He didn’t mention that the sites were dark and dreary. He didn’t mention that it’s heavily used by loud groups who come to boat on the lake and swim on the beach. He didn’t mention that the few sites with a view of the lake were in the North Loop down another narrow dirt road. He gave it a rave review and so we went to Tally Lake thinking it would be a good base for exploring Whitefish, but found it wasn’t so.

Lesson #5: Do your own research, even with a glowing recommendation.

One it was quite a drive into Whitefish. You had two options. In one direction you went 9 miles down the dirt road and it was supposedly 15 minutes quicker. The other direction it was only 3 miles of dirt road, but it was longer. Either way it was too far. Although the sites were spaced out ok, they were dark. It seemed depressing. We weren’t there to boat on the lake, and riding our bikes on the dirt road wasn’t too appealing. There was one hike up to a view of the lake, but we could stand right on the shore and see it all. It just wasn’t for us. And to top it all off, the water system had recently been vandalized and all the water spigots we’re covered and marked unsafe for drinking. So instead of staying there all day with no cell service (anywhere isn’t too bad if you can hide inside and surf the internet to plan your next stop 🙂 ) we decided would get some things done. We drove to the laundromat, picked up a few items we needed for the trailer, had lunch, got more groceries and used the wi-fi to make our plan of attack for Glacier.

Wishing we still had this great view from Marcus Island!

And so after two campgrounds that weren’t stellar, we learned something. We really don’t like sites without some sky view.

We loved the open sky from the meadow in Winthrop. We loved watching the clouds across the lake in Marcus Island. Even at Newhalem where you can only see bits of sky from the sites, when you walk the campground you have views of the nearby peaks. So again two nights and we were out of there. We left early, packing up everything we could the night before and setting the alarm for the first time since we started our adventure. We knew we had to make it to Glacier before 10am to claim a spot, and the one good thing about Tally Lake was it put us close enough to do just that.

We’re in Montana!

Yaak River

I wanted to stay near Sandpoint Idaho. We’ve been to Farragut State Park on the south end of Lake Pend Orielle and I really liked the lake. Unfortunately Farragut was totally booked and we couldn’t find any other good options on the lake. Chuck had a couple of sites along the Yaak River just inside the Montana border that looked promising so we drove straight through this skinny strip of Idaho. It turned out to be a wildlife drive. Besides the usual deer, I saw a black bear scampering into the trees just off the freeway in Idaho and later we nearly had wild turkey for dinner when mom, dad, and several chicks walked into the road. Luckily they paused, deciding to let us go by first.

Yaak Falls

Turning down the Yaak River Road we found the first campground near Yaak Falls was too small. We had no cell service so couldn’t check the GPS on the phone for our second option, Yaak River Campground. A map at the viewpoint showed 2 more campgrounds on down the road so we continued on but neither of those were a fit and we finally ended up at the tiny “town” of Yaak—two bars and a teensy store with an old gas pump out front. The cashier was excited that we must be there for the music festival (what music festival???). She said we could camp in the field if we were attending and the bluegrass and rock music would go from 3pm to midnight. Since this didn’t sound like our kind of fun we asked her where to find the Yaak River Campground. We were thankful the gas pump still worked because it turned out we had to retrace the 20 miles we had been driving down this road. The campground we wanted was back off the main highway. So we learned another lesson.

Lesson #4: Always take a screen shot of the map.

Back on the highway the Yaak River Campground was not far. There were many open sites among the dense trees, but the few spots that had views of the river were taken. We found one space with some sun for the solar and set up. A short path led us straight from our camp, through the trees and brush to the where the Yaak River meets the larger Kootenai River. It was pretty and I found lots of cool rocks along the banks!

The next day we drove into nearby Troy, MT for the farmer’s market (berries, pea pods, giant carrots and yummy gluten free huckleberry pie!) and walked through the small museum of old photographs, logging tools, kitchenware and a police blotter that listed “drunk and disorderly” as the main offense back in the day. This town was born out of logging and mining. The building was actually the old train depot. The docent recommended seeing the nearby Kootenai Falls and the Ross Creek Cedar Grove. So the following day we did.


The Kootenai Falls were spectacular. After a short hike down the hillside, we found water gushing over big flat rocks. It wasn’t a tall fall, but cool because of how wide it was and all the stair steps the rocks made for the water to follow. Chuck even got me out on the swinging bridge over the river.


People on Tripadvisor were raving about the Ross Creek Cedars. They said you shouldn’t miss it. So we drove 20 miles (4 miles of that dirt road) to get there and all I can say is those people obviously weren’t from Washington. True there were some big, old cedar trees along the nature path, but nothing I hadn’t seen around Seattle. The coolest part was how so many people had left rock cairns along the river.


Well two nights was enough for us and we were ready to head on down the road. On our way out of town we found a weigh station. Chuck had read that when the weigh stations are closed they turn the meter so you can see it out the window. So we took the opportunity to weight the truck and the trailer and found out that we are not overweight. Hooray! I don’t have to pare down even more. Although, I’m already finding out that there are things I don’t really use so a trip to “Goodwill” is in our future. 🙂


Lake Roosevelt – Marcus Island

Nights: 6
Bikes: lots
Hikes: 0
Bug Bites: 7

Having seen the Grand Coulee Dam and heard about the vast lake formed behind it, we drove north along Lake Roosevelt’s eastern shore to see it for ourselves. The road moved quickly inland and the arid landscape near the dam gave way to vast fields of wheat illustrating the original reason for the dam—irrigation. As we turned back toward the water we moved into scattered pine forests then connected with Highway 25 as we passed Fort Spokane. I should have scoped out the drive ahead of time and we would have known to stop here at the Visitor’s Center but we kept going.

Soon glimpses of the lake let us know we were heading in the right direction as we wound our way through the small towns, farms, and forest. This is beautiful country and I enjoyed the drive although Chuck had to concentrate on the curvy road. After crossing Highway 395 a road sign proclaimed the Canadian border was just 40 miles away. We were close to our destination, Marcus Island, a small park right along the shore.

Marcus was the largest town they moved when the lake was formed and signs in the campground show how you can walk through the remnants of the town during the spring draw down of the lake. In the “new” townsite on the hill above the park, there are quite a few houses along streets with apple names like Delicious and what looks like an old cider press in the town park. This must have been a town of orchards once upon a time. We even found a few old apple trees along the park road. Too bad the apples were still too green to eat.

As we entered the park we found 24 sites spaced out in the pine trees along the island’s length. There were several already taken, but following Lesson #2 (drive the whole campground) we found the perfect spot right on the water. To the left large bushes blocked the site 50’ away and to the right was only forest. Once set up we were treated to lakefront views right outside our door and a bald eagle soaring past.

IMG_1342While we enjoyed bike rides twice a day through the campground and over to the boat dock, this place mostly made us lazy. We were in awe of the view and spent much of our time lounging in our chairs just staring out at the lake and forested hills beyond. The sky was constantly changing as clouds backed up against the hills, sometimes dark and sometimes fluffy white. In the afternoons the wind picked up and a few times we got sprinkled on, but often the ominous weather seemed to head north of us and blue sky prevailed.

We did explore a little nearby, driving to St. Pauls’ Mission, one of the oldest churches in Washington. As we were getting out of our truck, a ranger drove up. He asked if we were there for the tour. “Tour. What tour?” Turns out we were just in time for our own private, ranger-led tour along the short trail. He told us about the Indians in the area who fished the nearby falls for centuries until the dam was installed. This area has artifacts showing human use for nearly 9000 years. A cutting stone with deep grooves where spears and tools for fishing were sharpened was interesting. The mission was set up in the late 1800’s and was one of the first places to convert Indians. It enjoyed protection from nearby Fort Colville run by the Hudson’s Bay Company. While not much of the mission remains, there is a re-built log structure and some graves on the site. The ranger also told us about an old townsite in the nearby Kettle Falls campground. We drove over to walk among the remnants of foundations and sidewalks that were once shops lining main street. Signage shows you what was there before. We enjoyed meeting this young ranger and I was sad that we missed the free canoe trip he was set the lead earlier that morning. He said no one had shown up. Again, I’m surprised by the free activities the NPS delivers. I’m going to have to keep an eye out for more of those, although I’m not sure I could have pried myself away from the awesome views here to do much else.


One day we watched a tug boat pass slowly pulling a log boom to the nearby mill, but most of the time we just stared at the scenery. Besides the eagles, we saw hawks, water fowl, flickers, and many other birds making me wish I had kept my bird guide (perhaps I will have to find an app). Chipmunks screeched at us on our daily bike rides. Oddly, we never saw a fish jump although we saw people fishing from the shore and out on the lake. We don’t often have campfires, but this site begged for one. How could we resist with the lakeside views! Plus, unlike any campsite we’ve ever been at, you can gather downed wood right here.


On our final night we were treated to a fiery sunset. Overall it was a pretty relaxing week in a spectacular site and although it’s going to be hard to leave, Montana is calling us.

Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam at night

I have wanted to see Grand Coulee Dam for 15 years but we’ve never made it so we planned a stop at the Spring Canyon campground knowing it wasn’t a great campground but it was close to the dam. This was important because the laser light show doesn’t start until 10pm and we didn’t want to drive far after dark. There are a lot of deer in the area. I seem to see them every time we drive somewhere, even during the middle of the day. In fact one walked in front of our shuttle bus on the tour. The campground turned out just like the reviews we read—noisy and little privacy. We did manage to find a spot to wedge our trailer in and even had a bit of a river view, but mostly we saw and heard our neighbors. There were many large groups camping here probably because of the nice day use area with a big swimming beach and boat launch. But the reason we were here was for proximity to the dam.

Looks can be deceiving!
Viewpoint above the dam

We started our visit with a stop at the viewpoint above the dam and then continued to the visitor’s center. It’s smaller than I imagined, but had a few cool things. I especially liked the pictures of the “princesses” from all 52 Washington counties pouring jugs of water from every state over the dam at it’s opening and the jugs on display. Chuck found a jackhammer that actually vibrated to give you a feel for how tough the work was for those building the dam.

It’s hard work!

We drove to the opposite side of the dam to take the free tour. It turned out to be 15 minutes of security checks and then loading, riding and unloading a shuttle bus (3 times) to spend 5 minutes looking at the generating pumps and another 5 minutes in middle of the dam looking over the edge. Our tour guide said before 9/11 visitors could tour the dam on their own and that there are loads of displays inside, which we never got to see. Still she tried to keep us entertained with her “dam” humor.

Returning to our trailer I found a movie about the making of the dam on their website (http://www.usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/history/construction/index.html) which was interesting and informative. My advice, skip the tour and watch the movie. I find the history surrounding the dam fascinating. It is called one of the manmade wonders of the world and whole towns were relocated to make way for the lake formed behind the dam.

We returned to the dam that night for the laser light show and we were glad we did. As the start of the show nears they turn off some of the lights on the dam. A few minutes later they start opening each section of the spillway one by one until a giant white curtain of rushing water covers the dam. We could feel the temperature dropping as each section started to flow. Onto this “screen” they project the laser light show. Titled “Many Voices, One River” it talks about the building of the dam and its benefits as well as its impact on the local tribes who lost their salmon fishing grounds. This was definitely our favorite part of visiting the dam and I’d recommend it if you ever make it this way.

Boondocking Lessons

Our first foray into boondocking turned out to be a huge success. Chuck researched sites near Winthrop and we left Newhalem Friday morning. Since it was 4th of July weekend we weren’t sure what to expect as we headed down a paved forest service road. At the point where the first site should have been we found a dirt pullout with a path down to the river. We parked and walked down to find a couple of campsites occupied already and definitely not suitable for the trailer. Our first lesson of boondocking was driven home.

Lesson #1: Always walk the road in to make sure it is passable.

We continued on to an area called Upper Bobcat. Seeing a rather rough turn in we again parked and walked in. There was one tent but the rest of the lower area’s primitive sites among the pine trees were wide open. We decided we could handle the bumpy road and in we went. Being excited about having found a spot and a bit hungry, we immediately parked in a small clearning, leveled the trailer, unhitched the truck, extended our awning, laid down a rug, put out chairs and sat down for lunch. Having reenergized ourselves we decided to walk to rest of the campground which is when the next lesson came to pass.

Lesson #2: Always check out the whole campground before setting up.

First site – Not bad, but not great.

Alas the north part of the area was much more to our liking. There was a wide open meadow with views of the surrounding hills, a few pine trees here and there and paths to the river. Knowing we would be here for several days we decided to move. So we quickly stowed everything, hitched back up and moved and we were glad we did. We had a fabulous spot with views all around, no neighbors nearby and plenty of sunshine for our solar panels. It turned out for the whole holiday weekend there were only 7 or 8 groups camping here. (We heard that over Memorial Day there were over 100 RVs wedged in.)

Spot #2
Great views!

All of this beauty for free as long as you have a Discover Pass. With the solitude, views, proximity to amenities, biking, hiking, and river this spot has quickly soared to the top of our favorite places to camp. I imagine we’ll be back someday.

Note: this area has was no fresh water and only a pit toilet but we brought our own. 🙂 Sites are little more than packed earth with a circle of rocks for a fire ring. No tables, no markers. For Chuck’s full review visit Campendium.com.