Sunday, September 10, 2017

US12: Lewis & Clark Trail

Much of US12 so far has also been designated as the Lewis & Clark Trail. This is overwhelmingly the case from Walla Walla to the Idaho border. It seems like every mile or so there is a turnout for a historical marker.

Driving through what I would call vast open plains and agricultural fields, I found myself wondering whether the Voyage of Discovery was happy about being there or not. My gut said probably not so much.

Happy and I skipped most of the minor turnouts, but made good use of one major rest area. Reading the sign confirmed for me that the lads were pretty well worn down by the time they made it back to this area from their winter on the coast. Happy used her time to check pee mail.

After crossing the Snake River at the eponymous towns of Lewiston and Clarkston, the scenery changes dramatically as the road heads up the Clearwater River valley. The next 200 miles of highway are spectacular, one of the best stretches of road I've ever driven. Two lanes the entire way, it starts as a meandering affair alongside a substantial river. Residual smoke from recent wildfires might have dimmed the view a bit, but it was a stunning drive the entire way.

As you head farther and higher up the valley, the road becomes an almost constantly twisting challenge, punctuated only occasionally by straights barely long enough to grab a gulp of coffee. Much of the way, the river stays strong enough for recreation in the Clearwater National Forest. Eventually, of course, it gives up the fight and dwindles to a trickle before ceasing entirely.

After a final hard push to the top, you reach Lolo pass. Not the most scenic of passes, nonetheless notable as the border with Montana. The downhill run is not as bad as the signs would indicate, and pretty quickly becomes a fast two lane sprint toward Missoula.

Recently, the Lolo area was site of a major wildfire complex. Luckily, things have settled down and didn't require a detour. You can plainly see the impact of the fire on the hillsides around the roadway.

Happy and I have stopped for the night in Missoula... Stay tuned!

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