Boise, 9/12/19. Reno, 9/13/19. Home, 9/14/19.

On the 11th we drove all day to get to Boise. So not much time to hunt out things to write about although we did have lunch in Arco, Idaho, the first  town of nuclear energy, and that was pretty interesting. We listened to a waitress talk about how in 1955 their town was the first to have been totally lit up by nuclear power coming from reactors at the nearby Idaho National Laboratory. She remarked that now the lab was removing nuclear waste from the ground and putting it into containers where it wouldn’t leak out. Scary stuff, I’d say.

Photo from the internet

Take a look at this blog for more info about the area

Since we changed our plans we have to shuffle our hotels around and we cannot stay at the Residence Inn where we first booked in Boise. Instead we are staying at the Riverside Best Western Premiere which turns out to be not so premiere. I book the honeymoon suite since we like extra space and John is my honey. Unfortunately it is a rather dark suite that smells musty and whose bathroom is painted a rather unfortunate shade of dark brown.

Our room has a large whirlpool bath in the center of it!

On Thursday we are up early and ready to explore Boise! Since Boise is a state capital, the first place we visit is their be-domed building. Seriously, I will have to visit all 50 capitals to find out if there are any without domes! Idaho was admitted to the Union in 1890 and their building was completed in 1905. It’s architects went for a classical look. It has lots of columns. The three types—Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian are all represented. Atop its dome is a 5’7” eagle. We cannot find a parking space so I just run out and snap a picture and then hustle back into the car before the Capitol Cops can bother us.

Idaho Capitol in Boise

The plan for the rest of the day includes the Botanic Garden, the Old Penitentiary, and the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. We also want to drive around and look at the local architecture as well. The Botanic Garden and the Old Penitentiary are right next to each other so we decide to begin there.

But, no, it is not to be! Right next to these two tourist sites is the aptly named Outlaw Field, home to large scale gatherings. Tonight is a concert by Foreigner and everything is closed! We kind of look around on our own as much as we can and no one comes to throw us out. We are hoping for a sound check since they seem to be fussing around with the amps but no luck.

Stage for the Foreigner concert

The part of the Botanic Garden that we can see looks pretty scraggly. We think the better part must be behind the Foreigner stage. There is an interesting sculpture and something that looks like a mini-Stonehenge within our viewing area.

Reverse-Rebirth by Korean artist Han Seok Hyun uses discarded items and indigenous plants to create a tree-like organic sculpture
Stonehenge-ish arrangement of rock

Next we meander over to the nearby closed Old Penitentiary.  I am not sure why this is a tourist attraction. The Old Idaho Penitentiary functioned as a prison from 1872 to 1973.  The structure started out as single cell house in the Idaho Territory in 1870. It grew into several buildings surrounded by a 17’ sandstone wall. Since we cannot get in we take some pictures of the outer walls and buildings.

Most people would want to get out of jail but John wants to get in!
The 17’ wall and watchtower. The guards would have a pretty good view of the concert tonight!

After this is our drive-around time. Boise is much bigger than Helena. And in fact Idaho is the fastest growing state in the United States. The city has lots of important-looking buildings due to state government, an art museum, and a history museum. The history museum also backs up to Outlaw Field and we assume it is closed too. In the historic district are many Victorian and Craftsman style homes. The whole area is like a green island floating in the arid high desert.

We have frittered away the morning and early afternoon and I suggest we have hot dogs at Costco for lunch. John is all in. We find the Boise Costco and after a mild panic over whether either of us brought a Costco card along on the trip (I did!), head in for this yummy treat. In Boise a hot dog and a soda only costs $1.50! So for $3.00 we have a tasty lunch.

Costco hot dog!

After a small siesta we go back out to see the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial. It is beautiful place of contemplation. All around are quotes from civil rights leaders, old and new. Boise seems an odd place for this memorial with its Declaration of Civil Rights and moving quotes since northern Idaho is a draw for the Aryan Nation and other white supremacist groups. Indeed, the memorial was vandalized in 2017. But contributions were raised to repair the damage. Perhaps this is a very apt place for the memorial and its center with outreach programs to schools and the community.

The Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial
Stone tablets

Later for dinner we walk over to Joe’s Crab Shack and have a very mediocre dinner.

There are no crabs in the Boise River

The last two days are a long trip through uninhabited country. In fact it is stunning to see how empty Montana, Idaho, and Nevada are. John and I have a long conversation in the car about how coming from a populous state such as California, Texas, or Florida cheapens your vote.

Maybe we could have made it all the way home on Friday but we stop in Reno for an overnight and finish up on Saturday. We dine in Winnemucca, Nevada on Friday for lunch and add Mexican to our list of cuisines.

Tacos with retried beans and rice

On this trip, along with good old American food, we have had Canadian, Thai, Ethiopian, Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, and German food. We have enjoyed these ethnic cuisines a lot. Most of the rest of our dining has been pretty mediocre. We saw some great stuff and enjoyed our fellow travelers. I think we have thoroughly seen this part of the country with our several trips and next summer we will need to find something new to do.

I have so much love and gratitude for my traveling companion who did almost all the driving with my sometimes terrible navigation. John has an amazing breadth of knowledge and shares it with me as we travel along. I do give myself credit for planning a pretty busy trip. I book all the hotels, make dinner reservations and find interesting things to do. We make an excellent team.

This was a trip in celebration of John’s 70th birthday. I hope he and I can continue with our adventures for many years to come. Happy Birthday, John!

Helena, the Ka-boom town. 9/10/19

No, I do not mean boom town! Yesterday while I was trying to find interesting things to do, I discovered that Helena had experienced a massive train wreck and explosion on February 2, 1989. It all happened due to a perfect storm of circumstances. Here is the story from Wikipedia.

“In the early morning of February 2, 1989, during a record cold snap, a Montana Rail Link freight train picked up three extra “pusher” locomotives in Helena, Montana, to help move the train over Mullan Pass. The train then traveled west from Helena. Halfway up the pass, the lead engine developed an electrical problem that caused a loss of power and at about the same time was stopped by a malfunctioning signal. The train crew then parked the train at the Austin siding, on the east side of Mullan Pass. While waiting for the signal to be fixed, the crew uncoupled the engines from the 48-car train to switch the order of the locomotives, setting the air brakes but not the hand brakes on the cars. At about 5:30 a.m., record cold temperatures (-32F) caused the air brakes to fail on the decoupled cars. The cars then rolled backwards 9 miles downhill, uncontrolled, into Helena, crashed into a parked work train near the Benton Avenue crossing, caught fire, and exploded.” Ka-boom!

Photo from Helena Independent Record

People were evacuated, all the windows in a nearby college dormitory blew out, power was knocked out, the water coming out of the fire hoses froze, and pieces of train landed as much as a mike away. Amazingly no one was killed or even seriously injured.

John and I want to see the site of this awful wreck. Certainly there must be a plaque or something commemorating the event. We go to the Benton St. crossing and there is nothing, nada, zilch. John takes a picture looking up the track and we can only imagine the runaway train heading for the heart of Helena.

Looking toward the direction of the runaway train

So the train wreck site is a bust but there are plenty of other things to see and do in Helena. (In case you are wondering Helena is pronounced Helen like the name and then a. John asked someone.)

Helena is the capital of Montana. It has a population of 31,000 making it one of the smallest capitals in the U.S. It has a big fancy state building with a dome, though, and statues and landscaped grounds. Does every state capital building have a dome?

Montana was admitted to the union in 1889 and the capital’s building is dedicated in 1902. Wings were added to the central building in the early 20th century.

Montana 2019 planting in front of Capitol
Frederick Meagher, territorial governor on horseback with John
Montana Capitol

Nearby is the Montana Historical Society Museum. There are so many interesting exhibits that I am just going to put in pictures of some things  that I enjoyed.

In front of the museum is the sculpture Herd Bull by James D. Hadcock
Joe Scheuerle painted Native Americans in the early 20th century. This is a painting of Eagle Elk from 1905
Joe Scheuerle photographed with Native Americans
Callous Leg
There is a large gallery of Charles M. Russell artwork. This is his philosophy late in life.
Indians Discovering Lewis and Clark, C. Russell,1896
When the Land Belonged to God, a depiction by Russell of the West before the Euro-Americans arrived
John and a grizzly bear
A rare white bison considered very spiritual, almost magical

Next we visit the attractive Gothic style St. Helena Cathedral. The stained glass windows reflect the style of their German maker.

Exterior of St. Helena Cathedral
Stained glass, Sacrifice of Isaac
Art Deco decoration in the nave
Cathedral selfie

For lunch today we add a new cuisine, Japanese, at Hokkaido Ramen. Very enjoyable.

Tonkatsu shoyu ramen
John and today’s beer

Now it is time for a little rest before heading out around 3 PM to visit the Holter Art Museum in Helena. Here are some pieces I enjoy.

John interacting with a rocker in an interactive gallery
I am interacting with a Richard W. James Homunculus
Phoebe Toland’s Reflections
Understory/Overstory installation

We have had a busy day! John and I share some chicken wings and call it a night. We have a long drive to Boise, Idaho tomorrow.


Knock, knock. Who’s there? No one. 9/9/19

Today we delay our departure from the hotel until almost 10 AM. Our plan is to visit the railroad depot in Whitefish and see the railway museum before we leave. Railroads played an important role in the settlement of the West and there are usually a lot of interesting side stories. During the summer the museum is closed Monday and opens the other days of the week at 10. Walking quickly through the rain we reach the inner door to the museum and it is locked. On the door it says, Summer Hours 10 AM – 5 PM. John jiggles the door knob again in cases someone inside forgot to open it. No luck. A helpful local informs us that the museum will not open until 11 AM because they are on Winter Hours.  Wait, what? It is September 9th about two weeks before Fall! Mr. Helpful tells us that Winter Hours begin when the kids go back to school. Egads!

Since we cannot hang around until 11 with a long drive in front of us. We leave. Somewhat cheerfully I find another museum to see along the way, the Upper Swan Valley Historical Museum. It’s about an hour and 40 minutes away. John pulls into the parking lot where the sign says “closed.”

So we drive straight through to Helena and arrive around 2:30. Right near our hotel there is a ramen place. Hurrah! I have been craving ramen for a couple of weeks. We go to the door. “Lunch hours 11:00 to 2:00” There is no winning today. We go to a steak place across the street where we have their impression of a medium rare burger. It is well done! However I think I have taken the best beer photograph of John yet.

John enjoying a Lewis and Clark Miner’s Gold

We check in at the hotel and then take a look at a carousel right across the street from where we are staying. Our trip is taking on a mini-theme of carousels. This is the fourth one we’ve seen. It was built in 2002 and features Montana animals.

Great Northern Carousel
Ride a bison!
Or a steelhead trout!
Maybe an otter?

We are too full from lunch to have dinner and decide we will just hang out in our room and catch up on work stuff (John) and blog posting (me.)

Tomorrow will be a better day.


Whitefish and Kalispell, Montana. 9/8/19

Our plans are pretty straightforward today—visit the Conrad Mansion in Kalispell, have lunch in Whitefish, and devote the rest of the day to watching the men’s final of the U.S. Open.

Kalispell is about 15 minutes away and since the tour is first come, first served with a maximum of twenty people every hour, I am a little jittery when we pull up at 9:50.  I need not have worried since the only one waiting is the welcome cat who is very pleased to see us.

Friendly mansion cat with John
The cat likes me too!

Soon enough we are ushered into the house for our tour with two other couples and two kids. The twenty-three room shingled Victorian style house was begun in 1892 and completed in 1895. It was the home of Charles E. Conrad, a late 19th century shipping businessman and early pioneer of Kalispell. In addition to shipping, Conrad was involved in a number of different businesses including real estate, banking, cattle ranching, and mining. The house was bequeathed to the city by his daughter who was a bit of a pack rat which led to 90% of the furniture, pictures, and knick knacks being original to the house. Alas, no photos are permitted in the house and there are very few on the internet.

Exterior of Conrad Mansion
Reception area (internet)

The house has all the modern conveniences of the day flush toilets, electric lights, a communication system within the house, water fountains, and even a dishwasher! There was a large staff of 24 half of whom worked outside on the grounds and stables and the other half inside.

After our interesting tour we ride around Kalispell admiring the many Victorian houses, large and small. On Main Street downtown there are two prominent buildings. The Grand Hotel built in 1890 and amazingly still operating as a hotel…

The Grand Hotel in in Kalispell

and the Flathead County Courthouse completed in 1905. Charles Conrad spearheaded the effort to get Flathead County established and the courthouse built.

Flathead County Courthouse (internet)

Lunchtime! We drive back to Whitefish to a brewery we espied last night when we had dinner. We have sandwiches and a beer.

Where they brew the beer
John in his beer pose

Now we settle down to almost five hours of tennis followed by frozen dinners microwaved in the room. Since our favorite player, Roger Federer, is not in the final, we merely root against Rafa Nadal. The other player is a young Russian who almost wins. It would be nice to see someone else win for a change.

Tomorrow we leave Whitefish for Montana’s state capital, Helena. We are hoping to stop at the Train Depot Museum here in Whitefish before we go.


Irradiated! 9/7/19

Today is one of those vacation days when there is not too much going on. We have to make the drive from Lake Louise to Whitefish, MT and there almost no towns in between. In fact there is a sign that warns you, “No cell reception next 60 miles!” So John and I have to make our own fun.

Our first leg is to drive almost two hours to Radium Hot Springs for breakfast. On the way we listen to the ongoing saga of the History of English. We are up to the 76th edition of the podcast and the development of English has gotten to 1132. Usually I cannot keep my eyes open during Professor Kevin’s relentless explanations but today he is talking about how gender got dropped from the English language and it is interesting. But we are distracted by…smoke?

The sky is billowing with smoke?
As we head into Radium Hot Springs it gets thicker

Turns out it is steam from the hot springs. I read about the radium part and the springs are throwing up radon along with the steam. But no worries, according to Wikipedia there is not enough to kill you if you breathe or drink it. So we go ahead and stop at the Big Horn Cafe for coffee and a bagel.

Breakfast at the Big Horn Cafe, Radium Hot Springs, BC

On the way out we cross a bridge over the springs.

Steam and radon gas

After another couple of hours we reach the US border. We have had adventures at the border when we were younger—our car was searched, we were split up and searched in an immigration building crossing into Detroit. Back in the 70s border guards were confused as to whether John was a hippie draft dodger or a nerdy computer programmer. So I feel some trepidation as we approach the border. It is a non-issue. The guard looks at our passports, asks if the car is ours or a rental, and welcomes us home. Whew!

Not too far from the border is the town of Eureka, Montana and we stop for a late lunch at Front Porch Grill. They have a full order and a half order of fish and chips. We order one of each and it is pretty good.

John at the Front Porch Grill
John’s order of fish and chips

Then we take a walk down Eureka’s Main Street to check out a former bank building that is on the historic registry. John refers to our doing this as urban archeology.

Historic bank building built in 1907. Great brick work.

Finally we make it to our hotel in Whitefish, MT with an iconic white fish out front.

Hotel white fish

For dinner I have made reservations at Abruzzo Italian Kitchen in downtown Whitefish. I have been craving some Italian food. After sharing a meatball appetizer I have papardelle Bolognese and John has cacio e pepe. Both are good with maybe a bit too much grated cheese.

Papardelle Bolognese
Cacio e pepe


Lake Louise from the top down. 9/6/19

Today we take a look at Lake Louise from an adjacent mountain top down to Lake level.  After a terrible room service breakfast of odd scrambled eggs and other delights, we head over to Lake Louise Gondola Rides. One of my Facebook friends has alerted me to the presence of mosquitos at the top of the gondola ride. We decide to go up when it is too cold for bugs to fly (below 55F). When we get up to the top of the mountain, it is full of views, not full of bugs. Thank you, Facebook friend!

There are some outstanding views from the observation platform.

On the gondola ride up, we look hard for bears since we are told we might see some. As hard as we look there are no bears.
Tiny Lake Louise from the mountain observation deck
John next to the mountain schematic. You can see that the glacier feeding Lake Louise has receded since the time they put the sign up.
Labeled geographical features

We have bought a voucher for lunch at the top of the gondola ride. Even though the path down to the restaurant is quite downhill (hard on the knees) and subsequently steep on the way back (hard on the lungs) we are determined to use our voucher. We are treated to a front row table to enjoy the beautiful view.

John, his beer, and the view
We shared the charcuterie platter. It was great!

Later in the afternoon we take a walk on the path around the lake. We were going to try paddling our own canoe but John is terrified that I will either fall getting into the canoe or fall getting out (with good reason) that he puts the kabosh on the canoe trip. We take pictures of the lake, of ourselves, and of the hotel.

Lake Louise
Lake Louise with yellow flowers
Mary and John at Lake Louise
Fairmont Chateau at Lake Louise

Although we are not able to get a reservation for dinner at the Fairmont’s main restaurant, we do get one at the Poppy Brasserie. Our dinner is much better tonight.

We share an order of onion tarts
I am not going to be adventurous tonight and have the rather messily plated steak frites
John has tourtiere (Canadian meat pie) with vegetables

Tomorrow we return to the U.S. our first night is in Whitefish, Montana near Glacier National Park.


Cows, spikes, and views. 9/5/19

It is a fairly long trip from Kelowna to Lake Louise. It is supposed to take about five hours but what with stops and a lot of construction it takes about seven hours. It would not be a road trip, or at least one that I have planned, if  we did not stop along the way to see various quirky or interesting sights.

Around 11AM we stop in Sicamous at the D Dutchmen Dairy. People on the internet are raving about the ice cream and the farm animals. So we stop. I figure ice cream can count for lunch. I get coffee ripple and John orders chocolate chili pepper.

D Dutchmen Dairy
John’s choice

I figure that coffee ripple will be coffee ice cream with a coffee ripple in it. But no, it is some sort of beige ice cream with a chocolate ripple in it! What a disappointment! I eat a little and give the rest to John.

It is probably a good thing that we visit the farm animals after we eat the ice cream. Cows do not smell good and they walk around in their cow patties. Not exactly the picture one wants when eating their product. We also go in the calf barn. One month old calves are pretty big!

Cows waiting patiently in line for ?
One month old calf

Oh, here is something unexpected, an historical site at a rest stop. We pull in to take a look. It is where the final spike was driven in by Sir Donald Smith on the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1885. The Canadians, being a more modest people, celebrate their accomplishment with an iron spike rather than a gold one.

Plaque commemorating the last spike
Monument commemorating the last spike
Painting commemorating the last spike

In the afternoon we are in the Canadian Rocky Mountains where British Columbia has been working on “4 lanes to Alberta” on the Trans Canadian Highway. The workers are busily blasting rock face, grading new road bed, and totally slowing the traffic down to a crawl. This gives me a chance to snap at least one spectacular view of the Rockies, the Mount Sir Donald peak.

Mount Sir Donald on the right

The peak is named after Sir Donald Smith the same guy who drove in the last spike. Originally they were going to name it Syndicate Peak to honor all the rich men who had put up the money for the railroad but decided Mount Sir Donald had a better ring to it.

Shortly after 5 PM (we lose an hour going into Mountain Time) we arrive at Lake Louise. It is so beautiful. Our room has a view of the lake and it is such a pleasure to look out the window.

View from our window

As we arrive there are three bus loads of old people checking into the hotel. They have taken every reservation for dinner at the two main restaurants until 9PM. We find a spot in the Fairview Lounge at a table. John has moules frites and I have smoked chicken papardelle with mushrooms and arugula. He deems his “good but not the best I have ever had”, low praise from John who loves everything and I deem mine “awful.” That is also low praise from me! Mine is so bland and under-seasoned that three applications of salt do not make a difference. The noodles have obviously been cooked in unsalted water and have not been finished in the bland chicken jus. As Scott Conant says on Food Network, if you don’t salt the water, there is no way to save the pasta afterward.

John’s moules frites
My super bland papardelle

We take a walk outside and I snap a picture of Lake Louise at dusk.

Lake Louise at dusk


Wine tasting in Canada. 9/4/19

Going wine tasting in the Okanagan Valley is a lot less expensive than in Napa or Sonoma! We visit three places and the most that is asked for is $5 and that is waived if you buy a bottle of wine!  Much like at home the experiences differ—Tantalus Winery is pleasant and engaging, Summerhill seems rather bored, and Cedar Creek spends time ignoring us while catering to younger people. Plus these younger people are slamming California wines. I want to rebut their stupid claims but John is all philosophical saying, “If you can only be tall because someone else is on their knees, then you have a serious problem.” A quote from Toni Morrison. So I keep quiet and let them puff themselves up.

Tantalus Winery
View from Tantalus towards Lake Okanagan
Mary at Summerhill Winery
Cool sculpture at Summerhill
View of the lake from Summerhill

All the tasting rooms are quite new and modern. Many have restaurants attached. We have lunch at Cedar Creek. It is a beautiful day and we eat on their porch.

Delicious bread
Lobster bisque
I have a wedge salad- the apples are particularly tasty
John has a BLT

After lunch we go to the tasting room. I do not like anything Cedar Creek is offering.

John at Cedar Creek

The rest of the afternoon I spend getting my nails done at the Spa here at the hotel. It is a nice little treat for myself and John enjoys his alone time lolling about.

We have dinner at the bar tonight so we can watch the US Open. Nadal ultimately wins his match but not without Schwartzman of Argentina giving him a real fight. Other people at the bar are into the match as well. Everyone is for the underdog. We all cheer and groan together. It is fun.


Whistler to Kelowna. 9/3/19

We leave Whistler this morning with regrets that our time here has not been what we were hoping for. But, we are eager to start phase two of our vacation. Today we are heading to Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley.  It is the Napa Valley of Canada. We plan on doing some wine tasting on Wednesday.

Today, though, we have mountainous territory to cross. There are very few towns but I think we will find some interesting stuff.

Our first stop is in Lillooet. In addition to being gold central and part of the Jade Trail, Lillooet is majority First Nations (the term used in Canada for its indigenous peoples.) When gold was first discovered here, the miners had the First Nations people do the prospecting jobs and the entrepreneurial miners had the gold sent to San Francisco for money. Of course the word leaked out that there was gold up in Canada and everyone came running putting an end to the original miners scheme. Lillooet became the second largest city west of Chicago. About 2200 people live here now.

Our first stop is at a Jade Trail monolith and the 23 Camels Bridge.  The 23 Camels Bridge is so-named because in the late 1800s someone got the brilliant idea to import 23 Bactrian camels to use as mining pack animals. The camels scared the other animals, smelled horrible, and were very ornery. They released them into the wild after the failed experiment.

Jade monument in Lillooet along the Jade Trail
The story of the 23 camels
Bridge of the 23 Camels

Then we go to the old plank bridge aptly named The Old Bridge.

Old Bridge in Lillooet
Old Mary and John on the Old Bridge

After wending our way for another two hours we come to Merritt, BC. We stop at Brambles Cafe and have sandwiches and soup. Today’s soups are borscht and cabbage roll, both so homey and good.

Lunch in Brambles Cafe

It turns out that Merritt which is at least 60 miles from the nearest town is the country music capital of Canada! In addition to having a big music festival each year, they have the faces of their favs adorning the sides of their buildings.

Randy Travis mural in Merritt
Reba McIntyre and Carrie Underwood mural in Merritt

Those are just a couple. They are all over the place!

After Merritt we drive another hour and a half to Kelowna, a bustling resort town on the edge of Okanagan Lake. The area is known for its wine. Tomorrow we will taste some.

Labor Day. 9/2/19

We are supposed to be taking the gondola up the mountain and along with some sightseeing have lunch at the top of the mountain at Christine’s. We have eaten up there before and I figure we will enjoy our Labor Day burgers with a world-class view. We get in line for tickets to ride up the gondola and the senior price is $65 EACH! No way are we paying that much to have a repeat view.  So we settle for lunch at the base of the mountain.

On the walk over to the gondola
Gondola going up the mountain ((without us)
Lunch at the bottom of the mountain
Labor Day toast

We spend the rest of the day reading and playing games on our iPads. This trip to Whistler has not worked out as we anticipated. We share a small pizza for dinner.

Pizza Margherita