Travels With Steinbeck

The Other Idaho and “Lush and Lovely Washington”.*

Come and ride along with me as I follow the Steinbeck route from Travels with Charley around the U.S. and “rediscover this monster land.”

Date: 10/17/09

The Columbia River nears Ellensburg in eastern Washington.

The Columbia River near Ellensburg in eastern Washington.

Steinbeck’s route: Given the time of year and the likelihood of snow in the Cascades, Steinbeck might have chosen U.S. 10 to go from Spokane to Seattle. It followed the same route past Moses Lake as I-90 does today. From Seattle to Portland it was likely Steinbeck followed U.S. 101, down the coast.

The Landscape and Itinerary: I’ve been a slave to the interstate system and a too-tight schedule for several days now, following I-90 across Washington to Kirkland, a suburb of Planet Seattle. Crazy I-5 was my home yesterday heading south from Seattle in a downpour. I spoke at Lakeview Elementary in Kirkland on Thursday and at the Gardner School in Vancouver, Washington on Friday. I spent Friday night in Salem, Oregon and will be back on 5 today heading south again. Still, I saw an amazing chunk of this immense country from the interstates. In Western Montana I-90 follows precipitous canyons with steep conifer covered slopes. It crosses the sinuous Clark’s Fork River several times. Then the piece de resistance is the final climb to Lookout Pass and the Montana/Idaho border.  I had been warned by an elderly woman in Hardin, Mountain about this pass in a way that felt a bit spooky (bony finger point, scratchy-wavering voice, parting blessing) and I was grateful that it was a few degrees above freezing when I (literally) dropped into Idaho mountain and mining country. Snow or freezing rain would have been bad, “veeerrry baaaaad” (scratchy voice). Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades near Seattle is every bit as beautiful as Lookout Pass and even displayed some lovely fall colors. The weather cleared and a startling Mt. Hood was visible to the East when I crossed the Columbia River at Portland. My Airstream Bambi performed beautifully, tracking my Toyota 4Runner up and down passes and through downpours as if they were one unit.

The Oasis Bordello Museum of Wallace, Idaho was closed for the season.

The Oasis Bordello Museum of Wallace, Idaho was closed for the season.

The Steinbeck Connection: Charley and his traveling companion John Steinbeck were ostensibly driven out of Yellowstone by bears. But Steinbeck didn’t really want to go in the first place. “I am in love with Montana,” he wrote in Travels with Charley. Yet he expressed disdain for national parks, declaring that Yellowstone was “no more representative of America than is Disneyland.” Ultimately, Steinbeck went, only because he feared his neighbors would think him crazy for passing on the archetype of American natural wonders. Charley went nuts when bears approached the truck. Steinbeck left Yellowstone immediately and spent the night in Livingston, Montana—his loss as well as ours.

Charley got sick as the two neared Washington. The inept alcoholic vet that treated Charley in Spokane is what Steinbeck captured from that area in Travels with Charley. I had the pleasure of a brief stop in Wallace, Idaho and a stopover with friends in Spokane. Wallace is a true western town with a quirky past tucked up against the slopes of the mountains. It is still producing silver toady. Being a lover of culture and history, I was disappointed to find the Oasis Bordello Museum closed for the season (sign in window, “Inquire about our Bordello Tours”) but was lucky enough to catch a delicious lunch at the spacious and wildly decorated 1313 Saloon.  It was named when it was established many years ago for being the 13th saloon and brothel in Wallace. You could say, Wallace is part of the “other Idaho.” No mention of potatoes or Mormons in Wallace. Spokane is a very pleasant medium-sized city with little traffic, tree-covered neighborhoods and city parks, all four seasons, great medical services and colleges, and outdoor activities. It is the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle, but still has a small town feel. Kirkland, Washington had a similar feel. The maple and oak trees in fall color, complimented by banana trees and rose bushes, still in bloom, were glorious. I discovered a yellow rose above a sidewalk that was at nose height, not even requiring bending to stop and smell.

A rose at nose height in Kirkland, Washington

A rose at nose height in Kirkland, Washington.

Sweet Notes: My friends John and Margret in Spokane, and Harriette and Alex in Kirkland put me up and wined and dined me so very well. I’m grateful for your friendship and to have you riding along.

Thank you for riding along. Let’s talk again soon, shall we?

Greg Zeigler

Travels with Steinbeck: In Search of America Fifty Years Later

Copyright © 2009

* Travels with Charley


Trackbacks & Pingbacks


  1. * Tom Armstrong says:

    Seems like you zoomed from Erie PA to Seattle in warp speed…glad that you had time to smell the yellow rose. Keep us posted with Max stories. Sounds like he loves life on the road. Our best to yinz both. TA

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 11 months ago
  2. * jessica says:

    You’re in my neck of the woods. Great to see pics of Monterey, Pacific Grove, Salinas. Max is definitely ready for the surfboard if not for the wet suit! Am loving the ride. JL

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 11 months ago

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