On The Road to Republic
What would you like for a road trip? Hagerty, the leading company for insuring classic cars, sends me a newsletter daily, with several articles in each. This morning’s post had a question that captured my imagination. Largely because it’s something I’ve been dreaming for close to five years now. A road trip across north central and northwestern Washington State, beginning with day one leading us on the road to Republic.
Under the heading “Suggestions for Road Trip Junkies,” the Hagerty article’s lead paragraph asks:
For many of us, the love of driving and the love of road trips go hand-in-hand. Despite varied levels of stay-put blanketing the country right now, there’s nothing stopping the most ardent of road warriors for plotting their next trip. Where would you go?
Easy for me to answer. Since I started the Evergreen project in 2016, there is one road trip I have needed to take to complete the project. You may remember that the Evergreen project intends to publish a coffee table book with my photos and notes. Washington has thirty-nine counties, and Evergreen devotes a chapter to each. To date, while I have been in every one of those thirty-nine, my digital cameras have been to only thirty-four and a half. I have no digital photographs from Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and San Juan counties. I have digital photographs from Camano Island in Island County, but none from Whidbey Island, where most of Island County’s population lives. If I am to finish the project, I need to make at least one more road trip to Washington State. Day one will put us on the road to Republic.
What is a road trip?
At first glance, that question may feel self-evident. A road trip involves traveling by car (or motor vehicle) and may last a day or longer. For myself, I would not call my trips by Amtrak “road trips.” Yes, I saw a lot of country riding the Empire Builder from Whitefish, Montana to Chicago, Illinois, but I did not have the freedom to explore Devils Lake, North Dakota, for instance. On the other hand, when in 2007, I took my 6,000 mile Sunday drive, I could stop along the way and spend a week twenty miles west of Des Moines, Iowa. That, to me, is the essence of a road trip: The freedom to stop and explore, even to take a side trip.
How long should a road trip last? Well, my 6,000 mile Sunday drive lasted ninety days. Three months of Sundays, as it were. The trip I’m proposing here should last, ideally, two weeks. Over the next several posts, I’d like to lay out my daily itinerary. What follows is Day One.
Starting from Home
In years past, I have driven as much as a thousand miles in a single day. That’s the distance between Missoula, Montana and San Francisco. I don’t recommend days like that. Driving home from my 6,000 mile Sunday drive, I drove three seven hundred mile days. I don’t recommend that either. At age 70, I find I tire much more easily these days. Even the excitement of a road trip fades much faster than it used to. For the next several days, I shall post a 300 mile daily itinerary, allowing for some side trips and for stopping to take photos. And for day one, I have to start at home.
Limiting myself to 300 miles, I cannot even reach “new” territory on Day One. I visited Republic, the Ferry County seat, back in 2016, making a one day drive there and home again. A very long one-day drive. I no longer feel comfortable spending so much time behind the wheel. However, my 2016 trip took me across Ferry County east to west, then back on a parallel highway. I saw nothing of southern Ferry County, most of which is on the Colville Indian Reservation.
Another long day trip took me along U.S. Highway 2 between Spokane and Wilbur, Washington. Day One will follow that route. The only “new” highway for me on Day One will be the seventy miles from Wilbur to Republic. Clicking my ruby slippers together three times will not magically get me from Plains, Montana to Republic, Washington. So let’s take the trip in bite-sized chunks.
Leaving home, I’ll drive the five miles off the mountain to Montana Highway 200, where I’ll head east through Plains and Paradise to the junction with Montana 135. 135 connects two parallel highways, Montana 200 and Interstate 90. At St. Regis, I’ll get on Interstate 90 and head west. I don’t like taking the Interstate for road trips, but as I am covering ground I have seen innumerable times over the past fifty-five years, speed is more important than scenery at this point.
I will point out a few sights along the way–for those of you not familiar with my home territory. Wild Horse Plains (yes, that’s the official town name) has a population of roughly 800 people and lies in the Clark Fork River Valley where the indigenous people wintered their horses. The Northern Pacific Railroad built Paradise, six miles on down the road, as a main switching point. Fewer than 200 people live there today.
Three miles after turning onto Montana 135, you’ll pass Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort. A further 18 miles brings you to the end of the road at St. Regis. Montana has no state-wide sales tax, but it does allow small communities to impose a tax under certain circumstances. St. Regis is one of the towns that has done so. Don’t be surprised by having to shell out a few extra cents for the meals or souvenirs you buy in St. Regis.
Montana exit 33 on Interstate 90 is St. Regis, and at exit 16 you’ll find Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar. Not just a bar, Exit 16 offers you a restaurant, a gas station, motel, “gift” shop, and yes, a bar. It also offers you the chance to see over 50,000 silver dollars in one place. Next door is the Savanac Historic Tree Nursery and Visitor Center.
Interstate 90 crosses seventy-four miles of Idaho’s northern panhandle. Along the way, you’ll pass through the Silver Valley, the U.S.’s largest silver producer. Historic towns such as Mullan, Wallace, and Kellogg all offer much to see, especially if you’re interested in western U.S. history. Kellogg is also home to Silver Mountain Resort, a four season playground. Ride North America’s longest gondola ride (3.1 miles) from town to mountain top, if only to see the country below.
Another thirty miles west, and you’re driving along Lake Coeur d’Alene, one of north Idaho’s scenic wonders. North Idaho’s largest city, Coeur d’Alene offers every amenity a traveler could desire, and a visit will leave you refreshed and ready for the next leg of your trip. From Coeur d’Alene, only twelve miles separates you from Washington State.
Today’s drive will take us across three Washington counties, Spokane, Lincoln and finally Ferry. As we drive west on Interstate 90, most of the way across Spokane County takes us through the suburbs and the city of Spokane proper. I won’t talk about Spokane in this post. As the major city closest to my home, I’ve spent many days and more than a few nights in Spokane. It deserves, and will get, a post of its own.
Reardan, Lincoln County
We will leave Interstate 90 at exit 277, taking U.S. Highway 2 into Lincoln County, continuing on the road to Republic. A possible side trip at Reardan takes us north on Washington 231 to the Spokane River and the Long Lake Dam, driving through the Spring Creek Canyon. While it’s certainly possible to take farm roads west from 231, we’ll just reverse direction and return to Reardan.
Reardan, a town of fewer than 600 people, has a few places to eat, including a coffee kiosk (Fist a Cup Java), Dean’s Drive-In, the HWY Cafe, and the Speed Trap Tap Room. TripAdvisor.com has very few reviews for any of these establishments.
A few miles west of town, you’ll find the Inland NW Rail Museum. I visited the site before its official opening in 2016, and I look forward to a return visit. The Museum’s website lists over twenty-five pieces of rolling stock, including equipment from every railroad that served the Inland Northwest–even the Spokane street car line. You can even ride a train around the 30 acres to view the museum’s collections. Highly recommended.
Davenport, Lincoln County
Another ten miles brings us to Davenport, the largest “city” and county seat of Lincoln County. The 2010 Census counted 1,734 residents in this charming small town. Yelp lists six restaurants (including Subway), all of which are on Morgan Street (U.S. Highway 2). There are also two motels in town, in case you’re ready to get off the road.
A side trip north on Washington Highway 25 will take you to the site of Fort Spokane at the confluence of the Spokane and Columbia Rivers. Over the past hundred and forty years, Fort Spokane has served as an army base, an Indian boarding school, a hospital, and is now a part of the National Park Service’s Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. Highway 25 crosses the Spokane River and continues north across Stevens County to Kettle Falls and eventually the Canadian border. We, however, want to cross the Columbia, so we’ll return to Davenport, 25 miles south, and continue west on Highway 2, as we stay on the road to Republic.
Wilbur, Lincoln County
Wilbur lies thirty miles west of Davenport, and it’s here we’ll leave U.S. Highway 2 and head north to Republic. Yelp lists two motels and two restaurants in Wilbur. I did eat there, but neither of the restaurants Yelp mentions looks familiar. Of course I was there four years ago. Things change.
From Wilbur, we will head north on Washington Highway 21, which will take us the rest of the way on the road to Republic. We could also drive northwest from Wilbur to Grand Coulee Dam, but we’ll visit that powerhouse on our return from Washington’s West Coast.
Fourteen miles north of Wilbur we’ll come to a halt as the only way to cross the Columbia River is by ferry. The Washington Department of Highways, as it was then known, took control of the Keller Ferry in 1930. Note that twenty years passed before the state took over the Puget Sound ferries. The ferry runs from 6 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week, and operates “on demand.” The ferry operators can see both sides of the river, and cross when they need to pick up a vehicle. Some 60,000 vehicles use the ferry every year. I’m looking forward to the crossing.
Ferry County, Washington
I’ve driven across Ferry County, east to west on both Washington Highway 20 and the Deer Creek-Boulder Creek Road. I have never been south of Highway 20 in Ferry County, so the fifty-three miles between the Keller Ferry and Republic will present new territory for me. Much of the way crosses the Colville Indian Reservation, but there is only one “town” along the road. Keller, with a 2010 population of 234, is a shadow of its former self. At one time, a supposed 3,500 people called Keller home, but that was long ago and far away. Literally. Rising water in Lake Roosevelt forced the town to move numerous times.
We will follow the Sanpoil River north, crossing into the Colville National Forest, and eventually finishing our day of being on the road to Republic, the county seat and largest city in Ferry County.
As we approach the end of our day on the road to Republic, we need to find food and shelter. Yelp lists several restaurants and motels in the town. Two campgrounds are nearby as is Curlew Lake State Park. Two of the places featured in today’s video are well worth a visit. The Stonerose Interpretive Center lets you dig for fossils, and the Ferry County Museum gives you a look at the history of this gold-rush era community.
In January, 2020, HGTV announced that they would be taking submissions for a proposed six-episode show spun off from Home Town hosted by Ben and Erin Napier. In the online announcement, HGTV’s David L. Haynes says:
Applicants should strive to highlight aspects of their town that make it special, fascinating, historic or unique — including distinctive features like vintage period architecture, special destinations or a classic main street.
The people of Republic have done just that in today’s video–their submission to HGTV. They give a good introduction to the Ferry County Seat.
And that’s it for now
I hope you have enjoyed being on the road to Republic with me. We will continue with our road trip heading on westward into Okanogan County and then the North Cascades. Stay tuned for more hints and suggestions. And speaking of suggestions, AFAR digital magazine just posted an article on scenic road trips. That article is my guest site of the day.