Every time we do this road trip thing in our summer guide, some well-intentioned resort owner calls to yell at us for picking drives "that don't go anywhere... just through a bunch of desert to see nothing." Respectfully, we reply "Dude, you're missing the point." While it's nice (and in these days of $2.25 gas prices, necessary) to use the car only for getting from point A to point B, sometimes the best journeys are those taken simply for the scenery and the chance to let one's mind wander as freely as the itinerary. Some of my happiest childhood memories involve thinking about lunch while our Blazer clung to precarious logging roads and my dad sang along to an endless supply of Statler Brothers 8-Tracks. I don't even remember where we were headed, but I've spent more than a few hours as an adult trying to find the abandoned ski lodge and the mysterious spring-fed concrete fountain I remember from the remote mountain roads of my youth.
Here are two of my favorite road trips, although destinations are optional:
White Pine Scenic Byway to Laird Park
This stretch of North Idaho highway is some truly stunning scenery -- enormous white pine, tamarack, cedar and Douglas fir crowd right up to the sides of the highway. The effect is not unlike driving through a tunnel, and in the late afternoon, the sun filtering through the trees takes on a nifty "cathedral" effect. If you're feeling extra adventurous and have most of a day to kill, you can start right off I-90 near the mission at Cataldo on Highway 3. If you'd like the abbreviated tour, you can start in St. Maries and take Highway 6 south. As the road drops down from the curvy mountain passages down to a lower elevation, you might start seeing signs for the Giant White Pine. Blister rust felled this 500-year-old giant in 1999, and although there are still some beautiful old cedars in the area, the last time I was through there the campground had limited access and the main road was closed. Instead, turn your attention toward Laird Park and the Boy Scouts' Camp Grizzly. You'll follow a sometimes paved, sometimes dirt road past Camp Grizzly (which is one of the most picturesque summer camps I've ever seen) and continue on for a few more miles to Laird Park. There, you can either camp (tent or trailer; facilities are primitive, with pit toilets) or just find the dam on the little creek that runs through there and set yourself up a picnic (easily complemented by the plentiful thimbleberries growing nearby).
Highway 195 to the top of Lewiston Hill
If you can somehow time this to encompass both the Sage Bakery's hours of operation and the onset of twilight, do so. Your journey starts in Pullman (after already being on the road for an hour and 15 minutes if you're driving from Spokane), and you'll need to roll down your windows and turn off the AC in order to fully appreciate the way the Palouse smells in the summer. Once you're done blissing out on the fragrance of sun-warmed grasses and acres of hard winter wheat, you're going to need to start paying attention to the road because before you know it, you'll be in Colton. Colton is one of those great little farming communities that has managed to survive in spite of a world that is considerably changed from the time it was founded mostly by German immigrants. Between Colton and Uniontown, look for the farm on the right-hand side of the road with the fence made entirely of old metal wagon wheels. No trip through Uniontown is complete without a stop at the Sage Bakery, which was once a brewery and now houses some damn delicious European-style baked goods. Seven miles south of Uniontown is the junction with Idaho's State Highway 95 and the end of your journey, the top of the Lewiston Hill. From this windy vantage point you can see as far as the Blue Mountains and the view of Lewiston/Clarkston at night is the stuff romantic make-out sessions are made of. If you want to tempt not only fate but your car's steering and braking systems, eschew the new Lewiston highway for the old spiral highway, which is still open and still as full of vertigo-inducing thrills as ever.
Publication date: 06/10/04