USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 11

We woke just after 7am, tidied up and after getting dressed, went downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast was included in the price and was quite nice with a continental breakfast available, as well as some other hot and cold choices.

We packed up and got the car loaded, ready for our final day of driving big miles. BattleDad, unfortunately, had to complain to reception about the uncomfortable sofa beds in the hotel. I had shared the main bed with BattleKid and BattleDad had taken the sofa bed and it was extremely uncomfortable. This was our only grumble about what is a great hotel in Richland.

We were on the road by 9.30 heading for Portland. It felt strange to be on the last leg of our USA road trip, but we were looking forward to a few days in Portland, a city we’ve always wanted to visit. I did the driving this day as BattleDad had managed less than 5 hours sleep. We took I-84 and stopped at the same Love’s gas station we had filled up on our first day in the USA. It was here we heard news we didn’t really want.

I-84 was closed from junction 64 at the intersection with I-35 as there were fires all along the Columbia Gorge Creek, including around Multnomah Falls. We had intended the falls to be our pit stop as we drove towards Portland, so that I could photograph it. It’s been on my wish-list for some time and now we had no chance of visiting it.

BattleDad did a Google search which confirmed what he had overheard in the gas station. I was gutted. The fire had started two days before due to a teenager setting off fireworks for Labour Day celebrations. A fire was the result of him ignoring the signs around the Creek which forbids the use of fireworks and portable barbeques.

The closure of I-84 also meant I had no pictures of the Columbia Gorge Creek. I had been unable to photograph it on the day of our arrival into the States as I sat in the back of the car with BattleKid, trying to keep him comfortable while he slept. We had been stunned by its beauty and had decided to photograph it on our return trip to Portland. Alas, another thing not meant to be.

Because of the road closure, we were diverted around the back of Mount Hood National Forest, along I-35 and meeting up with I-26 and taking that into Portland. It lengthened our journey by a few hours. We also couldn’t see Mount Hood from the north side due to the smoke haze.

After two and a half hours of driving around the mountain we pulled off I-35 for a toilet break and to get some lunch at the Crooked Tree Tavern. I ordered a mushroom soup and it was terrible. A congealed, thick goo which was hardly edible. The boys, however, had a nice burger each. I did steal a few chips from them.

usa road trip day 11 holiday diaries
The Crocked Tree Tavern off I-35 where I had my worst meal of our USA trip
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Waiting for lunch

Back on the road, we finally rounded the bottom of Mount Hood and finally caught glimpses of the peak through the smoke. We arrived at our AirBnB at 3pm to falling ash in the sky. We had experienced ash in Missoula, but this was something else.

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Concentrating on the road, with Mount Hood in the distance

While our AirBnB house was quaint and looked exactly how we imagined a house in Portland to look like, the location of the house was terrible. We went to a Walmart a few miles away and as we drove towards it, we went through a rough looking area. There were cannabis shops, beside guns shops, beside casino shops and it looked rough as hell. There was even a wanted poster for a murderer of an eight year old boy!

Now, I should explain something. Both BattleDad and I grew up on council estates in Dublin which weren’t exactly the poshest areas of Dublin. With that comes a sort of sixth sense about a place and this area of Portland was really freaking us out. For that to happen to us, it must be pretty bad. Our spidey senses (as we like to call it), were in overdrive. We felt completely uneasy about spending a night in the AirBnB, particularly with BattleKid in tow. Had it just been the two of us, we’d probably wouldn’t have been that bothered about the area, but we just knew we couldn’t stay there.

We debated in the car park of Walmart for a good half an hour before I got my phone out and searched for a TownePlace Suites in Portland. I figured we had stayed in the one in Richland and loved it, so if one was available, then to hell with it. We found two which had two-bedroom suites (so BattleDad could get some decent sleep) and we tried the first one, but it was full. However, they kindly transferred us to the other one who had a two-bedroom suite available and not at a ridiculous price either.

BattleDad passed over his Marriott rewards card number, secured the suite and we both breathed a sigh of relief. We went into Walmart to get some supplies for the rest of the week and even treated BattleKid to yet another Cars 3 toy, this time a steering wheel. We sent our AirBnB host a message to let them know we weren’t going to be staying in their place, and that we’d return the key on Saturday on our way to the airport. We returned to the house, put the suitcases into the car and drove the 45 minutes, in rush-hour traffic, to the TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Hillsboro.

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Hello Portland rush hour!

The same lady BattleDad had spoken to was on reception and, Gracele I think her name was, couldn’t have been nicer. The hotel was lovely, the staff were friendly, and it really put our minds at ease. I was so grateful we were in the position to be able to switch accommodation just like that. I dread to think what the remainder of our week would have been like had we not been fortunate enough to be able to afford an accommodation change at a moment’s notice. It is the first time we’ve ever done something like that and the first time we haven’t felt comfortable in an AirBnB house.

BattleDad later spoke to a colleague who regularly uses AirBnB with his family, who travel the world, and he said they’ve done the same on a few occasions; booked into a hotel when they’ve gotten a bad vibe about an AirBnB place or the surrounding area. He said we did the right thing. This made me feel better knowing we weren’t the only ones to ever do this.

After checking in, we found our room and it was just gorgeous. Large and comfortable, I knew straight away this was a good place to end our USA road trip in, whatever the rest of Portland had in store for us!

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Bedroom 1
usa road trip day 11 holiday diaries
Living room
usa road trip day 11 holiday diaries
Bedroom 2

We unpacked and then drove across the road to find somewhere to have dinner. We decided on a Red Robin and were really impressed by the place. The food was great, portion sizes weren’t ridiculous and reasonably priced too. It felt so good to sit down, comfortable with where we were going to be staying for the next four nights.

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Enjoying a non-alcoholic cocktail in Red Robin

We got back to the hotel at 8.30 and had BattleKid in bed half an hour later. It was then we realised he had done 3000 miles in the car, spending 60+ hours in it and he had been an absolute star. He never complained once or had a tantrum. He did it all without a tablet or electronic gadget in sight and his overall behaviour had been amazing. We couldn’t have asked for a better travelling companion and I was glad we had some things in store for him to enjoy in the coming days.

We went to sleep that night feeling a lot safer, excited to explore Portland.

Cath x

46/52 My Sunday Photo: 12/11/2017

Yesterday we made a return visit to Castro Marim castle, which is only about 20 minutes from where we live. We also brought my parents as it is one town they haven’t visited here in the East Algarve. We did a dragon hunt for BattleKid and afterwards we visited the market in town which was the biggest I’ve seen so far.
But before we left the castle, a back cat came by and was quite friendly. We left her sitting on the steps outside the church which is located inside the castle. I just couldn’t get her to look at me while I took a picture of her!
 my sunday photo - black cat at the church of Castro Marim castle
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USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 10

I woke at 7.30 with BattleKid to a lot of smoke outside. It was even thicker than previous days. I was glad we had experienced smoke haze and the associated smell in Portugal as it didn’t panic me like it might have. That said, I was glad we were going to be leaving this day.

BattleDad woke at 8 and after showers, we had breakfast before tidying up the apartment and packing up the car. Even he remarked how thick the smoke haze had gotten overnight.

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Smokey sky of Montana as we left Missoula

At 9.30am we left the apartment and filled up with gas just down the road from the apartment. We stopped at Cabela’s as I wanted to swap my trapper hat for a larger size. Despite trying the first one on in the shop, we came to realise after that I could do with a bigger one. BattleDad bought himself a cap and hoodie.

I have to say that the staff at Cabela’s were one of the nicest set of people we’d come across in a shop. Extremely friendly, and very helpful, it was no wonder the Missoula store had been voted best in America, 3 years after first opening up.

I started the driving for the day, taking us 230 miles until we hit the other side of Spokane. We drove all of those miles through smoke haze, there was just no let up. In parts you had limited visibility, until it would open up again, giving us hope we might be coming through it. But to no avail. It was everywhere we went.

BattleKid got an hour sleep and woke shortly before we stopped for lunch, just outside Spokane. We pulled into services off I-90 and decided to try a Denny’s for some food. We’d seen these advertised on many of the highways and BattleDad wanted to try them. I had a chicken salad, BattleKid had chicken nuggets and BattleDad enjoyed a Phily sandwich. All the food was good and definitely filled a hole in our bellies.

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Denny’s, our lunch stop for the day

BattleDad then drove the last 120 miles to Richland, our stopping point for the night. Again, all we saw enroute was smoke haze.

We arrived at our hotel for the night, the TownePlace Suites by Marriott again, the same place we’d stayed at on our first night in the States. The same guy was on reception and he was very welcoming and accommodating. And I have to say I highly recommend this hotel, apart from the sofa beds.

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The TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Richland

I spent the first hour doing laundry as I knew there were no washing facilities at our next AirBnB, having checked with our host. Guest laundry is a room with a few washing machines and separate tumble driers. I managed to get all of our washing done and most of it dried before heading back up to the boys to sort what we were going to do for dinner.

BattleDad did a TripAdvisor search and we settled on visiting the Steppe Smokehouse Brewery for dinner. I’ll be honest and say this wasn’t the best meal we had in the States. The meat was nice and quite tasty, but the sides were just okay. BattleKid wasn’t too fussed on the meal either.

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The meat was tasty enough
usa road trip day 10 holiday diaries
Unfortunately the sides left alot to be desired

Back at the hotel by 8pm, we got into our pj’s and got BattleKid into bed. We had a one-bedroom suite this time and it worked out great, as BattleDad and I were able to watch some Ozark before getting into bed ourselves by 10pm, ready for our last day of long driving.

Cath x

USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 9

BattleKid and I woke shortly after 7am and chilled in the living room with the help of Puss in Boots, the series, on Netflix. I managed to catch up on some writing before BattleDad appeared shortly after 8am.

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Deer in the back garden of our AirBnB

Again, we watched a deer in the garden but this time she had two babies with her. I made us all an omelette for breakfast, and then we packed a picnic and headed out on the road, bound for somewhere else we’d seen in the information magazines our host had left. We needed an ATM as we were all out of cash and found one near a Cabela’s Outdoor Store. BattleDad had played the Cabela’s PC games many moons ago and really wanted to go inside. So, we did.

Oh my word, this was another experience. Cabela’s is a huge store with the outdoors firmly in mind. It was bigger than some of the Asda shops of the UK. There were sections for fishing that my Dad would have gotten lost, a camping section and the biggest range of guns and ammo I’m ever likely to see for a very long time.

There was also a section designed for ski and winter wear. By the end of September, Montana sees snow and temperatures that can drop well below freezing. I spotted some trapper hats for BattleKid and I. I snapped them up, all in preparation for our trip to Lapland in 2018. We also got BattleKid a much better set of nocklers, with the help of a very friendly staff-member. As we were paying for the hats, the lady on the checkout asked were we getting ready for winter. Sort of we responded, haha.

Satisfied with our purchases, we set off. Our destination was the Garden of a Thousand Buddhas, located near Arlee which we had passed through the day before on our way to the National Bison Range. It took us just over 40 minutes to drive there and we parked in the car park and walked to the Garden.

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Walking in the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas
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Prayer flags
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Saying hi to Buddha

And what a beautiful place to visit in the middle of Montana. The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas has exactly that, 1000 statues of Buddha in various sizes, set in 10 acres of beautiful gardens. Still under construction, this spiritual site on the Flathead Indian Reservation is intended to be a place of pilgrimage for the Western Hemisphere and expected to welcome people of all faiths in the future. 

It was one of the most peaceful, serene places we’ve ever been. One of our longest friends in Wales introduced us to Buddhism many years ago, and although we are not Buddhists, we appreciate their way of life and much prefer their teachings and morals over the religion we were brought up in.

The gardens were beautiful, there was a lovely little lake and also a set of prayer-flags on a hill. Had we known before we visited, we’d have brought one to add to the ones there. The Garden of a Thousand Buddhas is free to visit but there are donation boxes there, which we put some money in. I was glad we had stopped at the ATM at Cabela’s. We thoroughly enjoyed our quiet walk through and around the garden.

usa road trip day 9 holiday diaries
Spotting the fish
usa road trip day 9 holiday diaries
The largest Buddha in the Garden

Back in the car park, we started talking to a guy and his friend from the car beside us. Nate, a very nice guy from Utah, was really friendly and has since become friends with BattleDad on Facebook. He was interested in why we’d visited and our travels. Nate was also interested in recommendations for Irish films to watch once he learned we were Irish, and he gave us some great recommendations for Portland.

Before departing, he gave us a bunch of lavender as a gift, which we weren’t expecting but was a lovely gesture. Lavender is the essential oil our Buddhist friend used to use on us during our sport therapy treatments with her. It felt like something had come full circle for us. All we could offer him was some bottles of water, as we had a case of it in the car. Both Nate and his friend were very grateful as the temperatures were over 30C that day and they had run out.

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Selfie with my boy

We headed back to Missoula and located Caras Park, where two children’s attractions that had been recommended to me were located. We had a picnic first as it was lunchtime, before BattleKid and I enjoyed some rides on the Carousel for Missoula, where an adult and child can share a seat for just $1.50.

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Enjoying our picnic

A volunteer-built, hand-carved carousel in Caras Park, Carousel for Missoula was completed in 1995 but not without the efforts of many volunteers and fundraising. Cabinet maker Chuck Kaparich from Missoula visited a carousel in Spokane in 1988 and it was there the vision for a carousel in Missoula was born. However, it took a lot of fundraising, over 100,000 volunteer hours and four years before the carousel was completed. The carousel has 38 hand-carved ponies and two chariots and hosts over 200,000 rides a year.

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Riding the Carousel for Missoula

After our rides, we let BattleKid run off some energy in the Dragon Hollow Playground, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Created in just 9 days with the help of over 4000 volunteers, Dragon Hollow Park is a playground adjacent to the Carousel for Missoula. Free to use, it has castles, slides, swings and plenty of hiding places for kids to let off some steam. Thanks to those on Facebook for these recommendations.

usa road trip day 9 holiday diaries
Play time in the Dragon Hollow Playground
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Swinging in the Dragon Hollow Playground
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No fear going down the big slides in the Dragon Hollow Playground

On our way back to our AirBnB, we stopped by Walmart on the way back to our AirBnB to get a pizza and some American croquettes called Tater Tots. BattleDad had always wanted to try them, and they were tasty. Back at the apartment I got packing us and tidying up while the boys played and chilled with Netflix. After dinner we watched Zootopia with popcorn before getting a little boy into bed. After another two episodes of Ozark, BattleDad and I were in bed, ready for another long day of driving, the penultimate leg of our road trip.

Cath x

USA Road Trip Holiday Diaries – Day 8

Unbelievably I didn’t wake until 9.30am. I must have been tired from all the driving. BattleKid didn’t wake until after 10! Shortly after a light breakfast we spotted some deer in the back garden of the building our apartment was in. The smoke haze hadn’t lifted either. In fact, I thought it was getting worse.

After getting dressed, we headed for the National Bison Range, located 55 miles from our apartment. Our host had left some information magazines in the apartment about Montana, and we had spotted the National Bison Range in one. Although we had seen lots of bison in Yellowstone, the article said there were other animals to see, so we thought we’d head there. Unfortunately, our plans of spending two days exploring Lolo National Forest went up in flames, literally. The fires we’d hit at we crossed from Idaho to Montana had hit Lolo Forest and the surrounding areas, so we had no chance of seeing any of it. I was thankful for the information magazines our host had left in the apartment.

Established by Theodore Roosevelt, the National Bison Range is a wildlife refuge set up in 1908 to provide safe sanctuary for the America Bison. Incredibly, we had learned in the Albright Visitors Centre Museum in Yellowstone that the bison population had been decimated between 1870 and 1880 by 85% from 5.5million to less than 400k. I was absolutely shocked at this statistic. One question raised during our cookout was why people hadn’t farmed them. I can understand them being slaughtered for their meat but not in those numbers over just a ten year period.

The National Bison Range is also one of the oldest refuges in America and serves as a basis for research with the United States. The bison herb is quite small numbering between 350 and 500 individuals, but the range also has other animals including prong-horned deer, elk, big-horned sheep, black bear, coyote and even mountain lion. It covers 18,800 acres and has two different trails, along with a visitors centre where you pay your entrance fee, can get information and even see examples of some of the animals to watch out for during your visit.

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Visiting the National Bison Range, Montana

We stopped at the gift shop just outside the gates to the National Bison range when we arrived, and BattleDad hired a set of binoculars from the shop for $10, with a refundable deposit of $100. He was hoping to buy some for BattleDad as the little ones we had bought him in Yellowstone were only toy ones and you couldn’t really see anything through them. But there weren’t any suitable ones in the shop. Armed with better binoculars, we went in.

We entered the Range and went to the visitors’ centre first where it cost us just $5 to gain entry to the range. We decided to do the longer drive, the Red Sleep Mountain Drive, through the range, which took us just over an hour. We saw individual bison, but no herds. The office does warn you that the bison can be anywhere in the Range and that some areas aren’t visible from the roads. You can hike part of the Range, but we weren’t planning on doing any hiking, especially with BattleKid in tow.

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Smokey view of the Jocko River from the top of the Red Sleep Mountain Drive
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National Bison Range, Montana
usa road trip day 8 holiday diaries
National Bison Range, Montana

We did see some prong-horned deer and also some elk along the river on our return drive towards the visitors’ centre. One thing we did realise was that you really need a 4×4 type vehicle to do the full drive as it is a dirt road and very bumpy in parts. We would not have enjoyed it had we been in a normal family car. There were steep inclines and switch backs too, which aren’t advisable for trailers either, which you must leave in the car park at the visitors’ centre.

We returned the binoculars to the gift shop as we left the range, with BattleDad getting us a small wooden carved bison as a memento of our visit, and we took our time driving back to Missoula. We decided to have an early dinner in a TripAdvisor recommended Chinese Restaurant called China Garden. Hailed as THE best Chinese in Missoula, we weren’t disappointed by our meal. The portions were absolutely huge though! We could have easily shared one main between the three of us.

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The best Chinese restaurant in Missoula
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Huge food portions

Suitably stuffed we decided to make our first ever visit to a Walmart. Holy cow, what an experience. Not only was the store ginormous but what an array of people visit it. We couldn’t get over the size of the place and the fact they sell guns in what we’d class as a supermarket! You can literally buy anything in Walmart.

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Our first ever visit to a Walmart

In the end we bought an extra suitcase to bring home all our souvenirs and things we’d bought, and at the same time treated BattleKid to a new set of Cars 3 models. But my word, did it take some doing to free them of their packaging. Each car was held in by not one but two of those annoying string ties and there were 5 cars. Frustrated isn’t the word for it. And no meant feat to get it done quickly with a three year old constantly asking for his new cars either.

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BattleKid delighted with his new Disney Cars 3 models
usa road trip day 8 holiday diaries
Chilling out with a film and popcorn

We decided to have a chilled afternoon and evening after our long drive the day before. So, I made us some popcorn and we found Paddington to watch on Netflix on the PS3 in the apartment. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and BattleKid watched most of it, in between driving his new cars.

We got BattleKid into bed not long after 8pm and BattleDad and I watched the first episode of Ozark, a new Netflix series starting Jason Bateman, who I hadn’t seen in years. We’d been meaning to start it, so thought this was as good a time as any. Us parents were in bed by 10pm though, still tired from driving.

Cath x