Part 10 – Our epic 2022 West Coast Journey

We point the van south towards McCall, Idaho and experience some crazy twisty roads and incredible scenery during the drive!

July 12, 2022

It was so tempting. And we both gave it some serious thought. In hindsight we should have done it. As temperatures in eastern Washington, and across the nation, started to skyrocket, we came this close to turning around and driving back to the west coast to feel those cooler temperatures again for the remainder of our vacation.

With a work deadline looming in about a week for us to be home, we pushed on. That’s the reality of what happens when you are only a “parttime #vanlifer!” You have to eventually go back home and back to work! lol.

Back to Idaho…again

On the recommendation of Dan, owner of the Cedar RV Park and Car Wash in Ione, WA, we decided to go southeast back into Idaho and see what the town of McCall was all about. Dropping down Highway 20 we crossed the state line at Newport then headed south connecting with US Route 95.

This was the third time we had driven through Idaho on this trip. Once again, we passed through Coeur d’Alene although this time on a different road and from a different direction.

Leaving the rugged mountains and tall trees of northern Idaho, the rolling hills and agricultural fields of bright yellow canola flowers became our normal view out the van’s large windshield.

That afternoon, we rolled past the old lumber towns of Potlach, Sanders and Moscow, ID.

Scary road, but the views are great

Suddenly, we went from gentle rolling hills to a near-shear drop off on US 95! We pulled off at the Lewiston Hill Overlook parking area to take a peek at the view and access the next section of driving.

Before us was an incredible panorama offering an unobstructed eagle’s eye view of Lewiston, ID that took our breath away! Lewiston was at one time, in 1863, the Capital of the Idaho Territory.

The other thing that took our breath away was the very twisty, steep downhill drop into the city of Lewiston and the Clearwater River. How do these folks drive that road in the winter without killing themselves?

At the bottom of the grade, US 95 bends east before getting into Lewiston proper, following the Clearwater River for a few miles before crossing over the river at the Nez Perce National Historical Park Visitor’s Center.

Dramatic storm clouds

It was raining off and on during this leg of the drive. Dark clouds added drama to the late afternoon Idaho skies.

We stopped at the Depot Food & Fuel in Grangeville. Idaho to gas up and use their restrooms. To get to the restrooms, gas station patrons need to walk through the adjoining restaurant’s small kitchen, and past the grill and walk-in refrigerators.

JK said he felt like he was back at work and was ready to start laying down some greasy gas station burgers and fries!

Moving on, US 95 lead us through more twists and turns as we gained elevation again. This region of west-central Idaho is not without impressive scenery, vast outdoors recreational activities, and points of historical interest.

Train trestle time

Railroad buffs may have heard of the famous Camas Prairie Railroad, a joint venture between the Union Pacific and Northern Pacific railroads that served the agriculture and lumber industry in this region of Northwestern Idaho for more than eight decades.

The rail line located in this region was famous for its numerous high bridges and tall wooden trestles and was nicknamed the “railroad on stilts.”

Many of the railroad bridges are still standing and visible from US 95, including the 1,520-foot-long steel viaduct that spans Lawyer’s Canyon.

Although a few small sections of the original railroad are still operational, the majority of the railroad ceased operations and track removed in the early 2000s.

Idaho history buffs will also be interested in the rich legacy of Native American tribal culture, Lewis and Clark explorations, and fur trading outposts, plus several historic battles which took place in this area during the War of 1812.

The historic White Bird Grade

A spectacular sunset was building as we began the long descent down White Bird Grade. The famous grade was originally completed in 1915. They say it consisted of so many curves and switchbacks, if combined would have formed 37 complete circles!

The original grade climbed 2,900-feet in just 14 miles and at the time was Idaho’s only north-south route. The roadway grade was reworked in the 1930s.

Kim is not bashful in telling you she does not like long, steep downhill mountain grades, especially when in the passenger seat.

The mere sight of a yellow and black traffic sign showing a cargo truck careening downhill on a steep angle gives her the Willys!

White knuckle downhill slide

White Bird Grade could have been named “White Knuckle” Grade.

It’s only saving grace was a roadway turnout that offered more spectacular views of the endless farmland, countryside and distant mountains.

Mother Nature added magnificent sunset colors reflected in the thunderstorm clouds to the view and we were again in speechless awe.

As we drove into the Salmon River Canyon the early evening darkness was punctuated by flashes of lightning from the passing storm.

We entered a time warp going back, (or was it forward?), in time

We passed over the Salmon River crossing on a bridge with a unique name – Time Zone Bridge.

North of Riggins, Idaho the Time Zone Bridge, officially known as the Goff Bridge, crosses the invisible time zone line located in the middle of the Salmon River.

It’s here that travelers from one direction enter the Pacific Time Zone and drivers coming from the other direction enter Mountain Time. So, for a brief moment, you will be in two time zones at the same time.

Got to go back during the daylight

This area of Idaho is an adventure’s dream. The Salmon River offers some world-class whitewater rafting. Rafting companies are plentiful in and around the small river town of Riggins that hugs US 95 through the canyon. We vowed to go back to this area again to witness it during the daylight.

It was hard to see in the darkness, but it seemed like there were a number of spots to pull off the highway and get down to the river’s edge to camp. The Salmon Rapids Lodge or the Riverside RV Park offer other accommodations to stay and play on the river.

A rest area with a 24-7 caretaker

Just south of Riggins on US 95 we found the Sheep Creek Rest Area. Wedged between the highway and the river, this narrow strip offers a well-lit, safe place to park. Highway noise died down after a while, and our overnight companions at the rest stop were only a couple of big rigs and a minivan.

The lawn and picnic areas are well-maintained. The public restroom facility was clean and stocked with towels, hand soap and toilet paper.

We soon found out why this out-of-the-way rest stop was in such tip-top shape. The caretaker lives in a small home right next to the rest stop and keeps a close eye on the property 24-7. We chatted with him briefly as he came over to say good morning before going about his routine of cleaning and checking the facility.

July 13, 2022

Back on the road we eventually turned eastbound onto US 55 at New Meadows, and headed towards McCall, ID. Dan at the Cedar RV Park and Car Wash told us McCall was a must stop. He was right.

How the “other half” lives in McCall

This up-scale mountain resort/ski village/lake bum hangout is a gem. Surrounded by towering pines, Payette Lake butts right up against the town of McCall. This place exemplifies how the “other half lives.” Seeing all the multi-million-dollar lake front homes, we have to say, we were a little jealous.

The town is known to attract A-list celebrities, but deep down inside, its down home, old lumber town roots still shine. The historic downtown is filled with cool shops to peruse and restaurants to grab great eats.

One place we stumbled upon (mainly because they had an open parking spot right in front) was Café 6 Three 4 on North 3rd Street. The second we saw the place we knew we had to stop.

We love mountain life

It felt like we were back living in the mountains of Salida, Colorado again at this non-pretentious, funky mountain town vibe restaurant. It looks to be located in an old, converted gas station or mechanic auto garage with large roll-up doors.

The café has both cozy indoor and outdoor seating. We placed our order inside at the counter, grabbed our drinks then sat around the bed of an old pick-up truck parked out front under an awning. In the bed of the pickup is a gas fireplace, which, no doubt, offers warmth while sipping craft beer apres-ski during the snowy months.

Café 6 Three 4 offers full lunch menu and a delicious breakfast menu, which we picked from. Kim enjoyed their Avocado Toast topped with an egg and local micro greens on toasted Idaho potato bread.

JK tucked into their Breakfast Protein Bowl, which featured a blend of pulled pork, potatoes, black beans, egg, spinach, fresh tomatoes, avocado, Cheddar-Jack cheese, and cilantro lime dressing.

The café features a variety of pastries, plus locally roasted coffees, and locally sourced farm produce.

Sharing stories with new friends

Sitting around the pickup truck enjoying our breakfast, we struck up a conversation with a great local couple. Brian and Kristine have a long-time family cabin in McCall and visit on weekends up from Boise. It was really enjoyable to hear their stories of the area and to share with them about the places we’ve lived, and where our #vanlife travels have taken us so far.

To top off our McCall, Idaho experience, as we were getting up to leave, a beer distributor’s van pulled up alongside of our table. In the passenger seat riding shotgun was a skeleton, wearing a cowboy hat and vest! The driver’s companion matched the van’s crazy paint job promoting the company’s Voodoo Ranger IPA.

NEXT TIME: We wrap up our Epic 2022 West Coast Journey series next week as the heat keeps building. We struggle to keep the dogs and ourselves cool in the van while baking in 100-degree temperatures through Boise and Idaho Falls.

We make a beeline north over Montana mountain passes through wind and rain, drive until Midnight and finally crash for the night at a Sheridan, Wyoming rest area. Then it’s back on I-90 for a non-stop easterly push to towards Minnesota and home.

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