Friday, September 25, 2009

Exploring Cicely, Alaska

As those of you who have followed our travels know, we enjoy visiting the places that are not major tourist attractions, but that we find interesting and unique. We've always been fans of the old TV series "Northern Exposure", and after watching the series again (thanks to Netflix), we just had to spend time visiting Roslyn, WA, the filming site of the show. We spent a week at the Sun Country Golf Club and RV Resort in nearby Cle Elum, from where we had the opportunity to explore Roslyn and the surrounding area. It's beautiful country; you can see why the producers used this location to film a show set in small-town Alaska. It's an area of rugged, forested mountains and clear-flowing rivers, and Roslyn, with it's old-fashioned store fronts, looks like it could be a small town in the wilderness. Roslyn has a long history of coal mining, and once you're off the main street, the small homes on hillsides reminded us of mining town we've seen in Pennsylvania and Ohio. But we weren't here for the real history, just the made-for-TV memories of the show.
And so, like "Morty" the moose in the opening scenes of the show, we wandered down Roslyn's main street past "The Brick", and on to where the familiar Roslyn Cafe mural, still freshly painted, greeted us. It's actually on the wall of the cafe, which is still open, although if you remember the series, it read "Roslyn's Cafe" to make it fit as a cafe in Cicely. In the first episode, Maurice explains that the mural was painted by a hippie "so high on weed" that he had to paint the apostrophe on himself. We'd always promised ourselves that we'd have lunch at the "Brick", where Holling and his teen-aged bride Shelly lived and where the whole town of Cicely gathered. We enjoyed talking to Paul, our server about the series and the astounding number of people who, 15 years after the series ended, still come to visit the location. The interior of the Brick doesn't resemble what was seen on the show, as the interior scenes were filmed on a sound stage near Seattle. Still, the Brick is on it's own an interesting place to visit. Built in 1889 it's Washington's second-oldest continually operating tavern and much of the interior structure is original, down to the water trough spittoons. Paul graciously gave us a tour, including the basement where the original town jail was located and where an episode of the series was filmed. He showed us how the jail was expanded beyond the original cell with it's iron lattice doors into two cells, the new one built with wood and painted to match. It was amazing - we couldn't tell the difference until actually touching the cell doors. From the Brick, it was a short walk across the street to Ruth-Ann's store, today a liquor and souvenir store. Across the street and down a bit is the "Minnifield Communications" office and home of radio station KBHR, the voice of Cicely and home of "Chris in the Morning" (and afternoon, and night, depending on the episode). The studio sill looks functional; it's the only Roslyn location that has been preserved from the series. Turning back towards the Roslyn Cafe, we came to the office of Dr. Joel Fleischman and his assistant Marilyn, now another gift and souvenir shop. A short walk down the street and past the Cafe brought us to the Roslyn Museum, which although primarily a showcase of the town's mining history, also had a few Northern Exposure (NX) items. One item, Maurice's expensive 17th century "Augsburg Clock", had us laughing at it's construction - paper doilies, Chinese fans, and gold paint. We asked some local folks that we met here why there was not more emphasis on highlighting the NX connection, and were told that the town council wanted to emphasize their mining heritage and were openly negative to suggestions, even though people still come to see Roslyn, the NX filming location. It's too bad; the town could obviously use the tourist dollar, and frankly, there are a lot of mining towns, but only one Cicely, Alaska.
We continued on, using our map of filming locations that is posted on (thanks, Moosechick!) to find the homes of the main characters (they're actual homes of residents). We discovered that Maggie's (second) house still looks good, and that Ed Chigliak's upstairs apartment still looks much the same. Maurice's home, which looked so large and imposing in the show, looks a bit smaller and less impressive in real life.
We had a great time looking around town, but decided that our visit wouldn't be complete without recreating one of our favorite scenes. In one episode, Ed discovers that Ruth-Anne is 75, and struck by her mortality, decides to give her a gift that will last forever. He takes her to a beautiful spot in the woods and announces that he's bought her the land for her grave site, and as the episode ends, we see Ed and Ruth-Anne happily dancing. Armed with our trusty map, we drove along the Cle Elum river out of town for about 10 miles, then turned on to a series of dirt roads, parked and hiked up a hill to the overlook used in the scene. There we were, standing where Ruth-Anne and Ed stood.....well, what could
we do....but dance?

What a great time we had visiting Roslyn! We hope to be back for Moosefest 2010, to visit with fellow NX fans and perhaps see some of the original cast. For now, it's off to new locations and more exploring - come back and see us!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Stoppin' in Spokane

After our fairly fast-paced tour through Montana, we decided to head for the Spokane area and catch up on household chores and take a break. We checked into the family campground (Famcamp) at Fairchild Air Force Base, a medium-sized installation 12 miles west of town. The Famcamp is one we've stayed at before, on our first trip to the area in the spring of 2006. It's a nice place to stay, and since our last visit they've constructed an earthen wall around the area to give it some privacy from the base housing area. Fairchild AFB is a KC-135 tanker base, and has a fairly large population and nice commissary that we took advantage of to stock up on groceries. The area around the base is pretty grim; mostly industrial, with the usual collection of convenience stores and Chinese all-you-can-eat buffets. We spent a few days exploring Spokane, a city of slightly over 200,000 that mixes a blue-collar appearance with a west-coast approach to the environment. The city is a sprawling area of older shopping areas and industrial parks, intermingled with bicycle paths, green belts, and parks. The downtown area, not especially picturesque, was the home of the 1974 environmentally-themed World's Fair. After the event, the area was turned into the Riverfront Park, with a small amusement park, IMAX theater, and a gondola ride over the Spokane River falls. We walked the park area and watched an IMAX movie (Amazon - quite good), but were disappointed in the worn out look of the area; it could use some cleaning, paint, and updating to once again be a quality location to visit. The downtown area has a small mall area, large Macy's, and a number of restaurants, which of course we always enjoy. We were pleased to find an "Old Spaghetti Factory", which although a chain restaurant, offers a pretty good meal for a fair price. When we were stationed in Tokyo, we discovered one while exploring the city one day. It was a real treat to find an exact duplicate of an American restaurant in the midst of a huge Japanese city. Everything was the same, down to the red trolley car - the only difference was in the menu; "spaghetti with mushrooms" translated to "spaghetti with fungus" - not quite as appetizing.
As we drove around the Spokane area, we noticed that Spokane is all about function over form; the two large malls are fortress-looking structures with huge indoor parking garages, a testimony to the cold, snowy winters that are common here.
We took a drive along the Spokane River Park, a nice drive along the river and gorge that runs through the center of the city. One area that was interesting was the "bowl and pitcher", a lava rock formation viewed after a climb to an overlook. Just up from the river is the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, a beautiful facility that provided a visual record of Spokane's interesting history. Surprisingly, there was an exhibit featuring the actual costumes worn during some of our favorite movies. The Batman suit worn by George Clooney, the leather jack worn by Arnold in the Terminator, and many of the Star Wars costumes including Darth Vader, Obi Wan, and others. My favorite was the spandex suit worn by "Seven of Nine" in the "Star Trek - Voyager" TV series. There's just something about a beautiful young woman in a skin-tight outfit that brings out the artistic appreciation in me.
Refreshed and restocked, we're off the Roslyn, WA, the filming location for one of our favorite TV series "Northern Exposure". Be sure and visit to see what we've found!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Montana -The Last Best Place

Leaving the Little Big Horn area and it's golden rolling hills, we headed west into the Madison River Valley and spent time in the town of Ennis, which bills itself as the "trout fishing capital of the world". Surrounded by tall, forested mountains and with the crystal-clear Madison River running through town, it's a small town of fly-fishing shops, restaurants, and real estate companies. We enjoyed exploring the area and visiting the local restaurants, and were happy to see so many Osprey nests with juveniles still on the nests. They're so entertaining to watch as they practice flying, hovering over the nest, bumping into one another, all the time with their wide-eyed stare. They need to get their flying skills down pat since they'll soon be making the long migration to Mexico and even South America .
We weren't far from West Yellowstone and hadn't made the drive from this direction, so we made a day trip to the park entrance. On the way, we stopped at Earthquake Lake, where in August, 1959, a 7.3 tremor shook the area, resulting in an 80-million ton landslide that buried a popular camping area and dammed the Madison River. 28 people were killed in the avalanche that buried the campground, and the bodies of many of those who died were never recovered. A visitor center, perched on the mountainside across from the slide area, offers a perfect view of the collapsed mountain, the riverbed area where the campground was located, and the lake itself. Pictures of the damage throughout the area were amazing; Hebgen lake, located upstream, "tilted" at least eight feet, leaving some boat docks hundreds of feet from the water, and sections of the main highway dropped into the lake, stranding hundreds. It's an interesting place to visit, especially since the damage is still so visible. We continued on the West Yellowstone, the main tourist center for Yellowstone National Park. A collection of hotels, campgrounds, and typical tourist attractions, West Yellowstone isn't a place to spend time, and after a late lunch we took a short drive into the park (much too crowded), then headed back into the Madison Valley and Ennis.
We've always been interested in old mining towns, and decided to visit the next valley and the towns of Virginia City and it's neighbor, Nevada City. Both are towns on Alder Gulch, an area where in the 1860s over 10,000 people lived and mined the area looking for gold. Nevada City, the smaller of the two, is now largely owned by the state and many historic buildings throughout Montana have been moved here to form a truly historic village and museum. There's an old train station where you can ride an open car to Virginia City and back; outside of the station is a collection of old mining equipment - I thought this rail car presented an interesting collection of colors:
Virginia City is also an interesting place to visit; many of the stores are preserved just as they were in the 1860s, complete with dry goods, tools, fabrics, and other goods. There's an interesting museum, with many historic artifacts including the original headstones of five "road agents" who were hanged by the Montana Vigilantes. The town, which was once the territorial capital of Montana, has a year-around population of 150 and retains more of it's history then any other we've visited.
Leaving Ennis, we continued west to the Big Hole Valley, a stunning valley of rolling grasslands known as the "land of 10,000 haystacks". At an elevation of 6000', the valley is the highest and widest of any in Montana. Climbing out of the valley, Brenda spotted a cow moose along the road as we headed for Chief Joseph Pass, and a little farther on, Lost Trail Pass. Joining US 93 at the top of the pass, we headed north down seven miles of 7% grade into the Bitterroot Valley. Having spent two summers here volunteering at the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, we looked forward to visiting here again. We stopped along the road to take this picture of one of our favorite views, Trapper Peak, the highest peak in the Bitterroot Mountains at over 10,000', and always snow-covered. We spent a few days in Missoula, with trips each day visiting favorite places and having dinner with old friends. Missoula and the Bitterroot Valley will always be one of our favorite places, but soon it was time to move on and we headed northwest along the Clark Fork River to the small town of Trout Creek. This is a stunningly beautiful area, with steep mountain walls, deep blue lakes and river, and miles of forest. While exploring one day, we came upon the Ross Creek Cedar Grove, which was a real surprise -it reminded us of walking through the coastal Redwood groves in Northern California. The huge cedar trees crowded out the sun and made the walking the trail a magical journey. Like the redwood forests, you would almost fall backwards as you traced the tree trunk up into the sky. We didn't know places like this existed in Montana - and are grateful to have stumbled across it! On another trip, we watched a cow moose as she worked her way up a creek bed, grazing along the way, pretty oblivious to our presence. Our RV site at the Trout Creek Motel and RV Park was exceptional - it's not often we get to park on putting-green grass, surrounded by trees and flowers. Our visit to Trout creek was special and we'd love to return again. But for now, we're heading west again, this time to Spokane and points west. Come back and see our journey!