Recently we visited Glacier National Park. We decided to drive there from Seattle and we’re oh so glad we did – because there are some lovely, quirky, whimsical sights to see on the drive along Interstate 90 and when you fly, you miss out.
Wild Horses Monument, Quincy, Washington:
Just east of Vantage, Washington (a fascinating town in itself – you can read about our visit to Vantage here), we spotted these amazing horses up on the hill. Not a stampede, but a series of ironwork statues which form the Wild Horses Monument – although the real name of this installation is “Grandfather Cuts Loose the Ponies”. We parked in the lot and climbed the short hillside footpath up to the statues which have a wonderful view of the Columbia River below. These 15 life-size “horses” were created by sculptor David Govedare for the state’s centennial in 1989.
Sadly they are marked by graffiti today, but their beauty holds strong and they are considered one of the most-seen public art installations in Washington State, with the flurry of vehicles that pass by it daily.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho:
Continuing our drive towards Glacier National Park, we stopped for lunch in the quaint lakeside city of Coeur d’Alene. Coeur d’Alene is a resort town, with the Coeur d’Alene Resort looming large on the lakefront.
Boating is clearly the hobby of choice here and it’s understandable – since Lake Coeur d’Alene spans 25 miles in length and ranges 1-3 miles wide. Coeur d’Alene was founded in 1888 and the downtown features architecture that appears to be from the early 1900s.
We enjoyed lunch of fish tacos at the Iron Horse Bar & Grill – particularly as they had a large outdoor seating area and it was a beautiful day. Our waitress recommended we try the Lemon Poppyseed Ice cream at Shenanigan’s down the street. She said it was like eating a Costco Lemon Poppyseed Muffin in ice cream form. How could we resist?
We took our ice cream and walked two blocks over to McEuen Park on the lakefront. This is truly a beautiful park overlooking the resort and the lake.
Our ice cream consumed, we returned to our car and drove pretty much non-stop to Glacier.
On the drive back to Seattle, we discovered even more fun sites along I-90.
Free Trout Aquarium & St. Regis Travel Center, St. Regis, Montana:
When Chad drives by any sign that says “Free Trout Aquarium,” you know he is going to pull over. Housed in the St. Regis Travel Center, the Free Trout Aquarium, while interesting, was not the only attraction on site. The St. Regis Travel Center also boasted “Montana’s Largest and Best Gift Shop,” a casino (not our cup of tea…), what seemed to be an art gallery featuring lots of wildlife artwork, and Huck’s Grill (with huckleberry shakes, of course).
The Free Trout Aquarium was definitely a site to see. Featuring Cutthroat, Brook, Brown and Rainbow Trout, the Aquarium is a one-of-a kind cylinder providing 360-degree views of the fish. There are also videos educating the public on the various types of trout. Only in Montana can you fill up your gas tank, grab a huckleberry shake, gamble, and view trout in a free aquarium! Great for kids of anglers wanting to see the variety of fish this part of the country supports.
50,000 Silver Dollar Bar, Haugan, Montana:
For miles, and I do mean miles and miles and miles, we kept seeing billboards advertising our next stop: 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar-Gift Shop – Restaurant – RV Park – Casino (of course) – and Motel. This omni-plaza was created by Gerry and Marie Lincoln in 1952, originating as a place to showcase their unique collection of silver dollar coins.
People from all over the wall donate silver dollars (you can buy one for – you guessed it – one dollar at the bar) and their silver dollars are showcased on the walls and in the bartop with their names (and the city they are from) inscribed in wood.
The original collection of more than $2,500 is featured in the bartop, with the rest of the growing collection shown on wood panels hung on the surrounding walls and now being hung from the ceiling. They say a sucker is born every minute and Chad and I don’t want to disappoint, so we purchased a silver dollar of our own bringing the dollar collection up to $67,705. Apparently if we ever return, the bartender will use a laser pointer to show us where our silver dollar is hung in the vast barroom.
This place is full of kitsch and definitely worth a visit – particularly if you want photos with some faux cowboys.
The complex also houses what they claim to be Montana’s Largest Gift Shop (they better take this up with the St. Regis Travel Center!), a casino (naturally), free RV parking, a restaurant, a motel, a gas station and convenience store. Why go anywhere else?!
A drive on I-90 through the Idaho panhandle would not be complete without a stop under (yes under) the I-90 freeway to the historic mining town of Wallace, Idaho. Founded in 1880, Wallace was the primary town in the Coeur d’Alene mining district, a district which produced more silver than any other mining site in the United States.
You can take a Sierra Silver Mine Tour, which sadly we did not have time to do on this trip.
We did stop in the Tour Office, which had a mini-mine museum (try saying that 5 times fast). The museum was very interesting and sparked our interest in taking the tour on a future visit.
Wallace is quirky (in a good way). Because every (yes every) building in downtown Wallace is listed on the National Historic Register, the government had to build Interstate 90 above the town as an elevated freeway viaduct.
Also, this town of roughly 800 people is considered by them to be “The Center of the Universe” and was named such by their Mayor Ron Garitone in 2004. Each corner of the main intersection at Bank and Sixth Streets has a marker pointing down to the center of the intersection.
The Center of the Universe (at the center of this intersection) is commemorated on a manhole cover decorated with the names of each of the four mining companies – the Bunker Hill Mine (BHM), the Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation (CDE), the Helca Mining Company (HL), and the Sterling Mining Company (SRLM).
Now, I know you are wondering, how could Wallace, Idaho be considered the Center of the Universe (and you Seattle-ites are thinking – isn’t Fremont the Center of the Universe?). Apparently the residents of Wallace were in a squabble with the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the safety of Wallace’s soil. The residents said the soil, containing high levels of lead sulfide were not posing a health risk. The EPA countered that if the town couldn’t prove the lead sulfide wasn’t dangerous, then it must be harmful and had to be removed. The town countered by naming this intersection “The Center of the Universe,” because if it couldn’t be proven that it wasn’t the center of the universe, then it must in fact be so.
Chad and I had lunch at the 1313 Club in Wallace.
There are a few differing stories on why this restaurant is called the 1313 Club. One story being that the historic bar in the restaurant is 13 feet high by 13 feet wide. The other popular story is that when this restaurant opened in Wallace, there were already 12 bars and 12 brothels, making this one the 13 13. Regardless of its origins, the food was delicious and the wait staff very pleasant.
After lunch we walked the main streets of town, enjoying the aforementioned Silver Mine Museum as well as the wonderful antique stores in Wallace (one next to the 1313 Club) which featured this stuffed lion
and North Idaho Trading Company, which featured more stuffed animal heads than I had ever seen congregated in one place!
Wallace is a gem which we highly recommend visiting if you are passing by – just go below the Interstate and you will be in the Center of the Universe!
Have you discovered other gems along this route? Are there spots we should pull off the Interstate to see on our next trip east?