Snow fell the day before and still clung to part of the road. I entered Interstate 90, beginning my drive home from eastern Washington after a visit with family. Traffic was sparse on a sunny Sunday morning. I turned the radio on and put the truck in cruise control. And, like so many times before, it felt like home.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven the stretch of road between Spokane and St. Regis. Hundreds? One thousand? I do know that I’m so familiar with each of its overpasses, sharp turns and quirky roadside attractions that, when I’m on it, my daydreams are most vivid.
My history with I-90 goes back some 24 years. Then, I attended a small junior college in Wyoming and would travel home for the holidays, which would include about eight hours on the interstate. I also used it to get back to Washington when I worked in Yellowstone National Park during the summer.
When I transferred to the University of Montana to get a journalism degree, I was always on the road. Only two-and-half hours stood between me and a home-cooked meal. When I landed my first job out of college, in Bismarck, N.D., it was a longer drive, much of it on that familiar highway.
Once in Bozeman, the drive was easier and, once again, more frequent. Now, living in the Flathead for 14 years, the interstate marks the halfway point after winding along the lake on U.S. 93 before taking Highway 28 through the small town of Plains and even smaller town of Paradise.
There, in St Regis, is one of the largest gas stations in the state – one I have stopped at more times than I can count. It has a live trout aquarium. There’s a gift shop that sells Montana-themed shirts and a bunch of snacks made from huckleberries. Like everywhere else in the state, there’s a casino attached to it.
That’s where I now meet Interstate 90 and aim the vehicle west. Just a few miles up the road is the 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar. Like the gas station in St. Regis, it has a huge gift shop and a casino. Every time its sign comes into view, I think the same thing: “I’m so old I remember when it was the 10,000 Silver Dollar Bar.”
The trip only gets better from there as the highway meanders up the east side of Lookout Pass and, in the winter, the piles of snow increase along with the elevation. Then, in what must be one of the most iconic state lines in the country, Montana and Idaho meet each other at the top of a mountain right next to a ski resort.
As you descend into Idaho you pass the town of Mullan, Elmer’s Fountain (some random giant yellow geyser in the middle of nowhere) and drive above the historic town of Wallace, as here the interstate is on stilts so you can clearly see the tops of buildings. Soon you’re in Kellogg, which claims to be the location of the world’s largest Jeep dealer. It also has a ski resort and water park.
It’s now the home stretch and the road bends toward Fourth of July Pass before you drive past the Wolf Lodge Inn. Coeur d’Alene Lake comes into view. Another state line is approaching, and it all looks familiar.
It must be the holidays because I’m almost home.
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