Coast Chronicles 
Home on the Road

Although columnist Cate Gable finds herself at home on a road trip, this traveler in the Idaho Panhandle took the idea quite literally.

Why would anyone want to leave the Peninsula on these gorgeous fall days? Not me — I’ve been out trying to reclaim the garden from the weeds. In the early days of Tilth on the Willapa, a group several of us formed to help each other with gardening issues, Mike Carmel organized a batch-buy of an amazing tool: an 8-tine Ballast Fork. It’s meant for railroad work and, unlike a regular narrow-tine pitchfork, you can push this baby into the dirt and really leverage it.

After a day of rain, I’ve been hanging out under the sun using my fork to get a handle on pulling out those white snaky grass roots that invade my garden. They creep from the lawn (I use this term loosely) under the wooden sides of my raised-beds and do their dirty work; they create a mat of weedy roots hiding inches under the soil so that even when you pull out the grass above ground, they lie ready to jump into action, sprouting. So, I’ve been taking advantage of our Indian summer days to fork up the grass, their roots, and amend the soil.

On soil: friends Jim and Vera Karnofski have now packaged what is probably the best soil additive in the entire United States — and I am not exaggerating. Jim’s been making biochar ( for years and he’s now added trace minerals to create “Ideal Soil” (available at the Planter Box). I’ve been mixing the Karnofski’s magic soil elixir with organic Harvest Supreme soil amendment, one to one, for an absolutely beautiful smelling and tilthy soil.

But wait! — every once in awhile out of the blue, the road calls. And when a friend sent me the video-link for the creation of the 50-foot statue called “Dignity,” a Lakota woman standing by the banks of the Missouri River (, I thought, “Why not see it for real!”

So after some schedule wrangling, off we set for the hinterlands of South Dakota.

Strangely, before leaving, I mentioned the trip to Senior Activity Center heroes John and Kathy Vale and they said, “South Dakota! You’re kidding — you must stop by and see Putt and Jill Thompson who took over for us at the Custer Battlefield Trading Post Café and Gift Shop ( It’s just off highway 90, exit 510, in eastern Montana.” So another must-see was added to the trip list.

Anyway, my leaving from Nahcotta and my friend from Seattle required a rendezvous in Yakima so rescue Doxie Jackson could be left off with Auntie Starla for the duration of our trip. After several hours of gnashing my teeth — traffic on the I-5 corridor get gnarlier daily — we repacked into one vehicle and headed over the Umtanum Range toward Spokane.

Though a born-and raised Washingtonian, I have to admit to never having spent any time in Spokane, crown jewel of the Inland Empire. I count myself as a West-coaster and after leaving Yakima wanted to keep water in view, preferably “big water, ocean water.” Imagine my surprise to land in Spokane for our first overnight and find not only a hopping downtown with architecturally beautiful brick buildings, but a surfeit of riches in the cuisine department.

We ended up at The Onion Taphouse and Grill ( for dinner where there are 51 micro-brews on tap. (Sorry beer-fans, I had water, no ice.) I ordered onion rings — their other claim to fame — and was asked, “Two, four or seven?” which seemed an odd question to me. But it soon made sense because these are onion rings fit for Big Foot: enormous, plumped and puffy, juicy, greasy and did I say gargantuan? We were only able to eat three and a half before our burgers arrived.

The next morning we made an unscheduled stop in Coeur d’Alene and stumbled onto Terre Coffee and Bakery ( I am not kidding you, they have the best cinnamon rolls this side of the Ark Bakery: gooey, moist, light and airy. We floated into Idaho on a sugar high.

Our next stop was the historic town of Wallace, Idaho, county seat of Shoshone in the Silver Valley Mining district on Idaho’s Panhandle ( I would have passed this gem in the blink of an eye, but fortunately my companion knew the back-story for this town that time forgot.

According to the introduction of Selling Sex in the Silver Valley, by Dr. Heather Branstetter, “Sex work in Wallace, was decriminalized, socially acceptable and even embraced by community members from 1884 to 1991. It was also an equilibrium that balanced complex power relationships among madams, sex workers, town leaders, citizens and clients. The women who worked in the Silver Valley’s rooms provided a valuable service by offering sex, companionship and discretion to rough mining towns in need of stability.”

Wallace retains a few signs of its X-rated past: The Red Light Garage sits prominently at the downtown intersection; cottages that housed the “rooms” are still perched on the hillside above town. But one of the not-to-be-missed features of Wallace, beside a main street of stylish buildings, is Johnson’s Gems and Collectibles where James was in attendance giving a wild range of rock information to the many visitors oohing and aahing inside ( We looked at selenite, slag glass, tanzanite, sulfurite, Washington jade, Ellensburg Blue, and Picasso marble among other amazing gifts from the earth. (The shop is reputed to have, bar none, the best collection of Idaho Star Garnets.)

To cap off this side-trip, on the way out of town there was an entire block of immaculately-restored Fords from the ‘40s parked curbside in front of one of the town’s hotels. Wallace considers itself “The Center of the Universe.” I won’t pass up again a town with that kind of chutzpah. It was more than worth the stop.

Then we were back on the road, reopening our Road Atlas and looking forward to the Big Sky Country of Montana and a meeting with Putt and Jill at Custer’s Battlefield Trading Post and Cafe. (Stay tuned for part two next week.)

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