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WA to ID: A Spirit Lake road trip with Bella

I grew up in a small town. 

I have a great appreciation for conversations that start with “who’s yer father?” and the friendly wave, the casual lift of a hand off the steering wheel of a pickup truck acknowledging a person’s existence. 

We don’t do that in the city.  

Maybe in the suburbs where you might – might – know your next-door neighbor’s name.  

Spirit Lake, Idaho, is that kind of town. 

The highlight of a day in Spirit Lake 

A recent client lives in Spirit Lake. She wanted to meet at Bear Lake Regional Park in Chattaroy for her session. She often takes her grandkid there to go for a swim.  

I’m familiar with the park. Bella and I explored for the first time XX years ago and, last year, I did an end of life session for my dear friend Stephanie and her beloved Bam. 

A woman stands with her boxer with DM in a backpack at Bear Lake Regional Park
Stephanie and Bam at Bear Lake

As we chatted through the session, my client told me the drive from Spirit Lake to Bear Lake via E. Blanchard Road is one of her favorite road trips.  

I’d heard from others it was a beautiful drive through the country … or read it somewhere.  

So, on a rare day with not much to do (in truth, I had a ton of things to do but I owed Bella a day), I loaded Eddie the Edge up with Bella and Zippy the Z9 and left all my cares behind. 

We started with a stop at a canola field on Bigelow Gulch Road, a shot I’ve been seeing in my head for years but never took the time to stop and create. 

Maremma sheepdog in a canola field at Bigelow Gulch in Spokane Valley
Bigelow Gulch canola field

And then we headed onto Bear Lake for Bella’s first real photo shoot since last fall, before her ruptured her canine cruciate ligament and landed on the injury reserve roster for the winter season. 

Bella, a big white dog, poses on a tree stump at Bear Lake Regional Park in Spokane

She hasn’t skipped a beat on “hold your pose,” has she? 

A nice day for a long drive 

The drive from Chattaroy, Washington, to Blanchard, Idaho, was beautiful. It was pure Eastern Washington and North Idaho country. 

Lush green forests, expansive ranchlands and crystal clear lakes.  

As far as the eye can see. 

Trouble was, any stunning viewpoints – and there were a few – held no places to stop on the road. 

From a day drive perspective? Excellent. Calming. Quiet. 

From a photography perspective? Ah, I’ve knocked it off the list and don’t need to do it again. 

As we turned onto Highway 41 and started heading for home, I still needed something that said “country” or “rural” for this week’s blog circle. I thought, “oh maybe the boat launch at Spirit Lake will give me something.” 


But the downtown?  


Bella sits in front of an old western-style building in the historic downtown of Spirit Lake
Downtown Spirit Lake

Small-town friendly 

Spirit Lake started to develop as a town in 1910, and the downtown still has some of its original buildings. 

According to legend, the adjacent lake was initially named Clear Water. The Kootenai First Nations band who lived in the area influenced the locals to change the name to “Lake of the Spirits,” or “Tesemini.” 

A tribal maiden, Hya-Pam (Fearless Running Water) loved a Kootenay brave, Hasht-Eel-Ame-Hoom (Shining Eagle) but the chief of another tribe, Pu-Pu-Mox-Mox (Yellow Serpent) threatened war on the Kootenays if he could not marry Hya-Pam. 

Hya-Pam and Hasht-Eel-Ame-Hoom are said to have leaped into the lake off Suicide Cliff and were never found. Local folklore, according to the Spirit Lake town website, holds that shadowy silhouettes can be seen in a phantom canoe on moonlit nights. 

And as the ice floes melt in springtime, you can hear mournful, haunting sounds, the cries of the lovers as they seek release from the lake. 

Today, Spirit Lake is home to about 2,000 people. It’s about 25 minutes north of Coeur d’Alene and an hour from Spokane Valley.  

Maremma sheepdog in the flower garden at Spirit Lake downtown

At the west end of the main drag, there’s a large sign that says “free parking while you shop downtown.” 

Free parking? Oh hell’s yes. Ain’t no city girl gonna pass up free parking. 

We start our stroll up Brickel Creek Road, taking the side where there’s a bar, a saloon and another bar. And maybe another one. 

An older woman is sitting on the bench. She takes a long haul off her smoke and says, “Your dog sure is fucking perfect.” 

I laugh, suddenly remembering I’m wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “My dog is fucking perfect” across the chest. 

“She sure is,” I reply. 

Bella tries pulling me through a couple of open doors. I say, “No, Bella, we can’t go in there.” 

The woman says, “Oh no, baby, she can go inside.” 

I remember it’s Idaho. There are different rules in small-town Idaho than Washington where dogs can’t go inside places that serve food. 

We stop for a photo at the White Horse Saloon.  

Bella sits in front of the White Horse Saloon in Spirit Lake, Idaho
The White Horse Saloon

We double back and this time Bella drags me all the way through those doors, into the Linger Longer Lounge. She’s going nuts with excitement, demanding scritches from the men at the bar. 

The bartender says, “Oh she probably smells my dog. He runs around all over the place but he’s upstairs right now.” 

She reveals he’s a Cane Corso-American Staffordshire mix. I think it would be nice for Bella to meet a fellow Italian but, considering that’s probably a big boy, I’m glad he’s upstairs napping. 

Bella parks herself on the karaoke stage and I can’t help but wish I’d had a microphone for this. 

Bella on the karaoke stage at the Linger Longer Lounge in Spirit Lake, Idaho

Oh but wait, this story is not over, even though we were in downtown Spirit Lake for maybe 20 minutes. 

We stop for a few more photos and then head back to the car.  

There’s a little West Highland terrier on the other side of the parking lot, barking through the fence that separates her from the road.  

I have a brief chat with the gal in the Westie’s yard and then attempt to drag Bella back to the car. As we’re walking through the parking lot, a pickup truck pulls in and a man’s hand dangles a rather large cookie out the window. 

“Can your dog have a treat? She sure is a good-looking dog.” 

I smile and remember this would never happen in the city. Sure, plenty of drive-thru baristas have cookies and pupaccinos on hand but random men driving up to you is more often than not threatening and uninvited. 

For all the years of living in a city or the suburbs, I know I’m still a small-town girl at heart. 

And perfectly OK with kindly folks giving my dog the kind of attention I know she needs. 

All around the circle 

Gosh, it was good to get out and remember my roots. 

My dad was the kind of human who would dangle a dog cookie out the window of his pickup truck. 

My mom was a generous soul who would give you the shirt off her back. 

They were small-town people and I grew up dreaming of the day I could get out of that small town.  

Decades later, I long for the friendliness, the generosity and the hospitality of small-town living, that country bumpkin feeling. 

That’s the theme for this week’s pet photographers blog circle: country bumpkin. We were challenged to get out of our urban environments and find the beauty of the rural life.  

Get a taste of country living throughout the United States and Canada by exploring the posts of other photographers in the circle.  

Start with Atlanta dog photographer Courtney Bryson, sharing why getting out of the city and having your dog photographed in a rural setting is a picture perfect idea

Click the link at the bottom of Courtney’s post to continue through the circle. When you find yourself back here to Bella’s adventure in Spirit Lake, that’s when you know you’re home.  

Right where you belong.  

And if you’re looking for your own adventure that’s close to home, download my hiking guide:  

Find your next adventure

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Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

1 thought on “WA to ID: A Spirit Lake road trip with Bella”

  1. I think Bella enjoyed her day more than you! As a dog mom with two reactive dogs, it was nice to vicariously live through your adventure.

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