Wandering Around Washington State

So it’s been a bit rainy here in the PNW. That’s my headline. Our laundry isn’t so much dirty as it is damp. But we’ve seen some cool stuff in the last week or so as we’ve hovered near Seattle knowing we’d have to return for some follow up errands.

Heading east toward Yakima and Walla Walla, we checked out the large small town of Ellensburg. It was the Friday before Halloween and businesses were handing out candy. You could get a real feel for the community spirit in this town as nearly every IMG_2903business in their large district was participating. The ROTC class from the local high school served as safety patrol (and handed out candy themselves.) They have a large county historical museum where I tried to learn how to pronounce the county name-Kittitas. I also learned there the town’s name used to be spelled Ellensburgh, but in 1890 The US Board of Geographic Names made every town with a “burgh” drop the “h” (apparently Pittsburgh rebelled.)

We thought it wise to park ourselves for the evening at a winery via Harvest Host, given Washington’s excellent wine scene. We picked White Heron Cellars partially because it is a bit north of where we were headed and would allow us to see a different part of the region, and partially because it was in Quincy, WA and I have a friend named Quincy! See hoIMG_2936w frivolous one can be on a year long trip? Indeed White Heron was beautifully situated on the Columbia River, though we had to take a circuitous route there. The winds were high and Cameron the proprietor said that there had been a fire previously this year adjacent to I-90 and trucks (and trailers???) just couldn’t travel safely–too many tumbleweeds. We loved all their wine and bought not one but two bottles, a red (a blend, Mariposa) and a white (Roussane). The next morning #visitorkitty got as far inside (which is to say just to the front step) of the Airstream as any kitty has thus far.

From there we headed to Walla Walla. When Ben and I got married, we had to look around for an officiant. A fortuitous serious of events led us to Rev. Jack Mathison – a World War II vet and otherwise amazing person who has remained a family friend. Jack trained as a navigator on the B-24 Liberator in Walla Walla, and we were headed there to see what we could see and share with him.

The excellent Ft. Walla Walla Museum had the goods. When we sent Jack some of these pictures, he replied saying he had spent some memorable evenings at the Marcus Whitman Hotel Café, and it’s where he started and perfected his Mark Twain yell:  “Mark .. TWAIN!”  Love him.

Jack told us about preprinted messages home like the one in the bottom of this pic. Easier to get past the censors! And it did take a while to get them home after the war had ended.

Jack told us about preprinted messages home like the one in the bottom of this pic. Easier to get past the censors! And for various reasons it took a while to get the troops home after the war ended. (For his part, Jack’s return home was delayed at least a month, as he had to spend time “fattening up” at Camp Lucky Strike in Europe following his liberation from a German POW camp, where he spent a hungry year after his B-24 was shot down.)

Walla Walla is deep into Lewis & Clark country as well. A local guidebook indicates that most of the places they camped or referenced were now hidden away under lakes and reservoirs created by the dams in the Columbia River. Oh what L & C would have done for a leisurely stroll across a lake! Of course the ensuing settlers and railroad and mining led the US government to negotiate, push, provoke, swindle and otherwise take land from the many Cascades Indian tribes, including the Walla Walla. Chief Peopeomoxmox, seen below left, actually stood up to the territorial governor and won some concessions in 1855; he secured additional lands, allowing more tribes to stay on at least some of their home lands (see the three reservations below, i.e. rather than one or two). In the scheme of things it was a small victory, but it stuck with me.

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Walla Walla is at the center of the lands of several Cascades tribes

Walla Walla has become quite the wine-focused destination in the last 10-15 years. We spent Halloween evening there – in the Elks parking lot bless their hearts – and it rained. Such a bummer for the kids! We loved the scenes of Walla Walla people and culture over time depicted in “Windows on the Past” – the carefully preserved Odd Fellows Temple sandstone façade. Did you know Adam West (Batman!) grew up here?! Pop culture is important to trace as well.

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After Walla Walla, we headed toward the Columbia Gorge town of The Dalles (still can’t pronounce it.) We visited the excellent Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and the folks there were kind enough to let us park and stay overnight in their lot. The area along the river there is also a trailhead for area walking/biking trails and there were lots of locals coming and going to make use of them. The staff person who oriented us to the exhibits, knowing we only had a short time, suggested we take a close look at the basket exhibit. She said of course you will see baskets at other museums, but in this exhibit she felt like she really learned and was surprised by some of their uses. (For example, upper right, those baskets were used as hats!)

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Scenes inside and out of the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center

The next morning we did a quick hit on Hood River – daylight savings time had ended and we for oIMG_3037nce were up and out early – almost too early for any stores to be open. But we did see Hood River is home to one of our IMG_3039favorite beers (Full Sail, left).

And I browsed their local book store and saw this on sale – photographs taken by the excellent Molly Peterson, a good friend and former colleague of my good friend Pam. Kind of cool to see it out here in the wild! Any food picture taking tips I have learned from Pam, Pam has learned from Molly, so thank you Molly! And with that, I will leave you with a potato encrusted red snapper, which I believe I made in the enchanted forest adjacent to Mt. Rainier last week. Pam’s tip to me (and I assume Molly’s to her) is to zoom in, give your picture a focus, which I did below for the picture on the right.

To test my theory, I asked Grier, who is sitting next to me, which of the pics was more interesting/engaging and she said the right one BUT she noted she is not sure she can tell what the food itself is (eg fish, potato, etc). GooFullSizeRenderd feedback for next time!!!IMG_2875

 

All in for Hells Canyon

“The town of Oxbow. That’s how you should get to Idaho,” Cropdusting Pilot Chris told us back in Madras, Oregon. “When you are there, you can go to Hells Canyon.” Honestly, if it wasn’t for Chris, we would have missed THE DEEPEST canyon in North America. There is only so much maps, guide books and even Google can tell you. We’ve gotten our best tips from real live people. We headed east with great anticipation.  IMG_1226

Now, you should know right off what we didn’t: most of Hells Canyon, which surrounds the Snake River, is inaccessible to the casual traveler, and so we really only got a peek at it, but loved it for what it taught us about: Dams and rivers and power, reasons to ever go on a jet boat, boondocking (officially for the first time), and just a taste about the value of fish and fishing in this part of the country.

Following the success of getting the best tips from real live people, we asked our young BLM friends at the Oregon Trail site where we should camp in Hells Canyon. They had a bunch of ideas (I took notes), but directed us to a boondocking site just before you cross the bridge at Oxbow.

Oxbow is a very small spot on the map, just on the Oregon side of the Snake River, which divides Oregon (west) from Idaho (east). Boondocking is “wild camping” on unofficial, ungroomed, unmaintained, etc noncampsites. It is FREE and legal – and in

Courtesy of Google Maps

Courtesy of Google Maps

fact encouraged by many public lands, though they usually call it “dispersed camping”. In brochures, on the phone, or best yet face to face at their regional stations, staffers will share with you places for dispersed camping. It’s a bit tough to get the hang of – relying in some cases on only GPS coordinates to find sites, going down a bumpy dirt non-road, not knowing if you can turn around if needed (we have about 40 feet total of vehicles to maneuver.) And, conditions change – there have been so many fires out here – tragic in some cases, just nature running its course in others – that our public servants are doing their best to keep up, and finding us a free place to camp may not be the number one priority, right? But, to circle back, we had the best possible advice and source – from BLM staffers who we’d been chatting with anyway, and were generous enough with their time and insights to help us dip our toes in boondocking.

So – how did we get to our recommended free wild campsite? “Turn left before u cross Oxbow bridge. On reservoir. Tunnel” was all I had in my notes. It actually wasn’t that hard to figure out once we got to Oxbow. If we crossed the bridge, we’d gone too far. Look for a left turn. And a tunnel.The tunnel through a hill of rock was indeed intimidating (to me) but not to Ben. Keep on driving.

Tunnel on way to boondocking site: no problem!

Tunnel on way to boondocking site: no problem!

We picked a spot, more of a pullover on a dirt road, indeed overlooking the reservoir, and settled in. When you are a newbie to boondocking you might get a little nervous – Is someone going to tell you to move along? Will your trailer be vandalized? Sure enough, the first other person we saw was a man with a GUN, “just taking his horse out for a ride.” The horse got spooked when he saw his reflection in our trailer. Yep. The second people we saw were two moms with strollers and baby bjorns. OK, we could relax a little.

The reservoir we were on was formed from the Snake River and the Hells Canyon Dam – 20 or so miles north and downriver – from our spot. (There are also the Oxbow and Brownlee Dams.) The dams create power of course, and recreation, all governed by Idaho Power. (We barely scratched the surface, but it seems a fascinating intersection of politics, resource management, conservation, and good old boys drinking and fishing. Would love to know more.) It also created a lovely lake-like setting for us to settle in and enjoy the sun as it rose and set across the mountains on both sides (canyon-esque), the birds, the bugs, the jumping fish, and the just-turning fall leaves.

The next day we unhooked – a bit shaky about leaving the trailer in this “unprotected” state but knowing we had a windy road ahead made it easier, and smIMG_1251arter to leave it behind. We crossed the reservoir – we were now in Idaho! A first time in the state for both of us, though this just barely over the border-crossing seemed a bit cheap to count. Passing the dam was incredible – they make it a bit intimidating, like you might have to go through security, though there was none. You realize how valuable dams are, what a target they might be. You don’t have to know much about engineering to be in awe of this.

Hells Canyon Dam

Hells Canyon Dam

Once we got to the Hells Canyon visitors center, it was a bit of a dead end for us, though just the beginning for those going on jet boat rides and multi-day rafting trips. The road for Chevy Silverados (like ours) literally ends there. There are some nice overlooks, the jet boats, and a nice staffer who told me that most people who explore the Snake do so on multi-day raft trips. The first accessible put out was about 25 miles down river. Amazing.

There is however-and this is a big however- a one mile or so out and back hike along the shoreline which we did and made the trip well worth it. It was so beautiful and like so much on this well timed post-summer season trip-we were the only ones there. We celebrated our two week anniversary as full-timers! A gallery of pics below…I can only imagine what the river and canyon look like beyond this-plan your multi-day rafting trip now!

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We did have to watch out for poison ivy which I did with my full attention, being super allergic to poison oak. This information saved me, it might save you.IMG_1201

We looked for pictographs and petroglyphs and I thank Hells Canyon for teaching me about what dams do, what reservoirs are, and that there are parts of this country that are “the greatest” but are still very, very wild and not overrun by tourists (like me). I still don’t get what happens to the river – does it just disappear upstream of the dam? Can we make rivers disappear, so it’s easier to go fishing out on our motorboat? Naive city girl, I know.

Back at camp, I went for a swim in the reservoir (a short one). Spent 30 minutes or so watching the show nature was putting on as the sun was setting – a cliche I know, but so accurate. A great show.

Me being still and quiet. Not a joke.

Me being still and quiet. Not a joke.

We grilled hamburgers for dinner and made a grilled veggie white bean salad to go with. We thank the Kaufmann’s in Island City, Oregon for the local bread, beef and veggies. Still working on my food photography.

The next day we headed to Boise, the big city, a couple hours southeast. We had one last surprise as we transitioned from the wild to civilization: the little baby bear (below) on the side of the road – perfectly content until he saw us. Luckily we saw him and slowed down and we got to watch him bound away. Blacker than we expected, wide eyed, and very bouncy. Godspeed.

He was only about 20 yards from us when we spotted him. Then bounded away.

He was only about 20 yards from us when we spotted him. Then bounded away.