washington – part 4

A few quiet days in Birch Bay were all we needed – Bridget to finally get out from under the weather, and while she did that, I got to spend some quality time with Ron and Linda and Agnes and Chris – enjoying good food and drink (wine, wine and more wine, delicious donated salmon, and papples – the latest in fine fruits, being a cross between pears and apple), but more than that – time spent with friends is good for the soul – all the laughter over stories shared. The best things in life do come for free.

I snuck (look that up in your Canadian Oxford!) out for a few hours one early afternoon, with the skies overcast. (I’m starting to see a trend here … we’ve moved into the final week of the month; the clear skies of early September have given way to a blanket of clouds, one that makes a gray shadow of the sky. Here in the Pacific Northwest, sometime in the middle of last week, the seasons changed. The sunny season is over and the cloud-hidden season is here.

A trip to the village on the waterfront is in order. I go out in search of color in Birch Bay on this cloud-overhang day.

… and looking down the beach the other way

… not in the village, but at the grocery store on the other side of town at the highway. A smile is worth smiling …

Linda and Ron put us up in their motorhome. An absolute luxury for Bridget and me. A place for ourselves. Sitting at the front window, looking out at the road and imagining what road your motorhome could take you down. It’s taken Ron and Linda on some excellent road trips so far, and they just keep on coming. As for me, I am perfectly content to just sit there, stare out the window and go nowhere for a while.

And look what the sky can produce on an evening like this …

Now wouldn’t we have had a blast leaving Birch Bay in the motorhome … right up until the first sharp corner and we topple over into the ditch with me behind the wheel. Better to stick with Dexy, the ultimate road warrior – our mule of vast proportion. We’ve got two days to get to Portland, Oregon, and we’re taking the scenic route, SR (side road) 410, which we pick up southeast of Seattle, in the town of Enumclaw and that will take us along the White River, past Mt Ranier and along the Naches River to the road into Yakima. Not surprisingly, any road that travels through the foothills of Mt Ranier, with dense old-growth forests and rushing rivers for views, is bound to come with accolades. There must be thousands of roads in the U.S. that have been officially designated as scenic byways; and in among those there might be about 150 designated “All American Roads” – a scenic byway to the factor of at least two. Highway 1 along the Pacific coast in California is an All American Road, and if you’ve taken that road, you’ll have an idea what this designation translates to in terms of views. The Mt Ranier countryside is not too shabby either.

After stopping at a coffee shop in Enumclaw, we meandered through the forests, pulling off the road at the first sight of Ranier, the tallest mountain in the contiguous American states. Mind you, at that distance and with a lot of trees taking up the view, we waited for our hoped-for best view of the day farther down the road at Tipsoo Lake. Farther up the road is more like it. A series of switchbacks along 410 takes us to the lake, where we get out to stretch our legs and take in the sights. “Washington State’s Scenic Byways & Road Trips” describes the view thus: “Chances are you have seen this lake, with Mount Rainer reflected in its still waters, even if you’ve never visited. It’s one of the most photographed nature scenes in the United States.” Wow! Who would want to miss that?

Apparently we did. We parked the car in the parking lot and headed out on foot. We came upon some still water, but it looked more like a breeding pond for mosquitoes than the most photographed nature scene. Surely this couldn’t be it? But no, the sign says it is. Maybe we’re misreading the sign. That must have been it … even on a good day, I can’t imagine there’d be any kind of thrilling reflections going on here. Perhaps if we’d put on our hiking boots and headed off into the mountain forest trails, we might have found that most spectacular of views, but in the meantime, we scored these …

As we descended from the foothills, 410 took us alongside the formidable Naches and into desert country, getting us into Yakima as day turned into night. We found ourselves a place to stay on hotel row north of town and declared it a “stay in and watch Mad Men” night. Yakima holds no claims as a town for tourists; rather it is a hardworking town in the middle of farm country. That was my take at first glance, and every other glance thereafter. But the “Yakima Valley Official Visitors Guide” had a little item about the quintessential roadside attraction – the Teapot Dome of Zillah, built in 1922. This I had to see: a huge teapot on the side of the road.

But it was not to be. We inquired at the hotel desk in the morning as to the whereabouts of this tea pot, and we were informed, sadly, that it was no more. Not just no more roadside attraction, but no more period. Our anticipated photo op had no time factored in for sleuthing for its possible relocation. That would have taken us off the beaten track and used up hours we didn’t have if we were to make it to Portland by nightfall. I am sorry we missed the tea pot, but we had a lot of miles ahead of us today, the first batch of which took us through the Simcoe Mountains and on to Goldendale before coming to the Columbia River, which runs almost the full length of and serves as the border between Washington and Oregon.

But before Yakima is left behind us on our journey, I’ll stop for a “This Is Your Life” moment … In the rush to see the tea pot, I somehow managed to leave my toiletries bag in our hotel room. I didn’t discover my loss until later that night when I went to brush my teeth 185 miles down the road in the next state over. I called back to the Yakima hotel and yes, they did have it, and within a day or two the girl at the front desk confirmed that they couldn’t ship it to me. Mail N More to the rescue. The woman at their storefront office floored me with her good grace and helpful attitude. She saw to it that a driver picked up my bag from the hotel and brought it to her, where she packed it up and in no time flat had it shipped to northern California, where we’d meet up with it in a week’s time. Not an unusual or seemingly difficult task, but in this age of indifference, the care and customer service from Mail N More shines against others. It has restorative powers, in terms of faith in the human race.

But back to the road … the drive along Hwy 97 from Yakima to the Columbia was not the scenic highlight of our day, and it became less so as we passed down through the Simcoe Mountains into the desertlike terrain that swallows up the eastern side of the state.

Our last stop in Washington …

… before crossing the bridge over the Columbia River …

We’ve crossed the Columbia at Biggs, Oregon, and turned right to follow the river along Hwy 84 West. The Columbia flows for about another 200 miles to the Pacific Ocean, although we’ll have covered only half that distance by the time we get to Portland and get off the road. We are officially in Lewis and Clark territory – every American elementary school student knows the story of the pioneers who pressed west along this river to the land of plenty over them thar mountains. In 1804, under President Thomas Jefferson’s expansionist eye to the west, he commissioned explorers Lewis and Clark to assemble a team and lead the way. By all accounts it was a perilous journey.

Like the pioneers, we’re ready to explore. Minus the peril.

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