One seven-hour drive later, and I’m home. Well, staying with my friend Loralee until I find a place to move into, but you know what I mean.
Across southern Washington, through more brown hills to the Tri-Cities, where I picked up I-82 to Yakima, where I turned west on U.S. 12, over White Pass to the little town of Morton, where I turned north on U.S. 7, which eventually turns into the Mountain Highway, which leads to Tacoma.
15,500 miles in almost four months (it would have been four months exactly next Tuesday). Which I’d have thought have been farther, given that in 1999, I was only gone two and a half months, and racked up 14,000 miles before I rolled my car in California. But that’s what Merlin’s odometer says, and I believe it [g].
Part of me is glad to be here, I think. Part of me wishes I just could have kept going, but well…
Thanks to everyone who stuck with me through all this! It’s been fun writing the posts, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to hit the road.
So. A week and a half ago, we were having temperatures in the 80s here in the Puget Sound lowlands. We’ve had a summer for the record books — the most 90 degree days in one year, the most 80 degree days in one year, the hottest June, July, and August on record… The weather forecasters were beginning to sound like a broken record (and far too chipper for their own good, given the circumstances).
Then, a week ago today, the switch flipped. The temperatures dropped to the 60s, the wind picked up, and — you guessed it — we had the biggest August windstorm on record. All of a sudden it was October (the main harbinger of autumn here is wind — google Inauguration Day storm, Columbus Day storm, and Hanukkah Eve storm if you don’t believe me).
I’ve already got a second quilt on the bed, too, because the nighttime temps have started dropping to the 40s.
And then, to celebrate completing my new novel Reunion (the second Tale of the Unearthly Northwest), my friend L and I drove up to Sunrise today, on the eastern side of Mt. Rainier, and were greeted with this beautiful sight:
Oh, and the 6000 steps? Sunrise is at 6300 feet. We hit snow at about 6200 feet (Sunrise Point, about a mile from Sunrise proper, is at 6100 feet, and there was no snow there).
So, yesterday was the Fourth, which means I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the computer. Plus my monitor died Friday night. Fortunately, Best Buy was open on the holiday.
The penultimate day of my trip was the summer solstice. I also crossed back into the Pacific Time Zone, so it was quite a long day. I woke up at the crack of dawn again, into a gray-gloomy rainy day (which sounds so lovely right now — the temperature outside right now is over 90F, and has been for the last five days).
I’d had a reservation at a hostel in Kelowna, 215 miles down the road from Golden, but I’d decided to cancel it the previous night, because, well, now that I was on my way home, I wanted to see how far I could get. I always get sort of antsy the last day or two on the road on a trip like this — ready to get home.
I headed west again on the Trans-Canada Highway, through two more smaller national parks, Glacier National Park (yes, Canada has a national park called Glacier, too), and Mt. Revelstoke National Park, but there really wasn’t much reason to stop. The section through Glacier, over Rogers Pass, was the last section of the Trans-Canada Highway to be completed, in 1962. That road is younger than I am! There’s a historical site at what I’d call a rest area here in the States at the top of the pass, and I stopped to take a few pictures.
From there on it was down, down, down. I stopped in the town of Revelstoke, at a combo Tim Hortons and gas station, for liquid refreshment for both me and Kestrel, then turned south off of the Trans-Canada at the small town of Sicamous, onto Highway 97, which stays the same number in both Canada and the U.S.
I drove past a pretty lake, and saw some blue wildflowers that had to be inspected and photographed, then south to the big city of Kelowna, where I arrived just in time for lunch (and was really glad I’d cancelled my hostel reservation). By that point, I’d left the lush forests of the western side of the Rockies behind, not to mention the rain and the cool temperatures. It was almost 30C, according to a bank thermometer in Kelowna, which translates to the lower 80sF, and not a cloud in the sky. It only got hotter the further I went, too.
The map had been somewhat misleading. I’d assumed that the double line that was Hwy. 97 through Kelowna meant that I’d be on a freeway, but no, just a four-lane boulevard with stoplights every hundred yards or so. It took me a while to fight my way through the traffic and reach the bridge across long, narrow Lake Okanagan. Then, after I was out of town, it turned into a freeway. Oh, well.
Lake Okanagan is lovely, and the road clings to the cliff as it threads its way down past vineyards and through small towns and the good-sized city of Penticton. After Penticton, orchards were the order of the day, and I could have stopped and bought cherries any number of times. Alas, I was down to my last couple of Canadian dollars and didn’t want to get more at this stage, plus, I wasn’t sure if U.S. customs would let me through with them. So I didn’t.
I reached the U.S. customs station, just north of the little town of Oroville, Washington, along the shores of Lake Osoyoos (oh-SOY-oos — I asked the customs agent), about the middle of the afternoon. A very nice Hispanic lady checked my passport, asked me to take my sunglasses off for a moment so she could get a better look at my face, and to pop my trunk. If I’d known she was going to want to look in there, I’d have put all my dirty clothes back in my suitcase, but the only comment she made was how she, too, liked the brand of chips I had in my food bag. Oh, well, worse things have happened.
And then I was back in the land of miles and Fahrenheit (a rather high degree of Fahrenheit at that, almost 90 degrees, alas). I drove past Tonasket, which was the knot of the lasso of this trip, on to Omak, another hour or so, and got there around four. Found the motel I stayed at on my research jaunts for Sojourn, and crashed and burned. I’d been on the road since about 6 am Pacific time, and I slept like I was really working at it.
And the next day I got up and drove the five hours home, over familiar roads, down 97 past Wenatchee to Blewett Pass, to I-90 and home. I think I made three stops, one for gas and real MickeyD’s iced tea in Brewster, one just north of Wenatchee for cherries, and one just before I got back on I-90 to gather one last picnic from my cooler and food bag for lunch that I ate as I drove over Snoqualmie Pass. I got home about 2 in the afternoon. The condo hadn’t burned down and the cats were fine (although extremely eager to go outside, and beyond annoyed with me).
And that was my trip to the Canadian Rockies. Decidedly one of the best trips I’ve made in recent memory.
I think it was about three months ago when it was pointed out to me that I’m no farther from the Canadian Rockies than I am from
Yellowstone (about a hundred miles closer, in fact) and I thought, you know, I’ve been to Yellowstone how many times in the 22 years since I moved to western Washington — why have the only trips I’ve made to Canada in that time been a couple of weekends via ferry to Victoria?
So I renewed my passport and started making plans for the trip as soon as the exhibit was finished. That this happened to coincide with the dates the U.S. Open golf tournament was held less than
fifteen miles from my house was just a bonus (I am told the traffic that week was pretty overwhelming).
Anyway. As is normal on any first day of a vacation like this, I spent most of it on the road. Northeast on SR 18, where I began my day with a hawk stooping at prey right beside the road as I drove by, then east on I-90, of course, to the town of Cle Elum, just over Snoqualmie Pass, where I picked up a back road for a few miles to U.S. 97, which stretches north to the Canadian border, and,
incidentally, allowed me to bypass driving up I-5 through the entire
Puget Sound conurbation, plus avoid one of the busiest border crossings between here and Detroit.
I did not, however, go straight up U.S. 97 to the border. I turned east at the little town of Tonasket, in the heart of the Okanogan country, to explore the northeastern part of Washington before I headed on. I’d always been curious about this area, but it was just a bit farther than I’d want to go for an overnight.
I don’t know if anyone familiar with eastern Washington who’s reading this is as surprised as I was to discover how mountainous the northeast corner of the state actually is. I mean, south of here it’s pretty much flat and seriously monotonous all the way from
Ellensburg to Spokane. But SR 20 climbs quickly up from the
Okanogan River valley and enters national forest land. I passed through the “town” (if there were half a dozen buildings, I’d be shocked) of Wauconda, crossed a 4500 foot pass, dropped down to the San Poil River valley at the town of Republic (which could be the twin of Libby, Montana, where I lived briefly a long time ago), then climbed steeply to Sherman Pass, elevation 5500 feet.
The Sherman Pass viewpoint looks out over one of those curvature-of-the-earth views, over mountains that had obviously been burned in the not-too-distant past. An exhibit board said that the fire had taken place in 1988, the same year as the Yellowstone fires, and the landscape looked similar to the park.
East of Sherman Pass were a couple of historic landmarks. The first one was the site of a CCC camp in the 1930s, with some fun
The second one was apparently about logging, but with no sign, it was kind of hard to tell. On the other hand, this is where I saw the first of many, many wild roses in bloom on this trip (photo at top).
I crossed the Columbia River, actually Lake Roosevelt above the Grand Coulee Dam, at the town of Kettle Falls, the namesake of which is now buried under the reservoir.
But it had an interesting little historical museum where I took a break from the road.
And then I drove the last few miles to the county seat of Colville (pronounced CALL-ville, not COAL-ville), where I spent my first night on the road!
This time closer to home. It is that time of year again, after all.
These are all from along the Nathan Chapman trail in Puyallup, Washington, except for the first one, which is from the rainforest trail at the Carbon River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park.
The next two photos are really blurry, but I’m including them for the sake of completeness. My apologies.
And, no, this isn’t a wildflower, but I’m including it, anyway.
The knee could have been worse, I suppose. I won’t be doing any hiking today, at any rate.
But I head north to one of my favorite places in the Okanogan Highlands, the little half ghost town, half hamlet of Molson, which has the name of a Canadian beer because when the town was first founded, its settlers thought they were north of the 49th parallel (as it turns out, they were a couple of miles south of it, but oh, well).
It’s kind of a drive up there, another hour or so along the Okanogan River, past the little village of Riverside and through the slightly larger town of Tonasket, up to Oroville, along the southern shore of long, narrow Lake Osoyoos, which is cut in half by the U.S./Canadian border. There’s a huge grocery store just south of the customs building, with a parking lot always full of cars with British Columbia license plates. I guess groceries are cheaper in the U.S.?
At Oroville I turn east on a little two-lane called Chesaw Road (you know you’ve made the correct turn when you see the sign saying this way to the Sitzmark Ski Area, a little rope tow out in the middle of nowhere about forty miles out of Oroville), and head up through a narrow canyon, gaining quite a bit of altitude in the process before I come out on top of an undulating plateau. These are the true Okanogan Highlands, and are mostly ranchland where they’re not part of the national forest. About twelve miles east of Oroville is the lefthand turn on Molson Rd.
This is beautiful countryside, in so many ways. If you love rolling hills, larches and pines, golden brown grass, and wide open spaces, or you have a thing for wondering who lived in the occasional old, abandoned building out in the middle of the meadow, or even if — in spite of being absolutely in love with the thick Douglas fir forests on the west side of the mountains — you’re simply enthralled with the enormity of the bright blue sky, then the Okanogan Highlands are a balm.
And the little town of Molson is well worth the drive. In the first place, it’s the home of the Molson School Museum I mentioned a couple of posts ago.
In the second, the citizens of Molson have preserved about an acre’s worth of historic buildings, which are open all the time so you can go in and explore.
And in the third place, they have Harry the pig.
Now, I don’t know if the plaster pig in the abandoned store window in ‘downtown’ Molson actually has a name — I never asked. But in my novel Sojournhe’s Harry, and he’s very important to my fictional Conconully. As a matter of fact, the town might not even exist without him. So I love him. He’s just such a whimsy for a place like that.
After a couple of hours exploring and a pleasant picnic lunch, and a gravel lane that eventually leads me back to Tonasket, I reluctantly head south again. I need to be home by tonight, and it’s a good five-hour drive if I take the bit of a detour into the Methow Valley that I have planned.
At the town of Okanogan I turn west, and less than half an hour later I realize that I ought to have checked the road conditions first. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last post, this past summer Washington state experienced its largest wildfire ever, which covered over 250,000 acres in the north central part of the state. The Carlton Complex fire caused damage that the area will still be recovering from years from now, and part of that damage was to U.S. Highway 20 between Okanogan and the Methow (pronounced Met-how, pronouncing the T and the H separately) Valley. The traffic was down to an alternating one lane for over a mile, and I lost a good half an hour by the time I reached the valley.
That was just my first check. The second was that State highway 153, which runs south down the valley towards Wenatchee, was also closed due to fire damage. Fortunately, a backroad runs parallel to it and a detour was set up. But I lost another hour by the time I got to Wenatchee.
Still, it was worth it, although I don’t think I’d have made the detour had I known. U.S. 20 climbs up over a magnificent pass and descends into the scenic Methow Valley, and the backroad down the valley was spectacular, crossing and recrossing the Methow River in the shadow of glorious mountains. And I found a non-crowded fruit stand just north of Wenatchee and loaded up on apples and pears.
I didn’t get home till well after dark that Sunday evening. I was tired and my knee was sore. But it was all so worth it. I highly recommend a weekend in the Okanogan country.
Back for a few decades on either side of the turn of the last century, a flotilla of little ships used to travel Puget Sound, carrying passengers and freight, stopping at every settlement along the hundreds of miles of waterfront along Puget Sound. This was, of course, back when water was the easiest and fastest mode of transport in the region, before roads were built and the cars to run on them became ubiquitous. These little ships were so ubiquitous themselves that some wag dubbed them the Mosquito Fleet. And the name stuck.
Almost all of them are gone now, but Kitsap County Transit still operates one of the little ships as part of the foot ferry service between Port Orchard and Bremerton, Washington, along with two larger and slightly newer foot (as opposed to automobile) ferries. Unfortunately, the Mosquito Fleet boat, which purportedly has an onboard exhibit about the fleet, was down for service the day I took my trip, but I did get to ride one of the other boats, which mostly carries people who live in Port Orchard, but work in the Puget Sound Navy Shipyard, among other places, in Bremerton, back and forth on what has to be one of the more unusual commutes around.
Once I arrived in Bremerton, I headed for the Kitsap County Historical Museum, which I’d heard had an exhibit on the Mosquito Fleet. Which it did, including an interesting historical map, and profiles of some of the boats.
The museum also had very good exhibits on the history of the Kitsap Peninsula (the west side of the Sound), and some fun stuff about life in the early days on “stump farms” (the kind of farm you have when you try to grow crops on logged-over land).
The Bremerton pier attracted my interest next. It’s designed for strolling, and the views were lovely. This statue was nifty, too.
Once I was back on the other side of the ferry terminal, I took a gander at the Puget Sound Navy Museum, full of the history of the Puget Sound Navy Shipyard next door. It also housed several mockups of various parts of the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier. I think the part that impressed me the most was how cramped the bunks were, barely 18 inches vertically between mattress top and the bottom of the bunk above. If I didn’t already have claustrophobia, I’m afraid trying to sleep in a bunk on the Stennis would have given it to me.
My last stop of the day was at Fountain Park, located between the shipyard and the ferry terminal, which doesn’t sound like much of a location until you realize just how far out over the water you can see. All the way to the southern end of the Olympics.
And the fountain? Is just the coolest thing I’ve seen in a very long time. It’s actually half a dozen fountains, each designed to look like a submarine coming up out of the water. The fountains shoot water out of the tops randomly. The only warning you get is water starting to pour down the sides, more and more, and then all of a sudden water just shoots out of the top, about, oh, I don’t know, twenty feet high or more. And they go off one after another after another, in a completely random order. It was all I could do to drag myself back to the ferry terminal, even though I was looking forward to the ride back.
Anyway, if you ever get to go to the Kitsap Peninsula on Puget Sound, I highly recommend the foot ferry from Port Orchard to Bremerton. And go watch the fountains for me!
Which makes sense. Last Sunday, I decided to go out to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge — the main link doesn’t seem to be working for some reason, but this one should — which occupies most of the estuary of the Nisqually River (the one I showed you the glacial headwaters of last week ). It’s the largest remaining undeveloped estuary on Puget Sound, and the site of a heated battle between developers and preservationists back in the 1970s, which resulted in the creation of the refuge.
The refuge used to be mostly diked farmland, and a few years ago, the management decided it would be better for the critters if the dikes were removed, so they were, and a beautiful two-plus mile boardwalk replaced the dike trails. The boardwalk leads to a gazebo at the very edge of the estuary, where you can see open water and most of the southern end of the sound.
For some reason, on this trip I didn’t see any critters on the way out to the gazebo except for gulls, but I saw lots on the way back. I’m not sure why that was.
The trail to the head of the boardwalk is mostly a boardwalk, too, and traverses forest of bigleaf maple and black alder. In spite of the trees, it’s mostly wetland, and this time of year the water is covered with bright green algae. Jewelweed blooms this time of year, too.
Then the forest stops and the estuary starts, and the sky opens up.
I walked all the way out to the gazebo, which, like I said, is over two miles one way. The clouds kept coming and going. I kept wishing they’d stay, because it was warm, and out on the tideflats like that it was humid. Under the clouds it was fine. Under the sun, it was sweaty.
On a clear day, you can see all the way up to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from the gazebo, a distance of somewhere between 15-18 miles as the gull flies.
And then, on the way back, I saw Critters. With a capital Cr.
I also saw a lot of swallows out swooping around eating mosquitoes, but they were moving far too fast to photograph.
All in all, a wonderful day out at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Washington state trooper Daniel Reilly never thought he’d wind up in his stepmother’s favorite movie. Chasing a suspected drunk
driver through the desolate Okanogan Highlands is part of his job, but crashing his cruiser and waking up in a ghost town sure isn’t. And when that ghost town starts to come to life?
The local version of Brigadoon isn’t a lighthearted musical.
You can read the first chapter by clicking on the cover. Take a look at pictures of the real Okanogan Highlands here. And take a look at Sojourn‘s research pathfinder here.
Tell me what you think! I’d love to hear it.
Sojourn will be available for pre-order by the middle of September, and for purchase in October, 2014.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided that since I didn’t see quite as many wildflowers at Sunrise and Hurricane Ridge this year as I would have liked, I would make a trip up to Paradise, on the south side of Mt. Rainier.
Paradise was purportedly named by Virinda Longmire, one of the early settlers at the foot of the Mountain, who was said to exclaim what a paradise the flower-filled mountainside was. I have to say I agree with her.
A trip to Paradise in the summertime has to be carefully planned, because of how popular it is. You don’t want to go on a weekend, and you need to arrive fairly early, even on a weekday, because the parking fills up. There’s a yellow light on the side of the road at Longmire (about ten miles inside the park entrance) that blinks when the parking areas at Paradise are full, and a sign that says you won’t be able to stop there but must keep moving on through when the light is blinking.
The park service used to run shuttle busses to Paradise to help with the congestion, but they’re not running this summer due to budget cuts.
At any rate, I arrived at Paradise around 10:30 (it takes about 1½-2 hours to get there from my house), which was in time to snag a spot.
The trail I’d had in mind today was the Nisqually Vista Trail. It used to be one of the most popular trails in the park, but ever since they tore down the old flying saucer visitor center near its trailhead a few years ago and built the new one over closer to the Inn, people seem to have forgotten about it, which is wonderful from my point of view. In spite of the crowds everywhere else, I ran into maybe a dozen people on the entire two-mile loop.
And this is what I saw:
Lots and lots of wildflowers. A beautiful Mountain. And an excellent view of the Nisqually Glacier.
All in all, a terrific day at Paradise.
I also stopped in Longmire on my way back, which is the site of the first settlement in what is now the park, and hence the place where they emphasize the history of our fifth national park. I wanted to pick the brain of the ranger on duty at the museum there about some resources for my next novel, and to poke around.
And that was my last summer visit to Mt. Rainier this year.