Two weeks ago today I headed out for parts unknown. Well, at least some parts, and at least some of them were unknown to me. And I didn’t know I was going anywhere until four days before I left. Things happen that way sometimes, especially when my feet get itchy.
I have raced across Idaho on my way to Yellowstone a fair number of times in the last fifteen years, straight across the narrowest part just south of Canada on I-90, less than 80 miles between Washington state and Montana. So this time I decided to take the long way around, and explore Idaho, part of Wyoming, and even a little bit of Utah along the way.
But first I had to get across Washington. Normally that’s another I-90 buzz across to Spokane, a five hour drive to the Idaho state line, but I wanted to do things a little differently. This time I went south and east, skirting the eastern edge of Mt. Rainier National Park and heading over Chinook Pass on U.S. 410. The pass was clear and dry, but it’s obvious that it’s only been open a few weeks judging from the amount of snow still lying about on the mountainsides. I left that behind quickly, though, and, with one stop at a fruit stand for a bag full of Rainier (of course) cherries the size of small plums, I was through Yakima and on I-82 to I-84, across the Columbia River, and into Oregon.
Most of the interstate through eastern Washington is through the high desert where it isn’t being irritated, as my father used to say, by those huge sprinkler farms. But less than an hour after I crossed my first state line of the trip, I started climbing again, and when I reached a rest area in the pines at the summit, it was to find an exhibit about how this was the last pass the pioneers on the Oregon Trail had to surmount. It was about twenty degrees cooler than the 90s down in the valley and the view went on pretty much forever. I also saw my first wildflowers of the trip, gaillardia and cow parsnips.
My first planned stop of the trip was near the town of Baker City, Oregon, almost all the way to Idaho a couple of hours further on. A lady on my online quilting list had mentioned stopping at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, and, history buff that I am it sounded interesting.
The center is five miles off the interstate, back in the high desert of far northeastern Oregon, and way up on a hilltop overlooking the valley and the Blue Mountains and, not incidentally, the still-visible wagon tracks from the 1840s, which were quite amazing. The building itself looked new, and the exhibits, says the freelance curator, were top-notch.
I know my western history fairly well, but I still learned things I didn’t know about the Oregon Trail. And I ran across an old friend, so to speak, when I saw a panel on Ezra Meeker, whose mansion is in Puyallup, where I did my internship. Ezra came out to Washington on the Oregon Trail in 1851, and spearheaded the campaign to save and preserve the trail back in 1906-08 by retracing his steps along it all the way to the other Washington, where he met with President Theodore Roosevelt about it.
It was getting on in the afternoon by the time I pried myself away from the center, and I only drove one more hour, to Ontario, Oregon, on the Idaho border, crossing over into the Mountain Time Zone in the process.
And that was my first day, two weeks ago today!