Friday, September 4, 2009

SIDE TRIPS part fifteen—Amber Grain

Washington State’s Highway 2 just out of Spokane goes almost straight in an east-west direction. But it goes Up and Down and Up and Down over random humps and hollows of dirt deposited like snow drifts over the last bazillion years.
This region north of the Snake River along the Washington-Idaho border is known as “The Palouse,” or “land of short thick grass.”

Native peoples fished the rivers and cultivated the soil for millennia. The Nez Perce people of the area developed a breed of horses with spotted coats that became known as Palouse horses. Gradually the name evolved into “Appaloosa.”

The Lewis and Clark Expedition explored the area nearly two centuries ago. They were followed by pioneers along the Oregon Trail. Before long the fertile hills and prairies became the wheat belt.

It was harvest time when I drove through. On one side of the highway big grain combines were at rest;

the crop gathered and hauled away leaving a buzz cut stubble field. On the other side of the road was a lady (using the term loosely here) with a camera trying to take pictures of the wheat.

Waiting for the sun to come out from behind this one little cloud.

Wait for it….wait for it…


Amber waves of grain.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

SIDE TRIPS part fourteen—Grand Coulee Dam

The Columbia River flows south out of British Columbia, Canada through the middle of Washington State. It picks up the Snake River along the way and becomes the border between Washington and Oregon as it flows to the Pacific.
About half way across Washington the flow of water is blocked by a wall of concrete
called Grand Coulee Dam. The reservoir created by the dam goes all the way back to Canada.

I expected to see a huge tumble of water flowing over the spillway.

But most of the water was probably being diverted to irrigation and the rest was turning the colossal turbines
that produce electricity for a great deal of the Northwestern United States.

Perched on a cliff above the massive cement barrier is a visitors’ center with large windows providing a panorama view of the dam. I didn’t have time to take the guided tour, but I watched most of the movie shown in the theater on the second floor and wandered through the exhibits on the first floor.
“Grand Coulee Dam, hailed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" when it was completed in 1941, is as confounding to the human eye as an elephant might be to an ant. It girdles the Columbia River with 12 million cubic yards of concrete, stacked one mile wide and as tall as a 46-story building, backing up a 150-mile long reservoir, spinning out more kilowatts than any other dam in the United States. “

“The biggest thing that man has ever done” provided jobs during The Great Depression and harnessed the power of the river to produce electricity. The irrigation water turned a desolate desert into the breadbasket of the Pacific Northwest. (The Three Gorges Dam being built across the Yangtze in China will be a much greater structure).
I was looking for a bathroom or I would have missed the display tucked under the stairway.

A gentleman with long grey hair who was most certainly a Native American sat at a table ready to tell anyone who would stop to listen how Grand Coulee Dam completely blocked the migration of salmon on the upper Columbia. The reservoir destroyed 1,400 miles of salmon spawning grounds, inundated ancient fishing villages, fishing spots and ancient burial grounds.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

SIDE TRIPS part thirteen—Purple Mountains

Highly recommended by several people I met was the drive up the North Cascades Highway or Washington State Highway 20.
They weren’t kidding about the UP. It goes through (quoting here from GORP Website), “the largest and most rugged alpine wilderness in the contiguous United States, with scores of 8,000-foot peaks, upwards of 400 glaciers, virgin Douglas fir and Western red cedar forests, and wildlife that includes gray wolves and grizzlies.” The highway goes through elevations so high that it is only open from May to November. This would certainly be the scenic route home. The tragedy was that I had so far to go and so little time. All I could do was gawk through the window as I traveled up the steep valley carved by the Skagit River. The forest was so dense that I couldn’t see the massive peaks, such as Mount Baker 10,781 feet (3,286 m). Names given by explorers to other mountains in the area: Mt Terror, Mt Challenger, Mt Fury, Mt Despair, Mt Torment. (No Mount Doom?) Not a warm fuzzy place for those early guys.
Just to give you an idea of the size of the trees
I pulled over when I finally got cell service at, what I think was, Rockport State Park. The sign said it was, “ …an ecosystem that has never been disrupted, creating a rare, natural forest with a canopy so dense that minimal sunlight penetrates to the ground.”
To say the trees were HUGE would be an understatement. These were Douglas Fir that had probably been growing in this alpine rain forest since the whole place was created. My over-active imagination was looking for mome raths and Jubjub birds and a flaming eyed Jabberwock to come “whiffling through the tulgey wood.” I was far from home, but I didn’t think I had gone through the looking glass. I’ll blame it on lack of sleep at that spooky hotel. This was like the giant redwoods with an extra helping of moss. Every millimeter of everything was alive with something.
The highway cuts through Cascade National Park. Everywhere waterfalls tumbled down from the mountains.

This is what gave the Cascades their name.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

SIDE TRIPS part twelve—The Orcas Hotel

Construction for the Orcas Hotel began in 1900. It has since been restored to reflect that Victorian Heritage. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

They gave me the key to room two.

It had open windows with a view over the Ferry Dock and was furnished with antiques.

The rocking chair was designed for someone just my size. I wondered if I could make it fit in my car. A handmade quilt covered the brass bed and a photograph of a young woman in shades of gray hung on the wall. The shared bathroom and two showers—clean and plenty of hot water-- were down the hall. Octavia’s Bistro downstairs served seafood and steak. I recommend the shrimp marinara with Portobello mushrooms. I learned Octavia was the old innkeeper. She ran the place for about 40 years. Her friendly ghost is said to haunt the place, walking about at night.

I wondered about the identity of the lady in the photograph in my room.

I spent some of the evening working on a watercolor sketch of the ferry landing and Shaw Island across the channel. The big boats came and went, but they looked enough alike to serve as a model for my painting. The bed was comfortable and I was soon asleep. Alas, in the night I had to make a trip to the loo. Clutching my room key in my hand; I made the LONG march down the hall, barefoot and wearing my big tee shirt and pajama bottoms. I tried not to think of Octavia. The wallpaper pattern on the walls reminded me of something. At the end of the corridor a single light was SHINING. I turned the corner half expecting to see two little girls.

“Come play with us.”

“Come play with us…foreveerrrrr.” But there was only a very clean bathroom with polished white fixtures. Back in my room I lay awake in the big bed. The night breeze lifted the lace curtains and ruffled the tassels on the lamp.

It seemed I was just drifting off to sleep when I heard a voice that sounded metallic and far away. “All drivers bound for Anacortes, please line up in lanes one through five. One through five please.” (Photos of The Twins borrowed from Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King’s movie, The Shining)