This is part 1 of our trip thru Washington, Idaho and Montana. Pictures by Paul and Pat de Anguera. Click on any picture to see a larger version of it 8)
Remarkably, we left home at 7:45 AM, heading east. We were at Denny Creek near Snoqualmie Pass by 9. While the driver took a nap, I had a nice short hike along the shady creek. When I got back, she was still sleeping; so I crossed the bridge and hiked a ways up the Melakwa Lake trail. Soon Pat was out hiking too. From somewhere on the Denny Creek trail, she called me; “I’m hungry!” We had a fine breakfast at the Pancake House on Snoqualmie Pass.
While we were descending the east side of the pass, a dashboard light came on. It showed an engine icon and the word “CHECK;” and we could smell a hot burning odor. The car’s manual said this is the malfunction indicator light. It advised that there was no immediate danger, but that we should proceed to a Toyota dealer. We decided that the smell was from the brakes of nearby semi-trailer trucks that were slowing down due to road construction.
We drove thru a field of tall steel windmills, crossed the Columbia at Vantage and turned south. The desert country here is a two-hour drive from Seattle, but it’s completely different. It’s desiccated, spacious and mostly empty (though as Pat points out, tenacious desert flowers, animals, lichen, etc. thrive in these places). An irrigated state park looked like a little green oasis from the other side of the river. Yet, thanks to hydroelectric dams and cheap power, orchards and vineyards line the Columbia. Beyond them, all I saw was dry grass and sagebrush. Stony ridges jut up randomly. Trees are a rarity, and distances are hard to estimate.
Near Mattawa we stopped to visit Pat’s father John and his wife Debbie. Habitual Montanans, they’ve now moved to Washington to live on property inherited from Debbie’s mother. Debbie told us that when her mother bought the place it was just sand and sagebrush. John dowsed a good well site with two sticks. Now the comfortable cottage and large workshop are surrounded by green lawn, shade and fruit trees. They grow apples, pears, plums, apricots, cherries and uncommonly large walnuts.
John, now 83, has grown soft-spoken; and his hands are scarred by a lifetime of working with tools. Recently he’d fired a nail gun thru a finger while holding a 2×4 that he was nailing. The nail had hit some flaw in the wood and veered out at an angle, as sudden as a bullet. “Those things are dangerous,” he grumbled. John was in a storytelling mood, and I wished I’d brought a tape recorder.
When John was 10, he wanted to catch some beavers that had built a lodge in the pond on his dad’s farm. His dad was an inventor, and John had picked up some ideas from him. He made a bomb by putting carbide in a can with holes in it. Adding water to carbide makes acetylene gas in an explosive reaction.
When he threw it in the pond, the water mixed with the carbide. It worked much better than he’d hoped; there was a big explosion, and the water rose up from the pond. While he was picking up beavers and fish, a game warden who’d heard the explosion as he was driving by on the highway pulled into the farm.
“What happened here?” The warden asked his dad.
His dad turned to John; “Did you do something?”
“I didn’t do anything. It just blew up,” young John said.
The warden shook his head. “Ponds don’t just blow up.” John’s dad figured out what he’d done. The warden decided to let it go; “It’s your property.”
After supper we took a box up onto a hill dotted with cherry trees, and quickly filled it (and our
mouths) with ripe, delicious cherries. Down below, Debbie’s sister Sandy and her family (who live next-door) were getting a circle of ground ready for an above-ground pool. The men screened sand into a wheelbarrow and spread it over a circle they’d drawn on the ground with a big wooden compass. The women visited and kibitzed, while two Great Danes and a tiny nondescript dog worked the gathering for whatever they could get. The big dogs offered themselves to me, one on each side, for petting. When I did this, they leaned on me with considerable leverage, pinning me between them as a petting slave until I was rescued.
We drove on to Richland and checked into the Red Lion, feasting on cherries.
We took our 2003 Toyota Corolla to a Toyota dealer in nearby Kenniwick to find out about the malfunction indicator. It turned out that the catalytic converter was about played out, and possibly the O2 detector as well. Replacing both of them would cost almost as much as the car is worth. We could keep traveling; but next year, when we have to take it in for its biannual emissions test, there may be trouble. At least now the malfunction indicator is out.
We drove northwest to Palouse Falls past cultivated fields, grape arbors and long stretches of grass and sagebrush. As we neared the park, outcroppings of black basalt marred the gentle hills. The canyon of the falls appeared at the last moment, a deep stone basin into which a river poured. We followed some trails around it, but gusts out of the canyon flung clouds of sand up from the ground. I turned back and found a grassy lawn by the parking lot to stretch out on; Pat kept on until she saw the upper river.
We drove south and east. Our two-lane road wound between steep, round-topped hills. Green valleys lay between them, dotted with sheep and little farms. We passed thru two silent towns with empty storefronts and idle businesses. Near the Idaho border, things seemed to be going better. The bustling twin cities of Clarkston and Lewiston are separated only by a short bridge that coincides with the Washington-Idaho border.