I’m finally in the Pacific Northwest of the United States after several months of talking about it. Actually, I’ve been out here for awhile and auto-posting articles to the Twelve Mile Circle that I wrote in advance. Could you tell I wasn’t writing in real-time? The next few articles will relate to my travels through various portions of the states of Washington and Oregon. I know some members of the 12MC audience prefer geo-oddities rather the travelogues and that’s perfectly fine, so if that’s the case then please feel free to come back in about a week with no hard feelings.
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This was the approximate route I drove during Phase I for those of you who’d like to follow along at home.
We landed at Sea-Tac airport near Seattle and quickly headed inland. I’ve explored the Pacific coastline and the Olympic Peninsula a couple of times before so I wanted to see something a little different this time. Plus I wanted to add some counties to my list. One should never lose sight of that as a motivator for my travels. It’s a way to force myself to break from a routine and discover new places.
Snoqualmie Falls was a natural stopping-point directly along Interstate 90 heading away from Seattle. The Snoqualmie River drops 268 ft (82 m) in pretty dramatic fashion. This was a drive-by opportunity and we didn’t stay for long, just long enough to take in the scenery for a few moments. My wife and I visited here in 1998 before we had kids and we wanted to show them something fascinating from our earlier trip.
The thermometer read 61° Fahrenheit (16° Celsius) at the falls. The boys complained about the cold.
Three hours later and nearly due southeast we arrived in the Tri-Cities area of Washington where the thermometer read 102°F. (39° C.). The boys changed their story and now said they preferred the cold. People from the east coast often roll their eyes when told, "it’s a dry heat" out west. Seriously though, give me triple-digits in scrubland over the same thing in the Mid-Atlantic’s humidor any day. A little shade, a light breeze, and it was all surprisingly present compared to the sweltering heatwave we’d just survived the previous week in the "other" Washington a continent away.
We wandered down to Kennewick’s Columbia Park which ran for many miles along the banks of the Columbia River. One portion is maintained by the Audubon Society as a Lower Columbia Basin Natural Area. This green oasis provided a sense of surprising remoteness even within a largely-populated area. It was near here that the remains of Kennewick Man were discovered in 1996. He was a Paleo-Indian who lived along the Columbia River probably 9,000 years ago, and his discovery is considered significant to the archeological record. It’s even more amazing considering that he was found in the middle of an urban area, and it happened by accident when his bones were spotted by spectators watching a hydroplane race.
There is abundant recent history in this area, too. It’s deep within Lewis and Clark country. Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery Expedition stopped at the confluence of the Columbia and Snake Rivers between October 16 and October 18, 1805, and would complete their renowned journey to the Pacific Ocean a month later.
Today the site is Sacajawea State Park in Pasco, Washington (Sacajawea being the Lemhi Shoshone woman who accompanied the expedition for much of the time as an interpreter and a guide). It’s right on the edge of the Tri-Cities area today.
Water is a precious resource out here. Miles of irrigated agricultural fields line river valleys in a narrow band of greenery. Stark lines separate green from brown where irrigation stops. Apples, grapes, onions, corn, wheat, and countless other crops grow in abundance. I enjoyed the hops trellises driving south out of Yakima in particular. Something like 70% of all hops grown in the United States come from the Yakima Valley. I also appreciated the sheer volume of wineries. It’s impossible to drive more than a couple of minutes without finding yet another opportunity for a quick wine tasting. They specialize in big, bold red wines, which also happen to by my favorite. These were happy days, indeed.
We visited the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Ice Harbor Lock and Dam visitor center on the Snake River, just upstream from the Tri-Cities. They don’t allow cameras inside the perimeter but the guard said it was fine to film all I liked from the parking lot. The slightly diagonal concrete structure on the left side of the video is a fish ladder. The visitor center has an underwater window where people can watch migrating fish swim upstream. It was an incredible spectacle. Shad were running at the time although we also spotted a few salmon.
Ice Harbor is used to generate hydroelectric power and creates Lake Sacajawea behind it.
Our final stop in Washington was Walla Walla, where we toured through Fort Walla Walla. This was a great little museum that featured local history of the surrounding region and included a row of pioneer buildings that have been rescued, rehabilitated and preserved for posterity. We also got a chance to meet longtime 12MC reader "Matthew" for lunch at a nearby brewpub. I was going to post a photo but apparently I was just about to blink as the picture was taken and I looked pretty goofy. Nonetheless it was great to finally meet Mathew in person after reading his comments on 12MC for the last three-or-so years.
Then it was on to Oregon…
Other articles in this travelogue: