Sunday, June 17, 1973
near Chehalis, Washington
39 years ago we were camped a little over sixty miles from where I live today, having driven 450 miles to get there. It was cool and rainy, which makes me smile given that the weather, locally nicknamed June gloom or Junuary, was obviously being typical for that time of year. Summer in western Washington, as the cliché goes, starts on the fifth of July.
We drove over Siskiyou Pass that day, which is a steep, winding climb and descent even on the Interstate, and often closed by snow in the wintertime. We crossed the Oregon border and came down into the Rogue Valley, and drove past Ashland, home of one of the U.S.’s largest Shakespeare festivals, Medford, and Grants Pass, where my parents later lived for a few years after my dad retired before they, inexplicably from my point of view, moved back to Texas for the last time. We crossed over the mountains between the Rogue and Willamette valleys, and traversed the entire length of the Willamette Valley. That’s pronounced Wil-LAM-it, dammit, as the saying goes, as opposed to WILL-a-met, which is how the narrator of the audio version of William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways butchered it. I wondered after that how many other place names he mispronounced that I simply wasn’t familiar enough with to recognize.
But I digress. We drove past Eugene, where I later lived for several years, and down the valley past hop fields and orchards, with the low Coast Range on one side and the Cascade Mountains on the other. We crossed the Columbia River at Portland, where we had a peekaboo view of Mt. Hood. The Columbia Gorge, just east of Portland, was where we were in the middle of a camping trip on July 20, 1969, which is why I didn’t see the live footage of Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon. I heard the landing on the car radio.
It rained on us practically all the way through Oregon and we had a fine view of a rainbow, according to my diary. My diary also says that we crossed a number of rivers on the highway, some of them multiple times.
I can still remember what the Chehalis campground looked like that evening with the Douglas firs dripping and the salal all shiny. It was a quiet campground, I remember that, too. Both the Delano and Dunsmuir campgrounds were too close to railroad tracks, but not the one near Chehalis.
Oh, and one other thing. I don’t know if the year 1973 brings the words “gas crisis” to anyone’s mind, but one thing that slowed us down slightly on this trip was our inability to buy more than 10 gallons of gasoline at any one stop, due to rationing. Considering that the Chrysler only got about 10 mpg while it was towing the trailer, this was a serious inconvenience. It did not stop my petroleum engineer father from making this trip he’d planned for years, however, even though I do remember how horrible my parents thought it was that we had to pay almost 60 cents a gallon.