Two weeks ago, Day 9

My last day on the road, alas.  I got up and out early, and drove north from Seaside to Astoria, where I had an appointment with the curator (the librarian was on vacation) of the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

But that wasn’t until later in the morning, and in the meantime I wanted to visit the Astoria Column.  I’d seen it in the distance any number of times on trips through Astoria, perched up there on its hilltop, but I hadn’t ever actually gone up there.  So Kestrel (my car) and I crept up the steep, narrow streets — Astoria is much smaller than San Francisco in every aspect but its hilliness — to the top of the highest – peak may be an overstatement, but you can certainly see forever from up there.

It was eight in the morning, clear as a bell, and the shadows were dramatic.  I’d had it in my mind that I was going to climb to the top of the tower, but I should have known better.  I always forget about my fear of manmade heights.  I don’t mind natural heights.  I’ve stood at Glacier Point in Yosemite, 3200 feet above Yosemite Valley, a direct drop below, without a hint of trepidation.  But when I visited Chicago I took one look at the then-Sears Tower and said, no way.  Absolutely no way.

Then there’s the whole claustrophobia thing, which I do not forget about.  I am very uncomfortable inside a plane if I’m not in a window seat, because I need to be able to see out, for instance, and I really do prefer my elevators to be glass, although I can manage regular ones if I have to.  But caves don’t bother me, so I guess it’s the manmade thing again.  Odd.  At any rate, the inside diameter of the Astoria Column is about eight feet across.  No windows. 164 steps to the top.  I took about ten steps up and could just feel it closing in about me.

So I came back down and decided I would a) be satisfied with the views from the hilltop, which really were spectacular, and b) take my pictures of the column from the outside, which was much more interesting, anyway, with its mural about exploration.

And here’s the photographic evidence.

The Astoria Column, backlit.

The Astoria Column, backlit.

Towards the northwest from the base of the column.  That's the Columbia River, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I would cross later that day.

Towards the northwest from the base of the column. That’s the Columbia River, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I would cross later that day.

A view of the column and its spiraling mural.

A view of the column and its spiraling mural.

To the southwest from the base of the column -- those clouds mark the coastline.

To the southwest from the base of the column — those clouds mark the coastline.

A close-up of the very top of the column.

A close-up of the very top of the column.

By the time I was done at the column, it was almost time for my appointment.  The Columbia River Maritime Museum is on the waterfront, appropriately enough.  It’s a fabulous museum, and I highly recommend it to anyone with even the faintest interest in western or maritime history or boats or lifesaving, or…  But today I was there to do research, so I headed back to the library, where I met with the curator.

He was a very nice man, and it was a very nice library, but the library was not his area of expertise.  He was persistent, though, and finally produced the main item I was there to see, a thesis written by a student of American Studies at, of all places, the University of Utah, on lighthouses and their keepers on the Oregon coast.  She’d done a lot of field work on the coast, and research, and interviews, and one of the three lighthouses she focused on just happened to be Heceta Head.  Gold mine.  Even though the museum’s copy turned out to be missing its bibliography.

The curator also found me a number of other interesting items, and I had a very productive morning.

But after a beer-battered scallops and chips lunch at the Wet Dog Café, a place I’d eaten at before and loved (and which, unlike Mo’s, more than lived up to my memories of it), it was time to head home.

It was only a three and a half hour drive.  But it started with being stopped near the very top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge by bridge repairs.  I did mention my fear of manmade heights, right?  Well, I managed to distract myself during the wait by taking photos from the car.  I bet I’ll never get any from this vantage point ever again.

Stuck at the top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Stuck at the top of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

The Columbia River and Washington shore from the top of the bridge.

The Columbia River and Washington shore from the top of the bridge.

Down, down, down we go, to Washington.

Down, down, down we go, to Washington.

The very oddly-named rest area near the Washington end of the bridge.  I suspect William Clark is the culprit, but there wasn't anything there to explain it.

The very oddly-named rest area near the Washington end of the bridge. I suspect William Clark is the original culprit, but there wasn’t anything there to explain the origin of the name.

When I arrived home, it was to find that the condo hadn’t burned down and that the cats were just fine, and that was the end of this year’s “long” trip.  While I had a good, and productive, time, here’s hoping next year’s holds more new territory and lasts longer.  Sigh.

Categories: cats, exploring, food, Ghost Light, highways, history, museums, outdoors, parks, research, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, Day 7

Some good things, and one disappointment.

I got a kind of late start this morning two weeks ago, and I woke up to overcast skies and a fair amount of wind.  In my experience, the Oregon coast is a very windy place, and I’d just been lucky the day before.

I stopped in Waldport at a visitor center commemorating the bridge over the Alsea River, which was interesting, especially since the bridge they were commemorating (built in the 1930s) had been replaced by a more modern one just a few years ago.

Then I stopped at an ocean view pullout and wrote for a while since I hadn’t the night before, before driving on to Newport, where I arrived about lunchtime, by design.  I’d been looking forward to going to Mo’s, which is sort of an institution on the Oregon coast, famous for, among other things, its clam chowder.  I’d eaten there before and enjoyed it, but not this time.  As I wrote in my journal, it was “an absolutely wretched lunch.  A crab melt, which was watery and flavorless, and, oh, the bread was burned, and a small cup of chowder, which tasted pretty much like Campbells out of a can.  I don’t know what’s happened to Mo’s, but I won’t ever be going there again.”

I then went to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse (Yaquina is pronounced ya quinn’ a). I’d been there before, but I thought it might be interesting again, and it was.  The rooms are all decorated in period, and the lighthouse itself is in a state park.  I wish Heceta Head’s lighthouse and keepers’ quarters were the same building, because I suspect it would facilitate the plot, but I’ll manage.  Also, Yaquina Bay Light, which was only actually lit for three years (see the website for that story) is supposed to have a ghost, too.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

The view from the front stoop of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.  You can just see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse from here.

The view from the front stoop of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. You can just see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse from here.

The kitchen in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

The kitchen in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

A closeup of a baby Fresnel lens.  Fresnel lenses, which concentrate the output of a small light into one direction, making it look much larger, are some of the most beautiful practical things in existence.

A closeup of a baby Fresnel lens. Fresnel lenses, which concentrate the output of a small light into one direction, making it look much larger and brighter, are some of the most beautiful practical things in existence.

A bedroom in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

A bedroom in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

The Hwy 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.

The Hwy 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.

After that I drove the short distance up the coast to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.  I thought I was going to get blown away, but other than that it was a terrific stop.  They have a very nice visitor center with lots of interesting historical exhibits and a short movie about the lighthouse, and then there’s the lighthouse itself, which is the tallest one in Oregon (not in the northwest, that would be the Gray’s Harbor Light, which is in Westport, one of my favorite day trips from home).  Once I was done in the visitor center, I drove on up to the headland, parked my car, and hung onto my hat (literally — my hair is thin on top of my head, and I always wear a hat outdoors to keep my scalp from getting sunburned).  The views were spectacular again, but the tidepools were terrific.  They were seven stories worth of stairs to reach from the lighthouse parking lot, but the basalt beach cobbles and the sea stars and crabs and sea anemones and other interesting critters were well worth the climb back up.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Birds covering a sea stack at Yaquina Head.

Birds covering a sea stack at Yaquina Head.

Gray basalt cobblestones on the beach below Yaquina Head.  Beautiful, but a bear to walk on.

Gray basalt cobblestones on the beach below Yaquina Head. Beautiful, but a bear to walk on.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse from the tidepools below.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse from the tidepools below.

A sea star.

A sea star.

The stairs leading down from Yaquina Head to the tidepools.  The equivalent of seven stories, in wind almost strong enough to lift you off your feet.

The stairs leading down from Yaquina Head to the tidepools. The equivalent of seven stories, in wind almost strong enough to lift you off your feet.

A really big, really gorgeous first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens at the top of Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

A really big, really gorgeous first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens at the top of Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Then I headed north to Lincoln City, where I visited the North Lincoln County Historical Museum.  They’ve done a very good job there, telling the story of that part of the Oregon coast.  Lincoln City is basically five small beach tourist towns that banded together to provide basic services to their citizens.   Lincoln City today is basically miles and miles of motels and strip malls and beach houses, but the history of the place — I was especially enchanted with the exhibit that told about the gathering of redheaded people that happened there every year, apparently for decades — was much more than that.

And I found a good motel in Lincoln City, too.

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, food, Ghost Light, highways, hiking, history, museums, outdoors, parks, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two weeks ago today, Day 2

I love research.  Yes, I’m a history geek as well as a writer, and that’s just the way it is.  First thing in the morning I caught a bus to downtown Portland and walked the couple of blocks from the bus stop to the Oregon Historical Society Museum.  Fortunately, the weather had cleared up nicely, and was even warming a bit.

 Their library didn’t open until the afternoon, but the museum opened in the morning, and since I’d never been there before I wanted to see the exhibits. The early history exhibits were well done, but the part I liked the best was the recent history room, highlighting Oregon’s somewhat schizoid politics.  I lived in Eugene, Oregon, for several years during the mid-80s, and had been rather struck by them then — Eugene at the time was a cross between a college town, a logging and other resource-heavy economy, and the hippie equivalent of the elephants’ graveyard.  The juxtaposition was, fascinating, I think, is the term I want to use.  I’d forgotten a lot of that bemusement, and the museum brought it back to me.

 After the exhibits and before the library, I walked up the park blocks, a lovely thing to find in the middle of a city, to Pioneer Courthouse Square, in search of some of Portland’s quasi-legendary food carts.  It was a good place to look for them.  My choices included burritos, cheese steaks and several others.  I chose a cheese steak, which was as good as the ones I’d had in Philadelphia, their hometown, if a sandwich can be said to have a hometown, years ago.

 But the fun part was the quiz the proprietor gave me, based on a page-a-day calendar about famous mustaches, of all things.  The first question described Cesar Romero as the Joker in the old Batman series, and the second Raul Julia in the movie version of The Addams Family.  I got them both right, which won me a very surprised proprietor and a free soda. 

 After enjoying my cheese steak, and my soda, and watching floral decorations being installed on the square for the upcoming Rose Festival, I ambled back to the museum by way of the Multnomah County Library‘s main branch, where I wandered into the children’s room, named after Beverly Cleary, who is a Portland icon, and upstairs to the history section, where I wrote down the titles of some books that looked useful for research that I will interlibrary loan later.  I was very surprised that they didn’t have a local history room.  The Multnomah County Library is, I suspect, the biggest Carnegie library I’ve ever been in (it certainly fits the style, architecturally), but no local history room? 

And then there was the library at the Ohio Historical Society Museum.  Maybe that’s why the public library doesn’t have a local history room?  What I do know is that the librarian pulled a number of goodies out of her closed stacks, including a forest service document, book, really, of all things, discussing the early history and architecture of Heceta Head Lighthouse and its keepers’ quarters, which is going to be the setting of my new book.  So that made my day.

 After several hours in that library, I decided to check out Portland’s streetcar and see where it went, since I had the all-day pass, which includes the streetcar and light rail as well as the bus.  The streetcar went to northwest Portland and the trendy shopping district on NW 23rd.  I hadn’t been there in years, and it was only a couple of blocks from the end of the line to the New Renaissance Bookshop, another favorite bookstore.  So I strolled there and browsed for a bit, but it was getting late and I was tired, so I wound my way back to the hostel via streetcar and bus, and collapsed in a heap on my second evening on the road.

Categories: books, exploring, food, history, museums, parks, research, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Thanksgiving

In spite of  the L-tryptophan-induced drowsiness from too much turkey (and too much pie, and way too much of my friend L’s magnificent mashed potatoes), here I am to make a list of what I am thankful for.  This also gives me a great excuse if I forget anything.

So, out of order, although there probably is a particular order I should be putting them in:

I’m thankful that any economic/financial issues I may have are decidedly first-world ones.  I have a lovely roof over my head, more than adequate nutrition and clothing, and a great many of my wants as well as my needs are mine to use and enjoy.

I’m thankful for the traveling I’ve been able to do.

I’m thankful for the fledgling business that is my day job.  I’m thankful that I find it interesting and challenging, and to be able to find people willing to pay me to do it.  There are times I wish it could be doing better, but if there are reasons it isn’t, well, it’s probably because I don’t devote myself to it singlemindedly 24/7/365.  And I don’t want to.  So it’s my choice, and I’m satisfied with it.

I’m thankful for my friends.  I have some seriously wonderful friends, and you know who you are.

I’m thankful my 88-year-old mother is still going strong and maintaining her independence.

I’m thankful for the new cats in my life.  I never thought I would appreciate two healthy normal untraumatized kittens so much as I have since the fiasco last year.  The boys eat what I put in front of them, they drink enough water, they use the litterbox religiously, they’re beautiful, playful, and affectionate, and I really couldn’t ask for more.

And I am thankful for being able to write, and for those who have read and enjoyed my books.  I hope to keep writing for as long as I can, and I hope people keep enjoying what I write for as long as I can write it and beyond.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 33

Kluane Lake, Yukon Territory

Wednesday, July 18, 1973

The morning after our last night in mainland Alaska (but not in Alaska altogether) began with sourdough pancakes.  This must have been the fanciest campground we stayed in on this trip, because it had a breakfast room as part of the facilities, which specialized in sourdough pancakes.

Sourdough, as the term is used in Alaska, has two meanings.  One of them is the stuff used in place of packaged yeast to make baked goods of all kinds rise.  The most common baked goods made with sourdough in Alaska and the Yukon Territory are pancakes, or flapjacks, or hotcakes, or whatever you call them in your part of the world.  They were a staple food for miners in the area’s many gold rushes, from Juneau to the Klondike to Nome to Fairbanks.

The other meaning of the term is someone who has lived in the North through at least one winter.  As opposed to the term cheechako, which is an Indian term, and used to mean roughly “a newcomer.”  Getting called a sourdough is a term of approbation in the North.

And now’s probably a good time to talk about moosequitos, too.  We saw a lot of moosequitos while we were in Alaska.  Mostly in gift shops.  Apparently my google-image-fu is failing me, but no, a moosequito is not just a misspelled mosquito.  A moosequito is a piece of moose dung, dried and varnished, then gussied up with pipe cleaners and googly eyes to look like a mosquito.  They’re not just a gag gift, though.  They’re a nod to the fact that Alaska and the Yukon have enormous mosquitoes.  Ubiquitous, too, yes, but the biggest ones I’d ever seen.  And they apparently thought of bug repellent as some sort of interesting sauce.  If there’s one thing I really, honestly did not like about our trip to Alaska, it was the mosquitoes.

After our breakfast, which I for one was pretty impressed with, we drove on into Tok and turned east on the Alaska Hi-way again, for the first time since Fairbanks way back on Day 12.  We crossed the border back into Yukon Territory, and the skies opened up on us and turned the gravel road into a sea of mud, and coated our trailer clear up to the windows.

We stopped that afternoon at the Kluane Historical Society Museum, which either no longer exists or doesn’t have a website.  I wasn’t very impressed with it, which is the first time I said anything like that about a museum on this trip.

Then we stopped for the night at Kluane Lake Campground, the same campground we’d stayed in on Day 10, where I met a boy fishing along the shore.  “We had a couple of arguments.”  I wonder what about?

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Categories: Alaska trip, animals, exploring, food, museums, outdoors, travel, True Gold | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 29

north of Valdez, Alaska

Saturday, July 14, 1973

 The day started with more grocery shopping.  Since my aunt took my mother to do it, I suspect they went to the base commissary, which makes sense as it would have been more economical.  Prices are high in Alaska, or at least they were back then.

 After they got back we left and headed east on the Tok Cutoff (Glenn Highway) from Anchorage, then turned south on the Richardson Highway towards Valdez.  It was apparently a long day’s drive compounded by the delay caused by the grocery shopping, because we didn’t get to where we stopped for the night until after six pm, which was late for us.

We stopped at a campground called Little Tonsina 65 miles north of Valdez.  Nowadays (and I’m sure back then) it was a state recreation site.  What my diary says of it is that it had a pump instead of a spigot for water, and that there was a bunch of old equipment lying around, including a wagon, that was very nice to climb on.

 This is one of the campgrounds I have a vivid mental image of, because it was right by a very gravelly, glacier-fed river, and because we ate the last of the frozen salmon that night.

Little Tonsina River

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Categories: Alaska trip, exploring, food, outdoors, parks, travel, True Gold | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 26

Homer Spit Campground, Homer, Alaska

Tuesday, July 10, 1973

 Fish!  We have fish! 

The day started, however, with another trip up Skyline Drive, this time, I wrote in my diary, all the way to the end.  I don’t know what kept us from doing that the first time, but something must have.  We did a lot of that on this trip — in Fairbanks, we drove partway down to Mt. McKinley and back before going the whole way a couple of days later, and we drove partway out to Circle City and back, too.  And there’s more of that later on in the trip, too.  But we went back up Skyline Drive.  Maybe the weather was better or something.

After lunch we came back and fished for hours.  From the beach, from the dock, from the beach again.  I was a little ways down the beach from my parents by late in the afternoon, when my mother yelled, “Mary, Daddy caught a fish!” (I went by my first name back then — my mother is the only person on the planet who still calls me Mary), which was very exciting, but soon after that, “something hit my line like an express train” to quote my diary.  “I yanked it out of the water, screaming, and this little boy came over and took out the hook.”  Actually, he hit it over the head with a rock first to kill it.  My mother still talks about how he said “this won’t hurt it” and then went smash with the rock.

Anyway, the two fish, Daddy’s and mine, were both pink salmon  (since most salmon are pink, I don’t know if they were really officially the variety called pink salmon or if they were just salmon which happened to be pink).  Daddy’s weighed four and a quarter pounds and was male, and mine weighed two and three quarters pounds and was female.  Both were 21 inches long.

Pink salmon


I remember ‘helping’ my father clean and fillet them.  And I do remember eating them.  I still have a fondness for salmon at least partly because of that day.

And that was the day we caught fish!

True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

Categories: Alaska trip, animals, exploring, food, outdoors, travel, True Gold, weather | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 11

Tok, Alaska, milepost 1314

Monday, June 25, 1973

 And we arrive in Alaska!  Finally!  Although when you think about it, from south of Los Angeles to mainland (as opposed to panhandle) Alaska in ten and a half days isn’t so bad.  Slightly more than 3200 miles, so a little over 300 miles a day. 

Kluane Lake

 Kluane Lake is a pretty good-sized lake, and it took us a while to get to the end of it.  We ate lunch that day at a place called Snag Junction, which holds the record for the coldest temperature in North America, -81dF (-63dC), back in 1947.  It was not anywhere near that cold the day we were there, thank goodness, although it was chilly and rainy. 

 Apparently the rain had something to do with the overturned semi we passed a few miles past Snag Junction.  My diary says that no one was hurt, but I don’t know how we knew that.  I suspect my father stopped to find out.  It would have been typical of him.  Back in the days before cell phones, or cell phone towers for that matter (I wonder how much coverage there is even now along the highway), I wonder if the Yukon highway patrol was there, or if any help was on the way, and if so, how it had been summoned to such a remote place.  My diary is not very forthcoming on the subject.

 Snag Junction is only a few miles from the Alaska border, and we went through customs for the second time on the trip.  It was sprinkling rain at the time, and apparently the windshield wipers were not working so well.  We also stopped to take photos of the “Welcome to Alaska” sign.

 My diary is odd in the sense that it mentions things I don’t remember, and doesn’t mention things I do remember.  One thing I do remember vividly that should have shown up in my diary by now is the almost endless grove of aspens we drove through at one point in the Yukon. Miles and miles of shivery pale green leaves and papery white trunks.  Another was the rock that bounced up and hit the undercarriage of the car not long before we reached Alaska.  Almost immediately after that, the fuel indicator started going south in a big way, and I remember my dad getting out in the rain and crawling on his back under the car to check to make sure the tank hadn’t been punctured, even though there was no trail of gas behind us.  As it turned out, the tank was fine, and the indicator was, as my current car’s gas gauge also does, showing less gas while going uphill.

 One thing I was very conscious of and noted in my diary every day was the cost of things.  The cost of each night’s campground, for instance, is meticulously noted, and ranged from nothing at all to the princely sum of $6.00, although most campsites that cost anything ran around $3.00 with full hookups.  Nowadays when I camp, I count myself lucky to get away paying less than $10 for just a space to pitch a tent, although the occasional free campground still exists.  And I did note other costs occasionally.  I mention this because apparently we’d been planning on grocery shopping in Tok, and the prices were so steep that all we bought was a dozen eggs.

 I don’t talk about the scenery very much at all in my diary.  I expect that’s because my father and I both took reams of photos, and I assumed I’d always have those.  I wish I had them now.

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

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Once upon a time on a trip to Alaska, day 6

 near Fort St. John, British Columbia

Wednesday, June 20, 1973

 And, finally, on to the Alaska Highway (or, as I spelled it, Hiway — I think that was a deliberate misspelling, probably from seeing it on signs along the way). 

 The first interesting thing we saw, however, happened not long after we left Whisker’s Point early in the morning, and that was a bobcat dashing across the road, which was very exciting.

 We stopped for lunch in Dawson Creek, and to take pictures of the “the Alaska Hiway begins here” sign.  As I recall, there was also one of those many-pointed signposts with each arrow labeled something like “New York City, 2783 miles” or “Beijing, China, 9705 miles.”  By the way, I just used Google maps to get that last number, and the directions include the words “Jet Ski across the Pacific Ocean.”  Also, “Kayak across the Pacific Ocean.”  The first to Hawaii and the second on to North America.  I guess Google wants people to use a variety of modes of transportation.

 But I digress.  Even in 1973, the first few miles of the Alaska Highway were paved.  We stopped in the town of Fort St. John for groceries.  We stopped for groceries (which I apparently recorded faithfully) frequently, I suspect because the refrigerator in the trailer was pretty tiny.  At least we didn’t do what we did on another trip a couple of years later and forget to latch the fridge shut.  This destroyed a jar of pickles and a jar of strawberry jam when the door swung open around a curve and they fell out.  That combination is one of the nastiest to clean up on record.  Just the smell was bad, and the stickiness was even worse.

 We camped just north of Fort St. John at a campground called Hillcrest, and discovered another unusual aspect of traveling the Alaska Highway back then.  We met up for the first time with several other groups of campers who we would see night after night at the same campgrounds as we all traveled about the same distance every day.  A couple of the families had kids of varying ages, which I happily noted in my diary.  It gave me people to hang out with in the evenings.

 We hadn’t run out of pavement yet…

 True Gold, a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush, is now available through Amazon and Smashwords

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Three weeks ago, Days 17 and 18

 And home again, home again, AKA bombing home on the Interstate.

It takes about a day and a half for me to get home from Yellowstone.  A very long day and a half, but still.  I left my cabin at Old Faithful early in the morning, feeling wistful as I always do, and comforting myself with the thought that I will be back.  At the rate things are going, I’m not sure when my next visit will be, but return visits will remain inevitable until I become too decrepit to travel.  A long time in the future, I hope.

I did not make any more stops in the park, as I hoped to get as far as Spokane that day, which is less than ten miles shy of 500 miles.  I did make two stops in West Yellowstone, one for just enough gas to get me to the Interstate, where it’s about thirty cents a gallon cheaper than in West, and the other at the hostel to pick up the wristwatch I had inadvertently left there two days before.  Fortunately, the cleaning staff had found it and set it aside for me.  And, I discovered later, sent me an email to let me know they had it.

After that, well, Kestrel and I could probably drive this route in our sleep.  North out of West to Hwy. 287, which runs along Hebgen Lake to Earthquake Lake, the site of the landslide caused by the earthquake I’ve been nattering on about for the last two weeks.  Up and over the natural dam, and downstream along the Madison River, past the Gallatin Mountains and through the little town of Ennis, which makes a great deal of its living from the fly fishermen who flock to the Madison every year. 

And on north.  It takes about three hours to get from Old Faithful to I-90, headed westbound.  From Old Faithful to Livingston is only about two hours, give or take an animal jam in the park, but that puts you an hour and half east from where 287 eventually debouches, so it’s not a time-saver that way.

Once past Ennis, the land opens up and the mountains draw back, but after I landed back on I-90 it wasn’t all that far to my last crossing of the Continental Divide on this trip, at Homestake Pass, then Butte, where my great long lasso of a trip reached its knot and I was back on highway I’d already traveled this trip.  I stopped in Butte for lunch and gas, then let Kestrel really start eating up the miles. 

It was about the middle of the afternoon, somewhere along about Missoula, I think, that I started thinking, why don’t I just keep going?  Theoretically, if I drove straight through (something I have never done in all my Yellowstone trips), I could make it home before midnight. 

I debated the idea for miles.  All the way through the last 100 miles of Montana and the 60 or so miles across Idaho as far as Coeur d’Alene, where, in spite of the fact that I still had over a quarter of a tank of gas, I stopped to get more because I knew the price would jump forty cents a gallon as soon as I crossed the state line into Washington.  However, the moment I climbed out of the car, I knew I wasn’t going to do it.  One of the odd things about spending the entire day making miles is that I tend to not realize how tired I am until I actually stop.  So I resigned myself to that one last night on the road.

I crashed and burned in a little mom and pop motel out by Spokane International Airport, and got up and out at the crack of dawn the next morning.  I was pretty much sick of breakfast bars by that point, so I decided I would see what the little town of Ritzville, which is the next wide spot in the road after Spokane, had in the way of a diner.  My mouth was set for pancakes.  I did find some, or, rather one enormous one after the waitress told me two would be overload, bless her, but only after giving myself the grand tour of the entire town.  It was worth it, though. 

Back on the highway, I stopped at a rest area to clean up, then took a glance to the west and did a doubletake.  Was that Mt. Rainier?  Surely not, I was still too far east.  I fetched my binoculars and stared again.  Lo and behold.  Home.

You see, I have this theory.  My theory is that there are place-oriented people and there are people-oriented people (kind of like the way there are introverts and extroverts). I am a very strongly place-oriented person, which is a good thing because a) I’m really bad at marriage, having tried twice and failed both times, and b) my blood relations are scattered all to hell and gone in places I wouldn’t live in on a bet.  I was born in New Orleans and grew up in LA, Denver, and San Franscisco (my father was an engineer, which is the next thing to being military for getting transferred regularly), so it’s not like I have a hometown, either.

But home is the Pacific Northwest, and in particular, my corner of western Washington, where I’ve lived for the last almost twenty years. I moved to Oregon in my mid-twenties and loved it, but then I made the mistake of falling in love with a Midwesterner who hoodwinked me into moving to Ohio.  He claimed that we’d only be there long enough for him to finish grad school before we moved back to Oregon. Then he got within two hours’ drive of his seven brothers and sisters and I never did pry him loose.

I finally managed to finish grad school myself, leave him, and find a job in Tacoma, Washington. I remember driving over Snoqualmie Pass in tears because, dammit, I was home. Never mind that I’d never lived here before. It was just like the John Denver song, only a different part of the country. 

Anyway, I still had about two hundred miles to go, but I was home.  Much as I love traveling, and as you can see I really truly do, I love coming home almost as much.  Especially since this is where I get to come home to.

I hope you enjoyed my travelogue, and that you will stick around for more adventures. For one thing, I am in the process of adopting a pair of kittens, which ought to be good entertainment value.  And there are always new places to discover, even in the old familiar stomping grounds.  And beyond.


There. On the horizon just to the left of the yellow sign, that’s not a cloud, that’s Mt. Rainier.

If you like my travel writing, you might enjoy my fiction set in Yellowstone:

Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures

Categories: cats, exploring, food, national parks, outdoors, travel, Yellowstone | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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