June 6, 2007
Yakima, WA to Kelso, WA
Once again we had waffles, this time at Waffles Caffe in Yakima. I sheepishly ordered the Iron Woman Omelet, which contained bacon, cheese, and hash browns (yes, the hash browns were inside the omelet -- Waffles N' More in Lewiston had a similar item). I felt better when the waitress reassured me that plenty of men order that dish, too. I had a plain " world's best" Belgian waffle on the side, but my wife ordered the banana split waffle with blueberries, strawberries, apples, bananas, ice cream, and whipped cream. Wisely, she opted for the "half" order. She barely finished the huge pile of fruit toppings, much less the waffle underneath.
The drive from Yakima to Mount Rainier National Park on U.S. 12 was beautiful. The highway followed the Tieton River valley through Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. After White Pass, the road slipped into another valley and Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Somewhere along the way, we stopped at a scenic overlook that described how this rock formation known as the Palisades was formed by a lava flow. The verticality of this rock is reminiscent of Devils Tower in Wyoming, which also has volcanic origins.
I had planned a big day at Mount Rainier National Park, but the road closures limited our options. Very little of the southeast corner of the park was open. We arrived at the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center to learn that, like the Lolo Pass Visitor Center two days ago, the place was closed for training. We hiked a short trail and then drove to the entrance station. I asked the park ranger, "So what is open in the park today?" She said the main road on the west side was open and directed us to take Skate Creek Road from Packwood (the next town on U.S. 12) to WA 706 on the west side. The southeast entrance is below.
Skate Creek Road was another pretty, tortuous route, and I let my wife drive while I enjoyed the scenery for a change. At the west side gate, we paid our entry fee and got the park newspaper. The newspaper described changes in the park due to the floods. Most obvious was the rerouting of Kautz Creek. First we drove over a bridge with just a trickle of water beneath it, then a couple hundred yards later we crossed an obviously newer bridge with a powerful waterway below (it may only be a " creek," but keep in mind that it was snowmelt season). The road headed mostly upward from there, and the environment became increasingly gloomy. Needless to say, there would be no photos of Mount Rainier rising majestically above the other Cascades. I had to do some processing to make my pictures look decent. We skipped Christine Falls but paused on a one-way scenic drive to take some pictures. Since my wife isn't fond of mountain driving, I took over.
I'm not really into birds, but I think steller's jays are handsome. This one landed on a rock wall and posed for me as I turned on my camera.
When the bird moved along, I took pictures of the view I stopped for.
Our next stop was the turnout for Narada Falls. My wife was content to look down on the falls from the top and get back into the warm car, but I was feeling more ambitious. Here's a view upstream from the top.
I love signs warning of impending death, so I had to photograph this Danger! sign. It wasn't until I got home that I appreciated the bottom sign. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something humorous or even philosophical about a restroom on the trail to paradise.
After a brief stop in that restroom, which was surprisingly well-kept, I descended to the base of the falls and beyond, searching for the perfect photo op. I don't know if I found the perfect spot, but I definitely got a much better view than my wife did above. Too bad the weather wasn't clear -- rainbows are common at the base of the falls.
The steep climb back to the top was much harder, of course. What made matters worse was a group of younger hikers approaching me from below. Having just turned 37 and weighing more than ever before in my life, I just couldn't let those kids beat me to the top of the falls. So I pushed myself hard. By the time I reached the car, I doubled over the trunk and panted for several minutes. My wife got out of the car to see if I was okay, but I waved her off. Hard to believe I'm the same guy who rode a bicycle across the country five years ago and finished the Chicago Marathon three years before that. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. But at least those kids didn't pass me!
We reached the Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center as it started snowing. With blustery winds cutting through us, we hurried into the building. I read inside that the unique building won't be around much longer. Not only has the park outgrown the facility, but keeping the roof clear of snow is costly. I wonder what it means when a memorial building is torn down. Is the person being memorialized doomed to be forgotten?
The bookstore inside didn't offer much, but the gift shop did not disappoint. At this point on our trip I was beginning to gently rib my wife about her affinity for gift shops. She seemed more interested in the shops than the scenery. My wife was hungry, so we went to the cafeteria. Big mistake. She didn't like her burger, and my hot chocolate was more like hot water with a subtle hint of cocoa. Then we drove back the way we came, leaving the park. The Nisqually Entrance at the southwest corner looked a lot like the southeast entrance.
A tourist spot at the edge of the park had this cool map out front:
There's no question -- mine was Narada Falls. Looking back, I wish we had done more at Mount Rainier, but the weather wasn't so great and we were a little pressed for time.
Here's a sign you don't see in Illinois:
As we passed restaurant after restaurant on WA 706, my wife became more agitated that she had chosen to eat in the crappy cafeteria when surely all of these places were much better. In Elbe, we saw a bunch of old railroad cars now being used as a restaurant and motel. I recalled that the pizza guy had mentioned this place and cursed myself for forgetting it earlier. The Mount Rainier Railroad Dining Co. would have been a cool place to eat no matter how the food was.
We drove south on WA 7 and passed a huge wood processing center in Morton. There must have been a small city's worth of 2x4s stacked just off the highway. We took U.S. 12 to I-5 and headed south, bidding farewell to the highway that had carried us much of the way across Montana, Idaho, and Washington. We exited the interstate to visit a Mount St. Helens souvenir shop. I remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens as one of the biggest events of my youth, right up there with the first space shuttle launch, Steve Dahl's Disco Demolition (it was a Chicago thing), and President Reagan getting shot. Despite those strong memories, I felt no desire to buy anything at the gift shop. It was weird.
We stayed in another Econo Lodge, this time in Kelso (next to Longview). With a discount coupons, an Econo Lodge is as cheap as a Motel 6 but with free Wi-Fi. When we walked into the lobby, a thuggish guy stared at my wife it reminded her of the kind of lowlifes she deals with at work. After I got my computer set up, we drove out to find dinner. We ended up at Papa Pete's Pizza on the western edge of neighboring Longview. They had free refills on drinks, and the pizza featured multitudinous, miniature slices of pepperoni. Overall, it was just average. Back in the room, my wife discovered that Saturday Night Live wasn't exaggerating when they were making fun of Nancy Grace. We don't have cable at home, so she hadn't seen the helmet-haired, righteously indignant windbag before.
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