Day 2 July 7 A Short Drive to Toppenish

Washington Day 2_048We woke to another gorgeous morning on the river and walked up to the beach to let Abby take in a morning swim.  I was excited about the day ahead.  We had only little more than an hour’s drive north on 97 to reach the town of Toppenish, Washington Day 2_054Washington, not far from where my daughter and her husband are doing some home time.  They have a big rig and haul jet engines around the country, but spend home time every few months with his mom in Mabton, a short jaunt from Toppenish. Since much of their hauling is on the east side of the country, or to Alaska and Canada, I don’t get to see her very often. 

Mount Adams to the west of Highway 97Washington Day 2_064

The Yakama Nation has a casino and a great RV park in the small town of Toppenish, and we easily snagged a nice spot at the edge of the park with full hookups and a tree shading the grass if not the motorhome. 

By 11 AM, Deanna drove up to visit, and we hugged and laughed and decided that the two of us should go check out the town while Mo relaxed in the cool shad with the animals.

Washington Day 2_116Deanna did professional wedding and portrait photography for a time, and has some very serious lenses and equipment in her collection.  She brought a couple along to share with me and we spent much of the day playing with my new camera and testing out my lenses and then using some of hers on my camera.  Yup.  I am taking HER lenses to Alaska.  There is no comparison.  My lens is a Nikkor, but made in China.  Hers is three times as heavy, twice as big, and was made in Japan.  She has a monopod to hold up the lens, and we spent a lot of time fiddling around with the process of changes lenses, using the monopod, using my tripod, and fiddling with settings. 

Washington Day 2_107I had no idea that the town of Toppenish had murals, much less that it was famous for them.  Mo and I enjoyed the murals of Eureka, but you had to have a map to find them.  In Toppenish they are everywhere!  All you need to do is walk down the street and look in any direction and there they are.  The quality is amazing, truly beautiful art. Here is a link to the many photos I took of The Murals of Toppenish.

Deanna and I punctuated our hot afternoon walk with a visit to the local soda fountain, complete with a bar and stools.  The root beer floats were made with truly good root beer and hard vanilla ice cream, served with an extra small glass of root beer to add as you wanted.  Amazing.

Washington Day 2_121After exploring the town we drove back to camp to pick up Mo for a drive east to Mabton where Deanna’s husband Keith was ready with the bbq going.  It was a treat to see Keith’s mom, Ruth, 89 years young and fit as a fiddle.  Ruth was raised in this valley, and Deanna drove us past the old farm that belonged to Ruth’s grandfather who relocated here from Iowa.  Keith was raised here as well, and it was a good childhood, filled with rivers and frogs and farm chores in the summers at Grandpa’s farm. 

Washington Day 2_124It was interesting to hear some of the issues that are plaguing the valley now, with gang activity and shootings and such.  Driving through the placid agricultural land, there was no indication of any of this unless you looked closely at bridges to see the tagging on every surface.  Sad.  Many people live here, the Yakama people are here, many immigrants and migrants working the extensive fields, and farmers like Deanna’s in-laws who have been in this valley for more than 100 years.  It’s a rich mix of cultures, with some clashes of course.

Washington Day 2_217Deanna in mabtonWe sat in Ruth’s front yard enjoying the stiff breezes while trying to keep our hamburger buns from blowing away and laughing and telling family stories. Deanna and I had so much fun playing again with the cameras, and Keith and Ruth and Mo were patient and long suffering as we ran around the yard laughing and snapping long into the evening.  Hopefully all the practice will serve me well as I travel north.  Keith also had several thoughts on our trip.  He lived in Alaska working for the park at Denali for several months as a young man, and he and Deanna have driven the highway several times in their big truck.  Of course, they did it in the winter on ice and in early May when the tourists were few and far between.  I have my own version of an ice road trucker!  My tiny sweet daughter!!

Mo and I drove back to camp in the setting sun: (explain to me why we are always driving due west at sunset??!!)  Jeremy was happy to see us return. He was waiting in the front window watching for the car. He is sooo funny.  The minute we get home he jumps up and eats and then uses the potty. I often wonder if he eats or drinks at all when we are gone.

Next: Day 3 July 8 North to Oroville WA

A link to the rest of the photos is here

Day 1 July 6 Crossing Oregon

Alaska Day 1 and Day 2No matter what the destination, you have to cross familiar territory in the beginning.  It was that way for us this morning as we completed the final check of all the lists, hooked up the Tracker, and drove down Easy Street toward Alaska.  The morning was incredibly brilliant, clear blue skies reflected on the still surface of the wildlife refuge bordering Rocky Point Road. The temperature read a balmy 62*, the warmest morning yet since some time last year.

Making notes, writing down the mileage, plugging in the details to my favorite little iPhone app that we use to keep track of our trip expenses, I barely had time to get settled before the freezer door flew open food started sliding out onto the floor.  UhOh.  Our clip on the freezer latch broke off some time last year, but the suction usually keeps it tightly closed. With the cost of food in Alaska, I had that baby crammed full, too full.  After some rearranging the latch held tight again.  Guess we will have to replace that one.  A couple of years ago we had to replace the one on the refrigerator door as well.  Cheap little plastic thingys, that sure don’t seem to hold up well considering the cost and quality of the big Dometic fridge.

Oregon day 1

We stopped as usual at one of our favorite little diners for the traditional departure breakfast at the Diamond Lake junction.  I have written about this one before, the huge Bigfoot breakfast that we share, and then have enough leftovers to share again.  The road was easy, the pavement smooth, the route so familiar, but I enjoyed every minute of the driving time.  Mo, on the other hand, wasn’t sure that she liked being the passenger with Jeremy thinking that he needed to get on her lap, claws and all, and she was wearing shorts.  Silly driving things that make the trip fun and familiar.  We are used to our routines, as are our animals.  I guess that is why we love to travel so much.  We travel well together, and enjoy the changing pace and getting outside the lovely simple box of our everyday life.

Oregon day 1-1Once beyond Madras, the high plateau of central Oregon becomes dry and barren.  This is the southern edge of the Columbia Basalt Plateau, and the soils are thin, some as little as 4 inches over the hard rock, and the precipitation is low.  I don’t know why, but this part of Oregon seems more desolate and barren to me than even the dry deserts of Arizona, or the open sage land of eastern Oregon. 

Oregon day 1-9In the midst of this barren landscape is the small pioneer town of Shaniko.  We decided with the temperatures climbing into the 90’s, it might be time for a Shaniko ice cream cone.  Mo waited in the cool rig while I walked around the tiny town taking some photos before I bought of couple of chocolate cones from some very sweet ladies in the well known tourist stop. Perfect lunch.

It wasn’t long before we dropped down the long canyon to Biggs and the Columbia River.  The thermometer read 101 when we hit I-84. Another glitch: what in the heck was that awful smell??  With the heat, it seemed to get worse and worse, and we couldn’t identify it.  I panicked thinking that maybe the new batteries were heating up, but Mo was pretty sure we had something dead in the guts of the rig somewhere and the heat was making it worse.  Ah yes, rigs and mice.  That seems to be a fairly common topic among RV’rs.  Opening the Fantastic fan and putting it on high seemed to help a bit, and while the smell still isn’t gone, it seems to be getting better.  Yeah, that mouse will eventually dry out completely.  Ugh.  The mouse traps are still set and nothing is in them. 

Oregon day 1-21The temperatures were way too high to think about boondocking as planned, we definitely needed the air conditioner.  Instead we traveled east toward LePage Park, the COE campground where we often overnight on our way through this area.  Without reservations we still got a great spot with a view of the John Day River for only ten bucks with our Golden Age Pass, including electric and water.  Perfect and it was only 4:30 or so.

Within ten minutes we were settled in and Abby was in the water for a swim.  We decided there was plenty of time for an evening kayak and within a few more minutes we were at the launch site with the kayaks in the water.  The winds were up a bit, but we decided that with the winds going upstream we could manage the current coming down.  The mighty Columbia River was under the interstate bridge to our left and the John Day River to our right.  We paddled upriver with the wind for a time until the waves and wind got too big to manage before we turned around and with the wind and the current, we had some nice quiet time in the doldrums, not moving at all while we relaxed on the river.

Oregon day 1-31Suddenly we saw a fire flare up on the opposite bank, and I pulled the phone out of the dry bag to call 911.  Cell reception on the river was great, and 911 answered immediately.  They were unconcerned, saying that the fire had been burning for a couple of days and they were letting it go.  OK.  Fire in the west, on the grasslands along the river is probably a good thing, a natural cleansing of the land.  Camped safely on the other side of the river with winds blowing away from us, no one seemed to troubled.

Oregon day 1-37We paddled back downriver toward the bridges and went far enough to technically say that we paddled in the Columbia before we headed back inland.  The Columbia is a big, strong, powerful river, and neither one of us wanted to tackle it on a hot afternoon with the famous high winds blowing hard. 

Back in camp we got out the new Weber Q100, to try it out with a couple of pork chops and a beer.  By the time we settled in to sleep, the evening breezes were strong and cool enough to make sleeping just right. 

The end of the beginning, our first day out.  Perfect.Oregon day 1-45

A link to the rest of the photos at Picasa is here.

Tomorrow: A short drive to Toppenish