08-15-2014 The Long Way Home from Kaslo Part 2

Current Location: Home in Rocky Point

It is getting dark.  I have been writing all day it seems, catching up on the last of our trip north to Spokane and British Columbia.  I am on a roll, you could say.  I have been posting and there are now three posts waiting to go up.  This is it.  I probably won’t write another thing any time soon.  Steamboat Rock SP (1 of 1)

This week we are off to the cottage, more repairs, more work on our winter place, visit daughter Deborah, hang out, do stuff.  Nothing big, just a nice little 2 hour drive over the mountain to Grants Pass. With a few days over the mountain coming up with no computer, I have had a reason to stay focused on catching up the blog. I have at the same time had a chance to catch up on other’s blogs as well, make comments, laughing on facebroke with friends, talking on the phone with other friends, stepping outside for a short bit of lawn mowing or weeding, and then getting back to writing. 

Nelson and homeward (28 of 70) The good part of this extended writing exercise is that the feelings of the trip have been coming back to me.  I am writing what it felt like, not just the litany of what we did.  For me, that is the fun part, remembering the feelings with my body and soul.  Sometimes when I write later, that doesn’t happen, but as often as not, if I allow myself to really get ‘into’ it, it does. 

Nelson and homeward (32 of 70) I am still in the feeling of the previous night at the Canyon Creek Campground west of Kettle Falls.  The last time I was on this road was on what was called “The Densic Tour”, a soil thing where we looked at dense glacial soils in several areas in the northern part of Washington State.  It was a great trip with wonderful scientists talking about really cool dirt.  The drive brought back good memories of the best parts of my working life.

Nelson and homeward (30 of 70) When Mo and I woke up on Friday morning, the rains had stopped but the skies were still cloudy. Back on the road, we climbed over Sherman Pass, stopped at the summit to read the signs, and learn about this highest drivable mountain pass in the state of Washington.  Didn’t really seem that high to me, compared to some of those in Colorado and Montana, but still, the signs were nice.  Especially the coyote sculptures and the information about the local tribes.

The town of Republic is in a wild part of Washington, remote, gold country, and still is a small town without many amenities.  There is a fossil museum, a couple of nice hotels, good coffee, that sort of thing, but not a lot to make us stop.  We had originally planned to travel south directly toward Keller and turn toward the Grand Coulee dam from there, but a few miles south on Highway 21 we saw a sign stating that the road was closed 17 miles ahead. 

476 miles to LePage The road was narrow, there was nowhere to turn around so we kept driving a bit before Mo tried to make the turn and failed.  It was a few tense moments as we were slightly jackknifed in the middle of the road before she managed to get us going south again.  Finally found a place to turn around,  The road was closed due to the large fire burning on the Colville reservation.  I knew about the fire, and later when I looked at Inciweb for fire information, realized it straddled both sides of our chosen route for several miles.  I hadn’t realized it was still burning.

We returned to Republic, with an extra hundred miles or so add to our day and knew it would be late when we pulled into the reserved campsite at the familiar LePage COE park on the mouth of the John Day River.  A 476 mile day is a bit much, but it was so much better than again following the interminably repetitive trip through Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

The road from Republic to Tonasket was a bit winding, but not a problem at all, and once we reached Tonasket and the river we again had to decide whether to stay on the main route south to Wenatchee or continue with our plan to cross the reservation directly southeast toward Grand Coulee.

Nelson and homeward (35 of 70)The Grand Coulee Dam is another place I had visited but Mo had never been there.  What can I say about that dam.  Sadly, it displaced many people and a few towns.  It destroyed the salmon run on the northern part of the Columbia River, the salmon no longer migrate to Kettle Falls.  And yet it is one of the greatest accomplishments that man has built.

Nelson and homeward (34 of 70) I love the story of this dam, much as I dislike the story of Glen Canyon.  Who knows why I pick and chose my battles, but Grand Coulee Dam isn’t one of them.  FDR was president and we were in the midst of a deep depression when the dam was built and thousands of people came from all over the country to build it.

Nelson and homeward (36 of 70)The visitor center is wonderful, with a 45 minute movie about how the dam was built.  Fascinating!  At the time, it was the largest concrete structure in the world, and it remained so for a long time.  It was the first of the dams to attempt to control the Mighty Columbia River and was initially built for the purpose of irrigating the desert of the great Columbia Basin.  Only later did power generation become  the major output of the dam and now it creates renewable power for hundreds of thousands of people. 

Nelson and homeward (46 of 70) The big generators are a wonder of engineering, but even more so are the pumps that lift water several hundred feet from Lake Roosevelt to Banks Lake to be the source of water for hundreds of thousands of acres of rich farmland.  The exhibits at the center were fascinating, including the wheelchair that FDR used when he visited the dam.  It was worth every mile and every minute that we spent to take time to visit and learn again about this incredible project. I know there is good and bad about the whole dam thing, and yet seeing it was amazing.  I loved it and so did Mo.

Nelson and homeward (48 of 70) We left the dam and traveled south toward Ephrata, along Banks Lake and past Steamboat Rock State Park.  Turning South from Ephrata we followed the highway toward the Dry Falls of the Grand Coulee, one of the more magnificent geological sites in the entire west.  As a new soil scientist in the Inland Northwest, my career was defined most by two huge geologic events, the eruption of Crater Lake/Mt Mazama, and the Great Missoula Floods from 13,000 years ago. 

Nelson and homeward (49 of 70) Knowing the ongoing story of the Great Floods, studying the landscapes created by these Ice Age floods, has been one of the most fascinating parts of mapping soils in Washington.  It almost made me cry to see the monument to J Harlan Bretz, the geologist who came up with the crazy theory of a catastrophic flood and was ridiculed for years before his theories were finally believed.  Evidence of the floods are everywhere in the Inland Northwest, but nowhere greater than Dry Falls.Nelson and homeward (53 of 70)

The visitor center sits high on a ledge, just a few hundred feet from the stone monument viewpoint built in the 1920’s  The scenery is breathtaking, the paintings of the size of the falls, bigger than anything that exists on earth today are fascinating.  In all my years of working around this part of the world, I had never had the chance to actually stop at Dry Falls and enjoy the exhibits and look over the edge of that great piece of basalt.  The great Columbia Plateau is the second largest extensive basalt plateau in the world, only one is India is larger.  I love this landscape.Nelson and homeward (60 of 70)

Back in the rig, we continued south toward the fading light as we approached the great and mighty Columbia River in the canyon below.  Huge windmills signaled that we were close to LePage once again.  Renewable power.  Birds and fish are the losers, but who wins when coal isn’t pumped into the atmosphere.  It is a conundrum, but I still love the windmills, and I love Grand Coulee dam.  Go figure. 

Nelson and homeward (70 of 70)When we arrived at our trusty campground, reservation in hand, the kiosk was closed and the sign said Campground Full.  Sure enough, a reserved tag held our spot and we set up in the twilight, once again turning on the air conditioner for the warm temperatures.  This time, however, I was able to turn it off and switch to the fan before 10 PM and that was encouraging.  On the next day we would be traveling Highway 97 home, through Biggs Junction, Moro, Madras, Redmond, Bend, LaPine and Chiloquin before turning west to cross the green Wood River Valley and slide into home in the forest.

Even two weeks sometimes feels like forever when I am away and it is always good to get back.

Next:  not a thing that I can predict at the moment.