Sunday, July 19, 2009

Taking the slow road to China.

There are three routes that offer the "fast ways" to get from Seattle to WallaWalla. The freeway from Seattle across Snoqualmie Pass is always stage one of the fast path. At Ellensburg, we have either to head south through Yakima, Prosser, and in to Richland, Pasco, then on to Walla Walla, the single choice being to take the Hwy 124 cutoff and run north toward Prescott or south through Walla Walla. That choice usually comes down to whether or not we need groceries on the way in.
Another choice is to go past Ellensburg and follow I-90 across the river at Vantage and then turn south on the other side. A quick choice must then be made, to turn left toward Royal City and Othello, then continue south toward Pasco or stay on the river all the way until heading across and south to Richland.
Each route will run about four hours. Three and a half when really pressing, five with bad winter weather.
Then there are the "slow boats". With an extra day or two, meandering adds so much richness and actually makes the traveling feel shorter. Take a quick segue and run up Yakima Canyon from Ellensburg to Yakima. An extra twenty minutes that is lovely...time well spent.
On a lazy summer day, drive over across Chinook Pass rather than Snoqualmie Pass and "waste" a perfectly spectacular 90 minutes of startling beauty from Mt Rainier and the Cascades. Perfect rag-top drive!
We drove yesterday along a drunken sailor's meandering pathway, taking route 97 south from Union Gap across the Yakima Nation Reservation with stark scrub hills on which we saw wild horses...many of them. Good conversations on ecology, on how to manage these beautiful horses, on the role of horses in our heritage.
Further south, the landscape turned into pine forests that we had not expected. Lovely canyons and more water flowing toward the Columbia River. Very much like the Sierra Nevadas and not at all like any terrain we have experienced in 21 years of living in Washington State.
Just before Goldendale, our stomachs were shouting "Feed me!" and we passed a sign reading "Greek Bakery". I did a u-turn and there we were, at St. John's Monastery for tyropita, spanokopita, and pastitsio. A very happening place, too, with about thirty lovely young teenage girls wearing headscarves and long dresses, accompanied by mothers in like garb and a few dads looking quietly out of place. There was a very Amish feeling about us and we felt very much the odd ones, there in our shorts and tee shirts and flip flops. But everyone was extremely nice and not at all officious.
We had a chat with one of the nuns, American, not Greek. So explained that the monastery had been started by three Greek nuns from Volos, a town I know in Greece. She spoke no Greek, so I did not even try to recall the language. It turns out that the monastery is filling a unifying need amongst Romanians, Russians, and several Orthodox communities. The girls do not dress or live in this manner all the time, but they were there to attend a religious summer camp session. All seemed so enthusiastic and happy, while exchanging cell phone numbers and comparing their phones. Not Amish at all, but sweet as can be.
After driving through Goldendale we continued up the north bank of the Columbia, stopping at the Stonehenge Monument and then following the river to Umatilla, crossing over, and following the south bank east to Wallula, passing vineyards along the way and watching huge barges heading downriver toward Portland. Beautiful geology and another entirely different face of the Northwest.
I'm looking into whether we can drive across Stampede Pass next time. This could be a whole 'nother kettle of fish...

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