Everybody thought I was joking when I said I was taking a business trip from Olympia to Vancouver to Yakima to Spokane to Wenatchee to Everett to Bellevue to Tacoma and back to Olympia in two days. The itinerary I had laid out with Google Maps said it was a cinch and I’m the guy who enjoys driving around this beautiful state we call home. Well, I proved to everyone that it was possible…but I may now be paying the price for trying.
My job at the Washington State Senate sometimes requires that I travel during the interim period when the Legislature is not in session. This year, we’re embarking on a series of public forums to be held around the state and someone (namely, this guy) had to get out to the locations in advance to make sure everything would go smoothly. So I was looking forward to the two-day tour, even though many of my co-workers and my own wife said I was crazy.
I left Lacey at 8 a.m. bound for Vancouver, the first stop of the day. It was raining off and on that morning and the drive south on Interstate 5 in inclement weather can range anywhere from gorgeous to downright hazardous. With high spirits, however, I saw only the beauty of the low-lying clouds hanging over the dark green hills east of Castle Rock, the freighters moving lumber and other products up and down the Columbia River in Kalama and the memories of staying at Paradise Point State Park during our St. Helens expedition last year.
After Vancouver, it was across the border into Oregon to ride Interstate 84 east along the Columbia. It’s a very scenic drive if you’ve never taken it (even if it IS in Oregon), and you can see the Washington border across the river the entire way. If you’re inclined, there are a dozen or so places you could stop to get pictures or ponder the historical significance, such as Multnomah Falls, Rooster Rock, The Dalles, etc. After all, Lewis, Clark and the rest of the Oregon Trail settlers came right through the exact same route.
As I cruised along I-84 watching the trees thin out and eventually disappear, I finally turned north and back into Washington at Biggs Junction (I knew a guy named Biggs in the Army, but he’s probably no relation). Here’s another chance to stop and take a look around if you find yourself in Maryhill, Washington. In addition to the replica of Stonehenge built by Sam Hill to honor WWI veterans from Klickitat County, there’s the reputable Maryhill Museum of Art you could peruse as well.
Halfway between Maryhill and Goldendale as you’re heading north on Highway 97, there’s a pullout that gives you an absolutely amazing vista of the countryside…one to which this panoramic photo I took just can’t do justice.
Continuing north, the landscape was dotted with black trees and scorched earth from a wildfire that had passed through the area earlier in the year. After merging with Interstate 82, I hit the next stop: Yakima. My short visit included a tour of the Yakima Area Arboretum, and it’s a lovely place if you’re into that sort of thing.
From there it was a quick jaunt north to Interstate 90, and then a high-speed burn east to Spokane. The only stop was just outside of Vantage. For nearly my entire life, I’ve driven the same route across the state and had always wanted to check out the wild horse monument. Trouble is, on the way over you’ve got to be someplace by a certain time and on the way back you just want to get home. But having no further meetings beyond checking into my hotel in Spokane, I finally canceled the cruise control and coasted into the view point parking lot.
I parked the car and marveled at the view of the Columbia River, the gorge and Vantage. The I turned around and saw the wild horses atop a nearby bluff with a rough trail leading up to them. This being an adventure (and despite wearing my casual shoes) I said, “why not?”
About halfway up the trail – which was getting increasingly steep with every step – I met a woman on her way down. A heavyset woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s, she was sporting a gray crew cut which I took as the sign of a cancer survivor. She told me the view from the horses was unbeatable, and absolutely worth the climb. Then she told me the story about how she’d driven past the wild horse monument for nearly 30 years and had never stopped until now. We shared the experiences of being in a hurry to get one place and in a hurry to get home when we were finished. She finally did it, and it was worth every step for her. She told me she could cross that one off her bucket list now, and I smiled.
Once atop the bluff, the horse statues came into view and were surprisingly about the same size as real horses. With a bit of sadness, I noted how much graffiti was covering these iron beasts and watched as other tourists climbed atop the sculptures and took pictures of themselves “riding” the monument. I found that a bit distasteful, but didn’t want to ruin anyone’s day by pointing that out. Instead, I waited for them to leave and took some photos of my own:
Having finally bested the road less traveled, I got back in the car and hit the road for Spokane. Rolling into town around 8pm, it was all I could do to stay awake long enough to check into the Hilton DoubleTree downtown and carry my stuff upstairs. I ordered some dinner from Chili’s across the street, and my head was asleep by the time it hit the pillow.
Tomorrow, I had more stops to make…and a lot more driving to do.