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Washington and Oregon Travels With Frito

My friend Bernd and I had three days to spend adventuring in Washington and Oregon. That's not much time; these are two very large and diverse bits of geography, so we concentrated on two areas: The Palouse, in the extreme southeast corner of Washington State, and the Wallowas district in northeastern Oregon.

We began photographing at Steptoe Butte, a high point of land in the Palouse surrounded by rolling farmland. Our arrival was perfectly timed for sunset.

Telecommunications sites like this one often make perfect campsites. Strategically located to have commanding views of the surrounding countryside, they also require road access for maintenance. No signs prohibit camping here, but the relative isolation keeps most people from attempting an overnight stay. Our visit coincided with a full moon, so we entertained ourselves long after sunset photographing this techno-landscape. The red lights at right are the tops of wind turbines. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of them in Washington and Oregon, all installed over the last decade.

The Internet has made Steptoe Butte made popular with photographers. These keeners drove the narrow winding road to photograph the sunrise, but we were all done photographing sunrises. Now it's time for breakfast.

The weather gods blessed us with that most valuable of photographic assets: an excellent sky. We dawdled there until mid morning.

The surrounding farmlands grow wheat and other cereal crops and are some of the most productive farms in the USA. Fine grained loess deposits blown in from distant eroded lava flows has resulted in topsoils hundreds of feet deep. Ample moisture usually guarantees good crops - a perfect combination.

Moving on in search of a Fourth of July campsite, we stopped here to enjoy more of this amazing sky.

We found our campsite here, near Palouse Falls. With not a hint of modern civilization, not even so much as a light on the horizon, we'd found the perfect spot to spend The Fourth.

Once again, the sky cooperated. It was a perfect evening.

We made supper and watched the evening light on the hills around us as we listened to both sides of "In Search of the Lost Chord" on a Bluetooth speaker nestled in the grass.

After breakfast the next morning we're off for Oregon.

We took OR 03, running southwards from near Clarkston, Washington to Enterprise, Oregon. A long time favourite highway of mine, the route descends from the plateau a thousand feet or more down into the valley of the Grand Ronde River.

Bernd's Nissan, far below winds down toward the river bottom. It was HOT, with temperature in the valley bottom at 35 C - near 100F. Neither Frito nor the Nissan cared. Our cooling systems must be in good shape. I did turn AC off on the long grade back up onto the plateau, though.

We found another perfect boondocking campsite along the Lostine River. No signs, no rules, no people. Just us and the Oregon evening. Tonight's Bluetooth music: "Mambo Sinuendo" by Ry Cooder. How good can it get?

This is my first attempt at embedding a video. This may be a mistake. :)

Bernd does a little bit of social media as we get ready for bed. Tomorrow, we part. Bernd turns northwards for home and I proceed west. I have an appointment in Centralia, WA.

After the 35C weather of the last few weeks, I was delighted to cross the Cascades Mountains and experience temperatures much more appropriate for human beings. Here, at the eastern entrance to Mount Ranier National Park, under a low overcast, it was 18C (65F). Heaven! Other tourists were wearing hoodies. I exulted in my tee shirt.

Still on my side, the weather gods provided me with a spectacular morning vista of Mount Ranier, complete with her signature lenticular cloud.

By mid day, I was starving. So excellent was the scenery, I'd completely forgotten about breakfast. So, at a place aptly named "Paradise", I stopped to make first coffee, then porridge.

Later that day, in Centralia, WA, I awaited the arrival of Amtrak's "Coast Starlight". Aboard was my long-time friend Tim, a physician from LA. Unaccountably, he'd decided that it was a good idea to ship himself and his bicycle from the Southlands to Washington State, where he'd ride back home, alone. Here he is, departing.

I left Tim then and, suffering from a recently-arrived cold, embarked on the hated hellscape of I-5 for a quick trip north to Vancouver, stopping on the way at the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle. More on this in another episode of "Travels With Frito".

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Credits:

Text and images by Peter McLennan

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