nonionay: (goddesscross)
[personal profile] nonionay
So I've been needing to get out town. Desperately. Turns out, my attempt to do so was a near perfect success. I rented a car (a bright red Mazda 2, as it happens. No free upgrade this time, though the clerk did try to get me into an SUV) and headed to Eastern Washington. Not only did I need to get out of town, I needed to get into a totally different biome.
There's lots more pictures over on Flickr. I took about 500, and uploaded about 60.
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The biome of Grand Coulee in the spring, as it happens, smells absolutely wonderful. A couple different kinds of sage, plus campfires in the evening. It's also full of birds, bugs, prairie dogs, one deer who really wanted to get hit by my car, and a whole bunch of others who pooped outside my tent. Also, a dead carp. 55-IMG_9650 Yummy for ravens and buzzards.
Not wanting to drop money on a motel, or revisit the Yakima Valley where I have a friend I could maybe crash with if I thought a day and a half was enough notice, I opted to camp. Yes, buying a fifty dollar tent, plus a 26$ campsite might equal a night in a Motel 6, but dangit, I'll use that tent again. (My own, given to me by my dad, was lost in the move from Bellingham, as was my sleeping pad.) I loaded up on supplies at the Target in Issaquah. It was there that my first bump occurred. I dropped my phone (specifically, it dropped out the bottom of my rear pocket, from which the stitching had completely given out. More on my treacherous pants later.) When I picked it up, it wouldn't turn on. This meant I spent 25 bucks in the Target on a prepaid replacement, and later, twenty more bucks on a car plug charger. Turns out, my phone just needed to be charged, rendering the replacement obsolete. I figure, it'll be worthwhile having a spare around... and the car charger will undoubtedly be useful in the future. (You know what else is useful? Flying Js. Truck stops have everything.)
It was also at the Target that I acquired the box of red velvet cookies that turned out to be my primary diet on Saturday.
So yeah, lunch at Snoqualmie Pass, desperately looking for a charger at the Ellensburg Flying J, shortly afterwards wondering if that awful smell meant I'd somehow leaked gas when I filled up, and then realizing that no, it was just Ellensburg.
23-IMG_9431 I feel I can do some cool, surreal stuff with my windmill pics.
My primary goal was to hike to the Lake Lenore Caves, in the Lower Grand Coulee, but I decided to first get a camping spot, since it was a gorgeous weekend, right at the start of camping season, and I've had some awful experiences driving from campground to campground trying to find one with space. Dry Falls State Park had space, though the sites are awfully close together, and you have to pitch your tent on hard but level ground. As soon as I got out of my car, I smelled the marvelous spicy smell that pervaded my weekend. It's hard to describe, but I think it's primarily the result of two different kinds of sage. Then I saw quail running by. I freaking love quail, with their silly little bobbing head feathers. I got some decent shots. And there was a prairie dog trying to look inconspicuous.
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It was getting on in the day, so I decided to leave the caves for morning, and headed to the Upper Grand Coulee. Let me explain the coulees. Way back when, there were ice ages. Way, way back when, there were floods of lava pooling over the entire eastern half of the state, seven layers deep. At some point, the lava covered the corpse of a rhino in a pond, and left a cast. I would have loved to see this, but I didn't realize until I arrived that it was close by; you have to get permission from a resort to undergo the strenuous hike to get there...I'll do it another time. Anyway. The Ice Age glaciers blocked rivers. First, they blocked the Columbia, which shifted paths to what would become the Grand Coulee. Then, they blocked the Clark Fork River, which caused 500 cubic miles of water to build up in Western Montana. Occasionally, the glacial ice dam would break, and all that water poured out, carving channels into the basalt. So now, there are these vast, empty canyons with sharp sided walls. That's a coulee.
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To get to the Upper Grand Coulee, you have to pass Dry Falls.
pano1
Dry Falls, is, as far as I'm concerned, one of the geological wonders of the world. The floods cut away layers of basalt, forming huge waterfalls that dug deep plunge pools and undercut the rock, forcing the waterfalls to actually shift upstream as it wore away the land. After fifteen miles of this, you have the Lower Grand Coulee, with Dry Falls at the top, where once the biggest waterfall known to ever exist once flowed. It's three miles wide, with something like ten times the capacity of Niagra. I spent a bunch of time there. It is there that I realized I needed bug spray. I thoughtfully brought calamine lotion, but nothing that might prevent needing it. So I promptly got lost in the next city, Coulee City, which contains nothing but houses, a school and churches, feed store and a bunch of taverns. Thankfully, there was a Shell station on the far side of the smallest small town ever. (Actually, I lie. I went to that later.)
As I was buying the bug spray, the clerk suggested I get this cheap bracelet that was supposed to work really well. I was skeptical, but hey, it was cheap, and if it worked, then awesome. Who wants to be covered in bug spray? After eating my dinner alongside Banks Lake, and not getting assailed by bugs, it seemed there might be something to it (it was infused with citronella).
I pressed on to my secondary goal--Northrup canyon, which was supposed to be pretty, and holy smokes, it was. It was almost sunset, so I didn't spend much time there, but damn, I have to go back again. With more bug spray! It was in Northrup Canyon that I learned exactly how pathetic the citronella bracelet was. Everytime I stopped to take a picture, I was swarmed. SWARMED. The bracelet works, it just has a range of about one inch. I could put it by a mosquito biting my arm, and the mosquito flew away, but yeah...one inch. This is why I also bought the ten dollar OFF!
Stuff in Northrup Canyon. I was mesmerized by how evenly rusty it was.
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The return to camp involved rain storms and rainbows.
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My big fear of campgrounds being full was misplaced. True, Steamboat Rock, which I'd considered going to, was full, but my camp was only about a quarter full. And those who were there were all quiet middle aged people. I experienced so, so much time filled with only the sound of quail hooting at each other.
My tent was comfier than I was expecting, considering I didn't have a sleeping pad. However, any comfort was countered by the fact that after sunset, the wind picked up and shook the tent like someone was standing outside kicking me in the head. I didn't sleep well, but I survived, and caffeine at dawn's first light helped.
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After a wildlife-filled morning walk (herons and hawks and caspian terns and lots and lots of baby geese) I broke camp and headed for the caves. Though one couple was leaving as I arrived, I was the only person there. This was both awesome and annoying. I have been worrying about doing all of this alone, after all. If something happened to me, I had my cell phone (with reception, but roaming) but that was it.
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If you look at the above picture, just left of center, one third up, you can see the parking lot and my car. I could see the entire trail from the far end. I spied on arriving hikers with my binoculars.

The caves were as awesome as I'd hoped. At one point, I found myself climbing up the basalt cliffs. The caves, you see, are the result of floods wearing between the basalt layers. Each lava flood ends up with three layers overall--the collonade, made up of the familiar basalt pillars; the entablature, made of mostly solid lava; and the vesicles, which are the result of all the gas bubbles rising to the top, where the lava cools into foamy rocks. It's the vesicle layer that got worn away, from what I could tell. I was really excited to actually look at the boundary separations between layers. There's a thin compressed bit of sediment between them, where soil briefly formed between lava floods. I'll probably make a separate post about geology, for those who might be curious about rocks.
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Anyway, I kept going up, realizing that maybe this wasn't the best thing to do, all alone. Slopes of crumbled rock aren't terrible stable...and I wasn't sure how to get down. But I survived, and had an amazing time. When I got back to the car, and took a break before leaving, this one couple was just heading up the trail. Their car alarm went of twice. I think I set off one of them by closing my car door. Let me tell you, car alarm plus echoey cliffs is entertaining. As is watching two people and their two tiny dogs come desperately running back down the trail.
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I headed back to Seattle via Stevens Pass, because why not? I had plenty of time, so I took a side trip up the Moses Coulee, through Palisades, which is truly the smallest small town in the area. It had a one-room school, some houses, and what I assume was a store, based on the fact that one of the houses had "Old Country Store" painted on a sign above the door. It didn't look open, but did have a relaxing looking chair on the front deck.
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This fine edifice and its field was occupied by a burly black bull taking a dust bath.
That valley, especially when I hit the dirt road, reminded me of my summers in the Bitterroot Valley. Not the newer house, which is getting surrounded by ever more middle class housing developments, but the old days on Willoughby when you had to drive through a winding labyrinth of dirt roads and cattle stalls. There were even a couple guys on ATVs, just like our old neighbor, Judy Hoy, used to have.
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Everything was straightforward from there. Lots of driving and listening to my iPod through the car stereo system. (Yay! Too bad it didn't understand playlists. I could only listen to albums.) The road over Stevens Pass is a lot smaller than I remember, and for the first half, I was completely alone on my side of the road. Why more people didn't exploit this wonderful weather is beyond me. Eastern Washington gets blazing hot in the summer, but right now, it's between sixty and seventy-ish. Warm, but with the occasional cool breeze or brief shower.
No wait, it wasn't straightforward. There's still the adventure of my pants. You know, the ones with the back pocket with no bottom. They're old corderouy things, which is why I brought them. Comfy, dirty, and sturdy. Not too sturdy, it turns out. On the way home, I realized in a bathroom, that a hole was ripping open in the crotch. I asked a lady at the sink if she could see it. She couldn't, so I figured I was good for now. I started to feel it, though, reaching back and realizing I was touching my underwear. Finally, I decided to change into my even more comfy grey pajama bottoms. Turns out that rip had ripped pretty much from crotch to waist. Nobody said anything! Maybe they didn't notice, maybe they were just sniggering to their friends. Whatever. I wasn't actually upset, except in an eye-rolling way.
So now I'm home. I just washed off at least four layers of chemicals, (sunblock, bug spray, calamine lotion, and hand sanitizer) plus sweat and grime.
I am content.
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