Monday, August 24, 2009

Eastern Washington and the Columbia River Gorge

A few years ago, I admitted, in a beauty salon, that I really don't care all that much about my hair. It's not that I'm without vanity; I have a healthy amount of it and enjoy feeling as pretty as I can... without spending much time to feel that way. And if the person who cuts my hair can't give me a cut that doesn't require anything more than being washed (or is going to be horrified that I have little interest in maintenance), than we really just aren't for one another.

Still, you can imagine how well it went over. You'd think I'd have said that I took Swift's advice to economize by eating children to heart, and was planning on BBQ-ing several babies at my next party, and did any of them want to come for what was certain to be a scrumptious dinner of perfectly grilled leeetle cheeldren? The whole place went dead silent, all heads turning silently towards me. The woman cutting my hair was visibly appalled.

So, I found someone else to cut my hair. He's a nice young man, and both does a great job and is un-dismayed that my hair is not likely to ever be an important part of my life.

My blog being (sometimes) food-oriented, I feel like I'm about to say the food blogger equivalent of declaring my lack of interest in my hair in a salon.

The thing is, sometimes I just don't care about eating well. I don't just mean my not-so-secret pizza roll vice (nope, haven't kicked it yet, despite my regular reading of the ingredient list). I mean sometimes I just care that the kids have been fed and aren't hungry, and that I'm not actively hungry, either. And this summer, what with the camping out pretty regularly, I've found that quite often, my main concern is not with quality, but with calorie, as in: are they getting enough, or should I buy a box of Wheat Thins at the nearest convenience store as caloric back-up? That's not exactly hewing to a seasonal, local, "I love me some farmers' markets" sort of mentality.
This is a wordy way of warning you that there is virtually nothing in this post about food. Now that you've been warned, I'm (finally) ready to get to talking about some regional travel.
The drastic climate change between eastern and western Washington and Oregon amazes me. I’ve made the crossing more times than I can count now, and seen it in every season of the year, and even still, the change awes me: the ascent into the mountains, the gradual change of the pine-covered slopes from a rich damp green, with a riot of underbrush and mosses and hanging epiphytes verdantly garlanding the branches, to the barer, starker wooded slopes of the east Cascades, to the high desert itself, balefully austere and suffused with an unforgiving, ferocious beauty that goes well beyond the measure of any surface charm. The scale of the landscape is monumental, sweeping. I could say something about the ratio of pick-up trucks and windmills to cute little yuppie niche restaurants of the variety I'm drawn to (lots to almost none, if you're wondering, although Hood River has quite a number of adorable little coffee shops and restaurants, but also caters heavily to outdoorsy folks with money to spend on windsurfing, kiting, expensive bikes and massages afterwards), but... beauty has a price, and if that price means less in the way of snooty cafes, I'll take it.This past weekend we drove out to Goldendale. I told the kids little while ago that the observatory in Goldendale is open to the public (it is, in fact, a state park, which I find insanely cool, even if the telescope is modest), and they’ve been stumping to go out and have a look. They wanted to go during the peak of the Perseid meteor showers, but it didn’t quite work out, so Friday afternoon, we piled into the car and drove out, taking a very modest detour through the Yakima River Canyon, a detour, by the way, that I cannot recommend enough. The suspension footbridge in the photo is a bridge crossing the Yakima, with, in the way of rivers in desert areas, a jumble of fresh green right next to the river, and the golden dun of the bare hills rising up behind it, and always, the searing blue of the eastern Washington sky.

Although there was a Friday night crowd at the observatory that limited our chances to look through the telescope, the star-gazing from the hill that the observatory is on is wonderful. I should mention again that as observatories go, it's quite modest, but it really is incredibly cool that the Goldendale Observatory is a state park.

Saturday morning we went into Hood River to meet friends for breakfast. Curly understandably wanted some peaches from eastern Washington or Oregon, so we stopped in at the Hood River farmers’ market and rounded up peaches and corn.
On the way home, we once again looked at some of the waterfalls along the Columbia gorge before getting on the freeway and… getting stuck in endless traffic. We should have gone back through eastern Washington. The drive is far more beautiful, and although it’s longer when there’s no traffic on I-5, there always seems to be some kind of truly miserable snarl on I-5.

Despite the traffic, Stumpy and I found ourselves chatting about both the immense contrast to the San Juan Islands, where we’ve done a fair amount of camping this summer, and eastern Washington, and its vast, empty beauty. Next summer, we agreed, although we very much want to return to the San Juans, we’d like to put a few more outings to eastern Washington, too.
I don't have anything in the way of restaurant recommendations; it just wasn't a jaunt even remotely oriented around food, which has been the way of many of our trips this summer. But sometimes, eating well seems unimportant.

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