Friday, August 17, 2007

Day four: Home again, home again, jiggity jig

We had made a pact to only visit locally owned businesses on our vacation. Politically that's a lovely idea but restaurant-wise it's a crapshoot. The Biker and I are pretty discriminating when it comes to our groceries. Fortunately we have no qualms whatsoever about walking out of a place that doesn't send out the right vibe, and we'll follow the other's lead unquestioningly on the spur of the moment. So it was that we set out down the highway on the morning of day four with our psychic food radars tuned to righteous breakfast signals.
We ended up in Dryden in a tiny little roadside cafe, the only one open at that hour.

It was like destiny.

Breakfast is CRUCIAL. You can throw anything you want at a hungry person for dinner and generally they'll thank you. But fuck up breakfast, particularly in a rural area, and you'll be closing down real fast. You do not mess with sleepy, grumpy people who have to put in ten hours a day on a tractor or behind the wheel of a log truck.
This place was perfect. The staff was friendly and the food was AMAZING.
Take a Break Coffee. Trust me. Go there NOW. Get a passport if you have to. It's that good.

We took our time and hit the backroads. We found Lake Wenatchee, way up in the foothills in big hair country. Beautiful, cold, hard blue water surrounded by longleaf pine and soopalallie brush waiting to go up like a bomb with the next lightning strike. Beautifully maintained park. Late August and not a single overturned trash container, not one candy wrapper, nothing. Pristine. Colder than Ziggy's tit in a brass bra, too.

This is horse heaven. Hitching posts and iron rings are set into the curbs outside the businesses. Actual adult people ride horseback along the side of the highway, not just little girls. The locals really go all out on the whole 'ranch' thing, too, and there are some amazing spreads in between Dryden and Leavenworth that would look right at home on the set of 'The Rifleman'. And from all appearances, it's for real...raising trail ponies is big business here. So is recreational riding; from day riders on rented mounts to guided elk hunts a month long through the backcountry with a packhorse train.

Back on the other side of the Cascades, going down through the mist and the clouds, we thought we'd lost the town of Index. Now, I have a brain like a garage never know what you'll find when. The Biker has a mind like a steel trap. If we've both forgotten something then it's time to be concerned. We started joking about Cartmans anal probe, ha ha, but I caught him openly checking his watch a la Betty and Barney Hill. "Don't you DARE mention maple syrup"*, I warned.
Too late. I'd just mentioned it.
Things got quiet in the car.

We found Index.

We spent a little longer there than was entirely necessary.

There was a time when we seriously considered making retirement plans that included moving to the town of Index. Index itself is just an amazing, beautiful, secluded place. It's situated next to the Skykomish river, down a small road off the main highway and over a bridge. It is almost perfectly preserved, which is itself amazing given it stands in the middle of forest fire country. Still, most of the original wooden buildings still line the two main streets, including the old 'Red Man Hall', an old fraternal organization. There's not a plumb line left in the place, yet someone's bought it and they're fixing it up!

Despite the generally depressed economy of the region, there is a distinct absence of both trailer trash and opportunistic yuppie dorks in Index...just retirees and families and nice big dogs sleeping in the street.

A huge notorious biker bar used to operate out of the old mill building right next to the bridge. It had been closed down due to repeated 'problems' in it's recent past, and the last time we visited the skinny, crazy-haired woman who owned it was having a huge garage sale to clear out the last of the accumulated weird. She showed us around inside, sucking on a Jack rocks all the while, Camel cigarette bobbing in the side of her mouth while she talked up the property. It was almost tempting, too...aside from the small problem of the place regularly flooding up past the first storey every winter. Everything was original. Old mirrored bar back full of bullet holes, zinc topped bar with a brass rail, spittoons. The plank flooring was peppered full of gouges from loggers' caulk boots. The gas lighting fixtures were still in place in the cribs, which were still wallpapered with old newspapers scrawled with names. There was even a moose head wearing a baseball cap. This was one of those places where you cannot help but imagine what the ghosts talk about when no body's around.

Near Sultan we saw a sign advertising the Sky River Meadery
. We had to stop. A winery? Meh. But a meadery we'd never seen up until this point. The Biker had wonderful memories of the stuff...he'd been an SCA member back in the day**and they used to brew their own mead for their 'feastes'. He'd extolled it's virtues to me in such fashion that I was eager to give it a taste.
Damn! Excellent stuff!
He was a little disconcerted...the mead he was used to was made using honey from bees who'd been sipping from the blossoms of cannibis sativa x. "Matanooska Thunderfuck", and it had an altogether different kind of kick. Still, we bought two bottles.


...the amazing rock formations along the columbia river are a staggering sight to behold

...pterodactyls native to the region have adapted well to man's presence

...the presence of these large prehistoric fliers plays a crucial role in regulating local nuisance species which, if left uncontrolled, would run nuts chucking buses full of screaming japanese people into office buildings

...a crew of firefighters joined us aboard the 'Lady of the Lake' cruise

...we saw a scary fire that blazed up from between the hills

...produce of all kinds was on sale everywhere in charming roadside stands. here a local farmer urges me to try his corn

* movie reference, That Which May Not Be Named, i.e. 'Conflagration in the Lower Atmosphere'.

** now keep in mind, this was up in Alaska in the 70's, and Alaskans in general have some sad, backwards notions of what 'cool' consists of anyway...still. Picture a fineass cigar smoking bear, butch as fuck and high on coke, wearing full chain mail, beating the living snot out of someone using a broadsword, thigh deep in the snow, and yeah, I'll give that a 'cool' rating, what the hey.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Day three: the suburbs of Mordor

We spent all of day three in the Buick seeing new sights and revisiting older ones to see if we still liked them. We chomped on chips and drank cold Starbucks and watched the world go by.

The best thing about the whip is that you can forget about it. You have no sense of movement or distance as it glides noiselessly along the highway. It's like a house with a steering wheel. The only thing that would make it better is if it were a motorcycle, and I was on the motorcycle instead of sitting in an old persons car that looks like a police undercover vehicle, but life is harsh like that and we can't all be ballerinas either.

There's a winery or two (or more) in every little town in Eastern Washington lately, I swear. Some of these places are just spectacular, too. Huge gracious main buildings surrounded by vineyards and usually fronted by an ornamental garden, beautifully landscaped and designed. We enjoyed them from the road. I mean, we have t-shirts and we don't like wine. But maybe next time...some of them have NW-fusion cuisine and live music now. We'll just order beer.

Thanks to Google Earth I was able to do a flyover of possible routes and destinations and so discovered that our original plan to visit Grand Coulee Dam for the evening laser show was a really bad one. For one thing, the show sounds like it kind of sucks. When I first read 'laser show' I thought 'Cool! Like Laser Floyd back in the 70's! But no, it's the freakin' history of hydroelectricity in Eastern Washington followed by a patriotic salute, kind of like the one they do at Iron Mountain. And, NO.
Secondly, there is nothing at all between Wenatchee and Coulee City except BLEAK.

Now a little bleak is fine. Moderate bleak is even kind of a relief, especially if you've been traveling through crowded towns. But two solid hours of moonscape in 110 degree heat is just plain contraindicated. Still, we took the highway east up as far as the Alcoa dam. It turned out to be one of the best parts of the whole trip.

As you travel east the mountains get older. Recent sandstone blown into curving shapes atop recent basalt laid over recent sediment gives way to ancient walls of strange geometric columns called basalt needles. The forms run parallel, as though a rake had been dragged...mostly vertically, yet bent and swerving like eelgrass from the press of their own weight and the crush of gravity. Just the strangeness of it, the impression of enormous age and weight, the strange artificiality, the weirdly regular fallen sections lying like the broken columns of Roman temples, is enough to rivet your attention and make you fall silent. We turned off onto a rural access route that ran parallel to the highway, shut off the AC and opened the windows. The smell of the hot stone blew through the car.

As you keep going one vast wall of these formations rises and reveals another beneath, and eventually another again, with huge bands of soft tufa between them.
You can almost grasp the magnitude of one huge catastrophic event like this, some distant volcanic eruption spreading a vast, deep flood of white hot liquid stone for miles and miles across the surface of the earth. When you're confronted with layer after huge unimaginable layer of this stuff towering overhead, stuff that was once a flaming mass of molten rock 70 feet deep, the effect is enough to obliterate any sense of yourself that might remain.
You can see the age of the earth here. This is basalt so old that is has actually begun to crystallize...lying atop another layer even older than the first...and another.

Soft brown rock doves, feral pigeons and every kind of swallow and bat have carved small holes all across the bands of tufa and live there in colonies. Even along the most barren stretches they seem to thrive on the nearby highway traffic, working the eddies stirred up by the vehicles passing to catch the bugs and seeds that get thrown up. With the same effect, driven by temperature differences, happening all along the face of the canyon walls, these little animals seem to have a pretty good life.
The Columbia River runs along the base of these formations and here and there farmers have found enough room to grow orchards. The ground around the trees is full of foraging quail. The fliers play in the mist from the overhead irrigation and catch bugs, cleaning the trees.

Malaga is the location of an aluminum plant owned by the same corporation the Biker works for. The place is fucking enormous. They have their own hydroelectric dam across the Columbia river. We wanted to take pictures but there was a security camera mounted near the only turnout, and we didn't want to end up at Guantanamo Bay.*

The town of Malaga itself is largely composed of slum. That's the only way to put it. It's a trailer slum in the middle of the desert. In a way it reminded me of Tijuana...this squalid dump of a place, full of wrecked cars and blowing garbage, all roofed in corrugated tin and squatting in the dust, surrounded by hills crested with palaces.
What happened here? It's not location; theres no lack of jobs nearby; there's the river commerce, the highway, logging, agriculture, the huge bastard aluminum plant for heavens sake..? What makes one place out of a group of similar places the designated shithole?

So yeah, we'd been playing with the idea of maybe moving. We do this every year, and every time we get just a little more serious about it, but we both pretend that it's just idle curiosity. Malaga was kind of a reality check, though. It's the only place where we could afford to live. And sorry, but I've done slum already. Slum sucks.
Even though it's a slum in the middle of the most amazing countryside...

*a couple of months ago that very thing happened where the biker works...hidden security cameras spotted a guy out trespassing on the reserve and taking pictures. this happens all the time; the place is on scenic coastline. hell, i've done it. they're usually pretty mellow about it. this time HOMELAND SECURITY suddenly appeared out of nowhere. the scary thing? turns out the guy really was a spy.
true fact. scary fact, too.