Frankly, it’s tough to beat our state
Talk Turkey or any other travel destination you like
But I have a question for you: Have you ever seen the Hanford Reach? The Methow Valley? The mighty Humptulips River?
It occurred to me last week that most of us are so busy going to Vegas and Maui that vast stretches of Washington are as foreign to us as Patagonia. Shouldn’t we make an attempt to see our home state?
And not just because it’s ours. Because there’s so much to see.
My wife Carol and I discovered this, despite ourselves, on a recent excursion to points west. I say “despite ourselves” because we did not plan this as any kind of “See Washington First” excursion. No, we just had a few places we needed to be – Olympia on a certain day, Seattle after that, and then Bellingham – and five days to do it in. So we decided we might as well avoid the one slice of Washington we have seen too many times – the Interstate 90 route to Seattle – and try something different.
As we plotted our route, we realized something appalling. We have both been Washington residents for 34 years and had never set foot in Yakima or any portion of the Yakima Valley. It’s our state’s world-famous agricultural treasure, rich in history and even richer in cabernet grapes, and we had never actually seen it.
Nor had we seen a storied stretch of the Columbia River, the Hanford Reach. So we put that on the itinerary, too. It’s the one place in the U.S. where you can still see the free-flowing Columbia River, the way it looked before the dams. I mean, for the hundreds of centuries before the dams.
It was dusty and smelling of sage, not to mention blisteringly hot. It was also lonely, as we drove a gravel road to a Hanford Reach boat launch that had been used by exactly one boat that day. Yet we could look at that rolling current and imagine it as the long-ago highway for the tribes, not to mention a never-ending fish market. Of course, we had to ignore the looming presence of the Hanford B-Reactor in the distance.
Then we headed over the aptly named Rattlesnake Hills – even drier and dustier than Hanford – before descending into a lush oasis of orchards, hop farms and vineyards. We stopped in at a few excellent Yakima Valley wineries – Tefft Cellars, Portteus Vineyards and Treveri Cellars (sparkling wine) – and ended up with many warm (not to mention fuzzy) memories of the Yakima Valley.
From Yakima, we headed up and over White Pass to a sight that can be matched in few places in the world. The Windy Ridge Viewpoint is so close to Mt. St. Helen’s torn-asunder north wall that we could practically feel the volcano’s hot breath. We walked through slopes of pick-up-sticks, and reveled in the new growth.
Then we drove through deep forests of Douglas fir and on into Olympia’s Budd Inlet, Puget Sound’s southernmost arm. Through sheer luck, the Puget Sound tribes were staging a ceremonial cedar-canoe procession down Budd Inlet that day. We sat on a deck high above the water, and listened to the chanting of hundreds of tribal members in 60 large carved canoes, sweeping through the inlet.
Then we went down to the beach and watched geoducks squirting. You didn’t know that geoducks squirt? Then you haven’t explored your home state enough.
From there, it was on to Safeco Field in Seattle for a Seattle Mariners baseball game. I’ve been to Safeco a lot, but I discovered something new: Lookout Landing, with a view of both left field and Elliott Bay. And the great thing is: It’s a bar.
Then it was on up to Bellingham, where we walked along Bellingham Bay and watched 13-year-old girls jump shrieking from a pier into the chilly salt water.
We’d seen more places in Washington than we ever had, and it was time to head home. Yet we had developed a taste for the two-lane routes. We took the North Cascades Highway and walked to a lofty viewpoint on Washington Pass (elevation, 5,477). Liberty Bell and the Early Winters Spires were spread out in a panorama before us, surely the equal of anything in the actual Alps.
Then we left the fir forests and descended into the cowboy country of the Methow Valley. I watched a grasshopper land in the crystal clear Methow River. Before it floated four feet, a trout snatched it off the surface. From there, it was back to Spokane through a relatively uneventful stretch – except for the presence one of the engineering wonders of the world, the Grand Coulee Dam.
I know that this whole See Washington First idea makes me sound like a shill for the state chamber of commerce. Yet this trip taught me that seeing Washington is a good idea not because it’s good for the state’s tourist industry.
It’s a good idea because this state contains so much dizzying diversity, and it’s all right under our noses. In one day, you can drive from the dustiest desert to the deepest rain forest, from the vineyards of Walla Walla to the orca haunts of the San Juan Islands, from the huckleberry thickets of Metaline Falls to the steelhead runs of Hells Canyon, from the dusty ranges of Dusty, Wash., to the dripping cedars of Forks.
So don’t do it because it’s your duty as a Washingtonian (it isn’t). Do it because there’s so much of it, and it’s right here at your doorstep.
After our trip was over, we got out the map and realized there were still a few slices of Washington we have never seen. So we’re planning a trip north soon, to Republic and Oroville. Then I’d love to see the Blue Mountains and points nearby. I can’t believe I’ve lived in this state for 34 years and never seen the Grande Ronde River.
Jim Kershner is a longtime arts reporter, historian and columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.