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18 June, 2011

Backroads: Grain to Hops, Hot Rods and Rattlesnakes

After a few hundred miles of winding through Palus country, it was time to high-tail it outta there, quit the wending and set a course back to Olympia. It would have been easy enough to hit I-90, turn on the cruise control, and join the flow of vegetative travelers heading west at great speed on the straight and not so narrow.

Screw that. Besides the boredom factor--Hay barns labeled in Korean and even the Columbia crossing have become uncomfortably numb--that route would dump me into the Pugetopolis traffic mire and force a traverse of Fort Lewis, where vital national security interests require perpetual slowdowns. Yeah, screw that. 

Better the backroads, which in this case gave me a crowier flight home, not too far north or south of the line from Colfax to Chehalis, leaving just a jot of interstate to endure on the final run north. Plus, I love going through White Pass, topping the Cascades on two lanes, usually with little company. And in this case, a chance to cover new territory, stretches of Routes 26 and 24 I'd never rolled through.
Amber Waves are for the Slow.
If my driving had meandered as much as this post, I'd still be on the road. But I gassed up, got a good dose of caffeine, and floored it. Climbed up out of the depths of Colfax, gaining speed, positively screaming once I'd negotiated the crossroads of Dusty, Washington. The wheat was high. No amber waves; amber is frozen. Green stalks bent back in the slipstream as I sped faster and faster, pushing an ever larger air-wake to either side. 

I'm pretty sure I reached velocity sufficient to distort the time-space continuum holding my brainpan, making the rolling hills seem to flatten out. Then, geography caught up as I passed Washtucna, heading plainward on an asphalt arrow pointing at Othello. I must've passed something interesting, but at speeds so great that all points blurred.

Hanging a left, 26 became 24, zooming down to the Columbia. Maybe slowing a bit, trepidation mounting. Because I was headed toward the contaminated Hanford nuke site, where scientists once made plutonium for bombs, and now they try to find ways to clean up the waste. Currently, the plan is to make it into glass and unload it on Chihuly and all the other glass artists inhabiting the Northwest. Look for a new line of glowing bongs.

Relax. Nothing out of the ordinary at the Hanford Site.
Windows rolled up, I made it through with no adverse effects. At least nothing that will appear in the near future. As an added bonus, I was not hit with any stray rounds from the Yakima Firing Range. And the road ran straight and smooth, as they often do in areas where federal dollars augment state transportation funds. Bottom line: gauntlet successfully run.

Rattlesnake Hills, Rattlesnake Clouds
Then, off to the left, the Rattlesnake Hills. Ancient, constant. The road follows the hills, skirting north of them as it approaches Yakima, keeping a respectful distance, or maybe just following the path of least resistance. I thought I was having a vision, hallucinating rattles on the tails of clouds that hovered above, but the photo says it really happened. Still, reality and natural (even scientific) explanations cannot convince me to write it off as nothing special. Atmospheric echoes of cartographic names? I love that kind of stuff, it's sustenance for a religionless soul like mine.

Mmmm...agriculture for beer's sake.
Yakama country (I suppose "Yakima" may be more accurate, this being outside the res in lands appropriated for newcomers) is famed for hops. In June, after a slow cool start, the vines race upwards almost as fast as I flew through horizontally; sticky tendrils grab the driver who slows too much in their midst. Left alone, these vines grow like kudzu does in my own homeland, but here they populate a tame tracery of wires and posts. I've seen hop patches before, but never the miles of fields that line 24 on it's approach to Moxee, a place named for the edible roots that preceded hops, but which is now growing more tract homes than anything else as change keeps moving. Root grounds to homesteads to industrial farms to exurbs. Progress?

Past Yakima, back onto 12, settling into a well-traveled path for me. Fast climb, faster descent. Another story.

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