From Walla Walla I headed north through wheat fields then along the Columbia River basin into Yakima where I took route 410 up and over Chinook Pass and then 169 into Puget Sound. Clicking on the map will take you to a Google map of the route in detail.
Total distance: 289 mi – about 7 hours 17 mins of driving time if you don't stop.
Heading north from Walla Walla I turned off US12 onto Sudbury Road, a small, lightly used route that wound north through the wheat fields. To many people, the view of fields of grain as far as the eye can see is unexciting. To me, it is starkly beautiful. The road was well paved but empty, so I could pull off anywhere I wanted and take photos without attracting attention.
Not being a farm boy, I know this is wheat because I tasted it. It was obviously ripe and the combines were out harvesting it, leaving behind patterns that almost resembled crop circles. I would guess that running a combine through an endless sea of wheat all day can be a Zen-like job at times.
|The Open Road|
After passing through the Tri-cities, I turned north on Route 240 through the open sage land of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. This is the home of the reactors that created the plutonium for the first atomic bomb (detonated at the Trinity Site) and for "Fat Man", the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Currently it is the most contaminated site in the USA. Two interesting facts I learned about Hanford:
1) A Japanese Fire Balloon landed near Hanford during World War 2. This balloon caused a near calamity when it caused a short circuit in the powerlines supplying electricity for the nuclear reactor cooling pumps. However, backup safety devices restored power almost immediately. Can you imagine if it had actually caused a major reactor meltdown? Talk about lucky (for the Japanese).
2) The second interesting fact is that there are official tours through parts of Hanford a few times each year. Registration is online (and photo ID at the beginning of the tour is required). I don't want to supply the link since these tours fill up moments after registration is opened.
After driving past Hanford I turned west on Route 24 into Yakima. Another beautiful, open, empty road.
What would an empty road be without a ruined farm to explore? This one had cool old rusty cars, an old farmhouse, and some out buildings - all sitting quiet and alone under the wide open sky.
Driving through Yakima I tried to stop in at the old Grant's Brewpub but it had closed. There is a long, sad story about that but I'll not tell it here. Continuing up US12 I turned north onto 410 (Chinook Scenic Byway) in fading light. There were several campsites along the way but I opted again for a quiet site by myself down a forest service road. Like the previous night, I found a beautiful creek to spend the night next to. This is a shot of the sunset from along that creek. That evening I made a tasty pasta dinner and enjoyed the music from my new MP3-capable stereo late into the night.
Reaching the top of Chinook Pass (within the boundaries of Mount Rainier National Park), I parked the car and took a look east at the road I had just traveled. This was spectacular scenery and I couldn't believe I hadn't been up here before. It reminded me of Glacier National Park (but much closer to home and fewer people). I was happy the van had no problems making it this far on her new engine. I was happy I had the chance to make this trip alone, because it made it special. And I was happy I was now headed down the other side of the pass into Puget Sound toward home, my family, and my life in Seattle.
There is nothing like the forests in Washington - the smell of pine trees that get plenty to drink. I have traveled a lot of open, empty roads. Each time I do I wonder why it's been so long between the trips. Now that I have a daughter, and some more time to myself, I hope to raise her with the same love I have.
Scott & Karen Semyan