The Eclipse Trip Days 5-7: The Palouse, Spokane, and Lake Roosevelt

I finish up the trip in an uneventful way.

Although I tried hard to blog about each day of this trip shortly after it happened, I ran out of steam after my trip to Walla Walla. I think there are two reasons for this:

  • The rest of the trip wasn’t very interesting.
  • I spent a lot of time driving.

So I’ll just sum up here.

Day 5: Walla Walla to Palouse Falls

In the morning, I went down to the motel breakfast room for coffee, eggs, and sausage. They were all horrible. Honestly: I’d rather have a cold and stale Egg McMuffin than just about anything served up at a motel’s “free” breakfast. The eggs and sausage were so bad that even Penny wouldn’t eat them.

Later, after packing up and stowing my things back in the camper, we went for a walk on Main Street. I stopped at an outside cafe for a good cup of coffee. They sold fresh figs by the pound inside so I bought a pound to munch on later in my trip. I love figs so, as you might imagine, they didn’t last long.

I wanted to get some wine tasting in before I left town and to do that I had to wait until 11 AM. That’s when I hit Trust Cellars on 2nd Street. The hostess from the restaurant where I’d had dinner the night before had recommended it. I chatted with her father, the wine maker. I soon began to realize that very few Walla Walla area wineries grew their own grapes. The wine was pretty good, so I bought three bottles.

From there I went to lunch at a “southern comfort food” restaurant on Main Street called Whoopemup Hollow Cafe. I had a gumbo that was good but took half of it to go. I also had a peach cobbler for dessert that was excellent.

Then on to Walla Walla Airport. Yes, the airport. Believe it or not, quite a few of Walla Walla’s wineries have tasting rooms at the airport. It used to be an air force facility and there are lots of barracks and other buildings there dating back to the World War II era. Wineries have set up shop in these buildings. Although most are simply tasting rooms, a few also do production and/or bottling. I visited two tasting rooms next to each other, Buty Winery and Adamant Cellars. Buty had been recommended by the winemaker at Trust. Neither impressed me, but I bought a bottle from each because I always buy wine when I go tasting unless it’s simply undrinkable.

I’d wanted to hit a third winery at the airport but since I was so unimpressed with the first two and had drunk enough before 2 PM, I headed out instead.

My destination was Palouse Falls, where I hoped to spend the night. The drive would take me through much of the Palouse, a sort of mecca for photographers.

The Palouse is an area of Washington State with rolling hills covered with wheat. At a certain time of the year — July and early August, I expect — it’s an amazing place to photograph — well, rolling hills covered with green (July) or golden (August) wheat. Google Palouse Image and see what I mean.

I’ve always wanted to get out there in just the right season, but that season happens to be my cherry drying season when I’m pretty much stuck in the Wenatchee area. So I can’t see it until the wheat has already been harvested and it isn’t nearly as attractive.

The drive was a lot longer than I expected but was pleasant and scenic without the least bit of traffic. Honestly, I think that my road trips have spoiled me because of often travel to places on routes that no one else seems to use. The only time I experience traffic these days is when I’m driving through Wenatchee and have to deal with traffic lights.

Palouse Falls is a 200-foot waterfall on a place along the Palouse River where it cuts through a canyon and drops into a crack in the terrain. The visitor parking area is on a hillside overlooking the falls so most of the photos you see of the place look like aerial shots.

Palouse Falls from the Overlook
I shot this photo of Palouse Falls from the parking area not long after our arrival. The light was flat and never did get interesting during my stay.

Permit me to vent a little about No Fly zones for drones.

First of all, the No Drone rule at Palouse Falls is a Washington State law. It prevents people from launching a drone from within any State Park. Palouse Falls is a State Park.

What it doesn’t prevent is launching a drone from outside a State Park and flying it into that park. You see, the state doesn’t control the airspace. That’s the FAA’s jurisdiction. As I pilot, I know a lot about airspace and where it’s legal to fly. I also wrote a whole book about FAA Part 107, which lays out regulations for commercial drone flight that include regulations for non-commercial drone flight.

So there would be nothing stopping me from launching the drone from outside the park and flying it into the park as long as I didn’t fly over any people, kept it below 400 feet above ground level, and somehow — this is the tricky part — managed to keep it within sight at all times.

But do you want to know what’s really crazy? I could fly my helicopter into the park, which I guarantee would get a lot more notice than a half-pound drone, and maneuver it down into the canyon to get the shot I wanted. Legally. Again, the state does not control airspace and as long as my skids didn’t touch the ground inside the park I wouldn’t be breaking any laws.

Would I do that? What do you think?

It’s just an example of how absurd the rules can be — prohibiting one activity that could be a minor annoyance to a few people while allowing another activity that would definitely be a major annoyance to everyone within the park.

In reality, a better view of the falls would be from a drone hovering below the operator inside the canyon. In fact, it would be a perfect shot. But although I had my Mavic Pro with me, there were enough No Drone signs and other visitors to prevent a launch.

It was a gray day. Beyond the smoke-induced haze were clouds spreading rain in the area. I had a cell signal and could track a few rainstorms on radar. It rained a little on us, but not enough to get wet.

Tired from driving and still hoping to do some nighttime photography there, I paid for a campsite and parked next to it. This was apparently a no-no, as I learned from a ranger in the morning. He didn’t cite me but he did lecture me until I pretended to understand and agree with the absurd rule. Yes, tent campers are allowed to park in the lot and then pitch a tent on the grass and sleep in that. But no, people without tents can’t just park a car or truck in the lot and sleep in their car or truck. The rule had nothing to do with parking but everything to do with where you actually slept. If I had pitched a tent and slept in that, there would have been no problem. Next time, that’s what I’ll do.

Palouse Canyon
I think the view down the river from the falls is far more interesting than the falls themselves. Look at those layers of basalt!

In the meantime, the girl who’d parked near me and slept in her car, slipped away while I was being lectured. I didn’t turn her in. Heck, not everyone can afford camping gear. Why shouldn’t she be allowed to spend the night in a safe place, sheltered by her own vehicle? The rule was absurd and I certainly had no intention of helping them enforce it.

Of course, the sky never did clear up that night so I didn’t get the opportunity to do any night photography.

All in all, I consider my trip to Palouse Falls a disappointing bust.

Day 6: Palouse Falls to Lake Roosevelt via Spokane

My Palouse Falls experience left a bad taste in my mouth that I was eager to wash away. I figured that a trip to Trader Joe’s in Spokane to stock up on a few pantry goods followed up with lunch in my favorite Ethiopian restaurant — okay, so the only Ethiopian restaurant I know — would fix me right up.

But I did make one interesting stop along the way: Steptoe Butte.

Steptoe Butte is a granite outcropping that juts up out of those rolling hills. It’s tall so, as you might expect, they put antennas on it. There’s a road that spirals up to the top and offers unobstructed views in every direction.

View from Steptoe
The view from Steptoe Butte. I think this was north, but it could have been any direction. The view is pretty much the same no matter where you look: lots of rolling wheat fields.

Road to Steptoe Butte
When I say the road spirals, I’m not kidding. Here’s how it looked on Google Maps on the way down.

On the day of my visit, it was still hazy with smoke. It was mid afternoon and the light was flat. In other words, not the best conditions for landscape photography. Of course, camping isn’t allowed up there so anyone with the thought of spending the night after a golden hour evening shoot or before a golden hour morning shoot (or both) would be disappointed. No camping anywhere near there at all. Still, photographers make the long drive out there pretty regularly before dawn or back after sunset to be there at the right time. That wasn’t going to be me, at least not that day.

I came back down and continued on to Spokane. A little over an hour later, I was battling local traffic to maneuver my rig into a Trader Joe’s parking lot (which, fortunately, was part of a strip mall parking lot), shopping for things I can only get at TJ’s (if you like sardines, their sardines in olive oil are the best), and then making my way to Queen of Sheeba Ethiopian Cuisine on the Spokane River (great food).

Then I faced the option of ending my trip by making the 3-1/2 hour drive home or staying on the road one more day and finding an interesting campsite to spend the night. Not really fully decided either way, I found a few potential overnight destinations on the map that were also on the way home. If I found a spot I liked, I’d stop. Otherwise, I’d drive home.

I wound up along Lake Roosevelt, a very large lake on the Columbia River created by the Grand Coulee Dam. I’ve flown over it a few times and it’s the kind of place I’d really like to spend more time exploring, preferably with a boat or even a houseboat.

It was late Thursday afternoon, and the first campground I stopped at, Keller Ferry Campground, was crowded with loud RVers and their loud families. I almost backed into a campsite that was not much more than a glorified parking space in an asphalt lot with a picnic table on the grass nearby. But I knew I’d hate it and I hate paying for things I hate. So I pulled out and continued on my way.

The second campground, Spring Canyon, which was nearly all the way to Grand Coulee, was much more pleasant. Lake Roosevelt is a National Recreation Area and this campground was managed by the park service. The other was managed by a concessionaire and you can really tell the difference. The sites were on a hill with views of the lake. The spots were spread out a bit with lots of shade but little underbrush. I drove around and finally found an open spot that just happened to be designated as handicapped. A sign said that if it was still available after 6 PM, anyone could have it for one night. (Apparently, handicapped campers need to get where they’re going by 6.) It was 6:30. I only needed it for one night. I backed in, checked the level, was satisfied, and shut the engine.

It wasn’t until after I paid the $12 fee in the self-pay station that I regretted my choice. That’s when the white trash family in the site next to me went off the rails. They had three young sons aged 12 and below and one of them — I never could figure out which one — was misbehaving. That got dad yelling and threatening. Then mom joined in. Soon they were both yelling and cursing at each other and the kids. I have never heard a couple throw the F-bomb so loudly in public in front of their own kids and other kids as much as these two did. Fuck this fucking fucked up thing. Well, okay, not exactly that, but close. It reminded me too much of time spent with my ex-brother-in-law, a low-life loser who couldn’t complete a sentence without some form of the word fuck in it. But these people were doing it loudly in a campground full of families.

I wanted it to stop. I looked around for a ranger but didn’t see anyone. I was just starting to wonder if it was worth complaining to the campground host when they finally settled down. I think someone got sent into the tent. Mom settled into a chair to study her phone. Dad disappeared.

You don’t get scenes like this when you camp out in the middle of nowhere. You get the sound of nature — wind, birds, falling water, coyotes, squirrels high in trees chattering at small dogs on the ground — or no sound at all.

Anyway, things were fine after that. I ate reheated leftover Ethiopian food on the back steps of my camper, looking out over a campground that was settling down for the night. Someone nearby — maybe in the camper van? — started playing a flute and it sounded very nice. I took Penny for a walk around the campground and then we climbed up into the sleeping area for bed.

Day 7: Lake Roosevelt to Home

I woke up before dawn, as usual. I had coffee while Penny slept in. I caught up on Twitter and did the word puzzle I try to start each morning with. Each morning I have an Internet connection, anyway. It’s a daily puzzle and I’ve done it faithfully every day for the past 70+ days.

When it got light, I took Penny for a walk down on the beach. I let her loose to run on the sand. She loves the beach.

Dawn at Lake Roosevelt
Dawn at Lake Roosevelt.

It was quiet and very pleasant. I watched the sun rise and saw the first light hit hillsides beyond the dam. I wished I had my boat with me. I thought about boat camping. I had recently bought a new tent that would give me, Penny, and even a companion plenty of space to camp in and was eager to use it along a lake or river.

Back at camp, I made breakfast and ate it on the back steps. Other campers were waking. There was no sign of life from the tents at the loud family’s camp. I wondered if the husband or wife had killed the family during the night.

I did the dishes and went through my morning routine. By that time, the loud family was awake and breaking camp. They sure didn’t look like happy people. I wonder sometimes why people bother going on vacation when they spend so much time fighting with each other and staring at their phones.

Penny and I went out for another walk. Although I’d only planned to walk around the campground, I found a “nature trail” and started up that. It was a dirt path that climbed up a hillside with numbered markers along the way that had likely, at one time, corresponded to points on a self-guided tour. There were a few benches along the way that looked like good places to stop and look out at the lake and contemplate life. I stopped at the one at the top of the hill. There were nice views from up there of the lake and campground. The trail continued and we followed it, not sure where it would lead us. It wound up bringing us back down to the campground, no far from our site.

Lake Roosevelt
A view of Lake Roosevelt from the highest point on the trail.

The loud family was gone. There was an inflated beach ball under my truck. I fished it out and gave it to a family with small kids that was camped nearby. The one that spoke English thanked me and handed it off to two young girls who immediately started playing with it. The rest seemed to speak Russian.

I was already ready to go. So I hopped into the truck, started up, and asked Google to show me the quickest way home.

I did stop at the dump station on the way out to dump the holding tanks. I have a very convenient place to dump at home, right near the door to the garage where the camper lives. But I’d rather dump before going home. Then I can add a gallon of clean water and chemicals to the tank and let it slosh around in a sort of cleaning cycle on the way home. It’s a losing battle to keep the tank sensors clean but I haven’t given up. This is just one strategy in my fight.

Our route home took us down the east side of Banks Lake, over the dam at Coulee City, and then up onto the Waterville Plateau. I made a quick stop to look at a vintage pull trailer in Waterville where I chatted at length with a man who’d stopped to do the same thing. Then we descended down to Orondo. I stopped at Katy Bee’s farmstand-turned-cafe for lunch and an ice cream. From there, it was less than 30 minute to get home.

My first vacation for the season was over.

The Eclipse Trip Day 4: The Travel and Wine Tasting Day

I visit Walla Walla, get a good, hot shower, and have a great dinner.

I slept until nearly six — which is late for me — and woke up feeling refreshed. The first thing I did was look out my side window to see if my neighbors were up and about; that would determine how loud I could be. But they were gone.

All traces of them were gone.

Somehow, they’d managed to pack up three tents and a bunch of other gear into their cars and drive off while I was sleeping less than 100 feet away. How was that possible?

My sleeping pattern is regular. I sleep like the dead for the first three to four hours every night. You could set a bomb off next to me and I’m unlikely to wake. For the rest of the night, however, I’m a very light sleeper. So unless they packed up and left without sleeping there, they somehow managed to pack up and leave so quietly that I didn’t hear them. If that’s the case, thank you mystery campers.

The site on the other side of me just had a pickup truck parked in it. There hadn’t been a sign of people since I arrived. I had begun to think that the truck’s owner had parked there and then just wandered off into the woods to camp. Beyond them was a camping van with a tall, skinny tent — the kind often used for a bathroom or shower. Those people were gone, too. The guy at the far end was still there with no sign of life in his campsite.

So I opened the door and let Penny out to do her business. And then I got to work making coffee. She was back before the water had boiled.

I spent the next two hours working on my Day 3 blog post. There was no signal at all in my campsite, so posting it was not an option. When I was finished with that, I made a breakfast of bacon and eggs. Then I spent some time planning my day.

I knew I wanted to end up in Walla Walla for some wine tasting. If you’re not familiar with it, Walla Walla is one of the AVAs (basically, wine production regions) in Washington. It has dozens of wineries. (Too many, if you ask me.) I could just continue up 395 to Pendleton and follow Route 11 north from there. But I wanted to do some exploring along the way and tracing my path back to Pendleton would not accomplish that. I saw a place called Lehman Hot Springs on a side road that went east to La Grande and thought that might make an interesting stop along the way. From La Grande, I’d head north and then come down the Blue Mountains southeast of Walla Walla.

My campsite in the tiny 5-site campground. I think that pile of wood used to be a picnic table.

Plan made, I cleaned up my breakfast mess, got dressed, and stowed my loose belongings. By this time everyone else in the campground had gone. Even the pickup truck; apparently two people had been sleeping in it. (Compared to everyone else there, I was sleeping in the Ritz.)

It was about nine when I headed out. That’s when I discovered that the creek that went past the campground was actually the North Fork of the John Day River.

The Drive

On Route 395, I passed the parking area I’d spent my first night on the road in. Three miles later, I reached the campground that had been full; I pulled in to take a look around. It was a nice place with a creek running through it and still half full. It’s in the Ukiah-Dale Forest State Scenic Corridor, in case you want to look it up.

I turned right on Route 244 and, a few miles later, passed through the sad little town of Ukiah, OR. (Sorry folks, but I just report it as I see it.) Not much going on there, but there were about 20 motorcycles. Big cruisers, mostly. I kept going. The road continued into rolling hills with patches of forest. It was a very pleasant drive. For most of the way, I saw traces of an old railroad bed that predated the road. I have an eye for these things — old railroad or road right-of-ways — and it always gets me wondering where the train (in this case) went and why they removed its tracks.

I climbed up into the forest. There were now national forest roads going off into the woods on either side of me. Plenty of camping opportunities if I was looking for them. It was after I crossed the county line that I consulted the map again. Thats when I realized that I’d passed the Hot Springs. There hadn’t even been a sign. Just another point on a map that barely existed.

I kept going.

A while later, Route 244 dumped me onto I-84, where I definitely did not want to be. There wasn’t much of a choice, though. I followed it east and after a quick side trip to see a historic bridge, got off at the first exit in La Grande.

Perry Arch Bridge
The Perry Arch Bridge near La Grande.

I had decided about 40 miles earlier that what I really wanted was ice cream. So imagine my joy when the first business I encountered on my way into town was an old-style ice cream/hamburger joint. I slid into a parking space out front, cracked the windows, and went inside. I arrived after two big parties and waited while the woman at the counter took their orders. For a while, I considered having a burger, too, but by the time it was my turn to order, I’d settled on a rocky road waffle cone for me and a vanilla pup cup for Penny. $4 later, I was on my way back out to the truck. I didn’t realize until much later that it was the first money I’d spent on food during my entire trip so far.

I’d been noticing a sort of haziness in the air for most of the day and it wasn’t any better in La Grande. I followed the road through town, passing the Ford dealer where I’d bought my truck less than two years before, then turned left onto Route 82 heading northeast. I had to trick Google Maps into finding me the route I wanted by telling it I planned to stop in Elgin on the way. Otherwise, it tried to route me along I-84 through Pendleton. The road was fast and there wasn’t much traffic on it. The valley I was in was big and broad but the haziness really made it feel sort of closed in.

I turned left onto 204 at Elgin and headed northwest, back into the mountains. The road twisted and turned and I passed more than a few SUVs towing very small pull trailers. R-Pods seem to be pretty popular, although I don’t understand why. One of the models I passed had a narrow body with its wheels extending on either side of it. If the designers had built the body out over the wheels like most pull trailers, they could have added a foot of space on either side. For a 14-foot trailer, that’s 140 square feet of additional space. Go figure, huh?

I reached the community of Tollgate, which looked like a mountain retreat with homes on a small lake. There was a ski resort up there and lots of turnoffs into the forest for Sno-Parks. Not many people, though. No reason to stop, so I kept going.

A little while later, though, I passed a sign for a farm stand that had a magic word on it: Pies. I pulled into a parking lot in front of a tiny building called The Outpost. There were fresh vegetables outside — the absolute last thing I needed. Inside was a young woman at a little counter with pies behind her and handmade fragrant soaps on the other side of the room. The room smelled wonderful.

The Outpost
The Blue Mountain Outpost has fresh eggs, produce, and pies, as well as handmade soaps that smell really nice.

We chatted for a while as I smelled the soaps. I had to buy one, of course. I asked her which one she liked and she picked one up. I sniffed it and it smelled good. Then I asked about the pies. Peach, huckleberry, and peach-huckleberry. I picked the peach-huckleberry and paid for my purchases. When I picked it up, it was still warm from the oven.

Back on the road, I continued down the mountainside. After a few Google-directed turns, I found myself driving through Milton-Freewater.

I remembered the town mostly because back when I first drove through — on my midlife crisis road trip back in 2005 — there had been a lot of frog related stuff. I wondered how that was playing these days with the famous Pepe being taken as a symbol of the Alt-Right. But that day, when I drove through, I only saw a frog in two places: on a very old sign near the outskirts of town and in a statue in town. They had obviously moved on from frogs in town and I thought that was a good thing.

I continued north on Route 12 toward Walla Walla. For a while, my rig was one of three Lance truck campers heading that way. We were all bunched up at traffic lights more than once. Onlookers probably thought we were all together. But when we got to Walla Walla, I turned off into town and they kept going.

I stopped at the Chamber of Commerce. I wanted to ask about parking for the night. I had stayed at two different campgrounds in town in the past and had no idea whether they still existed. I also wanted to ask about wine tasting. But the only guy in the Chamber of Commerce was clueless about both things. Apparently, he was new to town. I knew more about the town than he did — and I hadn’t been there for four years.

I left with a wine tourist magazine that listed all the local wineries — did I mention there were a lot of them? — and a brochure for Palouse Falls, where I hoped to spend the night. I’d also left a message at the RV park closest to town and had called the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel about getting a room. I decided that $200 including tax and a $30 pet fee was more than I wanted to spend. (I’m certain I’d stayed there with Penny and a friend a few years back and did not spend that much.)

I drove the few blocks into town and parked on a side street. (I really do love the parking flexibility T2 offers.) That’s when I realized that there could be more hotels within walking distance of downtown. I wound up finding a room at the Red Lion Inn only two blocks away for a much more reasonable $70/night. I drove right over and checked in.

By this time, it was 3 PM. I figured that there was a chance that a lot of the downtown shops and wineries would close at 5 or 6. So rather than go up to our room, Penny and I took a walk up and down Main Street.

Wine and Dinner in Walla Walla

Walla Walla is a really nice town. It’s a lot like Wenatchee, but it has a lot more going for it in terms of wine tasting rooms, restaurants, and shops. The downtown is vibrant and was relatively busy, even on that Tuesday afternoon. I was sad to see that the shop with the walk-in, glass-sided cheese closet had closed down, but glad to see T. Macarrone’s, a favorite restaurant of mine, was still open. I wasn’t in the mood to shop or taste wine, though. I think it was the weather; the heat, light humidity, and thickness in the air from smoke was taking its toll on me.

Still, I did manage to squeeze in a tasting on my way back to the hotel. It was the brand new tasting room for Bledsoe. It was a really nice space, tastefully designed with big windows looking out onto the street from its corner. Although the tasting room was not normally open on Tuesdays, the girl in there was pouring for another customer and didn’t mind pouring for me.

To say I was not impressed was an understatement. The four wines — which started at $40/bottle — had definitely been released too early. I tried not to be critical — after all, it could be my palate that was mistaken. The wines all tasted different but all had that bite that’s common with wines that haven’t been aged enough.

While I was tasting, the girl at the counter gave me some background information about the winery. It had “split off” from another winery called Doubleback that was also in the area. Both wineries were run by the same people but they had two lines of wine and two tasting rooms. I tried to figure out why someone would do that and finally realized that it was a marketing scheme. Hell, it was from the Marketing 101 class I’d taken in college. To maximize exposure of your products, make as many versions of it as the market will support. In this case, they’d taken one winery and instead of selling six or ten different wines under that name, they were selling eight or twelve wines under two different names. Two tasting rooms. Twice the exposure. Of course, this is just a theory. The way Google works these days, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone from Bledsoe or Doubleback found this blog post and set me straight.

I did buy a bottle of wine, though. The tasting rooms in Walla Walla all have a tasting fee that can be applied to a purchase. I wasn’t interested in spending $10 for four tastes of disappointing wine. Instead, I’d spend $40 and take home a bottle I thought was least offensive. I figured I’d share it with people knowledgeable about wine to see what they thought. Maybe they’d educate me.

From there, I went right back to the hotel. I fetched some clothes and toiletries and Penny supplies out of the truck and camper, locked everything up, and went up to my room. This part of the hotel was in an obviously old motel building that had been nicely refinished. The walls were painted cinderblock and because they’d been painted in bright colors — yellow and purple (really!) — the place looked kind of hip. There were two queen beds with their blankets wrapped in sheets. (I really like when they do that.) The pillows were big and fluffy. There was a table and chairs, a fridge in the cabinet, and even a balcony overlooking the pool.

I made reservations for 6 at T Macarrone’s, then set Penny up with food and water, showered, and got ready to go. I left a little after 5, walking back into town alone.

Feeling more refreshed, I stopped for another tasting, this time at Henry Earl. What a difference! These wines were quite good — at least more to my taste — and I wound up buying three bottles. An interesting thing about this winery: the grapes come from the Red Mountain and Wahluke Slope areas of Washington state, making me wonder why they had a tasting room in Walla Walla.

Again, it’s all marketing. First there was Napa and Sonoma Valleys in California, producing wine, offering tastings at the wineries, and getting an audience for what they made. I was in Napa back in the 1980s and it was a great place to explore wines. At each stop, you’d get an opportunity to not only taste wine, but have a production or history tour of the winery. There was no tasting fee. It was a service they offered to attract new customers. At the tasting bar, you could chat with someone knowledgable about the wine — maybe even the winemaker. Fast-forward to 2013, when I returned with some friends. Now tasting was a business, with tasting fees ranging from $10 to $20 per person and advance tickets needed for the few wineries that offered tours. The tasting bar was staffed by sales people who often only knew what they’d been told about the wine. And there were dozens and dozens of wineries, many of which had absolutely no participation in the growing of grapes.

In Washington state, it’s the same thing, but more insidious. Yes, there are some great wineries, including estate wineries, throughout the Columbia Valley, Walla Walla, Chelan, and the Red Mountain area. But since tourists are apparently too lazy to drive out to the wineries these days, winery owners have opened tasting rooms in centralized areas. Downtown Walla Walla is one of those areas. So is Woodinville — conveniently placed near Seattle to make it easier for city folks to go wine tasting without actually visiting a winery. They don’t grow many (or any?) grapes or make much (or any?) wine in Woodinville, yet people think of that as “wine country.” It’s a real shame. There’s nothing quite like visiting an actual winery and chatting with a winemaker, especially when you’re part of a group of people who truly understand and appreciate wine and want to learn all they can.

That said, I should have made more of an effort to get out to the actual wineries the Walla Walla area. But I think I’ll try again another time, hopefully with a wine tasting buddy.

Tuna Crudo
Corn Soup
Seared Duck Breast
My dinner, in three courses.

At T Macarrone’s, I sat at the bar. I’d been told their cocktails were good and the bartender helped me pair two different cocktails to my first two courses of dinner. The first one was a somewhat spicy Thai concoction that I liked a lot. It went well with the Tuna Crudo appetizer. The second one was some sort of margarita that I liked a little less; I had that with a creamy Sweet Corn Soup. I had the Seared Duck Breast (which I had them cook more than just seared) for dinner with a glass of wine that I was unable to finish. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it — I did! — it was just that I worried about being able to walk the four blocks back to my hotel if I kept drinking. I skipped dessert because I was absolutely stuffed.

Back at the hotel, I made some finishing touches on my Day 3 blog post and got it online. I spent some time taking care of email and responding to text messages that had come in while I was off the grid.

When I took Penny out for her last walk of the evening, we went to the truck to fetch a few things I’d forgotten, along with that pie. I had a nice slice before going to bed — it was delicious! — and put the rest of it in my hotel room fridge with my truck keys so I wouldn’t forget it.

The Eclipse Trip, Day 3: The Eclipse and More

I get to see my first (and likely only) total eclipse of the sun. And do some other stuff.

I slept until 5:30, which is really unusual for me. It was quite light out, so I missed my chance for nighttime photography. At least there.

Prepping for the Eclipse

I made coffee and spent some time preparing my cameras for shooting the eclipse. I had my Nikon D7000 with me, along with a 70-300mm Nikkor lens and a solar filter I’d bought to fit it. I’d already experimented with the filter and was satisfied that it enabled me to shoot pictures of the sun without worries of damaging the camera’s sensor. That camera would go on my heavy duty Manfroto tripod, forming my main photographic platform.

I also had a GoPro with me. I thought I’d try using that for a time-lapse. I took a spare pair of eclipse glasses and cut the plastic lens from the cardboard frame, then taped it over the GoPro lens. I had to do this on the outside of the lens case; I couldn’t get it inside. I then set it up where I could get a time-lapse of the sky. I had serious doubts I’d get anything worth keeping.

I also had my iPhone and I made a lens filter for that. Again, I wasn’t happy with the images I got, but it was worth a try.

I did some research with the Observatory app I have on my iPad to get an idea of when all this would begin. I then looked up exact numbers for my location using the PhotoPills app I just got. That said the eclipse would start at 9:09 AM. Less than three hours away.

I spent the next half hour cutting up veggies and browning meat to start a beef stew. I figured that since I had to hang around all morning, I’d put that time to good use. The stew had stew meat from the 1/4 cow I bought last year, onions, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, and tomatoes. These last three came from my garden. Once everything was browned, I added salt and pepper (the only appropriate seasonings on hand) and a pint of beef broth that I’d made last autumn and froze. (Honestly, I’m doing everything possible to clear out my freezer.) I put the cover on and let it simmer.

By this time, it was after 7 AM and most of my eclipse “family” (as Jay called us) was up and about. The three guys who had come up from the San Francisco Bay area the day before were already cleaning out their tent. Jay and his brother, the birthday boys, were having coffee. I walked over to wish them a happy birthday. Only the motorhome people were still locked up in their metal box — all five of them.

Sun Through Trees
I took this sample photo early in them morning with the sun through the trees. I guess I was just testing for exposure.

I set up my cameras outside. I took a sample photo of the sun shining through the tall firs on the edge of our camping area. I sacrificed another spare pair of my eclipse glasses for the three guys in the tent to make solar filters for their smartphones.

I should mention here that it was an absolutely perfect day for eclipse viewing. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. The air was clear — not the least bit hazy or smokey. There was virtually no wind and the temperature by 8 AM was in the high 60s/low 70s. We were right on the line for maximum totality. There was nothing that could be changed to make the weather or our position any better for eclipse viewing. Nothing.

I flew the drone for a while, taking it down the road for a view of all the Four Corners campers. There were a lot more than there had been the previous afternoon. I flew it over by Jay’s camp where Jay, not knowing I was flying it, flipped the finger at it. Oops. I landed it and put it away.

And then I waited with the others.

The Eclipse

Before I go any further, I need to apologize for not being able to adequately describe the experience of seeing a total solar eclipse with my own eyes. Simply said, it’s awe-inspiring and probably the most amazing thing I’ve ever witnessed. When totality was all over, I was left feeling stunned by the magnificence of what I’d just seen and very sorry for the people who had passed up the opportunity to see it for themselves.

That said, I’ll do my best to describe it.

I do need to point out that even though the photos that follow show a black sky, the sky was bright blue until totality. The photos where the sun looks orange were shot through a solar filter, which basically makes everything except the sun black. Keep that in mind as you view my contribution to the photo library of eclipse photos.

First Bite
One of my companions referred to this as “first bite.” Can you see the shadow of the moon in the upper right corner?

I was watching the sun, though my eclipse glasses, when 9:09 AM rolled along. For some reason, I thought the moon would approach on the lower left of the sun. (In hindsight, that makes no sense. My Observatory app had told me that the moon rose a few minutes before the sun that morning and the sun’s motion through the sky is slightly faster than the moon’s. That meant the sun would catch up to the moon and pass behind it relative to our point of view on earth.) So when I thought I saw a tiny change in the upper right side of the sun, I had to confirm with a look through my filtered camera lens.

“It’s starting!” I called out.

Motorhome Gang
The motorhome gang and their tent-lodging friends, looking up at the eclipse with their eclipse glasses on. (And yes, they did pose for this.)

One by one, my companions put on their eclipse glasses and looked up at the sun. There was some debate and then someone confirmed it. That’s when I mentioned that they could see it better through my camera which was, in essence, acting like a low-powered telescope. That’s probably when my camera became the central viewing area for me, the motorhome people, and their three tent-camping friends. There was barely a minute for the next hour or so that someone wasn’t looking through the viewfinder.

Meanwhile, across the little road that separated us from Jay’s group, Jay had set up a pinhole viewer with a mirror that projected onto the front of his pop-up truck camper. That’s how he was watching the eclipse progress. He’d read somewhere that even looking through eclipse glasses could be harmful to your eyes if you do it too long. So he wasn’t doing it much at all. I think he was there for totality, the two minutes and twenty seconds when you could look at the eclipse without eclipse glasses on.

Projector Projected Image
Jay, a retired teacher, created an eclipse projector and displayed it on the front of his camper.

Half Covered Sun
I figure the sun was about a third covered in this shot. Without eclipse glasses on, it was still bright sunlight all around us.

I snapped a photos with the camera periodically as the moon’s shadow progressed across the face of the sun. The sun looked like an orange disc with a black disc held against it. I had to reposition the camera on the tripod every 5-10 minutes because the sun and moon kept moving up and to the right in the sky.

I tried shooting images with my iPhone but they looked like crap. Behind us, my GoPro had been snapping away since before 9 AM, taking one shot every 20 seconds. I had no idea what I’d wind up with.

Then I had the idea of using my binoculars in conjunction with the eclipse glasses. I had to hold the glasses over the side of the binoculars facing the sun. Then I’d raise them to my eyes and pivot my head toward the sun. The tricky part was finding the sun — eclipse glasses make everything except the sun completely black. You can’t peek while you’re doing this. You have to point your body towards the sun’s warmth until the sun pops into view. It was worth the effort. I was able to get an even better view of the sun and even saw a series of three sun spots in a line, like Orion’s Belt on the sun. These spots don’t show in any of my Nikon photos, but I think it’s the exposure that hid them.

This part of the eclipse took a long time. In the movies, it seems like it all happens really quickly, but it doesn’t. It took more than a hour from the start at 9:09 to totality at around 10:20. For the first half of this time, there was basically no change in the sun’s light. It was still a bright, warm sunny day. With the glasses off, not looking at the sun (of course) you wouldn’t even know an eclipse was happening unless you were paying really close attention to your surroundings.

Crescent Shadows
Shadows cast by the trees near Jay’s camp appeared as scallops in the road.

The first hint that something was amiss was the way the shadows changed. The area we were in was surrounded by tall fir trees. As the moon hid at least 50% of the sun, the shadows took on a crescent shape, like scallops. This was particularly noticeable near Jay’s camp and we all went over for a look. I recalled seeing shadows like this one day when I lived in New Jersey back in the 1990s. There had been a partial solar eclipse where I lived and I didn’t even know about it until I saw the shadows change. Not having any way to safely view the sun, I never saw the eclipse itself or learned how much of the sun was obscured. (Note to self: Google this.)

Amir of the motorhome was the first to notice the temperature change. I had a crappy weather station thermometer with me, but being crappy, it couldn’t keep up with the change and provide accurate readings. He claimed to be very sensitive to temperature changes. Wearing shorts and a tee shirt, he and his wife donned sweatshirts before totality.

The atmosphere in the camp was festive. We didn’t spend the whole time staring at the sun. It really did happen slowly. I just took periodic photos and kept my camera pointed the right direction so others could look. One person claimed to see the jagged edges of the moon’s surface against the sun. Only a few of us saw the sun spots, which were best visible through the binoculars.

Crescent Sun
At about 90-95% eclipsed, the sun looked like a crescent through the eclipse glasses, but it was still very bright all around us.

Excitement in the camp grew as the moon covered 90% of the sun’s disc. This is what I would have experienced if I’d stayed home. It was still very bright outside, but the light had taken on a weird characteristic that I can’t really explain. Was the color different? Maybe a little blue? Or flatter? I can’t explain it. It was just weird. And the temperature change started to become obvious.

I was watching with my eclipse glasses when the sun slipped completely behind the moon. Everything went black as the people around me started hooting with glee. I pulled off the glasses and looked up. And there, in the sky, was a total eclipse of the sun.

Total Eclipse of the Sun
A total eclipse of the sun, as documented by my Nikon camera with 300mm lens and no solar filter. The sky was this dark. Can you see the star in the lower left corner of the photo? Venus, which was in the upper-right outside the camera’s field of view, was much brighter.

It was amazing. How can I explain it other than to say that it looks exactly like the photos? There’s what looks like a perfectly round black void in the sky with a halo of white light radiating from it. It’s completely surreal.

But what’s really amazing is how quickly the light around us is snuffed out in the final 60 seconds or so before totality. One minute, it’s daytime with a weird blue-gray light and a blue sky. The next minute, it’s as dark as a night with a full moon and the sky is black. (I can easily imagine how it must have terrified ancient people who didn’t see it coming.) And yes, I saw stars. Venus was a bright light up ahead of the sun’s path in the sky.

In the two minutes and twenty seconds of totality, it was hard to make all the observations I’d heard suggested. I couldn’t tell if the wildlife was quiet, mostly because all of us were talking about what we were seeing. I didn’t dwell on how dark it was or how the temperature changed because I was too focused on that haloed void in the sky. I barely had the presence of mind to take a few photos. (And yes, I know I can see eclipse photos anywhere, but it’s different when it’s from my own camera — documentation of something I personally witnessed.)

Diamond Ring
I was pleasantly surprised to see that my camera had captured the “diamond ring” effect in the very last shot before I put the solar filter back on.

Crescent after Eclipse
Here’s one of the photos I took after totality. I have a bunch of others, too. I’ll likely fiddle with them in Photoshop when I get home to make some sort of sequence.

Across the little road, Jay was calling out the time. He wanted to make sure we all had our glasses on before totality ended. I think we all stared until the sun told us because all of a sudden it was bright again and we had to look away. Glasses on, I looked back. The sun had continued moving beyond the moon. Totality was over.

As quickly as the sunlight had disappeared, it was back. Within minutes, I could feel the sun warming the air around me. Fifteen minutes later, only the weird shadows remained to indicate that there was anything amiss with the sun. Over the next hour or so, I shot a few more photos. But as we all went about our business, we lost interest in the final moments of the eclipse. Even I missed the moment when the moon’s shadow left the sun behind.

Post Eclipse

What was weird to me was that within minutes of totality ending, people around Four Corners Camp started to leave. It was like being at a ballgame at the bottom of the ninth inning when the home team isn’t likely to catch up with the visitor’s lead. Hurry up, get out, beat the traffic. Very strange.

After watching the waning eclipse on and off for a while, I went into my camper and dished out some of the stew I’d started that morning. It was excellent; the meat was very tender and the veggies tasty. It was around 11 AM and it was the first thing I’d eaten all day.

Amir began fiddling with the bladder tanks he’d installed on his motorhome to increase the amount of fresh and gray water he could carry. He came over to explain what he was up to and why. He’d had the motorhome for about a year and had made some modifications so it would be better suited to off-the-grid use. A engineer who had recently sold his business, he had the knowledge and time to fiddle around and make improvements. We talked for a while about how RVs were so outdated and how much technology could improve them. It was refreshing to talk to someone with good ideas who could think outside the box and was willing to implement them.

While we chatted, his wife came over with a plate for me. “I made you a breakfast burrito,” she said before I could turn it down. “Come inside and eat with us.”

So Penny and I went into the motorhome and took a seat at the table with the rest of the gang. The breakfast burrito was eggs with chopped up leftover hamburger wrapped in a flour tortilla with guacamole and salsa. Tasty. One of their sons fed Penny about half a leftover hamburger while we talked about their travel plans. I told them about Quartzsite. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I see them there next January.

By the time I got back outside, the eclipse was long over and about half the area campers were gone. The three tent guys had left before breakfast; they were aiming for Reno, where they’d spend the night before driving back to the Bay area. Tents that had been set up in the field and RVs that had been parked along the road were gone. The population of Four Corners Camp had been cut in half in less than two hours.

I turned off the GoPro and removed it from where it had been mounted. I shifted my solar panel to point more directly at the sun. Then I brought my camera inside and spent some time cleaning up and doing the dishes.

It wasn’t until much later that I’d look at the GoPro photos. As I expected, they were pretty bad and not worth sharing. Oh, well.

Amir and his family left a while later. They were also headed to Reno but would spend the night at John Day, taking care of some motorhome issues. Apparently, the water heater wasn’t working and Amir’s wife was eager to take a shower.

I visited with Jay and his friends. We chatted for a while. I asked him if it was everything he’d expected — after all, he’d told me that he’d planned the trip eight years before. He said that it was. But, at the same time, he seemed sad — maybe because this long-planned event was behind him? I asked how long he was staying at the camp and he replied that no one had told him when it was time to leave. We agreed that it was nice to live life without someone else telling us what to do. He was new to retirement and apparently liking it a lot.

Back at my RV, I put the finishing touches on my Day 1 blog post. Through many tries with a patchy connection, I managed to get it posted on my blog. Between upload attempts, I wrote up Day 2 and then managed to get that online. By then, it was after 3 PM.

I took out the map and tried to make a plan for the next 12 hours. I really wanted to hike around Magone Lake and I thought a late afternoon hike would be a good idea. There was a slight possibility that some campsites there may have opened up for the night. But I didn’t really want to stay in the area. Instead, I wanted to be on my way. I thought that it might be neat to camp out near the fire tower at Ritter Butte and I remembered the big parking area full of campers that I’d passed the morning before. That might be a good destination for the evening.

Plan made, I started to put it in motion. I broke camp by putting away the solar panels and my grill and cleaning up the inside of the camper. By 4 PM, I was ready to go. I walked over to say goodbye to Jay and his friends and to thank him again for allowing me to be part of his eclipse family. Then Penny and I went back to the truck and drove off.

Very few campers remained at Four Corners Camp.

Magone Lake

Magone Lake was eight miles from Four Corners. It took about 20 minutes to get there on the gravel and then narrow paved road. I parked at the boat launch parking area, which was surprisingly active for a Monday afternoon. It seemed that a lot of people had decided to come for more than just the eclipse. It was great to see so many people in the water swimming and paddling around in kayaks — especially families.

One of the great things about the area is that with no cell service, people can’t spend all their time focused on a phone screen.

Magone Lake
One of the photos I shot during our hike. I am such a sucker for reflections.

I put Penny on a leash, set up GaiaGPS on my iPhone to record a track — even though I had no map of the area — and set out on the trail that looked like it went around the lake. We went clockwise, walking in on the shady west side of the lake past the picnic area and campground first. There were other hikers, some with dogs, who we passed along the way. The trail was narrow but well-worn and became paved for handicap and stroller access at the picnic area. Past the campground, where it crossed dry feed stream, the pavement ended again. I let Penny off her leash to run ahead of me as she usually does. I kept a brisk pace, stopping once in a while to take a photo. The lake was pretty the way so many mountain lakes are, but my camera couldn’t seem to capture that beauty.

I worked up a bit of a sweat on the sunny side of the lake, which was good for me. I haven’t been nearly as active in the past year or so as I should be. I need a good workout once in a while. Within 45 minutes, we were back at the parking area. GaiaGPS told me we’d hiked 1-3/4 miles. (you can check out our track here.) Not bad, but certainly nothing to brag about.

I consulted the Oregon map I had with me, trying to determine how many miles we were from Ritter Butte. I wavered on spending the night at the lake. I really did want to start driving north, though. My rough plans included a day of wine tasting in Walla Walla and some night photography at Palouse Falls. I had to be home by Friday evening for a charter flight on Saturday. Spending the night at Magone Lake meant a longer drive the next day to Walla Walla. I was hoping to make it a scenic drive and didn’t want to arrive in town too late to stop at a winery or two. That meant putting some miles behind me before nightfall.

So we left the park, tracing our route back on the narrow paved and then gravel road northwest to Long Creek. Just about all the campers I’d seen the day before were gone. We emerged from the forest and drove the last few miles to Long Creek, where we turned north on route 395. Eight or nine miles later, we were at the turn for Ritter Butte.

All of the campers who had been set up there the day before were gone. I turned left, noticing the preponderance of “No Trespassing” signs that looked brand new. I was very disappointed to see one at the turn for the road that went up to the fire tower.

With a 5-bar LTE signal, I used my iPad to look up the Ritter Butte Fire Lookout. Every reference I saw said it was open to the public. Yet here were the signs saying it wasn’t. What was I to believe? I chose the signs. I turned around.

The parking area that had resembled a cosy camp the day before looked more like a gravel parking lot in the late afternoon light. I imagined camping out while cars and trucks zipped by throughout the night. I turned north on Route 395 and kept going.

I figured I’d camp out at the campground that had been full on Saturday night. Surely there would be space on a Monday night. But I didn’t get that far. After driving at least 20 miles, I reached the turnoff for Olive Lake, where I’d been told there were place to camp. That was still 20 miles south of the campground I was shooting for. With sunset on it’s way, I made the turn. Five minutes later, I was pulling into a creekside campground with only five sites, one of which was empty. I backed in for the night.

To give you an idea of how small this campground is, the canopy of trees over the entrance was so low that I know my camper pushed them aside as we rolled in. I also know that there’s no way in hell I could have made the entrance turn, let alone the turnaround at the end, with my old fifth wheel. My truck camper was the only RV in the place — everyone else was camping in a tent. My next door neighbors had two cars and three tents, including a shade tent, crammed into their site. The best site, which was a big one at the far end, was occupied by a young guy in a compact car with a small dome tent.

I settled in, made some dinner, ate, and then walked back out to the entrance to pay the $8 fee. My next door neighbors were eating something that smelled really good. We exchanged a few words before I went back into my camper to start this blog post.

It was getting dark by 8:30 and I moved up to lounge in my bed, where I spent some time reading my eclipse book. Soon I was falling asleep. I killed the light and was sound asleep in minutes.