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.

Campsite
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 2: Finding the Perfect Spot

I make new friends at Four Corners Camp.

I woke up very early, as I sometimes do. It was still dark out. There were billions of stars in the sky over our camp.

I made coffee and settled down at the table to write up a blog post about the previous day’s activities. It got light out. The three guys who had parked next to me and slept in the woods came back to their truck. I watched them load up their gear and drive out. No one stirred at the other camper.

Forest Trail
Technically, this is Forest Road 100. But realistically, it’s just a two-track trail into the forest.

Since I hadn’t yet put photos in the post and I didn’t have any kind of cell signal at all anyway, I closed up my laptop and made breakfast. Then Penny and I went for a very short walk — about half a mile — up the forest road that had been gated off. A small creek babbled along one side, hidden in the weeds. I heard birds and the occasional sound of a passing car on the main road. I’d worn the wrong shoes; I was wearing street shoes but I should have been wearing hikers to protect my soles from the sharp rocks that had once graveled the two-track trail. So we turned around and headed back. I really liked the way the sunlight shined through the tops of the weeds.

It didn’t take long to get ready to leave. Really: it’s just a matter of putting away loose objects. I’ve learned over the years I’ve been RVing that if you put everything away when you’re done using it, you can be ready to go in just a few minutes.

When I rolled out of my campsite at about 8 AM, there had still been no movement from the other RV. Talk about sleeping in!

On the Road Again

I continued on route 395 southbound, passing Dale and the 4127 foot Meadow Brook Summit. It was around then that I started noticing tents and RVs parked alongside the road in places that looked like they might be public land. But the biggest crowd I saw was at Ritter Butte Summit (elev. 3993). It was a mostly grassy hillside with what looked from the main road like a low fire tower on top. There had to be at least two dozen campers in tents and RVs parked all over an open area just off the road. It was tempting to just pull off and join them, but I was convinced that a better spot was up ahead.

I did pull over, though, and that was to use my phone and make sure I’d downloaded maps I needed for going off the grid. I just GaiaGPS on my iPhone and iPad and I highly recommend it. It’s one of the few apps that allow you to download topo maps — as well as other maps you might find useful — so they’re handy if you don’t have a cell signal. I had a five bar LTE signal at Ritter Butte thanks to the cell tower next to the fire tower.

When my map downloads were set up and my podcasts updated, I continued on my way. Google told me 50 miles before that I needed to make a left on Main Street. Main Street turned out to be in the small town of Long Creek, which was really rocking with eclipse visitors. I didn’t stop. Instead, I made the left where instructed and headed southeast along a narrow chip-sealed road.

I passed a few farms and ranches as the road cut through a grassy landscape with forests on hilltops nearby. Then the chip-seal turned to gravel and I entered the forest.

Now campers were common on either side of the road. This was national forest (either Umatilla or Whitman or maybe even Malheur — they all run into each other in this area) and camping was allowed pretty much anywhere. People had set up little communities of RVs and tents here, there, and everywhere. I wondered whether I could just join in on one of them and was sorely tempted when I saw three Lance rigs just like mine parked out in a field. But I still thought a better spot was ahead, so I kept going.

Have I mentioned the signs? I don’t think so. I started seeing them the day before, just south of Pendleton on route 395, but they were out here, too. Flashing construction signs, all with the same basic message: “Fire Danger Extreme” and “No Campfires” and “Do Not Park on Dry Grass.” I think I passed at least five of them between Pendleton and my final destination.

Magone Lake and the Campsite Hunt

What was that destination? Magone Lake. The line for totality would pass right though it. A small lake in the national forest, surrounded by unpaved roads, hillsides, and trees, about 20 miles northeast of John Day. I thought it might be remote enough to be a little less crowded than other popular destinations.

Well, it might have been less crowded, but it was still crowded. I reached the turnoff and was startled to see a freshly asphalted one-lane road with turnouts. There were people camped out alongside the road all the way down to the lake. One guy had even pitched a tent in the road shoulder. Of course, the two campgrounds were full. There were people milling about all over the place — exactly the kind of scene I wanted to avoid. This was at 10 AM, a full day before the eclipse. It would only get worse.

Magone Lake
Magone Lake is a pretty little mountain lake about 20 miles from John Day.

I drove to the boat ramp area and parked to take a look around. As usual, people commented about Penny, who I had on a leash. Everyone was friendly and upbeat — they probably already had overnight parking spots! I found a trail that looked like it would go around the lake and considered doing a short hike, but decided that I’d be better off finding my campsite and saving the hike for after the eclipse. So we got back into the truck and started out.

I can go into a long story here about how I used my downloaded topo map to find roads to explore that might have good campsites on them. I could tell you about how many people I saw camped in the most inappropriate places (think dense woods with no view of the sky). I could even tell you how I actually parked and got the truck up on leveling blocks in a lonely forest campsite not far from the lake. But the short version is that I decided that I didn’t want to experience the eclipse alone and needed to find an existing camp to join.

Eventually, after many bumpy miles on rugged dirt and gravel roads, I wound up in a place called Four Corners. It’s a crossroads that just happens to have some relatively parking spots and fields. Trucks, cars, and RVs were parked where they could fit. I cruised through with both windows open, looking for a place I might be able to squeeze in the truck without bothering other campers.

I was eying a patch of dirt near a large motorhome when I heard a guy yell out, “Innagadadavida!” I looked and found a guy a little older than me looking at me. He yelled it again, at me.

What followed was me selling myself as a good addition to their campsite who would take up very little room. Yes, he was expecting seven more people (none of whom showed up, by the way) and the folks with the motorhome were expecting three (who did show up later on). My sales pitch worked and they pulled aside their makeshift road block to let me in. Soon I was leveling the camper on the blocks and putting my solar panels out to soak up the sun. I’d be there for more than 24 hours.

It was about noon.

At Four Corners Camp

Although the Innagadadavida guy (Jay) had invited me over to their camp across the road, I made myself lunch first. Later, I went over and spent some time with him and his friends. The next day would be his and his twin brother John’s birthday. John was there, too, along with some other people whose names I’ve already forgotten. They had two ukuleles and a guitar and an electric base guitar (powered by an inverter connected to a 12 volt car battery) and a drum kit. Short a drummer, they asked me to sit in and even gave me a few drumming lessons. I managed to keep the beat with the base drum’s foot pedal, but getting my two hands to act independently was a whole other story. In the end, I kept rhythm with a drumstick on an empty whiskey bottle while John played the drums. It was a fun way to spend the afternoon, just hanging out with new friends.

A stranger is often a friend you haven’t met yet.

I flew my drone a little, too. Not enough to annoy people — at least I hope not. I wanted some aerial views of the camp, which I began calling Four Corners Camp. We were on the fringes. There were probably two hundred people camped out within 50 acres or so. More people came in all afternoon and even after sunset.

Campsite from the Air
Our campsite from the air.

The motorhome people’s companions arrived: three retirement age men who set up a 25-year-old tent that looked brand new. The motorhome people included a husband (Amir) and wife, two of their sons, and one son’s girlfriend. Most of them hiked to the lake in the afternoon. I’m not sure, but I think it was a long hike.

I did some repairs. I’d gotten the bright idea to put my clothes in the cabinets in the sleeping area and use the drawer under one dining bench for books and computer stuff I’d brought along. It would make that stuff handier. Trouble was, that stuff is also heavier and the constant bumping around on back roads had caused the screws to come loose on one of the drawer support arms. I had to use some Gorilla Glue to help the screws bite and stick to get the support arm back in place. I had everything I needed for the repair so it wasn’t a big deal. But I did have a lot of junk just sitting out waiting to be put away for most of the evening.

Sunset
We had a nice sunset with high, thin clouds.

Mother Nature treated us to a nice sunset. We were a bit worried about the cloud cover, but I suspected it would clear up overnight.

To that end, I prepped my Nikon for a night photo shoot, getting all the settings on the camera and actually setting up the tripod outside my door. If I woke up as early as I had that morning, I could go out and shoot before dawn.

I had a salad for dinner. Later, the motorhome people offered me a hamburger, which I declined. I did hang out for a while in their motorhome with them. They were a happy bunch. The two boys were headed off to college soon and their parents were semi retired and planning a cross-country trip in the motorhome, which was new to them. I was glad to see people living life while they were still young enough to enjoy it. So many people wait too damn long.

Penny and I went back to the camper at around 9 PM. I spent some time reading a book about eclipses that I’d bought for the trip but soon fell asleep with the book in my hands. I turned out the light and went to bed.