US Road Trip Day 12 – Blue Mountains and Night Prowlers

The time for preparation was over; we were beginning our road trip today. I think both of us were relieved to finally be getting on the road, because the days leading up to the trip had been loaded with tension and unspoken frustrations. I fervently hoped that the open road would wash away all our troubles and we would immerse ourselves in the adventure ahead. Jill’s husband had started loading things into their little pickup by the time I made it to my first cup of coffee. Jill always has the tastiest coffee on hand; the enticing aroma practically drags you out of bed and pours itself into a huge steaming mug. As I sipped the rich dark brew, I started going over the first couple of days of our trip in my head. The first night was all sorted; we were staying at a motel in Twin Falls, but the second night was still undecided. We were going to be camping in Moab but hadn’t settled on a camp site. Online research had thrown up a couple of possibilities, and the one we had called had told us there was no need for a reservation. The site, just outside of Arches National Park, was listed as a ‘dry’ site, meaning no water, no showers and no toilet. I shuddered inwardly, questioning the wisdom of staying on a self-professed ‘dry’ site in the middle of the Utah desert in summer. Visions of Jill and myself staggering across endless expanses of sand dunes, chasing mirages of oases and ultimately dying of dehydration, started to form in my imagination. I shoved some sunscreen, SPF several thousand, into my canvas bag, hoping it would be strong enough to protect my whiter-than-white skin from burning should I crumple in a heap in the middle of a desert, miles from water. “Save yourself” I would croak, bravely, spitting dust from the desert floor.

“You’ll be fine” Jill’s husband reassured me as he grabbed another box of camping gear to stuff in the truck. “Just watch out for scorpions.” Coffee shot out my nose, but I cunningly distracted attention from it by inhaling at the same time and choking. Jill ambled calmly to my side. “There won’t be any scorpions” she said, meeting my gaze steadily, handing me a napkin to wipe my face and giving her husband a dig in the ribs. He headed off to work and left us to get on with things.

I tried to help with the packing but was shooed away. There was some serious organization going on in the back of the pickup, with boxes and bags and sacks of mysterious stuff being strapped down. “Please let me help.” I pleaded, acutely aware that I was beginning to sound like a whiny brat, but unable to help myself. I was feeling left out and useless. Jill suggested I reorganize the plastic tubs containing our food, so I shuffled the groceries around in the boxes to make sure they wouldn’t topple over, filled coolers with ice for the perishable items and separated out a little pile of granola bars, chips and sandwiches for us to take in the cab with us. As Jill was stuffing the last of the boxes into the back of the truck, I flipped open my laptop and did an internet search on scorpions in Utah. The first web site I happened upon helpfully informed me there were over 30 species of scorpions in the Southwest. On the bright side, only one was considered life-threatening. My mouth felt suddenly dry so I took another swig of coffee. It continued “At night they prowl the desert floor.” Excellent. The desert floor, as in the ground we would be sleeping on. In a tent. I wondered how much protection a tiny layer of canvas would offer us when hordes of prowling scorpions of the life-threatening variety descended upon our camp site as we slept. I scanned the web page for anything else of note and my eye landed upon another rather alarming word. Rattlesnakes. I switched off my laptop. We were going to die.

We bid a fond farewell to the furry residents of the household. Jill and her husband share their home with two fabulous dogs and the coolest cat I’ve ever met. Rufus is a cattle dog mix who longs to be an alpha dog but just can’t quite pull it off. I love him dearly and he thinks I’m insane and loves me all the more for it. Whisper is cattle dog through and through and is both blind and deaf, but despite all her challenges, she can still kick Rufus’ butt. She is a bad ass. Reigning loftily above everyone else in the house is Webster, a giant feline explosion of creamy white fur who takes everything in his stride. He emanates cool.

Rufus

Whisper

Webster

But they were staying behind to keep Jill’s husband company as we tootled around the country on our road trip. So we got in the cab of the pickup and set off, stopping to pick up more coffee to go before crossing the West Seattle Bridge and turning north onto I-5. Then we peeled off onto I-90 and were truly on our way. The Cascades loomed familiarly and lushly green through the windshield as I-90 carved a channel through the mountains towards Snoqualmie Pass.

us road trip usa america washington cascades i-90 car driving

Deep in the heart of the Cascades, we skirted the shores of Keechelus Lake, sunlight creating a swirl of sparkles that danced on the turquoise waters. This is the source of the Yakima River and although it is a natural lake, its capacity is controlled by a man made dam. Burbot, Kokanee and the ominously named Cutthroat trout swim these waters, but native American Indians weren’t too impressed with fishing prospects on this lake, because the name they gave it, Keechelus, translates roughly as ‘few fish‘. They apparently favoured another lake nearby, because they named it Kachess, meaning ‘more fish‘.

keechelus lake washington usa us america road trip driving car

We popped over the pass into Eastern Washington and the colours changed from the dark green of pine to the silvery green of sage brush. The dramatic change in landscapes never fails to thrill me along this stretch of highway. At Ellensburg we left I-90 and turned south onto I-82 which winds through Yakima Valley. I had never been on this stretch of road before, so I pushed my nose up against the window as Jill drove and watched the cultivated land of this most fertile of valleys as it whizzed by. Orchards of sturdy trees, dripping with apples, lined the roadsides and vineyards created symmetrical patterns that spread out to the horizon.

yakima valley washington us usa america road trip driving fertile vineyard orchard

Yakima Valley is one of the best apple-producing areas in the world. It is also a flourishing wine region and almost 75% of all US-grown hops are produced right here, all of it irrigated by the mighty Yakima River, which begins its journey back in Keechelus Lake and runs all the way to the Columbia River.

I checked in with Jill to see if she wanted me to take over the driving, but she was quite happy behind the wheel. She confessed to me that it was keeping her going; it gave her a goal. I knew what she meant. I could lose myself by taking photos and video of the passing scenery, but if I were driving, Jill would find herself dwelling on life and she didn’t want to do that. We both needed a way to escape. We switched on the radio, tuned into a local station and rocked out to classic tunes from Pink Floyd, AC/DC and Van Halen. It proved to be an effective way to burn off unwanted angst. Outside the windows, the hills were dazzling, changing from ruffled khaki to camouflage to burnt caramel as the day drew on.

The sun began to sink towards the horizon and we crossed the Yakima River into the northeast corner of Oregon and switched onto I-84 southbound. Off in the distance I could see some dramatic mountains glowing blue in the evening light. “Do you know the name of those blue mountains?” I asked Jill, my nose still pushed up against the passenger side window. “The Blue Mountains” she answered and we dissolved into laughter.

Over the border into Idaho and through the night we drove, making a quick pit stop near Boise to refuel and devour the sandwiches and potato chips we had packed in the cab. It was somewhere close to midnight when we reached the motel in Twin Falls and discovered to our delight that their pool area was open around the clock, so we soaked in the hot tub for a while before turning in for the night. I was thankful for the soft bed and warm blankets and settled in for what I was convinced would be the last peaceful night’s sleep I was going to have for quite some time.

Here’s a quick glimpse of today’s trip, shot shaky cam from the pickup – if you’ve never seen the Blue Mountains, check them out here, they’re rather lovely:

(Continued here.)

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue wheresmybackpack.com Remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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41 Responses to US Road Trip Day 12 – Blue Mountains and Night Prowlers

  1. Glorious photos. You get the idea why camouflage outfits look quite like they do from one of the shots of the hills.

  2. Hi, thanks for posting! I’m currently reading On the Road, and love the idea of the American road trip! Great pics and love your writing. x

    • ailsapm says:

      Hi pinkbananashoes, I love that book, it’s such an iconic road trip read! I’ve been across the US three times in as many weeks, by plane, train and automobile, and this is the last loop of my trip. It’s been incredible, everyone should do an epic journey at least once in their lifetime. So glad you enjoyed this piece. xoxo Ailsa

  3. Despite the scorpions and rattle snakes that await, the trip’s looking much more promising, Ailsa! Isn’t it amazing how a mountain range can milk the rain right out of the sky and create a desert beyond?

  4. bulldogsturf says:

    It looks like we are off on a great adventure… glad I’m just a virtual traveler… look forward to the rest… the scenery so far is magnificent…

  5. warero says:

    Reblogged this on Javmode.

  6. Gunta says:

    Can’t wait for the camping bit in the next episode…

  7. you have a real way with words, Ailsa, and I love reading about your travels. Night, night, hope the bed bugs don’t bite or scorpions or anything else for that matter

  8. bebs1 says:

    Your writing is so engaging to read that I am thinking of offering my cousin company when she moves from Loveland, CO to Waterloo, IL. Your stories are so inspiring.

  9. Tina Schell says:

    Enjoying your trip Alisa. We did Zion, Bryce, the redwoods, crater lake, Portland, bend, San Francisco and Mendocino over 2 months last summer. I agree everyone needs to do it! We had a blast and it looks like you will too :-). Check it out at http://travelsandtrifles.wordpress.com/2012/07/14/bryce-canyon-day-1/ .

  10. Gracie says:

    Enjoyed this second installment, Ailsa, beautifully written. And the photos you took to let us have a glimpse of what you’re seeing along the way are wonderful. Makes me want to go on a road trip too! I’m looking forward to the continuation.

  11. markd60 says:

    This post made me go get coffee, not as good as you describe!
    Watch out for scorpions!

    • ailsapm says:

      Haha, hope you enjoyed your coffee, Mark – pour yourself another, I just wrote my next post! So glad you’re along for the trip! xxx Ailsa

  12. Sas says:

    Wow, I wish I was on the road right now as well. I know what your friend means about driving helping her to focus, I’m driving from Cardiff to Blackpool tomorrow and even though I’ve done the journey hundreds of times before I’m looking forward to getting behind the wheel for a few hours. Hopefully I’ll be able to do a proper road trip soon. I really hope you learn to love camping as much as I do :)

    • ailsapm says:

      I love driving too, Sas, it gives me such a sense of freedom. I actually really do enjoy camping; it’s just the ‘sleeping in the presence of things that can kill you’ bit that I can’t quite get my head around. ;)

  13. inukshuk says:

    Ooh, I’m so jealous of you going to Moab ! I had a glimpse of the region, and it took my breath away.
    To reassure you, I should mention that while touring Utah for a few weeks I encountered no scorpions or rattlesnakes. Just one big hairy tarantula, nothing to worry about… ;)

  14. pommepal says:

    Another great road trip to follow. The photos add so much to the story. I know what your friend means about the driving. I LOVE driving, Jack never gets a chance to get behind the wheel.

  15. So far so good – at this point I’m hopeful you’ll fend off the scorpions successfully ;) And I want to read more – keep them coming, please!

  16. petit4chocolatier says:

    So beautiful! Love the video : )
    Your style of writing is wonderful!

  17. I hope you look forward to the next days adventure as much as I look forward to your next blog update… Cheers for sharing…

  18. I love how your photos show the changes in scenery. It really makes the road trip come alive.

  19. Enjoyed how you took us through the changing landscape through your photos and video! Parts of the country I have not yet had an opportunity to explore ~ Kat

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