Mount Rainier and an unexpectedly long stay in Yakima


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August 3rd 2014
Published: August 5th 2014
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Much as we would like to stay in Seattle, this is a road trip and it is time to move on. Our next stop is Yakima,a town we had picked not for its own merits but because it is in the heart of Washington wine country. Our first doubts about Yakima arose as we chatted about our plans with the immigration official. 'Yakima??? What on earth do you want to go there for?' he asked, a question that was asked again the next day by our host.

Up early to try to get to Mount Rainier National Park before all the car parks filled up - a Sunday in August being pretty much the busiest time we could have picked. Rainer is a 14,500 high volcano, covered in glaciers which radiate out from all sides. It's approached though thick forest from which the snowy peak peers through only intermittently. Half way to the visitor centre we pass a flashing sign that told us the car park was full if the sigh was flashing. Our hearts sink - surely we hadn't just driven 2 hours to drive straight through the park without stopping? We continue, stopping at each and every stopping point to jump out of the car and take a photo. To make matters worse, it is quite chilly and darkens up as we hit a thunderstorm. Then, amazingly, we find the lower parking lot did have spaces after all. We park up and take our picnic bag to a table , feeling deeply inadequate in the face of the other visitors who all have, at the very least, six huge wheeled cooler boxes each. Several have brought along a full barbecue and are making a day of the picnic!

Ham and cheese rolls consumed, and ample deet applied (though not soon enough for James who suffers a monstrous mosquito/horse fly bite on his neck) we set off for the visitor centre. We all recognise the walk up to the alpine meadows as the one we had done when we last visited Rainier nearly 20 years ago. In 30 degree heat what should have been a simple uphill walk feelspretty challenging, but the meadows are beautiful and the view of Rainer stunning.

Walk over, it's a couple of hours drive to Yakima, where we check into our hotel - big rooms, study in beige and brown, just like every other American hotel chain - and treat ourselves to a nostalgic trip to a Denny's diner for our evening meal. Next morning, having established the wineries didn't open till 11am, we decide to kill some time by going to Walmart to stock up on essentials that are so much cheaper here than at home. Hannah asks for her first lesson in driving a big, automatic vehicle on the wrong side of the road, so she takes a few turns around the car park. As she and David swap seats, they notice a huge nail sticking out of the side wall of one of the tyres. The tyre has not deflated but none of us feel safe to risk driving any distance on it, so we call the Alamo roadside assistance team.

The first buffoon ordered a guy to come and put the spare on. However it transpired the spare was only a temporary tire rated to go no more than 50 miles at 50mph, not much use with a 200 mile odd drive to Portland in 100 degree heat coming up. A subsequent helpful guy at Alamo assistance called a local Firestone depot, paid for a tire, and sent us there to get it fitted. Job eventually done and several hours wasted.

The lush orchards and vineyards rapidly give way to fields growing corn and sorghum, then to arid rolling hills covered with scrub, hillsides peopled with useless wind turbines, until eventually the road descends into the Columbia river valley, as it runs down growing ever wider to the Pacific, steep wooded bluffs tumbling down to the narrow valley floor where the road and rail lines run. After a tiring afternoon's drive shared by David and Hannah (now showing her London confidence behind the wheel of the monstrous and automatic Ford Edge, some three times bigger than her Peugeot 205) we arrive in Portland. Our Airbnb house is quirky. Not exactly hippy post modern chic, but individual. A wooden clapboard house built maybe 100 years ago. Owned by a very organised lady, everything labelled, Hannah declares it how she wants her house to look. David is impressed by the high quality stainless steel/chromium plated bath and sanitary fittings but he is a bit sad like that.

We walk to dine at a local establishment, where everyone can best be described as cool (like us, of course). Mexican type stuff and beer, very satisfying, followed by a walk past an ice cream parlour serving unusual but different flavours. Scoff scoff oh dear now we have eaten too much......and still at 9pm at night it is still about 90 degrees.......

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