On Friday, March 28, it was rainy. Again. No matter, I was heading to the desert of southeastern Washington. That’s right. Desert. Most people think of the Pacific Northwest as being perpetually rainy and moss-covered. That is true of western Washington and Oregon, where most of the population lives. Cross over the Cascade Mountains, though, and the climate is entirely different. Where I live in western Washington, annual rainfall is 47 inches. In Kennewick, roughly in the middle of my exploration area, the annual rainfall is just 7.75 inches. For comparison purposes, San Diego receives an averages of 10.4 inches of rain and Phoenix gets 8 inches.
Visibility in the Cascades, on US-12, was not great as the weather was a mix of fog and tiny ice pellets. There was slush on the road, but no problem with traction, as a road crew was working the snow zone with de-icer and plows. Once over the summit, within 30 miles, visibility was okay, though a light drizzle persisted.
After passing through Yakima, I set out in search of Toppenish National Wildlife Refuge. This NWR mostly follows along the Yakima River. It consists of 1,978 acres spread over 27 miles in the agriculturally intensive Yakima Valley.
Due to poor signage on the roads as well as poor directions on the NWR website, I was unable to locate the main refuge entrance. I followed a printed map to one obscure location on the Yakima River located at the end of a dead end, unpaved, unmarked road. At the end, I did see a small sign that stated “National Wildlife Refuge” and also another sign indicating that a joint project with the Yakama Indians was planning a foot trail and observation blind. That was a disappointment and, since it was still misting, I decided not to explore further.
On toward the Tri-Cities of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick, situated at the confluence of the Yakima, Snake, and Columbia Rivers. With a combined metropolitan population of approximately 253,000, it is the fourth largest population center in Washington state. Since the cities each are bordered by rivers, the overall appearance and effect is of one fair-sized city, complete with freeways circling the metro area.
Since it was only about 1:00, I stopped for lunch in Richland, before continuing my explorations. I wandered around Richland, on two freeways and several thoroughfares, and was disappointed to find only the typical fast food places. I didn’t want a Big Mac. I wanted to get out of the car, go into a cafe or restaurant, and have a nice lunch. Finally, tucked behind a Walmart, I found a little Japanese Bento hole-in-the-wall eatery. And had a lovely, nutritious meal of veggie tempura, chicken teriyaki, rice, and salad.
The mist finally stopped, though it remained mostly cloudy. I went off in exploration of the Yakima River and finally found a little park with a “You are Here” map showing other points of interest. The map was quite helpful, except that it left out little details like “Unimproved road. High-clearance vehicles required.” I figured that out before long, managed to turn the car around, and make it back to a nice gravel washboard road without mishap. I saw some pleasant scenery, but no real photo ops, and finally headed for the motel in Kennewick where I had reservations.
I rested for about an hour, then freshened up a bit, and went in search of dinner. While driving around Kennewick and West Richland for 45 minutes, I saw several fast food joints, as well as quite an assortmant of ethnic restaurants (Mexican, Italian, Japanese, Chinese). Not one regular-food restaurant. No steak house, no seafood restaurant, no Denny’s, no Shari’s, noApplebee’s, no Hometown Buffet. I finally stopped at a McDonalds, purchased a chicken ranch salad and took it back to my room. In all my travels, I have never had such a time finding “regular” food. The Tri-Cities have lots of motels and hotels. Don’t they think tourists want to eat anything other than burgers or ethnic food?
Saturday morning dawned sunny and brisk. I met fellow WU Photographer, Backwardguy, at McNary Dam. We spent a delightful two hours walking around the McNary Wildlife Nature Area and Hat Rock State Park. No beautiful white night herons to be seen, but Backwardguy spotted one lone juvenile. No matter. It was a gorgeous spring day. The parks were peaceful and beautiful. And I got to meet a talented and likeable WU Photographer who was kind enough to share his favorite birding spots with me.
Juvenile Night Heron
Nesting Wood Ducks
After that, I proceded on to Walla Walla, where I did not see a single onion field. Where do they grow those famous Walla Walla Onions? I never did discover the answer to that question. Instead, I visited the Whitman Mission and Frenchtown, the site of a four-day battle between settlers and Indians. Again, in Walla Walla, I had trouble finding something other than fast food. What gives with southeastern Washington, anyway?
From there, I headed northward to Palouse Falls, where I had trouble believing what I saw. The presence of the falls was unexpected in a rocky, sagebrush area that gave no clue there was a river, let alone a waterfall. And then I thought I saw something at the top of the falls and had to zoom in. I couldn’t tell what it was I saw until I came home and saw this on the computer screen.
Crazy People at Palouse Falls
Then it was back to Kennewick for the night. I gave in and went to a Mexican cafe near the motel. Generally speaking, I enjoy Mexican food, but the food at this place was not southwestern style, not authentic style, but just nasty. After I left there, I went to McDonalds to get something to remove the bad taste from my mouth.
Sunday, I went to Othello, where a Sandhill Crane Festival supposedly was happening. There were signs announcing that fact, but no evidence of any sort of festival anywhere in that town of 7,400 people. From there, I went to the Columbia NWR, where the cranes nest. And enjoyed 15+ miles of washboard gravel road until I came to a place where I could hear their distinctive calls and I could see this sign where a gate barred entrance to where I wanted to go:
With a mostly rainy Friday, no striking night herons on Saturday, and no sandhill cranes on Sunday, plus my complaints about the food, you might be of the opinion that I did not have a good time. And you’d be absolutely wrong. I had a wonderful time. I met Backwardguy. I saw some great scenery. I went places I’ve never been before. I found some great photo ops along the way. Life is not perfect. We don’t get everything we hope for. Should that stop us from enjoying what is, living life, and enjoying what is? Absolutely not. There’s too much good stuff to experience to let a few bumps in the road ruin your time. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to go explore.
Thanks for coming along with me!