From the early mountains on the west, we headed up and into Eastern Washington, which, but for the Columbia river pacing along the side of our road, could have been Colorado. It was arid, dry, and flat under an endlessly blue, clear sky. It was astonishingly familiar but for some giant rocks left by long ago glaciers.
Of course, the Columbia we saw has a volume that is more than three times the volume of the Colorado river, and that's only what's let loose by the Grand Coulee Dam! The Dam actually redirects millions of acre feet up into Lake Banks, which is then used to irrigate millions of acres of farm land all through the West. So what we were seeing was still immense.
It was pretty amazing to then come across the giant power towers, marching across the land. They were huge and leading in the direction we were going to.
Just at the top of the winding road out of town, the van beeped us to tell us we were almost out of gas. Oops. In the middle of wheatfields we found the town of Mansfield, and we stopped an old man out for a walk. He said he was visiting, too, to play a concert in town, so he had no idea where a gas station was. In fact, in his exploration of the tiny town he hadn't seen any gas stations. He did, however, stop a young local in a pick up truck, who told us there was a gas station right on the other side of the air strip, and you could use a commercial fleet card or any debit card at the pump. So we drove around the dirt road, around the air strip and found the gas tanks and pumps out in the middle of a wheat field.
The credit card worked like a charm, and we filled up at a pretty good price on gas! That was very nice indeed.
The dam was immense when we got there, and it was amazingly huge. A mile long to dam up the river and create Lake Roosevelt that reaches 14 miles north, just south of the border with Canada. We stopped and checked out the visitor center and were glad to find that they were doing tours of the dam itself again; however, the elevators out of the dam were broken, so they weren't doing the tours today. Yeesh. So we'll have to do it sometime after we move back to the Northwest. We didn't know when it would open again.
I learned a lot about the dam, including the fact that it's used for flood control as much as electricity production and I hadn't known anything about the irrigation project that was tied to it until we saw all the information on how much water they divert simply so that Western farmers can have a chance. Probably all the wheat, corn, fruit orchards, and grape fields we'd seen on the way over were all watered by the result of the Grand Coulee project. It was amazing to even find out that there's a Department of Reclaimation, whose main purpose is to figure out better ways for the country to use water to improve land use.
So we hung out in the center for a long time, studying nearly everything, and finally leaving at 1. We stopped at the local Safeway, used our Safeway card to buy some lunch, and then headed out again.
Hot. Hot and twisty and then hot and flat and long two-lane highway stretches. I took a turn driving after lunch, and had three very close calls.
The first was when passing a big semi that had not pulled over for three towns in a row, so I wasn't going to stay stuck behind it again. I was halfway by when I realized that the red mound in front of me was actually the hood of a red mercedes not another red hill. Hm. John told me at just the right point that I could pull right, so I did. It was my fault, in many ways, though the road was wide enough all three of us could probably have fit as the Mercedes and the truck next to me were pulling onto their shoulders, but I didn't want to prove it. We made it.
Then, after highway 2 turned into I-90, I was in the fast lane, next to a truck, when the car in front of me swerved around a white bucket in the middle of the lane. I couldn't swerve the way he did, and the bucket was rolling toward the shoulder, so I didn't have enough room over there. My head flipped through 'on the tire' or 'under the car' and went for the second. There was a bang and then a horrible screeching sound as the bucket was dragged along under us. It hadn't quite fit. I didn't slam on the brakes as I knew someone was behind me, but I signaled right, and slowed and headed that was as soon as it was safe for each lane, and ended up on the huge triangle between the freeway and a big, two lane wide exit. Safe. John hopped out and pulled the bucket out from underneath.
He thought we'd had a flat, but there was no swerve. I only had enough bandwidth to tell him about the bucket as I was in a lane waiting for a mini-van to clear out so I could move over another.
I was pretty shaken after that one, too. But John complimented me on not panicking, and I was happy. After we got started again, Jet suddenly spoke up, "I need to use the potty."
John asked if he could hold it a bit, or if he needed to go immediately. Jet said he could hold it a bit, so we headed for the next exit, which had a Dairy Queen. So we stopped there just in time for Jet and in plenty of time for a bit of ice cream to make me happier.
John drove from there, and it was pretty uneventful. John forgot about the hour time change, so we arrived here around 8pm and went out to find dinner. It was still late for dinner, and Jet hadn't napped at all, so he was pretty antsy. We found The Bridge, and I got an incredible duck breast with great vegetables, baby potatoes, and draft root beer. Jet got butter noodles with oodles of Parmesan. John had a nice lasagna with a local beer called Moose Drool and then a nicer IPA. It was a good dinner after a long day.
It was late enough, though, that Jet was kind of squirrely. While going around the block to find a parking space, I saw an ice cream shop that had dozens of folks just standing around eating ice cream. It seemed like the local hangout in hot weather. The promise of ice cream kept Jet more stable in the restaurant, and it was good to have a nice walk around the block after being in the car all day. So we walked around to the Big Dipper ice cream stand, and Jet got mint Oreo, John got black licorice (as he'll get it any time someone actually makes it), and I got the huckleberry, as I'd never seen that flavor anywhere else. I figure Montana huckleberries are pretty famous as local and local is usually good.
It was very nice, rich with berry flavor, and good and rich as ice cream, too.
The best part, though, was that the lady that served us the ice cream had these wings tattoo'ed on her back and shoulders. Beautiful, curling feathers laid out smooth and beautiful like swan's wings in black lines. The sections that showed around her tank top were gorgeous and I complimented her on her wings when I paid. She smiled and said Thank you, just as Jet does when he's complimented on his bright yellow shoes or on his smile. :-) I loved that.
The Thunderbird Inn has free wireless. So we've checked out the Yellowstone camp sites and we're likely to end up there for the next day or two. So I'm charging everything up, downloading what I have, and we should be set. The picture is of my bucket roadkill. We threw it away when we got here. It scared me, badly, but it didn't actually hurt the car at all and we didn't have a problem when I did hit it. So it's actually worked out really well.
At first, I thought the two close calls were bad karma, but really, they might as well be called good karma as if they'd happened and things hadn't turned out as well as they did, we'd be seriously injured or dead. So it turned out really well for the situations that I found myself with. So I'll be happy to call it good luck, not bad.