Indian John Hill Rest Area at mile marker 89 on I-90 is the first rest stop east of Seattle, which is a long way to go for Seattlites who practically take coffee on an IV drip. But it has a beautiful view of Mt. Stuart away to the north, and just a few miles further east the trees just stop, like turning off a light. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a change of scenery. This change is instantaneous.
After skirting Ellensburg I-90 climbs over a desolate pass adorned by dozens and dozens of big quiet windmills at the Wild Horse Wind Farm and then drops to cross the Columbia River at Vantage. There it climbs again sharply, presenting spectacular views, to reach the Columbia plateau. This is a vast arid land reclaimed for agriculture by irrigation. At George, Washington (heh!) the freeway goes straight as an arrow for seventy miles, punctuated only by the city of Moses Lake halfway along. Signs tell you what crops are growing. Another rest area is found in the rolling treeless prairies that exist beyond the irrigated areas. At Ritzville the freeway does a gentle bend northeast to make a beeline for Spokane. Small lakes are seen along the freeway here. Stop in the very small town of Sprague for gas and lunch. A sidetrip from here will take you over to Steptoe Butte. Approaching Spokane, the pine trees begin to be seen again in slowly increasing density.
Crossing into Idaho you enter the beginning of the Rocky Mountains. This is the skinny “panhandle” of Idaho, only about seventy miles across here, but very beautiful and mountainous, highlighted by the jewel that is Lake Coeur d’Alene. All the towns here (Smelterville, Kellogg, Wallace) are strung out on a very narrow line that hugs the freeway as the walls of the Rockies rise close to each side. The freeway climbs up to Lookout Pass, 4725 feet, and at the top a blue sign says, “Welcome to Montana”. Wife says, “What’s different about it?!?!?” Then down, down, down, 33 miles to St. Regis, where you get off the freeway, gas up again, and began to travel back roads. Helps to know your way.
From St. Regis to Plains, the road hugs a winding river. Then you climb some hills and drop down into the flats which mark the southern terminus of the Rocky Mountain trench. This huge chasm goes north right up into Canada. The road goes on and on, straight as an arrow through farm country, upsy-downsy, then makes a 90 degree bend to the right and travels through a beautiful but nameless flat valley bottom that meets the close mountain walls with hardly a taper. The wild west incarnate. And this “lost valley” road takes you directly to the shores of Flathead Lake, the largest lake in the Western United States, bigger than Lake Tahoe even. Left turn, drive past a house built on top of a rock a goat would blanch at, and you end up in Kalispell, which qualifies as a big city in these parts.
When I was growing up in Vancouver, Washington, my friend’s father supposedly found a Sasquatch footprint up in the Back Forty and made commemorative cast moldings for sale to tourists, using plaster of Paris with “authentic” (oh boy) Mt. St. Helens ash mixed in. Sort of a double whammy for the tourists. He chose a distinctive footprint that had two large bumps on it (supposedly a swollen, infected foot) identical to a footprint I had already seen in a book about Bigfoot, so I knew he was perpetrating a fraud for money.
It may be possible for a family of humanoids to live in the bush around western Washington if they move about and eat fish in spring and berries in summer and burn down swaths of woods to create prairies of huckleberries to attract deer in the fall so they can hunt them with a bow and arrow, and make venison jerky to lay up for winter, but it requires a great deal of mobility and a rather large area for a clan of a certain size, and there is no way they could have remained undiscovered (at least beyond the stage of tall tales) for so long. It is possible to elude modern Squatch Hunters, but it would require that they give up the mobility that would ensure their survival, unless they could live on a diet of banana slugs.
In the summer before she blew I was on Mt. St. Helens at the place where the modern legend of Bigfoot was born, at “Ape Canyon” shown above. It seems that in 1924 a party of miners were in their cabin at the bottom of a remarkably narrow and steep gorge on the east flank of the mountain, and they were being assaulted by these dark shapes on the rim (it was near sunset) hurling pumice stones (light spongy rocks) down on their cabin, and the voices of their attackers were high pitched and unearthly and unrecognizable as the sound reverberated and echoed off the walls of the canyon. They thought the assailants were apes.
The “attackers” were really teen campers who were unaware anyone was down there.
Anyway, that’s the story as it was handed down to me by the camp counselors as I stood on the rim at the very same spot, Thursday, Aug 23, 1979, when I was but 14 years old. Depending on which camp you were staying at on Spirit Lake the naughty stone-tossing teens were either Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts or YMCA’ers. The miners survived the assault and related their tale of horror in saloons throughout the area, where other fellows nodded their heads, patted their dusty backs, and bought ’em a whiskey for making them laugh so hard. So the story didn’t take off until the Forest Service, under the federal government’s Department of Agriculture, completely denied it.
Lately I’ve been on a Twin Peaks bender. Stephen King said the show scared him. It really did change television forever. Twin Peaks was shot in my “backyard” (Snoqualmie and North Bend) about twenty-five or thirty miles east of Seattle. The show was a flash in the pan here, but it’s been an enduring hit in Japan for twenty-five years, and they come by planeloads to check out the filming locations. This year Showtime will air the third season.
But real life is scarier than television. Gary Ridgeway, aka the “Green River Killer”, dispatched 48 girls that he admitted to, and he hinted that there may have been another fifty that we don’t know about. He lived about two miles from where I live, but now he’s in the can for life, Walla Walla, hard time. He dropped some of the bodies of his victims in the Green River which meanders through the Kent Valley just down the hill (I live on the long ridge which separates the river from the sea until it reaches the industrial heart of Seattle, where is is renamed the Duwamish River).
Green River was the name of a Seattle proto-Grunge outfit whose members went on to populate Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. The actual Green River is like Seattle’s own “Bermuda Triangle”: a dark forgotten corner of the county and the perfect setting for a mystery story. The image I’ve chosen for this blog post is a pipeline of fresh water that crosses the Green River to supply McMansions on the other side. In Terminal Cruise, I have characters use that as a bridge.
The Green River valley is two miles wide, formed about ten thousand years ago from melt water from a giant glacier during the ice age. Here the Green River twists through a vast zone of cheap one or two story light-industrial buildings which were made by pouring concrete on the ground in molds and then tipping them up. Upriver a ways between Kent and Auburn the river winds through a belt containing the last handful of local farms. These disappear bit by bit every year, to be replaced by apartments and townhouses.
Then the Green River turns sharply east and goes up a valley only a half-mile wide, which has nothing but quiet farms and the county has decreed that it shall always be this way. No urban creep shall be allowed to intrude here. At Flaming Geyser State Park you reach the Green River Gorge, a fourteen mile long canyon with Class III and IV whitewater between sheer sandstone cliffs three hundred feet high. And that’s the damndest thing, because this canyon is right in the middle of the greater Seattle metro area, surrounded by suburbia. Yet there’s no way to access any point within those 14 miles without scrambling down the sides, and hopefully not breaking your neck.
In the heart of the Green River Gorge there’s a single-lane bridge built in 1914, with a traffic light that allows only one vehicle at a time to use it. A redwood is here, as well as a waterfall that feeds into the side of the gorge. Sounds like the perfect place to build a State Park. But on the east side of the bridge everything turns to shit, and you find yourself in a small city made of trailers. with three or four dead automobiles per property, and porches that kill a minimum of six dogs when they collapse.
THE SOVIET OF WASHINGTON
Washington State is greener than that dancing girl on Star Trek. Washington State is so blue we call the politicians in Olympia the Smurfs. We have marriage equality here by popular referendum, not judicial fiat like in Alabama. You can buy marijuana brownies in a corner store. Every day your Windows computer, behind your back, phones home to Redmond, Washington because it misses the place.
In the summer of 1980 my girlfriend’s father supposedly found a Bigfoot footprint up here and made commemorative cast moldings for sale to tourists, using plaster of paris with “authentic” (oh boy) Mt. St. Helens ash mixed in. Sort of a double whammy for the tourists. He chose a distinctive footprint that had two large bumps on it (supposedly a swollen, infected foot) identical to a photograph of a footprint I had already seen in a book about Bigfoot, so I knew he was perpetrating a fraud for money. Ain’t capitalism grand?
It may be possible for a family of humanoids to live in the bush around here if they move about and eat fish in spring and berries in summer and burn acre after acre of trees to create clearings for deer and elk to feed in so they can have venison in fall and make Bambi sausage for winter, but it requires a great deal of mobility and a rather large area for a clan of a certain size, and there is no way they could have remained undiscovered for so long. It is possible to elude human hunters for a brief time, but it would require that they give up the very mobility that would ensure their long-term survival. So no Bigfoot.
Environmentalism is the philosophy that the Earth is like a ship far out in the middle of the ocean, and if there’s a fire we should make an effort to put it out on the grounds that we have no where else to go! Environmentalists are often called Greens.
They are fundamentally opposed by the Grays who believe the Earth is like a front yard in the middle of West Virginia where we can just let the grass grow up to hide the sleeping dogs and leave a bunch of parted out cars laying around leaking oil and tranny fluid, and any effort spent trying to raise the planet’s “curb appeal” is socialism and reminds them of when their mother told them to clean up their room. Besides, Jesus is coming any
minute now to clean it all up for us anyway.
Fidalgo Island in the State of Washington is so chock full of goodies I hardly know where to start. Even the southern gateway, shown above, Deception Pass State Park, has so many lakes, beaches, capes, bays, islands, hills, lighthouses, and cool bridges crunched into such a small footprint you’d spend all your time on the front door before you even got to the island.
Fidalgo Island and the city of Anacortes are one and the same. There are thousands of acres of public land which includes Mt. Erie (with a cliff that would do the Road Runner proud), Sugarloaf Mountain (see below, an easy hike to big views), Heart Lake, Whistle Lake, Big Beaver Pond, Little Raspberry Lake, Cape Sante hovering right over the marine in downtown Anacortes, the ferry to the San Juans, boat tours to go whale watching, the Swinomish casino, and I haven’t even been to Washington Park and all the cool stuff over there yet.
Wanna get away from it all? If you Google “Dark Divide” you get to the Wikipedia article, and I wrote 100% of that (some other kind folks provided pictures), so I’ll try to say something different about it here. Basically, folks, the Dark Divide is a big zone of unprotected old growth forest between Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams and it is precisely where Bigfoot lives, at least according to Robert Michael Pyle in his 1995 travel guide/conservation sermon Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide and he makes a damn good case, except maybe all the motorcycles tearing up and down the trails make ol’ Sasquatch think about moving someplace quieter. I’m Vancouver born and bred, so this is my back yard.
If you’re looking for the big hirsute fellow try Ape Cave on your way up here, two and a half miles long, melted by hot lava through solid rock, then the lava flowed back out and left a big tunnel that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen. Try the very end where the tube gets so narrow you have to shimmy in there like a maggot, or like Gollum, but just make sure you bring a second person to drag your ass back out if you get stuck looking for Bigfoot. And don’t mind the beer cans, this is where the high school kids come to party.
Forget about FR-99 to Windy Pass, I already told you the Ape Canyon sighting in 1924 was just some naughty girl scouts throwing pumice down in the gorge and scaring some prospectors. But do check out Lower, Middle, and Upper Lewis river falls, and maybe also Taitnapum falls (which I call Tain’t Nuttin’ Falls because it’s only a twenty-footer). And don’t forget glorious Curly Falls, which not only has the only natural bridge in the Tri-State Area, it’s working on building a second one even as we speak. Dodge the boulders that always fall in the middle of the road like Han Solo in an asteroid field. Peel off from the Lewis River up Quartz Creek on FR-93 and you are on your way into the Heart of Darkness. I’m telling you, if you’re looking for ‘Squatch, this is where you gotta go.
Here’s me on the top of Capitol Peak on Sunday 2/15/15 just west of Olympia, Washington. I could see Mt Baker, Glacier Peak, Rainer (in the photo), Mt. Adams, and Mt. St. Helens, all of Puget Sound, the Doty Hills and Willapa Hills to the south, Mt Olympus to the northwest, Gray’s Harbor to the west, and everything in between. For the fan of the Big Picture.
MT ST. HELENS
When I was a wee lass of fourteen, summer of ’79, I spent a week at the Girl Scout camp that used to be here. That camp and the other ones on Spirit Lake (YMCA, Boy Scouts) got zapped eight months later. Hiked to Ape Canyon, and they showed us where the whole Bigfoot thing got started in 1924. Some naughty girl scouts were throwing pumice stones (light enough to float on water) down into the canyon from the rim, and the narrow walls of the gorge distorted their laughter and voices to make them sound like monkeys. No wonder the gold miners at the bottom got confused, and when the prospectors reached the nearest saloon and got some whiskey into them the story got out and it had legs. Whoops!
Vancouver (not Vancouver BC) Washington (not Washington DC) is the smaller sibling of Portland, Oregon, and suffers from an inferiority complex that is undeserved. Vancouver is already the fourth largest city in Washington, and if the Burnt Bridge Creek annex goes through, it will pass Tacoma and Spokane to come in at second place only behind Seattle. But for a long time there wasn’t even a television station in Vancouver, and only three radio stations. All the local news is weighted toward Portland, therefore, and covers mostly Oregon issues. Vancouverites tend to feel cut off from the rest of Washington, like Klickitat County an hour to the east.
Unlike Klickitat County, however, Vancouver does not embrace the Oregon culture. The city wants to be part of Eastern Washington. It’s an island of WalMart conservativism in a sea of yuppie microbrew liberalism. Portlanders call the city “Vantucky” or “The Couve”. Vancouver is the methamphetamine capital of the United States. Home of the Tweaker.
Because Washington State has no income tax, and Oregon has no sales tax, the best strategy is to live in Vancouver and shop in Portland, which is only a hop over the Columbia River. As a result, Vancover has become a bedroom community of Portland. It’s too big for it’s britches, with the bridge traffic that goes with that. For a long time, Vancouver only had about 40,000 people, like Everett or Yakima or Bellingham, and it still has the modest downtown skyline of those second-tier cities. Now it has four times that many people.
The city sits at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge, which cuts through the wall of the Cascade Mountains at virtually sea level. This means Vancouver continually gets the hot summers and cold winters of Eastern Washington. Seattle natives piss and moan when it breaks 90F or there’s one or two mornings when they have to scrape ice off their windshield. Vancouver can get temps of 106F in the summer and the whole month of February is frozen solid. Bitter cold. On the plus side, the Gorge is one of the most scenic areas in the world, as you can see above.
MT ST HELENS
This is me at Mt. St. Helens, in a vast wasteland that used to be one of the most beautiful places in this world. I grew up in Vancouver, Washington, only forty miles to the south, and when the volcano blew in 1980 I was fourteen years old. I saw it all. During the summer the year before I was with the last batch of Girl Scouts who got to stay at our camp at Spirit Lake before it was destroyed. During my stay at the camp we hiked over Windy Pass to Ape Canyon, which was very deep, but at one point the rock walls draw to within eight feet of touching each other. And that’s where we heard the story of how the whole Bigfoot thing got started.
In 1924 there was a little cabin at the bottom of this canyon where some gold prospectors lived for a while, but you couldn’t see it because it was hidden by the trees. And up on the rim some Boy Scouts or YMCA kids from Camp Meehan (but NOT Girl Scouts because we didn’t get to camp there until 1937) were having a little fun throwing rocks made of pumice down into the abyss. These were very naughty boys, they should have known better because you could never know whether or not someone was down there camped amid the trees.
Anyway these boys were screaming and giggling, and the acoustics of the gorge distorted and morphed their voices into a sustained unearthly howl. And the sunrise was behind their backs, which revealed only their silhouettes to the miners when they looked up to see who was throwing rocks at their cabin. They had heard the Native American legends of Sasquatch which predated 1924, of course, and being superstitious men, they told everyone who would listen to them in the saloon that they were attacked one morning by angry rock-throwing monkey men with horrible inhuman screams. And the legend was off and running.
Washington, sometimes called “the other Washington” or the “good Washington” is the northwesternmost state in the contiguous United States. As you can see, it is absolutely gorgeous. Naturally, even the most hard-core right-wing, rapture-believing Republican is greener’n Al Gore when it comes to our beloved neck of the woods.
Washington was named for its first permanent settlement, which was founded where trappers and traders used to gather every few weeks to scrub their dirty apparel. The official language of Washington State is Chinook, widely spoken by lumberjacks, fur trappers, fishermen, and drunken grunge music fans. Typical words in Chinook include muckleshoot (which means to give the casino all your money) and skookumchuck (which means to blow salmon chunks).
The state is divided into western and eastern halves by the rugged Cascade Mountains, which creates a rain shadow on the east. People on the dry side of the mountains vote funny. You probably shouldn’t call them out on this, however, because the dry side of the mountains used to be in the nuke-making business.
- Bad 1990s music inspired by too much rain (such as “Black Hole Sun”).
- Bad fashion influences due to the aforesaid musicians dressing for rain.
- Starbucks coffee helps keep people warm in the rain.
- Plutonium-based nuclear weapons will end the rain…forever.
- Mel’s Hole – a bottomless pit that brings dead pets back to life.
- The Twilight fantasy novel series (and movies based on the novels) were set in the small town of Forks, Washington.
- Sleepless in Seattle and Grey’s Anatomy present Seattle with far less cloudy days than in reality.
The Cascade range has a row of active volcanoes named Mt. Adams, Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, and Glacier Peak. Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980 and blew its top, clogging air filters and blotting out the sun from Seattle to Yakima and creating a thriving cottage industry of trinket sellers making tourist souvenirs made of “real Mt. St. Helens ash”. Some of the more enterprising ones mixed this ash with plaster of Paris and sold castings of Bigfoot footprints, in a sort of double-whammy. Yay for Capitalism. But any of the other volcanoes could erupt at any time. If Mount Rainier erupts, it will cover all the data centers in the Kent Valley with 300 feet of mud and shut down the Internet while I watch from up here on the west hill. You have been warned.
- Jimi Hendrix (he went to Britain for some sun, and to get famous)
- Kurt Cobain, who wound up emulating Mt. St. Helens.
- Bill “Rich guy” Gates
- Bob “get your pets spayed or neutered” Barker
- Ted Bundy
- Glenn Beck
- Orson “Ender’s Game” Scott Card
- Bing “White Christmas” Crosby, who was kicked out of Gonzaga University in Spokane for drunkenly tossing furniture out of the dorm window.
- James “Scotty” Doohan
- Kenny “This Elevator Rocks!” G
- Frank “Dune” Herbert
- Gary “Far Side” Larson
- Kenny “Footloose” Loggins
- Eddie “Evenflow” Vedder
- Adam “Batman” West
- Sherman “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” Alexie
- Ramtha and his “channeler” J.Z. Knight