Heading East

Hermiston, Oregon serves as my second overnight stop on the road trip. This is about 230 miles as the crow-flies from the Pacific and around 280 miles via the route I took. I got here about four-ish and am spending the late afternoon & early evening exploring the town. This message comes to you courtesy of the town’s rather fine Starbucks.

Wilson River

More about the journey…

A reasonably good night’s sleep, despite the occupants of the room above, separated only by a sheet or two of plywood, stomping around from about 03:30. Not sure if it was a case of insomnia or getting up to go out for the Solstice sunrise [Yes, Chappers, I know….!] – but I didn’t think they celebrated such things around here… and it went on until at least 06:00. Thanks partly to my noisy neighbours and a deliberately early alarm, I was on the road for 08:30. I’d topped up my vitamins with a bowl of cornflakes and a couple of apples for breakfast from the continental buffet, and was on my way.

A journey of two halves: Firstly out along Rt. 6 through Tillamook Forest, then down into the wide Williamette valley and across Portland. This section of the journey took a couple of hours and was pleasant enough. The second half of the journey, having travelled over the mighty Columbia River and into Washington State via I5, was east along the north side of the river. Rt 14 runs for over 180 miles, hugging the river bank through tree-lined gorges, tunnelling through rocky promontories and across countless tributary rivers & streams then up into arid near desert. Before all that, I needed coffee and cake, so I diverted off the freeway (which Rt14 is for its early stages) and up to Starbucks at Riverstone Market Place, a small plaza in Camas, Washington.

Right, let the show begin. First highlight was an overlook at Washougal, called Cape Horn. This hits you almost without warning. The freeway has slowly but surely diminished into a two lane highway and climbed up into the forest, losing the view of the river through the trees. Thoughtfully, there is a warning sign for the viewpoint, the first I’d seen on the route, so I pulled over. Breathtaking.

Cape Horn looking east

Cape Horn viaduct

Had I cared to, the opportunities to cross to the south side of the river, where the much faster and busier I84 parallels my route, were distinctly limited. The first one being the charmingly named Bridge of the Gods. Apparently (Colin told me this) before the river was dammed at Bonneville, there were rapids here which allowed a perilous crossing from rock to rock. These days it’s a narrow toll bridge. I pressed on east on Rt14.

Around about this point, again as Colin had predicted it would, the layer of cloud extending from the Pacific evaporated away and it became a really lovely day with temperatures in the low 70s. The topography became a little more mountainous and, as if it could, even more spectacular.

Columbia River Gorge

Bingen

At Place named White Salmon, where there’s another toll bridge over the river, the fuel gauge was down to about a third of a tank, so I filled up at a cost of a little under $50. I’d done around 350 miles in total to that point, so that gives me a handle on how frequently I’m going to need to find a garage. I’m really glad I did fill up here as, not too far further along the route, there was a sign saying “No Gas for 82 miles”. Not a chance I’d want to take.

I lost count of the number of viewpoint stops I made, some official others simply pulling over onto the shoulder. The road was fairly quiet, especially east of a place called The Dalles. There were a few lumber trucks using the route, but generally everyone was either a tourist or a local who seemed to turn off as soon as they turned on. Quite a few groups of bikes touring too. Tourists weren’t just limited to the road, either…

Boat on Columbia

BNSF train

The further east I got, the gorge levelled out into what is known as the Upper Columbia River Basin. This is home to all sorts of agricultural enterprises, including wineries and more conventional farming. Shadowing Rt. 14 for pretty much the entire way is an evidently well used railway line. I saw a number of coal and container freights and I gather from the signs I saw that there’s an Amtrak service up here too.

Kennewick

For much of the latter-half of the journey along Rt.14 I was able to set cruise control to the 65mph limit for the road and not see a vehicle in front or behind for miles and miles. Motoring as it should be, and it let me enjoy the views a little more.

I’d started the day with the intention of getting to Hermiston then reviewing the situation based on the time, as I knew there were several motels here. If it was early enough I could perhaps press on to Pendleton, a slightly larger town 50 miles further along I84. Being on the interstate, I knew there would be motel options there as well. I decided to cut my losses at Hermiston and plumped for the Motel6 as my first choice, getting a cheap room without a problem.

Having checked in and dropped my bags, I went for a drive around the town and its surrounding countryside. I gather that farming is a big part of the economy around here, though I note from the article I’ve just linked to, that a Wal Mart distribution depot is among the main employers! I found this fella on my travels…

Buffalo

All-in-all a really beautiful drive at an unhurried pace, giving me a relaxing evening ahead. I noticed a sports bar called Nookies Brewery just up from the hotel so will probably try that for dinner. The on line reviews are mixed, so I don’t have high expectations….

Subject to changes of minds or other cause for revision, McCall, Idaho is my aim for tomorrow evening.

Later

Nookies was everything the reviews suggested it was going to be: indifferent & chaotic service, average food, slightly above average tap line. When I got served, the lass who looked after me was outwardly friendly, but there was a glaze to her persona that indicated she was pretty much on auto. I had a Porterhouse steak which hit the spot but I’ve had much better. In the end though, I walked out with a smile on my face. I suspect that the 2x 20oz of Deschutte’s Black Butte Porter helped. The biggest disappointment was the “Hermiston Brewing Company” which was heavily promoted around the bar, er sorry, “brewery”…

“What have you got that’s brewed here?” “It’s all still in those tanks – it should be ready by the middle of July” …scratches head…

I suspect this is a place which attaches itself to every label going in order to drag in business; “brewery”, “bistro”, “restaurant”, “sports bar”, “family pub”. Truth is, it is none of the above as such. It’s a TGIFridays clone, which is fine, except it doesn’t (yet) brew its own beer. Shame. Then it’ll be a Rock Bottom Brewery clone!

Oh, and lest anyone be misled by the name “Nookies”… No, it definately wasn’t a Hooters clone either.

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