Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Summer Vacation

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks, because I was on vacation and out of computer reach. I actually had my cell phone along for emergencies, but since at least half the trip was spent in locations with zero reception, I'm still not sure why I lugged the thing along.

It was an interesting vacation. Our normal process is that my husband finds a place he thinks he'd like to go, and makes all the arrangements, and I go along for the ride. He's aware of my preferences and shares most of them, so it usually works pretty well, and on major shifts we consult more closely. On this one, though, we both were bitten by our assumptions, and by the weather.

First, the weather. Remember the heat wave that flattened the country in late July? OK, we left on about day 3 of that (having spent day 2 doing laundry, packing, and attending a wedding in full regalia including pantyhose for me and a tie for him), to drive up the California Central Valley on I-5, a trip that normally sees temperatures in the 90-100 degree range. On that trip it never got below 100 degrees, although my bet that it would be over 110 in Redding failed. By 1 degree. We spent the first 3 days of our trip driving to our ultimate destination, Lake Chelan in eastern Washington, and it was at least 100 degrees all three days. Thank God for Volkswagen air conditioning.

After overnight stays in Wolf Creek, OR, and beautiful Yakima, WA, we went up a back road to Wenatchee, WA.
My gardener husband wanted to stop in Wenatchee to look at the Ohme Gardens; but my enthusiasm for touring gardens, no matter how lovely, flags rapidly in that kind of heat, so I retreated to the shade and waited for him. The Ohme Gardens are on top of a bluff and really are quite lovely; you can see the confluence of the Wenatchee River and the Columbia River from there. If you can stand the heat.

From Wenatchee we went on to the town of Lake Chelan, WA, on Lake Chelan. Now, Yakima isn't exactly nowhere, although you can see nowhere from Yakima; but Lake Chelan -
Lake Chelan is Nowhere. It's a 3 day drive from the San Francisco Bay Area and at least 2 days from Portland. In Lake Chelan we boarded a boat, and rode another 50 miles up Lake Chelan (it took 4 hours) to our ultimate destination, Stehekin, which can be reached only by boat or air. Our room in the Stehekin Lodge had no air conditioning. (It did have good cross drafting.)

all this area is high desert. This is where the assumptions came in. We both assumed, without exactly stating it, that a remote lake surrounded by mountains would be cool. Lush, green, and relaxing. We learned on this trip that everything in Oregon and Washington east of roughly The Dalles is high desert. Can you spell "rain shadow"?? Brown as toast, no trees, sagebrush, etc. And, given the heat wave, hot enough to fry eggs on the rocks. Furthermore, this entire area has a more or less constant wind coming down off the Cascades. Stehekin does actually have trees, but it's pretty dry, and the downslope wind from the head of the valley stops only briefly around 4 AM. When we stayed in Seattle some years ago, we bought a book called "The Wet Side of the Mountains", and I think we just visited the other side.

We hadn't been in Stehekin 3 hours the day we arrived, when we ran into one of the side effects of a dry, windy, hot climate. It's called the Flick Creek Fire, and it started while we were in the visitor center talking to the rangers; and the only good thing about it is that it was 2.5 miles downwind from us. I have never been so grateful for a steady north wind; if that wind had changed, we might not have been able to get out. I think I got some photos of the first hour or so of a forest fire (film not developed yet); very scary. Everyone was nervous the 2 days we were there, going out on the dock to watch the fire; and the firefighting teams used the Stehekin docks as a staging point.

We left Stehekin on Friday the 28th, as planned; the fire was still burning but had settled down to a widespread smoulder. We were frankly happy to see it recede down the lake. The rest of our vacation was much less interesting, spent poking around Vancouver, B.C. in cool comfort (the heat wave having broken). Someday I'll figure out why pleasant, uneventful vacations make such dull stories...


  1. Anonymous7:58 PM

    What with most of my life having been spent in Florida, I am acquainted with forest fires. We also used to have the underground peat fires as well until all the peat was burned up by the repeated fires. Yeah, forest fires can be well and truly frightening when they get wound up, and it is most definitely possible to get trapped when the wind shifts. Glad to hear you are not now Crispy Critters. You did have a lake, thank god, but treading water for sustained periods while breathing hot, dense smoke...well, no.

    Also glad global warming is, in the words of Senator Inhofe, the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind.

  2. Yes, and the lake is fed by glacial melt, too, so the average lake temperature is about 74 degrees - not as cold as the storied Pacific Ocean (55 degrees off Northern California), but enough to make hypothermia more than just a long word. One of the waitresses at the restaurant in Stehekin was very agitated about having been stranded in the lake for much longer than was comfortable, after taking a boat out with the cook (without telling anyone) and capsizing... fortunately they were rescued before the damage was irreversible.

    Senator Inhofe may still doubt, but Pat Robertson, by God, is now a believer in global warming, convinced by the heat wave.

  3. Anonymous7:26 AM

    Maybe Lobster did finally decide to dope-slap Robertson (a really big claw to the side of the head can really focus one's attention). Either that or Robertson has figured out which way the winds are beginning to blow, especially among his base. Hard to know, but with public figures, only the consequences of their utterances and actions ultimately matter. Motives are quite possibly irrelevant.

    I once took a shower at a youth hostel in Rome with what I think was unheated snowmelt from the Alps. Hypothermemia in the shower is possible under the right circumstances.

  4. By the way, I have my photos back, and the forest fire pictures came out just fine. I may post some on my personal web site, or maybe (gasp) on the blog...

  5. Anonymous10:07 PM

    Hypothermemia? That is the oddest typo yet, and there have been some doozies.

    Anonymous David

  6. I rather like hypothermemia. Maybe some day I'll see it on a road sign.

    I'm wondering how cold snowmelt from the Alps could be by the time it got to Rome. The map on Wikipedia shows Rome quite a long way from the Alps, you'd think the water would have warmed up at least somewhat. Nonetheless, I avoid cold showers when possible...

    This reminds me of a discussion I had on vacation: one of my fellow travelers had been in a place in Europe, I forget where, which advertised 2 kinds of cottages, with "mod. cons." and with "complete mod. cons." My informant asked what the difference was. "Mod. cons." meant "running water"; "complete mod. cons." meant "hot and cold running water"...

  7. Anonymous8:23 AM

    Forest fires are scary when you have to put your car lights on just to see in the middle of the day. That was several years ago, and smoke and ash seemed everywhere. That forest fire was "up in the mountains" and was never going to come down and burn the sand, rocks, and bare earth here in the low desert. There were lots of refugees as well. That brought it home, plus the red glow in the night sky. Not fun.

    My vacation was in Ashland, Or. where I saw all the plays one expects plus Gore's Inconvenient Truth. The locals were saying it was warm, so that made the movie even more immediate. On the other hand, I'm home in good-old-to-be expected triple digit heat. Would like to see your photos.

  8. Anonymous8:52 PM


    All I could think was Where in hell else but Alpine snow could such cold damned water come, especially in the middle of the summer. I don't know the hydrology of Italy. Be interesting to find out why that water was, as my childhood rural friends liked to say, colder than a well digger's ass (never made any sense to me, either).

  9. Maybe it was Alpine. I've never even been in Italy, so I'm not sure why I'm running on about it.

    Boggart, the steady north wind meant that Stehekin was untroubled by smoke in the air, but I gather the town of Chelan had a couple of very uncomfortable days. It's nearly 50 miles away and on the other side of the lake, but it was downwind, and guess where the smoke went? I didn't hear the details of how bad it got.

    I grew up in Napa, California, which has its dry moments; I've never forgotten a hot summer night when I was around 10-12 years old, standing in our yard in the valley and seeing flames rimming the hills in both directions. Fortunately they brought it under control.

    I'm terrible about dealing with photos but I'll try to get them up on my web site.

  10. Anonymous11:50 PM

    Oh, hell, why not? Sometimes it's just fun to wander off for a moment on whatever qualifies as sheer speculation in attempting to account for damned near freezing just taking a shower in the middle of the summer in Rome. Mostly, of course, it's just fun to remember being in Rome one summer. And set against a seriously scorching, potentially life-threatening conflagration, it suddenly becomes a really refreshing memory, blue bottom and all (can never get too far from my Pict roots, no matter how convoluted or tangential).