Walla Walla, Washington
May 6-8, 2005
I left work early [shhh, don't tell my boss] and picked up Eric just after four PM. On the way over to his house, there were accidents on the 520 bridge and on 85th Street. It took forever - so long, that I had time to take a particularly uninteresting picture:
Yes, there are a lot of stickers on the median of 520.
I picked up Eric, and 148 miles later, saw a sign that said Ginkgo Forest State Park. Now, when on road trips, I think it's fun stopping at places you've never heard of before.
I wasn't disappointed.
This was one of the first signs we saw after leaving the highway:
This is the entrance to the state park - no fee, and the visitor's center had already closed at this point, as had the Gem Shop [drat!].
Here, Eric admires the delightful signage:
This is the Columbia River - it's the 2nd largest river in the USA. I was impressed.
We crossed the bridge, and then headed east towards Royal City and Othello, where we searched far and wide for an espresso stand, but found none. There were, however, many, many Mexican restaurants and a Wal-Mart. This is apparently quite typical of rural Washington state farming communities.
Finally, we arrived in Pasco, and were damned hungry at this point. I asked Eric what he wanted to eat, and he said "anything but Mexican." This proved to be a problem - Pasco is apparently the "bad part of town" of the Tri-Cities area, which basically means that there are very few white people there. Instead, there are Latinos. Lots and lots of Latinos. The Mexican restaurant density was astonishing: not only were there a few dozen Mexican restaurants along the main drag, there were taco trucks in about 30% of the Mexican restaurants' parking lots. If you wanted a taco, this was definitely the town to get it. However, we just kept going until we saw the first non-Mexican restaurant in Pasco, which was...
Chinese Gardens, featuring The Dragon Room, the most luxurious dining spot in all of Pasco, if not all of Eastern Washington!
Happily, the menu and the furnishings hadn't changed in, oh, about 30 years. We were seated in a red velvet booth and attended to in fine style; our eight course dinner [including such delicacies as Chinese B-B-Q Beef with Cocktail Sauce and Sesame Seeds and Fried Chicken In Orange Sauce] was served to us from a trolley by an attractive young woman. The wine list had many delectable offerings at bargain basement prices [no more than the same stuff costs in Safeway!]; however, we still had some drivin' to do, so we went for the Chinese Iced Tea instead.
It was yummy, and the food was $10 per person. Amazing. We also encountered bacon fried rice for the first time. Wow. That's a Chinese food menu item I wish more restaurants had.
Finally, we pulled into the Holiday Inn Express in Walla Walla, and I put the camera somewhere where I couldn't find it for a long time. Whoops.
Saturday, we went wine tasting. More on that later.
I did see this one bumper sticker:
I should've zoomed in, but what you're seeing here is a Purple Ribbon For Pancreatic Cancer.
Oh, and I still don't understand why there's a Swiss flag on the near-ubiquitous Yellow 'Support Our Troops' Ribbon. What's up with that?
Anyhow, many many many wineries later, we took a nap, had dinner at Elmer's, and hung out with a bunch of very cool Walla Wallans, drinking wine and talking. Very fun!
Oh, and here's me poking along through downtown Walla Walla:
Sunday, we visited the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, where I again forgot to take pictures. Eric was kind of irked that the NHS was largely just an endless expanse of mowed lawn; me, I figured it was better than just cutting welfare checks. Plus, I like endless expanses of mowed lawns, especially when there's a diorama of sexy white women getting killed via tomahawk courtesy of the local angry redskins. It's the fun side of imperialism!
Long story short, we went to a couple more wineries and then a cidery, and from there it was all nearly gravel Oregon back roads for about an hour 'til we could get back to the interstate. We stopped in a "town" called Holdman [population apparently one cow and maybe, just maybe, four or five remaining residents], where we saw a disused school:
and a disused grain elevator:
I thought it was lovely and melancholy. Eric, horror movie fan that he is, found it kind of creepy.
I though Helix, Oregon was even creepier cuz the streets were completely empty. I think everyone was at church.
Just before we got back to the interstate, we passed by a massive dam on the Columbia:
With a sign as cool as that, we figured we didn't need to actually visit the dam proper.
From there, it wasn't too much farther to Columbia Crest winery, which is actually a mammoth wine factory that's part of the even larger Ste Michelle Wine Estates, which is presumably the largest wine grower in Washington state; they produce upwards of 30 million bottles of wine a year. Of their brands, Columbia Crest is the biggest, and for it's proof that the biggest difference between Washington and California wine is that a $7 bottle of Washington wine will probably be pretty damned good, but a $7 bottle of California wine is highly likely to induce severe displeasure on the part of the drinker.
Anyhow, here's part of their barrel storage area:
It's strange visiting a place like this, because it's incredibly geographically isolated and, well, frickin' huge!
Tasting room staff were very friendly and their $21 Reserve Syrah is still one of the state's top ten wines in my book, but more on that in an upcoming wine blog post.
After leaving Paterson, we headed towards Preston, which is back on the interstate. At this point cars started passing me a lot - I was only doing 70 mph or so - which, according to Eric, caused me to lose "man points." I hereby apologize for trying to save money on gas as well as improving our safety. :)
Before the road gets to Prosser, it goes up and over a low range of hills which I didn't recognize as Ciel du Cheval, or Horse Heaven. This is a relatively famous wine growing area in Washington, and we stopped at a lookout and enjoyed the view for a bit:
It really doesn't look like Wine Country™ proper, but it is very pretty and reminded me somewhat of the hills south of San José.
Given that there's a little concrete shelter up there and a killer view, you'd think it was an ideal teenage party hangout, right? You guessed correctly:
Apparently uspinmeround has some explaining to do?
"Hey, call me, I'm gay !!"
That's right - ask for the bitch.
After tasting some spectacularly assy wines at Snoqualmie, then stopping by Hogue, Cowan, and Thurston Wolfe, we dined at Le Roi du biftek haché, or Burger King for you American types. Although we didn't notice it at the time, it was spectacularly situated on Merlot Lane. I had the Ultimate Whopper, which is in fact too big for me to eat in one sitting, even if all I've had to eat all day is a single cinnamon roll and that was eight hours ago. Amazing. It's a miracle I didn't get indigestion.
While enjoying our burgers, I noticed this cute lil' building across the street:
The red letters read "Stop And Pray." It's right next to the rest area and an espresso stand - thinking back on it, I wouldn't be surprised if it's often used for illicit rest stop sex instead of prayer. Eeeek.
Finally, we headed for home, stopping only to get some coffee at D&M in Ellensburg, which of course meant that a pee break was imminent. This is the view from the rest area west of Ellensburg:
Apparently there are mountains to be seen, but not when it's a grey, rainy Washington
winter summer day.