Sunday, July 01, 2007

Morning Has Broken – Passing Pasco

I slept the best this night and vaguely remember stopping in Spokane at about 3:00 am. What I remember was, there were a lot of lights and I reached over and pulled the drapes. The train also was disconnected here with the front of the train (including the dining car) heading to Seattle and the back of the train - including the club/observation car and me - going to Portland. This unlinkage resulted in about 30 minutes of complete silence. The electric is apparently turned off when the train disconnects and, in the newfound silence, I again returned to deep sleep.

At about 5:00 am – I think I was still in Mountain Time – I looked out the window and again saw nothing but flat open plains. For a moment I was startled and wondered if we had returned to Montana, but remembered that western Washington and Oregon is very dry and very flat.

Dozing on and off, I finally got out of bed at 6:30 MT – 5:30 PT. I got dressed and went in search for some coffee. The barrel was pretty empty and there was just a thick syrupy residue in the pot. I poured it anyway and added some bottled water cream and sugar figuring this might be all I’d get. I recalled our attendant Juice, indicated it was a long night for him with little sleep since they had to be awake when the train arrived in Spokane. The train was pretty quiet; I think it might have been me and the engineer who were the only ones awake. However, when I turned and walked down the hall I noticed a new face, a woman sitting in the first cabin. She must have boarded in Whitefish or Spokane. She was sitting up looking tired and annoyed.

Returning to my roomette I finished my coffee concoction and watched as the countryside began to accumulate indications of civilization. First a few houses, then garages and small businesses and eventually a town would appear. This next one looked a bit substantial since there was an airport, an airport large enough to have a radar tower which I could see spinning out on the plain. Minutes later we were in Pasco, the proverbial gateway to the Columbia River Gorge. I reset my watch to Pacific Time and was amazed that we were just about 10 minutes off scheduled.

The sky was overcast as we left the station and slowly made our way over a bridge and the Columbia. The river comes in from the northwest at this point and then makes a sharp turn to the south and then west and drops down into the land creating a rather spectacular gorge. I remember this location from my 1982 trip and know it will be spectacular – the camera is out and I am snapping away.

The gorge, I suppose, has been there for millennia. The sandy rocks that make up the shore line are brown and covered with wisps of yellow grass – it is very dry here in the high plateau. The refreshing and life-giving moisture of the Pacific has already been squeezed out of the air by the time it reaches this place, and the contrast of water and semi-arid plateau is remarkable. But I know the road ahead will be moist and beautiful.

At 7:00 am Juice is up and apologizing. Fresh coffee made, he starts to make up beds. Many of my compatriots have headed to the club car for their cold breakfast. The Amtrak folks warned us that since the dining car was going off to Seattle there would only be cold breakfast for us. So, I decided to skip it and continue my vigil for great scenery with Kodak in hand. I am not disappointed and take many shots of the river with its barges, dams and locks and the occasional bridge. At times the river disappears from view as we duck behind some rock formations and each time it reappears it gets prettier. Soon the vegetation has become more abundant and slightly greener and within a few hours it is lush and vibrant.

The train is routed down the north side of the gorge and you can see a small highway to our left. Across the river you can see semis and large vehicles heading down Interstate 84. We make some stops along the gorge and according to my calculations we are now about 20 minutes late.

Some of the most spectacular viewing is between The Dalles (Wishram, WA) and Portland. By now the train is surrounded by the lush green pines of the Pacific Northwest. We’re almost there.

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