The Portland branch of the Empire Builder is rather empty. I chose this date to start my return to Maine based upon an expectation that not many people would want to travel on the 4th of July – I am apparently correct in my assumption.
After dinner, an interesting and delicious cold salad plate with slices of roast beef and a teriyaki glaze, complimented with a small fruit salad, biscuit and chocolate torte, I make my way to the observation lounge for more viewing. There are some beautiful scenes including a cascade (Bridal Veil?) across on the Oregon side of the river, but I can’t get the camera clicked fast enough to capture the beauty.
As was the case on our inbound trip, the change of vegetation color is dramatic. But unlike that trip, the river and the banks are now filled with people. On many of the small islands that appear to be nothing more than sand banks and eddies, dozens of boats have landed and their occupants taken over the beach to bath in the water and sun. There are many large fishing boats and dozens of personal watercraft buzzing around the river.
Along the shore line I notice numbers of trucks with campers that have found that special place for a 4th of July cookout and some fishing. Some of these camping spots are nothing more than a small grassy knoll between the rails and the water; I wonder how they found this spot and more importantly how they managed to get their vehicles perched on these narrow points of land.
With time, the sun gets lower and now moves from over our right shoulder to over our left. We have started to make the broad turn following the river as she moves north and then teases us briefly with a short western jog. I take my last look at Oregon and watch as the orange sky turns to many shades of purple and red. I calculate our position as just outside of Pasco, the place where five days ago we crossed the Columbia for the first time. I look to the south west and think of my sister now about 200 miles away.
The light on the horizon is fading fast as we make our way across the bridge into Pasco. The conductor had announced when we boarded that we might be able to see some fireworks in Pasco, but it is still not quite dark enough.
Pasco is one of the smokers’ stops so I take the opportunity to get out and stretch my legs. The air is still very hot, but feels good as I watch a small army of passengers head toward the train. The Pasco station is one of the newer ones on the line, but it sits near a neighborhood with some tired little houses and trailers. As we sit in the station taking on our new passengers, a few bottle rockets suddenly pop-up from that neighborhood. I think that these be the only fireworks I will see this 4th.
Within minutes of leaving Pasco we are back to dry open prairie land. I can make out the occasional farmhouse on the ridge off in the distance, the silhouette of an irrigation tower off to the north. We have turned north east and heading for high country.