Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Powered by Water and Wind

July 27

We are moseying through Washington, finding still more to explore as we make our way to Idaho. Scarcely more than a half hour after we leave Winthrop, we climb through the Okanogan National Forest to Loup Loup Pass (elev. 4,020), and a black bear cub nonchalantly crosses the road in front of us as we begin our descent. A woman from Washington DC is riding a bicycle up the road that we are driving down, and he crossed her path, too. She stops next to us to chat while we all watch the cub rummaging in the woods beside the road. Dick and I are mightily impressed that she is hardly puffing after her long climb up the mountain.

We appreciate her athleticism even more as we continue down the mountain for another five steep miles, and try to imagine ourselves pedaling up this grade. No way! Even if I was physically capable of handling the grade, I don't think I could ever get mentally capable -- there are too many places with no shoulder, no guardrail, and a steep cliff drop-off at the edge of the road, where it doesn't take much imagination to visualize being forced over the cliff by a logging truck or some other road hog trying to pass too closely.

Leaving the Cascades behind, we abruptly enter the dessert to their east, then fields of grain, apple orchards, and vineyards. Is there a state in the union that doesn't have vineyards and wineries? We haven't kept strict track, but we think we have seen wineries in every state we have visited on this trip so far.

We visit two dams that make this dessert bloom, and generate a huge share of the power used by the Pacific Northwest. The first dam is the Chief Joseph Dam, which stretches more than a mile across the Columbia River and is the second largest producer of hydropower in the country. Dick is interested in the awesome construction details and mechanics, I am interested in the reason the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chose to name the dam after a Nez Perce Tribal Chief whom the U.S. Army fought, overpowered, and "relocated," enabling settlers to encroach on Nez Perce land. I can't find a good answer to this question. But, I learn that construction of the dam prevented the salmon from swimming up the Columbia past it to spawn, wrecking tribal fishing grounds—adding another dose of irony to the choice to name the dam for a defeated tribal leader. We notice a sign below the dam indicating waters reserved for tribal fishing only, a consolation prize, no doubt.

Our next stop is Grand Coulee Dam, which is the world's largest concrete structure, as well as our country's highest hydropower producer. Here is my favorite mind-blowing statistic about how much concrete is in Grand Coulee Dam—it is enough concrete to build a sidewalk four feet wide and four inches thick and wrap it twice around the equator. Or you could build a highway from Seattle to Miami.

The dam took eight years to build, it supplied a lot of people with government jobs during the Great Depression, and it was completed in 1941, just in time to aid the war effort. Beyond an exhibit of war propaganda featuring the dam, I am interested in an exhibit on music Woody Guthrie wrote about the dam. The Bonneville Power Authority contracted in 1941 to pay Woody $266.66 to write some songs glorifying hydroelectric power and the dam. He wrote 26 songs! I am amazed at his prodigious output on such a seemingly uninspiring topic, and that he worked for just ten dollars a song.

Just a mile south of the dam, we stop in Electric City to see the Gehrke Windmill Garden, which runs on wind power, but just barely. The garden is a collection of whimsical colorful wind-driven mobiles made from everyday objects—tea cups, plates, farm implements, toys. They are behind a fence with a padlocked gate,
fading from the desert sun, and rusting from what little rain they get around here. The artist who made the garden, Emil Gehrke, died in 1979, and it appears that no one has enough interest in preserving his work to get out there with an oil can and some Rustoleum to keep the pieces moving. It really is a shame, because this place needs a little fun and fancy to balance the big serious dam just up the road.

We get to Idaho late in the afternoon, and make a quick stop in Coeur d'Alene for a walk on the world's longest floating boardwalk. The 3,300 foot wooden walkway is built on a foundation of cedar logs floating along the shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene, long ago cited in National Geographic as one of the world's five most beautiful lakes. The boardwalk begins and ends at city parks, and skirts a resort and marina complex in the middle. We enjoy watching antique wooden sport boats jockeying around the marina entrance, and it seems to us that the majority of Coeur d'Alene's population under the age of 18 is spending today in one of the parks, beaches or rocky shore areas around the boardwalk. We are not sure we would place this lake as high on our list as National Geographic did—it is a bit too developed for our taste--but it is a lovely stop for a walkabout, nonetheless.

We continue east to Wallace (pop. 960), where we are looking forward to a most extraordinary bike ride tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment