“Oh, it only gets hot here for a week in August.” Or so I was told. Then again, I’m also told that this is an unusual summer, one of the hottest on record, so both could be true.
I’m used to even hotter summers than this, back east, but almost everyone had air-conditioned houses. Here in Seattle, it’s rare to find air conditioning. Alcove House has neither a/c nor ceiling fans, and I keep wondering how the previous residents dealt with even normal summer heat waves, nonetheless these spells of 90-degree days.
On July 4, we decided to beat the heat and go for a wander in the mountains. I’d been to Mowich Lake, but neither of us had been to the main part of Rainier National Park, so we hopped in the car and headed east.
Gaining a couple thousand feet in elevation didn’t actually lower the ambient temperature much, so we were content to let the miles spin by in a blur of trees and stone. We passed by a crowded Tipsoo Lake and didn’t even try to find the Big Four Ice Caves, which are much too dangerous to visit this year.
We did find a lovely overlook facing Rainier, though. (What do they call them here? Outlooks?) Heading east on 410, you’ll know it’s coming up when you see the “heavy traffic ahead” sign, laugh at a congestion sign in the middle of nowhere, then realize that oh crap, everyone’s stopping to gawk and you really don’t blame them.
As you probably already know, Rainier is the highest point in Washington state, and even in this ridiculous heat is reliably snow-capped. What I didn’t know before moving here is that Rainier’s also a Decade Volcano, one of
“16 volcanoes identified by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI) as being worthy of particular study in light of their history of large, destructive eruptions and proximity to populated areas.”
It’s also likely to send lahars (pyroclastic flows) down nearby river valleys in an eruption, making me grateful we didn’t buy that house on the Cedar River after all.
Despite the mild-but-present danger for the Seattle metro area, it’s an incredible scene, and we stood with some other tourists for a few minutes to enjoy it.
As we traveled east, the terrain shifted from grand green mountains to dry golden hills that looked a lot more like California than Washington. Then we started passing orchards; we’d reached the land of Washington apples. That entire ridgetop below is one huge orchard.
As we discovered when we abandoned the cool confines of the car at the Powerhouse Grill in Yakima, we hadn’t escaped the heat: It was an even 100 degrees. The restaurant was pleasantly cool, though, and the waitress pleasantly warm.
I’m sure Yakima is a nice town, but it was hot and wearing on in the afternoon, so we added it to our “come back to later” list and headed towards highway 12, which would take us south of Rainier and gradually back around to Seattle.
We did stop one more time, at the farm stand run by McIlrath Family Farms.
McIlrath Farms came into being in 1976 when Scott McIlrath came to the Yakima Valley for work. Scott and his wife decided they had found a good place to raise a family and start a farm. Scott and Esther bought 30 acres on a plateau overlooking the Naches Valley, planted fruit trees, slowly accumulated old equipment, built a house and raised five children. The original farm has grown to 200 acres and now has a third generation of McIlraths helping work the farm. (Courtesy a brochure I picked up at the store)
The third generation was sweating through their summer vacation and helping run the store. We picked out some tasty Rainier cherries with their enthusiastic help and somewhat reluctantly went back out into the sun glare.
A house across the street, next to thousands and thousands of fruit crates.
For the rest of the afternoon, the progression of landscape seemed like California…
The return trip was mostly uneventful. We found another lake that I’m not even going to name — we didn’t have time for photos, and it’s too beautiful a surprise to ruin — and a few nice views. We passed not too far from Mt. St. Helens and hoped for a glimpse, but there were too many ridges in the way. Another day.