September 12 2012 by Jason Fogelson
The weather report calls for extreme temperatures today, especially at my destination. We're talking triple digits extreme. So, I get an early start this morning. I usually hit the trail by 8:30 am. This morning, I'm down in the lobby breakfast area of the BEST WESTERN PREMIERE Plaza Hotel & Conference Center at 7:00 am, wolfing down the hot food and drinking a few extra glasses of water. I'm going to need to stay hydrated.
There are several routes across Washington State from Puyallup to Prosser. The dreaded Interstate system can get you from one place to the other -- I-90 to I-82, and you'll be there in a few hours. Boring. There's the southern route, US-12, which is a great road. But I'm taking WA-410, which was recommended by Traci Nelson and the folks on the staff at the BEST WESTERN PREMIERE Plaza Hotel. It's a smaller road, mostly one lane in each direction, so it will take longer. That's fine by me.
I ride through Enumclaw, a small town that is very much admired for the milkshakes at Wally's White River Drive-In. It's a little early for a milkshake, so I ride on, marking the spot on my map for a return.
Mount Rainier looms in the near distance, off to my right. Every once in a while, there's a gap in the trees, and I get a clear look at the peak, 14,410 above sea level. It's an awesome sight. Traffic is bad, thanks to construction. That's one of the down sides to choosing a state route. Washington is spending a ton of money on its roads -- and it seems that I keep choosing roads that need the most attention. I spend a lot of time standing still, which is no fun.
At WA-123, I break from WA-410 and ride 20 miles south to the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. The next stretch of road is called "The Ride to Paradise." Paradise Camp is at the base of the southern slope of Mount Rainier, and the approach to the camp is a gorgeous, winding road that climbs up and around. The first time that Mount Rainier fills my vision, it's like meeting a celebrity. The mountain is so iconic, so familiar from pictures and movies, that when I see it in person, it takes my breath away. It is that gorgeous.
I pull in to the parking lot at Paradise Camp. People who hike and climb swarm all over the place, looking active and fit. I don't get it, but if you're into that kind of thing, there are Park Rangers who will be happy to point the way. The lodge at Paradise Camp is a great mini-museum, with a theater that shows a 21-minute film about the mountain and the park, a book store and gift shop, and a cafeteria. I've been delayed by so much construction that it's lunchtime already, so I have a BBQ pork sandwich, which is actually kind of delicious. I'm so energized that I'm tempted to hike -- almost.
Instead, I ride. I reverse my route back down the Ride to Paradise -- should I make some kind of Milton joke here? When I get back to WA-123, leaving the park, I take a right, heading for US-12 instead of WA-410. US-12 takes me through the William O. Douglas Wilderness, a 166,000 acre forest named in honor of the Supreme Court Justice who had a cabin in the area and loved the outdoors. With so many trees around, the air is clean and clear, even in the heat of the day. I can understand Justice Douglas's passion.
As I leave the Wilderness, I'm leaving the Cascade Mountains and entering the high desert. The landscape changes from a dark green forest to a blanket of brown grasses. The hills look like an elephant's thighs, rugged and rippling. It's getting hotter and hotter, and shade is a rarity. The only green trees in sight are planted around farmhouses, few and far between. This is a landscape that I understand -- it reminds me of parts of Southern California. I find it unbelievably beautiful.
Yakima is the big city around here, with over 90,000 inhabitants. The air temperature gauge on my Road Glide shows 110 degrees. That can't be right, can it? I stop for water and gas. I really want to explore Yakima, but I'll be honest -- it's too darn hot. I scoot through town, amazed that I actually see people outside in the heat. I even see joggers. It doesn't seem possible.
Past the city of Yakima, I take US-97, which leads to WA-22 toward Prosser. I pass a sign telling me that I've entered the Yakima Indian Reservation. There is irrigation happening here, and big fruit processing plants. Peaches, plums, prunes, grapes and those famous Washington cherries. Fruit stand after fruit stand brag about the quality of the produce. My mouth waters. If I lived here, I wouldn't have to suffer with the New Zealand and Chilean apples that we get in our grocery store in California. I'd eat fresh local fruit, and enjoy every serving.
I leave the reservation, and enter a region that my map identifies as "Heaven." Wow, Paradise and Heaven in one day. The hills around Prosser and down to the Columbia River, 30 miles to the south, are the Horse Heaven Hills. Before civilization encroached, conditions were prime for feral horses -- Horse Heaven, with plenty of water, foliage and isolation. Prosser also sits in the middle of Washington's Wine Country. Washington State wines are gaining prominence, and the region is dotted with vineyards large and small. The Horse Heaven Hills were designated as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2005, one of 12 in Washington. There are signs for vineyard tours and wine tastings all over town. Wine is serious business in Prosser.
I park beneath the canopy in front of the BEST WESTERN PLUS Inn at Horse Heaven, and drag my sweaty self into the lobby. The front desk clerk is so nice and so sweet that I feel like I've arrived home after a long trip. And it has been a long trip today.
I check in to my room, peel off my riding gear and put on my bathing suit. I take a dip in the cool pool water in the hotel's indoor pool, starting to feel human again now. I go back to my room, shower and dress, and then walk down Merlot Street and around the corner to Johnny's Pizza Stone & Pub on Chardonnay Avenue (I told you that Prosser takes its wine seriously). Johnny's surprises me with some very good pizza, wings and draft beer.
Back at the BEST WESTERN PLUS again now, I check the weather for tomorrow. Triple digits again. I vow to stay hydrated, and to keep moving.
Miles Ridden: 245.3
NEXT: Western Washington, Day Three: Prosser to Washougal