From Rain Forest to Desert

Sunday, May 11, 2008 -- Umatilla, OR

It was an easy drive over to Umatilla from The Dalles area yesterday -- almost ideal driving conditions. We used I-84 despite a preference for less intense roadways. With staying almost two months in Vancouver, Dar hasn't driven the bus-house since early March and she was eager to get back into the saddle. The trip was a little over 125 miles. We're parked right along the Columbia River at the Umatilla Marina & RV Park.

Traveling up (or down) the Columbia, you experience the most dramatic change in geography as anywhere in the world. In just a few miles you move from the rain forest (80 inches of rain or more per year) of the Cascades to the high desert (8 inches of rain per year) of Eastern Oregon and Washington... from dense forest with trees larger than most people have ever seen to barren hillsides with little more than sporadic grass and brush. You can literally see the line along the opposite bank near The Dalles -- there is dense forest... and there's barren hillside. Wow!

As we neared the intersection of I-84 with I-82 there are domed earthen bunkers -- thousands of them -- lined up like soldiers for miles on the north side of the road. This is the Umatilla Army Depot -- a 20,000 acre secure area, one of seven facilities around the country where all kinds of real-nasty stuff is stored. A search on the internet finds that those bunkers contain nerve agents (VX), sarin (GB), and mustard agent (HD) -- and that's the stuff they tell us about. It became known in the 1990's that the vessels that contain this stuff (shells and the like) are deteriorating and in danger of leaking -- not a good thing. In 2004 the Army began destroying this material through a process called high temperature incineration. I, for one, am happy to hear it's going away. I'm also very happy I'm upwind of the incinerator here at the RV Park.

Today we're planning to explore some L&C sites along the river east and north of here. In October 1805, the Corp of Discovery was anxious to get to the Pacific Ocean before winter. Some days in this segment they'd travel 40 miles or more as they paddled down river. They were making a run for the ocean -- like the two-minute drill, the last lap, the run to the barn. Tired, beat-up, tattered, cold, wet... they hoped they'd find a ship trading with the Indians and would be able to re-supply their depleted team. So they made haste as they headed west.



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