It’s my wife’s fault. She finished a book on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The treacherous terrain. The harsh weather. The constant threat from hostile Indians. It soon became clear that I might be a belated scalping victim if we didn’t get out to the Pacific Northwest and retrace at least part the great trail.
Fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804 to explore lands west of the Mississippi River he’d bought a year earlier for a song from cash-starved Napoleon Bonaparte. They never found the hoped-for navigable water route from St. Louis to the Pacific. But they delighted the third president with drawings and detailed reports of the area’s plants, animal life, and geography that were vastly different from that of America’s east coast.
The same contrasts that helped foster the settlement of the American west fascinated my wife and me as we drove along the Pacific coast from Victoria, British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to Crescent City, California. The differences provided a constant source of amazement for us throughout more than 1,700 miles of driving. Our room at Crater Lake Lodge featured a view of the 2,000-foot deep lake and 10,000-foot high Mt. Shasta. Crater Lake is crystal clear and glass smooth. Intrepid tourists hike down the 180-foot drop to the lake’s surface and put a toe into the constant 57-degree water. Snow-covered Mt. Shasta silently laughs at them from miles away.
Tip: Take along some Avon Skin So Soft to repel voracious mosquitoes that appear from nowhere, attack without mercy, and follow you into your car. We favored back roads over Interstates.
That’s where the contrasts were most impressive. Valley floors covered by ripening corn, lavender, u-pick blackberry, blueberry, and strawberry fields crept between the rocky toed foothill children of great mountain fathers. Doublewide mobile homes in the valleys are looked down on by million dollar chalets up on the mountainside. A Washington state road side trip brought us to a generations-old clapboard store that catered to river rafting college kids. Bikini-clad girls and chisel-bodied guys stop in for craft beer and sandwiches of imported meats and cheeses before hitting the river. We followed them and photographed as they plopped into their tubes, popped beers, and lit up joints, legal in the Evergreen State.
The two-lane country roads had plenty of contrasts themselves. There were bussize RVs and 100-mile per day bicyclists. We met a young French Canadian girl bound from Quebec to San Francisco, alone, up and down the mountains on her pedal-powered two-wheeler. We’re grandparents and worried a bit as she disappeared in our rearview mirror. At mountain overlooks, chipmunks will eat out of your hand as nearly domesticated deer munch grass nearby. Washington has the largest car ferry system in America.
The two-hour trip from Victoria, British Columbia to Anacortes, Washington snaked through the magnificent San Juan Islands. Recreational sail and power boats gave right-of-way to ocean-going container ships. The exquisite juxtaposition of mountains and sea are contrasted sharply to the flatlands surrounding the Chesapeake Bay. Pacific Northwest towns are small, charming, and fastidiously neat. Main street light poles are festooned with hanging baskets of sparkling bright flowers. Seafood is delicious and plentiful. Merchants and restaurant folks are go-out-of-their-way friendly. Our takeaway from this trip? America is a big, beautiful country. It’s well worth taking the time to explore it. Jay Moore is a retired public relations executive. He and his wife divide their time between homes in Hampton Roads, Virginia and Palm Beach, Florida.