Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A Washington State of Mind

12 August 2015

I'm a little bit delayed with posting this blog - what can I say, life gets busy.  Life needs to be lived.  Blogs can wait.  Priorities, right? 


On Tuesday, after our time in Seattle, we drove to Yakima.  Yakima is in the center of Washington state horizontally, though a big south of center vertically.  The Yakima Valley is surrounded by hills, and almost desert outside the hills.  It's dry and dusty and yes, apparently rattlesnakes love this part of the state.  The valley itself is a huge agricultural center.  For example, did you know that more hops (used in beer production) are grown in the Yakima Valley than anywhere else in the world?  Yup, and shipped to breweries all over the world.  Yakima ranks first in the US for the number of fruit trees - apple, pear, peach, cherry, all that.  Plus wine making (and grape growing), and dairy production.

We spent time in Yakima with my middle brother and his wife and their son.  This is the brother who deals with our paperwork and the "business" side of travelling.  He receives and then sends on our medications, pays the storage unit fees, files paperwork we send to him - all the "business" of life that continues whether one travels or not.  

Richard and I also "shopped" in our stored boxes of clothing.  My boxes are all labelled and I have a spreadsheet detailing what is in each box.  So I can just pull certain boxes, pull out a few dresses or shirts or whatever, and put together my travel wardrobe for the coming year.  Richard has a different system that works for him.  The "shopping" took one morning, and then we had time to play.  Our evenings were spent sorting through a year of mail.  Most of which was junk.)

My brother (yes, this is Howdy, short for Howard) enjoys the photos on our blog, and thought a trip to Toppenish, just a little south of Yakima, would be perfect for me.  And it was!!!

A little background here - this part of central Washington state, prior to exploration by settlers, was the home of the Yakama people, or the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama People.  After white settlement, the land south of the Yakima Valley, all the way to the Columbia River, was deeded to the Confederated Tribes.  The land was originally owned by the Confederation, but various US laws were designed to break up the communally owned lands and focus on individual ownership.  Eventually, some native land owners sold to white settlers, and the ownership became more mixed.

Toppenish is a town within that land owned by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.  It was incorporated in 1907, and the name Toppenish is an Anglicized version of the Yakama language (Sahaptin) word Txapnis, which refers to a landslide. 
Settler-owned land became farms and ranches.  Towns like Toppenish were built.  The economy boomed.  The railroad came through.  Towns became cities, and more towns were built.  The usual "progress" as whites tried to make the Native Americans more like themselves.
I think the mural portraying the horse racing is the best example of this.  (It's also my favorite mural that we saw in Toppenish.)  The Yakama people had horse racing several times a year.  It was one of those big events that was tied to various festivals or rites of passage.  It was exciting.  It was fun.  And of course the federal government tried to ban it, or at least stop the horse riding.  Because, well, who knows why.  The Feds banned Native horse racing.  Understandably, the Yakama people were infuriated, and ready to fight this.  Well, members of the local government found out that the Yakama people were planning an uprising.  And given the general sentiment locally, people thought it would be better to allow the horse racing than to have this turn into one of those lose-lose battles that were so common across the American west.  Somehow, they convinced the Feds to rescind that law and thus allow the races.  Everyone was happy again.  And the races continued.

Today, Toppenish is ethnically mixed, with a population of  Yakama, Hispanic, and Caucasian people.  (There are a few African Americans here, as well as people of other descent.  In tiny numbers.  Toppenish has just about 9,000 residents.)

The town of Toppenish is proud of their history and heritage, and in    decided to portray this through a series of murals painted by artists across the town.  Here's the town's website:

The murals (there are "over 75 historically accurate murals," according to the town website) are really wonderful!  

The murals show the Yakama people.  The horse racing, as noted above.  The people living on the plains in tepees.  Men trading blankets.  Women showing children how to weave baskets or fabrics in the traditional ways.  (The Yakama bead work is phenomenal, like nothing you've seen before!)

They show the farmers and settlers.  Children going to school.  Women hanging laundry.  Cattle, produce, farmers.  Windows in buildings painted over to show people within.  Drunk settlers pranking a friend in an outhouse.  All the usual life of 19th century Oregon Territory.  (Did I mention that Toppenish was recently named one of the twenty best places to live in the west by American Cowboy Magazine?)

And the murals show the physical beauty of this part of the country, with Mount Adams and Mount Rainier often popping up in the distance.  The plains, the rivers, the trees.  The abundant wildlife of migrating birds, predators like bears and mountain lions and lynx and bobcats and coyotes and fox.  

I loved it!  Absolutely wonderful!  The town began the mural project in 1989 as part of the state's Centennial celebration.  Toppenish also hosts Mural-in-a-Day events, where artists are invited to participate in working as a group to complete one mural in one day.  Most murals have a sign explaining the imagery, whether it's historic, cultural, environmental, or whatever.

This started with state seed funds (again, as part of the Centennial celebrations), but has continued through private donations and support, absolutely no public funds or taxes are used.  There's a mural society which meets monthly, and the board oversees maintenance as well as construction of new murals.  (The website for the mural project is!murals/c1ylq)

Anyway, it's a fabulous project, and if you ever are in the general area of Central Washington, definitely visit Toppenish for half a day!!!

You might have noticed that The Hat joined us for our visit to Toppenish, and had a great time sitting on various animals, or on Howdy's head trying to fit into various murals.  There's even a mural scene of a hat seen through a window; Dad's hat tried to fly up that high, but there was no window sill to sit on, no chair to hang from, just flat wall.  They were kindred spirits, though, those two hats, even though they came from different centuries.  

So our two days in Yakima flew by, and on Thursday we headed back to Bellingham.  You can see on the map that there's a shaded area about 1/3 of the way across the state, from the left, running the full length of the state.  That's the Cascade Mountains.  To get to Yakima from the west side of the state, one drives across Interstate 90 (I-90), which goes all the way to the east coast of the US.  In this particular section, we drive through Stampede Pass and then Snoqualmie Pass.  The elevation of Stampede Pass is 3,671 feet (about 1220 meters?), and Snoqualmie is 3,022 feet (roughly 1000 meters).  Yakima is at an altitude of 1000 feet above sea level (300 meters), and the west side of the state goes down just a few feet above or at sea level.  So it's quite a climb to get to the passes, and the mountains soar above.  Mount Rainier is the highest point of the Cascades, about 14,400 feet (4,392 m).  Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan, just outside Bellingham, are at 10,781 and 9,131 feet, respectively.  (Or 3,286 and 2,783 meters.)  TALL!!!!!!

I got to do most of the driving.  Not that I like highway driving.  Just that I know the area better, and it's easier to drive and not have to explain directions all the time.  It also gives Richard a break, since he does most of the driving when we're overseas.  While I navigate, of course.

We drove through the dry rattlesnake-filled scrub of Central Washington, then the verdant flat farm land, and then began the climb into the Cascades.  Evergreen trees took over, then rugged stony mountains too high for plant life, and then we descended into the green of Western Washington, complete with blue blue sky and shining lakes and Puget Sound.  This is the best time to be in Western Washington, the only time of year when the sky is fairly consistently blue and not grey.  When the ground is dry and not wet all the time.  When there are flowers and leaves on the deciduous trees and people are outside, showing skin.  Very sun-deprived skin, but skin nonetheless.

We have some things planned, and will do a little sightseeing between medical stuff.  Richard has some minor surgery, we both have dental visits, and all of this takes time.  

But you know us.  We'll enjoy our time in Bellingham, hanging out at the Bagelry and meeting up with friends.  Visiting the nearby casino, and going to concerts or movies or block parties or street fairs.

And we'll continue to blog about the more exciting and picturesque parts of our travels.


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