Road trip provides just a bit of Paradise

Wally’s World

Well, friends, what our new president has inherited from the neo-conservative school is nothing less than the worst economy in at least 25 years and quite possibly the worst since the 1930s. I suspect Barack Obama has reviewed certain programs that proved effective during the Great Depression under the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.

One of Roosevelt’s more innovative ideas was the Public Works Administration, which initiated huge, government-funded public projects to put people to work. Three of FDR’s most famous and successful projects were built in 1937 and are located in our region: the Grand Coulee Dam, Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and the visitor’s center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. Since then, the dam has added several generators and Timberline has been extensively remodeled, but little if anything had been done to improve Paradise until last year when it received a major overhaul.

I hadn’t been to Paradise in almost 20 years and was curious to see what they’d done. So, one day last week, when the sun came out and the temperature spiked into the 70s, I jumped in the car and headed for the high country.

I avoided the red-line highways and drove the back roads through general-store hamlets like Kapowsin. My first stop was the Wagonwheel Saloon in South Prairie, a delightful little gin-mill. Indeed, this antiquated pit stop is highly recommended, if not on your way to the mountain, than certainly on your return trip. Like everything else I’ve mentioned, the Wagonwheel was built in the 1930s, shortly after Prohibition went down the drain, and I don’t believe it’s been remodeled since.

Sticking to the back roads, I could literally drive 10 or 12 miles and not see another car. It’s easy to get confused since road-signs aren’t especially prevalent, but you can’t really get lost because you’re never that far from a main highway.

The Carbon River cuts a beautiful swath through the lush flood-plain and forests and I must have crossed the meandering South Prairie Creek three or four times. I passed huge, new loafing-sheds and other modern outbuildings scattered about behind turn-of-the-century farm houses, sagging upon their rotten wood foundations. Still, there were also some new individual suburban homes beside the streams and even a few, small, suburban developments. Alas, I’m quite sure the Tacoma/Puyallup sprawl will eventually creep all the way to the very edge of the national park.

At one point, I skirted the edge of Lake Kapowsin on blacktop that’s so cracked, warped and buckled it seems the entire road is about to slough off into the lake.

Somewhere between Eatonville and Alder, still on the back roads, the surroundings start to look more like a park than a rural region; that is, there are historical markers, scenic overviews and snow on the higher peaks. The watering-holes in Elbe are quite popular with bikers out of Tacoma and the South Sound area. If you’re inclined toward that scene, you might want to check this out.

Just outside Ashford, I encountered a herd of deer beside the highway and, in fact, on the highway. I slowed to a crawl and finally came to a complete stop because, being the inquisitive creatures they are, they weren’t in any hurry to move. They just looked at me as if to ask, “What the hell you doing here?”

So, there we were, staring at each other. I finally honked the horn and they reluctantly moved aside, taking their own sweet time.

Continued next week.