GRAND COULEE DAM

Early the next morning ,we sat out on the deck, enjoying the music of the river—across the river a doe and her fawn daintily stepped down the embankment to the river. Bob and I locked up the hot tub we’d used the night before. It hadn’t done its job: the bugs were still with us. We ate a forgettable breakfast in one of the only cafes open early in the morning, packed the car, and drove south out of Winthrop on hwy 20.

CHIEF JOSEPH

Metal statue of Chief Joseph

Passing through miles of fruit-laden trees in the famous Okanogan Valley, we just had to stop for a large bag of just-picked cherries. Since Connie’s folks once had a huge cherry tree in their yard, every cherry season she yearns for a cherry fix. At Omak, we turned east on hwy 155. As we approached Nespelem, Bob (who was navigating at the time) suggested we stop there in order to learn more about the legendary Nez Percé Indian Chief Joseph (1840-1904). Undoubtedly, his is one of the saddest and darkest stories in American history. His only sin was that he did his best to get Washington to honor its treaties with his people. His was the genius in the Nez Percé War, as he fought and retreated with his 250 warriors over 1,600 miles of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. After a two-day battle at Kamiah, Idaho, he and his people were caught by Gen. Nelson Miles, only 40 miles from the Canadian border. It was then that the broken-hearted chief uttered those famous words, “Hear me, my chiefs; my heart is sick and sad. From where the Sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.” In spite of promises made by U.S. authorities, Joseph and his band, in 1878, were sent to a barren reservation in Oklahoma, where many sickened and died. Not until 1885 were he and the remnants of his band permitted to go back to Washington state—but not to the Wallowa Valley. Twice he journeyed to Washington to plead for the return of his people to their beloved valley, once with President Teddy Roosevelt personally. It was in vain.

Chief Joseph Memorial Stone

By asking some of the Native Americans in Nespelem where his grave might be, we learned it was on top of a nearby hill in an old cemetery—under a tree. There we finally found it, graced only by a modest marble statue, with the words etched on it slowly fading out of existence. If there was ever a figure in American history who deserves better historical treatment than this, it has to be Chief Joseph. Even to this day, his people have not been permitted to go home. Their lives are still controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the nearby town of Colville. The Grand Coulee Dam flooded their best land and destroyed their salmon-based way of life.

SERENDIPITOUS COINCIDENCE

We next moved on to Grand Coulee Dam—long on Bob’s bucket list. I’d known about it all my life but knew little about it. Gradually our road dropped down, following a canyon off to the side. Suddenly, around the corner, there it was, so huge it was difficult to gain perspective—even more difficult to get a photo of. First of all, we drove up to the headquarters so Connie could get her U.S. Parks Passport stamped. Then we stopped at the large visitor center adjacent to the dam. We learned much studying the exhibits and watching the short film—but I’ve learned even more since.

Overcoming daunting odds, the polio-crippled patrician, Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been elected President in 1932, in the deepest depths of the Great Depression. He promised a New Deal for the average beaten-down American: to revive farm prosperity (America was still predominantly rural then), to rehabilitate the railroads, to regulate banks and security exchanges, to increase the development of electric power, to embark on a broad program of public works, to tackle unemployment, build roads, and solemnly promised, “No American shall starve.”

Unlike many politicians, Roosevelt determined to deliver on each promise. My maternal grandfather, Herbert Norton Leininger, of Arcata, California, with seven children and a wife to support, had lost his business. In desperation, he wrote FDR a letter, asking—not for dole, for Grandpa was a proud man—but for a job! Within minutes of the letter getting to the White House, it always seemed to Grandpa, a telephone call was made from the White House to the person in charge of federal hiring in Humboldt County, with the directive, Get Herbert Leininger a job! And he got it. Grandpa never forgot!

Before this trip, I had no idea the Columbia River was so significant. It is born high in the Canadian Rockies. Of its 1,214-mile length, 460 miles (or 38% of it) is in Canada; perhaps the most spectacular portion of it in the Columbia Mountains (Cariboo, Monashee, Selkirk, and Purcell Mountain ranges, each range towering over 10,000 feet high). Also in British Columbia the great North and South Arrow Lake the Columbia flows through before it reaches Grand Coulee Dam, where it backs up 151 miles to the Canadian Border in Lake Roosevelt. For 300 miles it separates the states of Oregon and Washington. Its drainage basin is vast (258,000 square miles). It is the largest river in North America in terms of the sheer volume of water flowing into the Pacific. It produces 30% of all the hydroelectric power in the nation. And had it not been for the vision of FDR, it is doubtful the dam would ever have been constructed.

North side of Grand Coulee Dam

For a long time prior to FDR’s presidency, debate—more often than not heated—had been going on in the Northwest about how it might be possible to harness the tremendous power of the Columbia River for both hydroelectric and irrigation purposes. But there was no consensus: one side (the so-called “pumpers”) wanted to pump water from behind a dam. The pumpers were generally in favor of hydroelectric power. The ditchers, on the other hand, wanted to irrigate the Columbia basin with water from the Pend Oreille River.

Grand Coulee Dam came about because of a promise FDR made to Washington Senator Clarence Dill: that if he was elected president, he’d build a big dam on the Columbia. Initially, Roosevelt balked at the projected price tag: $450,000,000—more than the Panama Canal. Roosevelt said he could, however, support the building of a lower dam: 150 feet high rather than the proposed 550. It was a pragmatic victory as it quieted the critics. Later on, since a high dam would generate eight times the income of the low one, it was decided to go ahead with the original plan.

South side of Grand Coulee Dam

Construction began in 1933 and was completed on March 12, 1938. It certainly accomplished another Roosevelt objective, as it gave thousands of men jobs, but 77 men died during its construction. The completed dam exhausts superlatives: it is more than twice the height of Niagara Falls. It is 550 feet high, 480 feet wide at the base, and (with the third powerhouse), almost a mile long (5,223 feet). All the pyramids at Giza could fit within the total area of its base. There are over eight and a half miles of corridors inside it. At the time it was constructed, it was the largest masonry structure ever erected by man; other than the Great Wall of China, the only man-made structure in history larger in mass than the Great Pyramid of Khufu. There is enough concrete in it to build a four-inch thick four-lane-highway 60 feet wide, 3,000 miles long, from California to Florida. Even today, with all the other mega dams that have been constructed around the world, it is still the largest all-concrete dam ever built. Its Frank D. Roosevelt Lake is 151 miles long with 600 miles of shoreline.

And the “serendipitous Coincidence?” It is this. As I pointed out in Blog #46 on September 29, we had inadvertently retraced Roosevelt’s steps: Timberline Lodge on September 28, 1937; Crescent Lake Lodge on September 30, and Lake Quinault Lodge on October 1. So you can imagine how I felt when I discovered that the very next day after Roosevelt left Lake Quinault Lodge: on October 2, the President visited Grand Coulee Dam!

SPECIAL NOTE: Next week we visit Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park.

SOURCES

Bottenberg, Ray, Grand Coulee Dam (Charleston, SC: Arcadia publishing, 2008).

Encyclopedia Britannica. 1946 and 1964 editions.

“Grand Coulee Dam Statistics and Facts,” U.S. Department of the Interior document.

“Grand Coulee Dam,” Wikipedia reprint.

“Grand Coulee Dam: History and purpose,” Alpha Index document.

Oregon and Washington Tour Book (Heathrow, Florida: AAA Publishing, 2010).

PARADISE INN

            There were swarms of skiers getting ready to hit the slopes, to greet us as we walked down the steps of Timberline Lodge—one girl crying because her boots were too tight.  The view was so breathtaking we had to just stare, downloading it to our memory disks.  Then it was down the mountain.

            At Sandy, we stopped for breakfast at the Tollgate Inn Restaurant, well known for its old-timey appearance, great breakfasts, and (in its bakery), the best pecan sticky buns any of us could ever remember eating.  Connie almost cried when she gobbled up the last bite.  Then we moved on through the town of Boring.  I’d waited all my life to tell the story (affirmed to be true) of a certain Pastor Dull of a Boring church—how they’d finally had to move him.  Then it was back on boring (pardon the pun) I-5 again.

            Once past the bridge over the great Columbia River, we were in Washington at last.  None of us were very familiar with the state; in fact, that had been another reason for making the trip: Washington is so far north (like Maine in that respect) that you have to make a special effort to get there.  We could hardly wait to explore it more fully.

            Finally, we escaped I-5 and turned east on Hwy 12; turning north on hwy 7, and east again on hwy 706.  We stopped at the pioneer village of Longmire, famously homesteaded by James Longmire in 1887-8.  Longmire was one of the first to bring tourists up to Paradise Valley.  When his daughter-in-law first saw its king’s ransom worth of wildflowers (due to the 250 feet of rich volcanic soil), she exclaimed, “This must be what Paradise is like!”  It has been called “Paradise Valley” ever since.  John Muir later declared it to be “the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld.”  It was also one of the favorite spots on earth for Stephen Tyng Mather, founding father of our national parks.  Mather first climbed Mt. Rainier in 1905; he returned in 1915 to oversee the first road into Paradise Valley (Duncan and Burns, 240).

Mount Rainier

            Ernest, the protagonist in Hawthorne’s “The Great Stone Face,” lived so long in the shadow of that great rock outcropping that his own face came to mirror it.  Just so, Washington’s highest mountain (14,441 feet); so vast that it makes its own weather, is so dominating that its image is indelibly etched into the subconsciousness of all those who live within sight of its great white mass shouldering its way into Washington’s sky, reminiscent of Mount Shasta’s dominance of northern California.  The sixth recorded person to climb it was John Muir (in 1888).  As Muir viewed the wholesale annihilation of Washington’s old growth forests by the voracious logging barons, he felt the Glory of the Northwest was certain to be ravaged as well.  He marshaled the forces of the newly formed Sierra Club, the National Geographic Society, and Northern Pacific Railroad tycoon Louis Hill.  It paid off: in 1893, President Benjamin Harrison made the mountain the centerpiece of the newly created Mount Rainier Forest Reserve; in 1897, Congress expanded it into the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve; in 1899, with President William McKinley’s backing, it became our fifth national park.

Paradise Inn

            But Mather wanted a hotel in Paradise Valley worthy of its mountain.  In 1916’s short summer season, that long-desired hotel was rushed into being.  Great Alaska cedar logs were hauled in from an 1885 burn-site.  The exterior was shingled with cedar. Two massive stone fireplaces anchor the 50 X 112 foot two-and-a-half-story great hall; later, a wrap-around second-story mezzanine would be added for structural support.  The 51 X 105 foot one-and-a-half-story dining hall is almost as grand as the great hall.   A fifty-foot stone fireplace fills its north wall.  The most enduring furniture was crafted by German-born Hans Fraenke, a local contractor; every year for seven years, found him the first to arrive in the spring and the last to leave in the fall.  He hand-crafted (with an adze) the furniture to last—and it has: such things as a 1,500 pound table made of Alaska cedar, two larger than life throne chairs, a fourteen-foot-high grandfather clock, a mailbox made out of a large stump, and perhaps the piece de résistance, a standard piano transformed into an impressive work of art.  Architect Laurian Huffman submits that it is this combination of soaring roof line and oversized furniture that makes you feel like one of the Seven Dwarfs entering Fantasyland because you become so small in relation to them. (Barnes, 56).

Hand-carved Grandfather Clock

            Barnes notes that, “Over the years, alterations and decorative painting have changed some of the details of the great hall, but it retains the grandeur of its early days.  Light streams in from the dormer windows high above the mezzanine, highlighting the repetitive structural framework with posts, beams and trusses that mark the architectural structure of the great hall.  Iron rings grip the cedar poles, added to reinforce the splitting timbers, and a system of cables and metal bracing helps support the building against the onslaught of heavy snow.  During the 1920s, additional cedar beams were added to create a permanent brace against the snow.  The snow!  It is one of the snowiest spots on earth: 640 inches the average (sometimes, up to 900 inches!).  It has been a constant war every year with Mother Nature to save the lodge from crushing levels of the white stuff.  Not coincidentally, units of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II were taught here how to survive winter combat.

THE REALITY

            A million people find their way into this valley every summer; many of them were in the parking lot; fortunately, we had lodge reservations, otherwise we would have had a tough time finding a parking space.  Even though it was almost July, the snow was so deep it was impossible to explore those famed fields of wild flowers still imprisoned in their seeds.  Many visitors sat on the outside deck, drinking in Mount Rainier to the north and the also snowcapped jagged Tatoosh Range to the south.

Custom Piano

            Inside, we entered an island in time.  Around us on chairs and couches were people from all over the world.  Just across from us was an intergenerational family I shamelessly watched: three adorable little girls who clearly had their doting grandfather totally under their little thumbs; their lovely young mother lovingly running fingers through her husband’s hair—a seraphic look of utter bliss on his face; the grandmother alternating between reading, looking fondly at her granddaughters, and staring at the crackling fire in the great stone fireplace on that end of the great hall.  Other tableaus could be found everywhere in the long room.  A pianist plunked away on the monster piano—almost always someone was either taking his picture or speaking to him—he played for hours (songs old and new), applause and baksheesh keeping him rooted to his chair.  Quite simply, it was America as it used to be.

            Later, in the dining room, we lucked out with a window table and stared up at the mountain.  Each waiter sported a badge identifying her/him by state or country of origin.  Later on, I’ll dedicate an entire blog to them—how they are rising above the recession to see and experience the world.  Dinner took a long time for no one—anywhere—was in a hurry to leave that enchanted room.

            Afterwards we listened to a ranger speaking about wildlife in the park, we ascended the stairs, found a table, played a game, and devoured the huckleberry pie and ice cream a dimple-cheeked beauty from Eastern Europe brought to us—she got plenty of exercise serving all of us on the four sides of the long mezzanine.

            The icing on the cake was a serendipity.  Hearing there would be a total eclipse of the moon that night, I took a long walk.  On the way back, perhaps the brightest golden moon I’ve ever seen gradually rose above the eastern hills—its radiance was almost unearthly!  Photographers were already bringing out their cameras to set up for the 2 a.m. eclipse.  I cravenly opted to return to the lodge and sleep instead.

SOURCES:

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Park I (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002).  [Her entry for Paradise Inn is a must-read].

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009. [There is much about Mt. Rainier in the book].

“Mount Rainier,” National Park Service brochure.

Scott, Dand L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

“The Tahoma News,” May-June 2010.  National Park Service handout.

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009). [Features a most informative section on Mt. Rainier].

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next Wednesday, we move on to Stehekin and Lake Chelan.