Life at a winery in late October: The harvest is in, the grapes fermenting, the wines of the Yakima Valley of Washington ready for tasting. We signed up for Harvest Host, a program that connects us with farmers who allow RVers to park on their farmland.
Our first stop was at Knight Hill Winery where Terry and Anne Harrison run a winery with a beautiful view of the surrounding Rattlesnake Hills.
Walking through the area, we discovered an amazing variety of crops – apples, apricots, cherries, hops and grapes – grown on small and medium-size farms throughout the arid valley.
Terry showed us how he stirs the fermenting grapes twice a day to keep a hard shell of skins from developing. There are hundreds of variables – weather, grape quality, and aging – and Terry talked about how each of his ten years as a winemaker differed. The result of his work was extremely tasty - his 2011 Mourdevre wine was my favorite.
After two days on the hilltop we moved a couple of miles down the valley to Paradisos del Sol, a winery run by Paul Vandenberg and Barbara Sherman. Paul excels in blending wines and pairing them with food. In his tasting room he offers a dozen wines and a dozen bites of food from salty to sweet chocolate. Delicious!
Out back, the couple raise sheep, chicken and one big fat black pig. We went walking again and found apples trees in the midst of the harvest.
We worked inside the RV every day while parked at the wineries, starting before daybreak here but just in time for the start of the workday back East. Afternoons meant a walk or a visit to the nearest grocery store or library, where free Wifi means we can save on our data costs.
On our second day in the Yakima Valley we visited the Cultural Center in the Yakama Nation Reservation where visitors can learn about the Yakama belief system, see examples of their shelters and how the dams on the Columbia River devastated the salmon, a staple of their diet.
The Cultural Center does not allow photos, but other aspects of local culture were displayed in murals in Toppenish, a small city created when white settlers managed to get deeds to some of the Yakama reservation land.
Over 25 years, artists have created more than 75 murals that show a view of the city’s history. We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant in downtown Toppenish and saw these few examples of their mural creations.
We pulled into Tieton, Washington (pop. 1,191) late Sunday afternoon. At first glance, the place looked in decline. The small town square was deserted and the Mexican restaurant was closed. We saw a few people walking towards and old warehouse and followed them to a Day of the Dead festival, put on by a group of artists and local Mexicans. It was amazing.
Tieton, it turns out, has a lively culture, thanks in part to two men from Seattle who bought an abandoned apple warehouse and transformed it into lofts and studios. You can find a letterpress studio, a lighting designer and exhibit space in the Mighty Tieton building. A Mexican bakery and laundromat have survived on the town square, along once-abandoned stores that are being restored.
Half of the people who live in Tieton are Mexican and a group of women were selling tamales and tacos at the festival. Inside the large space, prayer altars were adorned with traditional Mexican paper cut-outs, chrysanthemums, skulls and candles.
We missed the traditional Aztec dancers but heard two young Mexican sisters perform. The local folks were friendly and by the end of the day we had two offers to park our rig on private property downtown.
Snow, our first of the season, fell on us Sunday when we climbed up to 6,400 feet at the base of Mount Rainier.
We could see the stormy weather approaching Rainier, the tallest peak in the continental United States, when we left Vashon Island that the morning. Vashon sits in Puget Sound, just south of Seattle, providing a comfortable temperate climate and lots of wildlife, including a bald eagle that dropped by the ferry terminal just as we were departing.
We spent two nights on the island, visiting John Sellers and his family at their farmhouse, sharing meals and their hospitality. His partner, Genevieve, had climbed to the summit of Mount Rainier and we were warned of the possibility of snow.
At the altitude we were at, the snow didn’t stick around and neither did we, heading east to the drier side of the Cascade Mountains to explore for the next week.
Have you ever been startled by the unexpected appearance of something spectacular? It happened to me today while walking in Seattle, when Mount Rainier materialized in the sky. Last time I was in this spot, it was cloudy and I had no idea the mountain was there.
We left the Olympic Peninsula and came to Seattle today after spending two weeks in an RV park in Port Ludlow. I spent hours in the van working while Mark was out-of-town, yet once a day I had to get out rain or shine. I explored places like Port Townsend, Marrowstone Island and Port Angeles.
At the end of our stay we were able to visit Olympic National Park and a do a little climbing. Here are a couple of photos of our hike on Kahanne Ridge on the dry, northern side of the park.
A parting shot...
It’s called dry camping by most people out West, including the rangers at the US Forest Service who have maps and can tell you the most popular spots for RVers. These spots, or any flat place where you can park overnight in most U.S.-owned land, put the expansive beauty of the outdoors at your fingertips. You have few or no neighbors and are surrounded by wilderness, often for free.
The challenge of dry camping is having no onsite services: no water, no electric, no sewer. We love the experience of being off the grid and closer to nature, so it is worth it to prepare for these conditions.
We carry an extra rack of batteries and have a diesel generator that re-charges them so we don’t have to be too concerned about running out of power. The refrigerator and water heater can be run on propane or batteries.
The lack of water has the biggest impact on our lives and we have to conserve it carefully. Our tank holds only 30 gallons of water and when we camped outside Grand Teton National Park, we were able to stretch those 30 gallons for five days, or six gallons a day for washing and cooking. That’s not much. I’m sure I use six gallons or more for a daily shower.
We have a sturdy full-size shower in the small bathroom of the van, but we used it for mini-showers, turning it on and off in little bursts to conserve water. Going two or three days without a shower became the norm.
In the kitchen, we placed a five-gallon container of water with a spigot at the sink. We drank that water and used it for the first round of dish washing, after each plate had been wiped clean with a paper towel. The water was used for the final rinsing, and used sparingly.
Now we are parked at an RV Park on the verdant Olympic Peninsula. We have water, sewer, electric and WiFi just as conveniently as you would in your own home. Though the park has much more foliage and privacy than many, when I look out I see other RVs instead of the outdoors. The RV becomes more of a home when it is parked here and I cannot deny it is easier to have hot and cold running water. But to park in the wide-open spaces out west is an adventure and what we look forward to as we travel around America.
For the first time, I am alone in our rig. Ten days by myself in the RV was something I was looking forward to so that I could get back to my book project. It's also allowed me to assess how we use this space.
Living with another person in a 24.5 x 8-foot space is a challenge and I thought this would be a good time to spill the beans on life inside. Let's start in the kitchen.
A big challenge for me has been cooking – or better said, prepping, as I enjoy flailing my elbow when chopping vegetables. In the rig, I have to maintain a sharp focus to organize vegetables, knives, bowl and cutting board on this tiny countertop. My main workspace is a moveable piece of countertop that fits over the sink. Remove it, and you lose more than half of your work area.
We have found it much easier to grill fish and vegetables outdoors on a small charcoal grill we carry with us. I only use the kitchen counter to slice peppers, squash and eggplant for the grill and a burner for rice.
The flame on the two burner stovetop is hard to keep low, but as long as there is propane in the tank, we’re in business. Above the nearly full-size refrigerator is a convection oven/microwave.
We’ve also got room in the cabinets for four sets of dishes, four glasses, and two extra coffee cups. I don’t like to eat off plastic plates, so I bought porcelain ones that require extra care to make sure that they don’t jiggle when the rig is in motion. I used rubber shelf liners and rolled-up dish towels to keep down the vibrations. So far, nothing has broken.
Ok… but what’s it like inside the rig when you’re not cooking?
Check back in a few days for another glimpse of Real RV Life, including how to dry camp and ration your water.
Meanwhile, enjoy a few photos of the verdant woods in this wet corner of Washington. Here's a peek..
I couldn’t leave Montana without finding out what I could about my great-uncle John Hickey, who came out here in 1867 and stayed to work in the silver mine. Armed with an old photo of a log cabin with members of Hickey family standing outside their home in Kirkville and another of John Hickey and his two brothers who had kept going west to settle in California, I visited Philipsburg, Kirkville and Granite, the last two once thriving mining towns, now ghost towns.
I also had John Hickey’s obituary, which describes him as an “esteemed citizen” with the nickname “Rock Derrick.” He was the strongest man at Pioneer, a camp of 800 miners, and, it was said, he could lift and carry a boulder so large that it required two ordinary men to even turn it over. He reportedly said that any man who wanted to challenge him would have to put up $100 first. No one ever moved the boulder as far as he could and the $100 always ended up at the saloon next door with drinks on the house.
At the Granite County Historical Museum, I discovered that Hickey’s wife, Jane O’Neil, was the daughter of another Irishman. Hugh O’Neil was a folk hero after he survived 185 rounds in a bare-knuckle boxing match that was covered blow-by-blow by a local newspaper reporter (unbelievable, but read about the fight here).. In her book, Mettle of Granite County, historian Loraine M. Bentz Domine describes Hugh O’Neil as a heavy drinker who would light his cigar with a ten dollar bill while his children went hungry at home. His eldest child, Jane, had to take charge at a young age. She was reportedly a better muleskinner than any man on the freight line and her language would put any of them to shame.
John Hickey entered Jane O’Neil’s life shortly after his arrival to Montana territory in 1867. He was 20 years old, a farm boy from North Whitefield, Maine. According to an interview with his granddaughter in Domine’s book, Hickey first saw Jane when she was a seven-year-old girl playing in Missoula.
“He was a real cowboy too – big hat, chaps, even a six-gun on his hip! He picked Mama up and asked her name and age. She told him and he said, ‘Well, Jane, when you are sixteen, I’m going to marry you.’ When she was sixteen her parents had a marriage all arranged for her. But before the marriage took place the cowboy showed up again, only now he was a miner.”
When Jane and John got married in 1877, they lived in the Georgetown Flats mining camp. John was often gone in the hills prospecting and one time Jane had a premonition of trouble and went to find him sick, without food for days and too weak to get out of bed.
In 1884, they built the first family home in Granite at the foot of Whiskey Hills where most of the saloons and “bawdy houses” were located. A year later, the couple lost three of their four daughters to diphtheria within days of each other. When the Catholic priest came to say the girls’ funeral mass, he told Jane that she and her husband must have sinned greatly to have God punish them so severely. At that, Jane left the Church, though John Hickey remained a Catholic.
The family moved from Granite to a small cabin in Frost Gulch, a section of Kirkville, in 1888. By the end of the century, Jane had given birth to six more children: Minnie, Kate, John, Ruth, Nora, and Neil.
Historian Domine writes that John Hickey worked as foreman at the East Pacific Mine near Winston in 1899, and at the Gallatin mine in Butte. At the time of his death in 1911, he was working a lease at Granite.
Hickey’s obituary recounts how every miner in the camp ceased work for the day to attend his funeral and pay a last tribute of respect to a comrade whom all loved and esteemed. The last part of the eulogy was a tribute to the Miner’s Union.
“To know him intimately was to be his friend and admirer. There was in the man a nobility of soul that soared among men and the generous heart that beat for justice and humanity… He was always strong, always self-reliant, always sincere. His vision was cosmic and his heart full of love for all mankind.” Philipsburgh Mail, December 29, 1911.
Unfortunately, none of John Hickey’s descendants live in the Philipsburg area any longer. But thanks to historian Loraine M. Bentz Domine and her three-volume history Mettle of Granite County, the Hickey’s memory survives.
Jane O’Neil Hickey died in 1947.
Postscript: I wrote earlier about John Hickey's grandfather, Joseph Sikes, who was a prolific gravestone carver in Massachusetts and Maine in the late 1700s. Click here to read that story.
We’ve been traveling – I mean cutting up the road through Montana to Washington state and soaking up the big wide open spaces. In ten days we have traveled 1,300 miles and seen more craggy mountains and lush valleys than I thought possible.
Here are a few of the views that were so beautiful we had to stop for a picture .
From the hip city of Bozeman, where we met up with family members Margo and John, to the wilds of Glacier National Park, the West has captured our imaginations.
No overnight backpacking trips since Yellowstone, but we did manage to hike this narrow path at Glacier’s Logan Pass.
I did manage to squeeze in a visit to a Mining Ghost Town to try to find out what my great uncle John Hickey's life was like out here when he migrated from Maine in 1867. Check back for more about my discoveries in Granite, Montana.
A Joy of Traveling - Meeting Old Friends
From Montana, we drove to a remote spot in Central Washington near the Canadian border to look up a friend I had not seen in 35 years. Hanna was my roommate at NYU and we had exchanged holiday cards for years. She and her husband, David, homesteaded on the edge of a national forest, raised two children and built an incredible home.
Their garden produce is in good hands when Hanna is cooking and David is an amazing carpenter who built their house, sauna, root cellar and many decorative fences, posts and rails throughout their property. It was wonderful to be welcomed by Hanna and David and reconnect after so many years!
Reluctantly, we continued our Western Swing, heading to Seattle the next day.
Listen as Johnny Cash & Lynn Anderson tear it up.
Where we are today.