Sunday, March 10, 2013

Blue Shadows

In the lands of the western big sky, away from the mountains and the beautiful forests, just between ranges or out along the expanses of prairie, are lands where the sky hosts an unending play of constant change. No day is like any before, no night like any other to come.  When the explorers Lewis and Clark gazed out upon the vastness of the western prairies they remarked upon their beauty and wondered how God could have failed to put them in Virginia.

As the railroads bound the United States together, to these lands they also came.  The first through the Northwest was the Northern Pacific, followed by the Great Northern and then the Milwaukee Road.  The NP was built in stages that matched the ups and downs of the post Civil War economy.  Although it was the first to the Northwest coast, it did not have the advantage of improved materials or engineering practises like those afforded the Milwaukee Road, the late comer to the party.  Following its entry to Spokane, the NP turned southwest and ran across the Washington desert and scab land countries to Pasco.  From there it turned west and northwest to follow the Yakima River as it began a climb into the Cascade Range. 

The scab lands of central Washington are a sandy and rocky place, beutiful and unique among the western vistas.  Like the prairies that lie east of the Rockies, or the Palouse that lie to the west of the Bitterroots, the horizon line extends far and wide.  Sagebrush is common as are the dust devils that seem to spring from the earth on hot summer days.

At Lind, WA the first and the last transcons through this country cross each other.  The Milwaukee on a giant trestle that spans the coulee and the Northern Pacific itself. 


Though the Milwaukee is gone, today's NP hosts BNSF freights as well as the Empire Builder.  They slide by between the old piers that hoisted the "Resourceful Railroad" far overhead.  As the NP continues its trek south through the increasingly desert country it passes through the small outpost of Eltopia. 


There's a legend, or perhaps the truth, that Eltopia was first known as 'el to pay by the loco railroaders.  One evening an NP passenger train arrived in need of fuel and the only wood available was wet, soft cottonwood.  Now cottonwood burns cold, hardly the thing for steam.  This was a problem and a frustration for the crew and legend has it that the engineer said, "There'll be hell to pay for this."  And the name stuck.


A few years later, the quickly vanishing Cascade Green of the BN is highlighted in by the low sun of late afternoon.  The skies are quickly changing from the rich big sky blue to the darker shades of evening.  


As the sun sets, the skies again play out their ever changing colors on the large canvas that extends overhead.  Pastels will give way to bold oranges and reds, and as the ball drops, will return again to pastels and then star-filled darkness. 




But on this night, all across the western big sky country, the moon will rise in fullness and ride high through the midnight hours.  A constant companion for nighttime travellers, and a gentle echo of the sun it chases across the sky.  The eastbound Empire Builder will soon travel through the little Eltopia outpost, on its way to Spokane and the big cities that lie a thousand miles beyond.  Tonight the moon will glisten upon its stainless steel flanks and illuminate the landscape beyond the darkened windows.  At Lind, the piers of the Milwakee's old trestle will glow white against the desert landscape, illuminated by the full moon aloft.  Blue shadows abound.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

great pics, especially the last two. it's a special part of the evening, when the moon is fully up yet there's enough sun to see by.

do you know where one could find a photo of the lind bridge before it was dismantled?


jim, from iowa

LinesWest said...

Thanks Jim - and I was just wondering the same thing about photographs of the Lind trestle. I don't have one and my dive into Google didn't produce any results either. I'll post a link if I find one.

-Leland

Robert in Port Townsend said...

Wow! Bridge at Lind - great memory jogger. I remember seeing juice crossing the bridge whilst a student at WSU back in the '60's.

Cut and paste this link to UW, and click on OBVIOUS link.

http://content.lib.washington.edu/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/transportation&CISOPTR=133

Chris from New Zealand passes this information along:

There is a picture of the Lind bridge back in the steam days, published in Morning Sun Books "Milwaukee Road in Colour" vol5 on pg71.

LinesWest said...

Outstanding photo, thanks Robert. Much appreciated.

-Leland

Anonymous said...

robert, thanks. now i understand how the piers were arranged - could never quite grasp why there were only the two concrete ones

leland, meant to ask - was that orange and black pickup in the corner of your pic just a coincidence or was it an abandoned milw pickup?

jim

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,

I've been told (count this as speculation and rumor) that it is an old MILW pickup but I'm a bit skeptical. Most examples I've seen in pictures are single tone and this one seems a bit fancy compared to those spartan creatures. But ... with that said, I welcome correction on the subject.

-Leland