My aunt and uncle who live in Ellensburg took a two and a half week vacation to New Zealand at the end of November and beginning of December this year. My regular readers know I house sit for them when they go away on longer trips. That way I get a vacation with free lodging and they get someone to look after things.
They are probably moving back west of the mountains next year, so this was likely going to be my last ever Ellensburg vacation. All good things come to an end I guess.
I didn’t go over the first week they were gone because I wanted to enjoy our annual family Thanksgiving dinner at Arnie’s in Mukilteo first. I left Seattle at 1 pm on Friday afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving.
I had used a WSDOT holiday weekend traffic chart for Snoqualmie Pass to decide the best day and time to make the trip and I chose perfect timing. Traffic was light the entire trip except for the usual Ship Canal Bridge slowdown heading south into downtown Seattle.
It had snowed about 5 inches in the pass on Wednesday, but on Friday the weather was gorgeous. Blue skies and sunshine. With the fresh snow, clear roads, and light traffic it was a beautiful and stress free drive.
Temperatures in Kittitas Valley had been cold for a few days and it was in the low 20s F when I arrived in Ellensburg. A light dusting of snow was still visible on the hills, and the late afternoon sun cast a golden glow over the landscape. So pretty!
Saturday in Ellensburg was sunny and cold. It had gotten down to 12 degrees overnight but it was up in the 20s during the day. The air was completely still and it’s a dry cold over there so it was actually rather pleasant. The damp breezy cold of Seattle feels worse at 35 degrees than a calm air 25 degrees in Ellensburg.
Unfortunately I ended up wasting the beautiful weather, but only discovered that later with hindsight. All I did Saturday was get groceries, and then nap and read in a recliner in front of the gas fireplace all afternoon. (I hadn’t had much sleep the previous few days and that was a pleasant way to get caught up.)
The forecast was for snow on Sunday and then it was supposed to get partly sunny again, so I was planning my outing to a riverside park for later in the week. Alas, the sunny part never happened.
On Sunday I did get snow, but it was disappointing. I was hoping for the forecasted 1-2 inches to make everything pretty. But for most of the day it just haphazardly spit tiny flakes, with less than an hour of fluffy flakes that actually accumulate. It ended up being under half an inch in total for the day, enough to know it snowed but not enough to cover the ground and trees.
Even though the snow amount was disappointing I still had a good time watching birds in the backyard throughout the day. My aunt has giant birdseed blocks, one in the front and one in the back, and the birds made the most of them all day long. The California quail were especially entertaining with the funny noises they make and how they scurry around in groups.
A heavy fog moved in on Sunday night, and stayed for most of the rest of my visit. Monday I was delighted by it. It was still in the 20s during the day, and overnight the fog had created fairy ice over everything. So of course I had to head out with my camera.
As I was driving beside one field I was treated to the sight of a juvenile northern harrier hunting. In my 57 years this was the first time I’ve ever watched a hawk catch its prey. Usually I just see them soaring high overhead or perched on fence posts.
This one caught a vole or something and then went to a post to eat its snack. Between the the fog and the distance (this is with my big zoom plus 1.4x teleconverter at 840mm) I didn’t get any good pics, but it was still very cool to watch.
That night I got to see the Seahawks beat the Vikings on Monday Night Football without having to leave my cozy lodgings. I don’t have a TV at home so I normally have to go to a bar to watch the games. Though it is a good excuse to have nachos and margaritas every week. Heh.
Tuesday was even better for interesting weather. Another night of fog and temps in the teens made the fairy ice blossom. The thin limbs of the tall windbreak trees on the property line looked like white feathers against the sky. And for a while in the late morning and early afternoon the fog partly lifted and the sun kinda came through the thin high clouds. It was so beautiful.
Unfortunately, the weather was plain yucky after that. It remained foggy for most of the rest of my stay, but starting on Wednesday it warmed up to the 30s. Everything was gray and wet, with no visibility. It even rained all night Friday after warming up to about 40 degrees that day.
Still, I can’t complain. The wintery beauty of the first few days was totally worth it.
And it was nice to have a short visit with my aunt and uncle after I picked them up from the bus the following Monday night. They made a last minute decision to take the late bus instead of their original plan to spend the night in a hotel by Seatac airport, so they didn’t arrive in Ellensburg until 11:30 pm. The late hour made for an abbreviated visit.
I was going to stay the night and leave Tuesday morning because that’s the sensible thing to do, but I was 99% packed by then and got antsy to just get in the car go. I hit the road for Seattle and home at 1 am. (I’m very much a night owl, so it’s not such an odd decision for me.)
Normally I don’t like driving longer distances in the dark because it’s harder to stay alert with no scenery to look at, but it ended up being kinda fun. I had the freeway completely to myself for long stretches for the first 2/3rds of the trip. I did have to slow down to 45-50 mph through three different sections because of fog, but even with that I made good time because of zero traffic.
When I started down the west side of Snoqualmie Pass a low cloud was glowing brightly and I wondered what was going on because there are no lights in that part of the mountains. Then I saw a parting in the clouds overhead and the full moon shining through.
It all looked like a spooky scene from a Dracula movie with no other cars on the dark freeway, the full moon, scudding clouds, and black mountains rising on all sides. Very cool way to end my vacation.