I spent a weekend in Lyle, Washington. It’s a tiny rural town where social distancing is easy. And these folks are careful about enforcing the wearing of masks and using of hand sanitizer, and distancing inside businesses. I accidentally left my mask in the car when we carried our suitcases to the hotel front door. They would not let me inside. It actually made me feel reassured.
The Columbia River Gorge is one of my absolute favourite places in the region, and I love the southern Washington shore for its deserty golden grasses and basalt cliff walls and wide views in many directions. A favourite hike is a popular trail along a long, high, stunning cliff called Coyote Wall. Lyle has the closest hotel to the trailhead.
The place is called The Lyle Hotel, and is a historic building originally built to serve the railroad. Yes, I did conclude that it naturally means the railroad is nearby, and it is. Trains went by frequently during the night, and maybe during the day too – although I didn’t see any passing through in daylight. The wonderful news is…the tracks don’t cross any roads. There is no congestion. So. No train whistles. Those horribly loud horns that go on and on and on and on when a train approaches a town usually. In Lyle though, not a sound but the shusshing rumble of wheels on rails. Almost comforting to hear them pass in the night.
The hotel sticks with it’s historic theme, and the rooms have antiques when possible, and handmade quilts on the beds. The bathrooms are across the hall, and shared. It’s not much of a problem though because there are lots of bathrooms to choose from and you have total privacy. There are 12 rooms total, all on the second floor, and it’s really not that many guests to try to dodge. The rooms have robes and slippers that are easy to throw around yourself if it’s necessary to cross the hall to the bathroom in the night.
When I booked the place I had no idea that there was live music. I read that there was a dining room on the first floor, but never would have guessed that the menu is exceptional and the food to die for, with a respectable wine menu that highlights some of our great local wines.
I also was aching to get out of town. I know, I know, everyone is dying to get out of town and go on vacation. I know I am spoiled that I have the option to do it when others don’t. I am grateful. Vacation, fine dining, hiking, awe-inspiring landscapes, sunshine, local wines and craft beers, live music. All of the above, check.
After eating it was still very warm and a little windy; an evening that called me to the river. We walked out till we stood right on the rocky shore, and watched the sun set. Then an Indian popped up from behind the short cliff! We had no idea he had been there, ha ha! The young man (maybe 20?) was fishing for salmon and we had interrupted his evening. I chatted with him a little, because I’m nosy that way. He explained that he is Yakama and was not about to give away his salmon fishing spots. I left him alone and headed back to the hotel, but I was distracted by more Indians. Two men were laying out a net, getting ready for the night’s fishing. I asked if they were Yakama also. They were. I asked if I could watch them with the net? Could I touch it? What were they doing with it?
I just can’t help myself. Yes, I was a nosy uninvited white lady, and they were kind to tolerate me. One of them, the gruffer and more cautious of the two, who had not yet said a single word to me, asked if I wanted to buy a salmon. I did! What great luck. We agreed that Sunday morning I would come back and buy a salmon.
The next day was supposed to be windy, but sunny. We eagerly drove out of town and found the trailhead and started hiking up the slopes. Right at the beginning of the trail is a weeping wall that deceives people about the amount of desert they’re about to encounter because it’s lush, mossy and green and hikers will not see this much green again at any point along any trail here. I was hot already and stood beneath the splashes. The wind wasn’t too bad, so we had high hopes for a good hike day. The trail was busy, as it always is on a Saturday, but there remained plenty of space between us all to prevent the spread of the virus.
We parked off highway 14 and walked toward Coyote Wall. This place is popular and trails are laced across the hillsides, creating loops and parallels and branches. I chose one that looked good and was wrong. We did manage to make a loop of it, never coming to Coyote Wall, but never being that sorry about it. The views were constantly outstanding. We usually had a view of the river, and of golden fields of grasses. We wound through several shady glades and even crossed two tiny creeks. The weather was great: windy but sunny. We hiked for 3 1/2 to 4 hours, but enjoyed nearly every minute of it.
Eventually the forecast winds did come on fiercely. In the last 30 minutes, the wind increased so sharply that we stopped having fun. During a couple of gusts I felt sure that I’d be knocked off my feet, and I got into the habit of dropping to the earth in particularly big gusts. Back at the car we felt that we had earned a shower and another fabulous meal at The Lyle Hotel.
The next morning I bought my freshly caught salmon from the Yakama people at the river. We exchanged phone numbers so the next time I came into the Gorge I could give them a heads up and they could get me another salmon. Neither of us realized that the decision to share numbers would lead us down a dramatic path I had not anticipated and would not change! I’ll tell you about it in my next post.