Ever seen a Harpy Eagle? And, if a bear falls in the woods. . .

To get to Yellowstone, we chose the scenic route: Rte 2 to Leavenworth, Rte 97 through the Wenatachee Mountains to Ellensburg, and 821 to Yakima. We figured we would pick up a few more bottles of wine from the vineyards in Yakima, to add to our collection. But, when we reached on Sunday evening, we found the whole city deserted. The only thing open was an A&W and Kentucky Fried Chicken. We decided that was okay, since we hadn't showered in a few days, and didn't look our best. The other diners looked even worse than we did, and there was quite a crowd of shady looking people hanging around their beat up cars in the parking lot. We didn't get a good vibe from the city at all, and decided that we would press on East, instead of spending the night there.

We drove on 82 until our eyelids were heavy, and pulled off to sleep at a Walmart in Richland. But, the signs posted said there was no overnight sleeping allowed, and we had to get on the highway and drive 40 miles to the next Walmart. Luckily, we could stay at that one, and we crashed out to sleep before the RV engine had even cooled down.

The next morning we drove into Walla Walla. We wanted to go there just so we could say that we had gone to Walla Walla, Washington. It's a great name. We did some errands in the morning, made ourselves a big lunch and caught the end of happy hour at the Marcus Whitmen hotel. After a few glasses of L'Ecole No 41, we walked across the street to the Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant. Bon Apetite had listed the restaurant as one of the 'best country restaurants' in the nation. We stayed at the bar, people watching the older ladies in their fur shawls and worked on faces, and the younger ladies in their 6 inch pumps and diamond earrings, accompanying their older, distinguished, grey haired dates.

On our second glass of Rosso, blondy Hayden joined us at the bar. She had recently moved to Washington to be with her fiance, who had called it off two weeks before the wedding, due to the fact he had already been cheating on her. She wanted out of Washington, but wasn't sure whether she should go back home to California, or move to New York City to be closer with her boss, whom she was now having an affair with. We drank wine, talked trash about men, and ate trout salad and salted caramel ice cream. Salted caramel ice cream (who would have thought?) is delicious.

From Walla Walla (Walla Walla! Walla Walla, Washington!) we cut across the Northeast corner of Oregon. It was a mostly uneventful section of road, until we were passed by a truck with flashing lights, pulling a bear trap. We knew it was a bear trap, because we had seen them in Yosemite. We had stopped to walk along a waterfall, but when we caught up with the truck, parked at the side of the road, we were just in time to see a black bear shimmying up a tree and away from a ranger dog. Mary Lou pulled the RV over in a safe place, while Nicole jumped out with the camera to catch the action. Just as she joined the group of spectators, she saw the ranger coming out of the woods with his leashed dog, and heard the sickening, "ppffumpp," of the bear falling out of the tree. The ranger heard everyone at the side of the road gasp and asked the assisting traffic cop, "Did he come down?"

They waited a few minutes, to make sure the tranquilizer had kicked in, and carried some equipment into the woods. They came back a short time later, with a sling like stretcher carrying a fairly small size bear. All we could see were tufts of black fur sticking out of the canvas. They placed the bear in the trap, and answered the crowd that, no we couldn't come see the bear, since we really needed to get out of the road and stop blocking the highway traffic.

A few more miles and we were in Idaho. Where the potatoes grow. And there were lots of potatoes. Miles and miles and miles of them. We stopped in Boise, to spend the night in another Walmart. On the West Coast, most of the Walmarts had prohibited overnight sleeping, so it was nice to again be able to save some those overnight fees, and still be safe. Walmart was familiar ground.

Since hitting Washington State, we had really been slacking on our planning. Maybe just a skim through the guide books, a quick look in the local newspaper, or just looking for green patches of State/National Park on the map. It was on the map that we saw The Snake River Birds of Prey Conservation Area, and subsequently, The Peregrine Fund and World Center for Raptors, just south of Boise.

What a place! Started in 1970 by Tom Cade who was then the Professor of Ornithology at Cornell University:

"The Peregrine Fund works nationally and internationally to conserve birds of prey in nature. We conserve nature by achieving results--results restoring species in jeopardy, conserving habitat, educating students, training conservationists, providing factual information to the public, and by accomplishing good science. We succeed through cooperation and hard-work, using common sense, being hands-on and non-political, and by emphasizing solutions. We are also cost effective--94% of all donations go directly to programs."

The raptor courtyard held two injured bald eagles, a peregrine falcon, and a Bateleur Eagle, whose reptile like skin on face and feet turns different colors depending on his mood. He liked to shout at people if they looked at him too long.

We spent a long time admiring the California Condors, one of the most endangered birds. Their population steadily declined to fewer than 25 birds in the 70's, mainly due to shooting and poisoning. Through captive breeding, California Condors have been reintroduced to the coastal mountains of south-central California and the Grand Canyon area of northern Arizona. Large body covered in black feathers and scaly, bald heads accentuated by a plush feather boa - awesome.

The presentation arena was one of the most impressive exhibitions we have seen in a nature park. The walls were covered in beautiful murals highlighting the bird species or their environments. The display bins were full of every bird feather you could possibly imagine, and pelts of all the local fauna. In the movie room, there was a wall size glass window full of ascending Blue Morpho Didius flutterbies. It was beautiful and informative.

Inside the largest of the bird enclosures, there was a stunning, white Gyr Falcon and a great horned owl, who watched us calmly, blinking one eye at a time. But, in the last enclosure, with his back turned to us, was the most incredible bird we have ever seen. Large and slate grey, we waited for the bird to turn and look at us. When, in a precise, calculated movement, he turned his head 180 degrees to look at us, we both gasped. The beady eyes were surrounded by a perfectly round display of smaller, lighter feathers, and four or five larger feather rose from the back of it's neck to give it the appearance of horns.

It was a Harpy Eagle. Have you ever seen the nature clip on National Geographic, where the sloth is painstakingly, slowly climbing a thick vine, high in the jungle canopy, and this giant bird comes out of nowhere, sinks it's claws into the sloth and effortlessly carries it away? That's the Harpy Eagle. It's claws can be as big as a grizzly bear's. We sat and watched it for a long time, moving about with such. . . again, no other way to describe it but, precise, calculated movements. Ancient. Unworldly.

One the rangers brought out a Marsh Hawk, now called a Northern Harrier, and educated us about the bird, and falconry. We were sitting with another ranger, who had been walking with us through much of the park, telling us the individual stories of the rescued birds. He had been gripping his coffee cup in a metal claw, for much of the time, and, Mary Lou took the opportunity to ask him, "You didn't lose your hand in a falconry accident, did you?" He laughed and said, "No, no. On the last day of high school, we blew up the chemistry lab."

The Peregrine Fund for the Raptors is absolutely amazing, and doing great work in the world. If you are ever out in Boise. . . www.peregrinefund.org.

Click here for photos!

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