Pumpkins attract travelers on way to CNWR

Country Mercantile features pumpkins galore and a carnival during the Halloween season.

Country Mercantile features pumpkins galore and a carnival during the Halloween season. Don Davis

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A news release dated Thursday, Oct. 11, from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge has new offices and a visitor center located on the refuge at 51 S. Morgan Lake Rd., 6 miles northwest of Othello.

I know the place.

On trips to the CWNR, I passed that location many times and occasionally stopped to photograph Morgan Lake from the junction at McManamon Road.

Yep, I know the place.

By the way, driving toward Othello takes you to The Chocolate Factory.

Chocolate lovers need no excuse to stop at the Chocolate Factory, inside the Country Mercantile, a few miles north of Pasco on Highway 395.

Of course not. It has chocolate galore.

I also know that place.

Nevertheless, visiting the CNWR’s new visitor center would be the main treat.

Right.

So, late on a Saturday morning Darlene, Nora the Schnauzer and I went.

After a pit stop for Nora at Wallula Junction, we reached the mercantile at 11:59 a.m. We parked among six acres of vehicles packed around the store.

A field of great orange pumpkins, a corn maze and a children’s carnival drew an overflow Fall Harvest Festival crowd (Google: country mercantile pumpkin patch).

We got away without a pumpkin.

But, Darlene hugged close a box bulging with white-chocolate almond bark, along with two each of dark chocolate peanut clusters, dark chocolate pralines and dark chocolate coffee truffles. All at $14.97 a pound.

I suspected none of it would make it home.

We had clocked 90.2 miles when we took the turnoff at Othello, and a sign said eight miles to the CNWR.

We reached 51 S. Morgan Lake Rd. before 2 p.m. We entered the compound and drove among the buildings, including the old bunkhouse and the residences.

Despite a few vehicles, we saw neither people nor signs indicating a CNWR headquarters or a visitor center.

We stopped at a kiosk near the road for a map and a pamphlet before continuing north into the refuge. The pamphlet listed the refuge headquarters as being on Othello’s Main Street.

It was NOT open on Saturdays.

Drat!

We drove slow. We ogled the remarkable basalt formations formed by ancient floods from Glacial Lake Missoula.

The pamphlet said they occurred about 85 times in 16,000 years, that at its highest level the lake covered about 3,000 square miles, contained an estimated 500 cubic miles of water with a maximum depth of 2,000 feet, or more than twice the depth of Lake Superior.

The floods and other forces left behind today’s “Channeled Scabland” terrain.

Anyway, it’s captivating scenery and a good place to see wildlife.

On that bright afternoon, however, we didn’t do so well with wildlife: a distant hawk or two, hundreds of rising ducks when Nora and I strolled around the Marsh Loop Trail while Darlene read (and nibbled chocolate?).

We drove to Upper Goose Lake and saw two distant great blue herons.

Then we headed home the way we had come.

“We’ll have to come back on a weekday, when the headquarters and visitor center are open,” Darlene said.

“Yeah,” I said and thought of truffles.

“How about Monday?”

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