The Dark Country by Dennis Etchison, Narrated by Dennis Etchison, Stefan Rudnicki, and Gabrielle de Cuir

The Dark Country collects sixteen short stories from Dennis Etchison’s career, some particularly short, and all of them brimming with imagination. Unfortunately, many of the stories in this collection end without any conclusion, needlessly terminating in cliff-hangers that left me less than satisfied. The style of writing and the quality of the storytelling were both great. It was the lack of any real ending to many of the stories that limited my enjoyment at times.
In most cases, I take the time to provide some manner of synopsis for each story included in a collection like this, but I will instead focus on a few of the stories that stood out to me as being the best of those included. In all honesty, some of the more surreal and peculiar tales would be impossible to review without giving everything away.
It Only Comes Out At Night is an excellent way to kick off the collection, as we join a husband and wife on a road trip through the desert. A lonely rest area is transformed into a sinister and horrific place where unknown threats lurk and unwary travelers might never leave. Etchison captures the eeriness and isolation of late-night travel on empty stretches of highway, as well as the almost sinister ambiance of those out-of-the-way oases we find ourselves stopping at against our better judgment. Whether it’s because we’re exhausted, we require fuel, or we’re desperately in need of a restroom, long-distance travel has forced all of us to stop at one of those rest areas or convenience stores arising seemingly from nothing as they appear in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately for the couple at the center of Etchison’s tale, this rest area might live up to those nightmare scenarios we imagine.
The cruel and monstrous twist awaiting readers at the end of The Pitch is both darkly comedic and altogether too plausible. A random gentleman offers to perform the sales pitch for a variety of kitchen gadgets in a shopping center, displaying the ease with which any slicing and dicing needs might be completed, with a special focus on the safety mechanisms. Buyer beware. Always check your purchases before use.
The Late Shift builds an atmosphere of mystery and confusion as two young men stop at an all-night convenience store where they swear they recognize the attendant behind the counter. Something isn’t right, and their attempts to uncover the truth might just provide an unsettling first-hand understanding of why overnight workers seem a little unusual.
Finally, the collection closes with The Dark Country, a story of a Mexican vacation and horrible mistakes made in response to a series of thefts. This final story showcases both the inherent bigotry of the Americans and the in-group vs. out-group thinking that emerges within the collected tourists as they begin perceiving the locals as predatory outsiders.
The various narrators brought different qualities to light within the stories they performed. It seems as if some thought went into the distribution of stories, to pair each tale with the voice best suited for the narrative in question.

Final Day In Seattle

Friday the 28th of June, 2019 was our final day in the Pacific Northwest before we began our return trip home to South Dakota. We had recently discovered that there was a rose test garden located at Woodland Park in Seattle, and since we loved the International Rose Test Garden in Portland so much (we’d visited it in both 2017 and 2019, and I’d visited there in 2014 as well), we figured it would be worth a visit. It was shortly before 11:30 AM when we arrived to test that theory.

We were not wrong in our assumption. In some ways, the rose test garden in Seattle’s Woodland Park is superior to the sister garden in Portland’s Washington Park. Though the variety and sheer quantity of blooming flowers doesn’t compare to what we saw in Portland, the landscaping and park environment of Seattle’s rose test garden made for a different type of experience.

Photos from the Woodland Park Rose Test Garden are below.

Our next stop was the Seattle Japanese Garden, only a matter of five miles or so Southeast of Woodland Park. We arrived there shortly after 12:30 PM. We had enjoyed the Seattle Japanese Garden a great deal when we’d been there in 2017 as well. Though it doesn’t have quite the same beauty of the Portland Japanese Garden, it is a lovely place to wander through just the same. Additionally, there is the perk of being able to purchase fish pellets at the entrance for the purpose of feeding the colorful koi inhabiting the large central pond.

While feeding the koi, we were provided with the added amusement of watching a heron attempting to catch a meal only a few feet away from where we were. So intently focused on the potential meal, the bird hardly paid us any mind. I’ve included photos below.

It was shortly after 2 PM when we reached our final destination of the day, the Kubota Garden. After the Seattle Japanese Garden, the Kubota Garden was a little bit lackluster and disappointing. It was, however, free admittance…so that’s a nice thing. It’s still a pretty location, just not as well maintained or as pretty.

In a sense, I suppose it felt more wild…more natural and unsculpted than the Japanese Garden…and I’d like to visit again just to see if my perspective might be different a second time. I’m including photos from Kubota Garden below.

Financial conditions being different, we might have done more on our final day in Seattle, but we were essentially tapped dry beyond what we had set aside for food and fuel for the return trip home. Also, we had more than 1,200 miles of driving to do between the following morning and Sunday evening, and I would be going all of that distance behind the wheel. The first 750 miles of that return trip to the East would get us into Yellowstone National Park so we could capture the sunrise at Mammoth Hot Springs (I’ve shared photos of that part of the adventure previously). I had a lot of driving to look forward to–or dread–the next day.

It’s always a sad experience for me, leaving the Pacific Northwest and returning to South Dakota…and I keep hoping that someday I won’t have to return to make it home…because my home will be there.

Second Day In Seattle

We spent a much smaller amount of time in Seattle on our second day there. Leaving our hotel shortly before 8:30 AM on Thursday, June 27th of 2019, we headed North.

In Everett, Washington we decided to stop at the Evergreen Arboretum & Gardens shortly before 10 AM. It was a nice place to spend 40 minutes or so, walking the paths amidst the flowers and trees…as well as the numerous sculptures on the grounds. We’d made it through Seattle a bit faster than expected, and we were running early anyhow.

Photos from the Evergreen Arboretum & Gardens are below.

Continuing North from Everett, we made our way to Arlington before heading East toward our destination. We’d visited The Outback Kangaroo Farm in June of 2017, having been made aware of the place by my friend Mindy a couple of years earlier. It was such an enjoyable experience the previous time we’d been in the region that we had to visit there again.

What’s not to like about watching lemurs devour bananas, being able to hand-feed kangaroos, getting alpaca kisses, and interacting with numerous other animals? I can’t recommend this place enough, for anyone who loves wildlife of all kinds.

A nice bonus during our second visit, one of the mothers had a joey still peeking out from her pouch. Photos of the kangaroos are below.

Traveling South from Arlington until we reached the Stevens Pass Highway, we intended to hike to Lake Serene, but there were so many vehicles already at the trailhead that we opted to avoid the crowd. Instead, we took a smaller trail down to the South Fork Skykomish River and enjoyed the scenery there.

In addition to clear water and excellent views of the surrounding mountain peaks, we saw what appeared to be claw marks of river otters near the edges of some of the large stone surfaces lining the edge of the river. We stuck around for a little while, hoping that we might catch some glimpses of the otters themselves, but we had no luck. Photos from the river are below.

Shortly after 3 PM, we decided it was time to return to Seattle.

We arrived at our hotel at roughly 5:30 PM and remained there until a little after 9 PM before we decided we should find something for dinner. Options were a bit slim, and we settled on Little Caesars in Kent, since it wasn’t altogether too far from where we were…and we didn’t much feel like sitting down in a restaurant that late in the day.

Hall of Mosses

We set out heading West from Port Angeles, Washington at 9 AM before cutting South on Highway 101. We passed through the infamous town of Forks (those poor bastards living there never being able to forget that Twilight exists) and heading East into the Hoh Rainforest section of Olympic National Park.

The drive along Upper Hoh Road is positively lovely, especially once you’ve reached the sections where it runs alongside the Hoh River. The longer you follow that road, the more you feel like you’ve been transported to a vastly different place…a place of magic and fantasy, perhaps.

At the end of the road, you arrive at the parking area from which numerous trailheads begin. The Hall of Mosses was our first destination for the day, which is a relatively short loop of a trail. From there, numerous other trails can be found and followed.

Photos of the Hall of Mosses are both above and below.

Where the Hall of Mosses Trail meets with the substantially longer Hoh River Trail, I got it in my head that we should just continue along that way for a while. As is often the case, I sort of wandered off on my own, leaving the others behind. I had hiked an additional half an hour or so before I saw a barely worn trail that led to the edge of the Hoh River, diverting from the main trail I was on. Of course, I opted to make my way over there.

It was only an afterthought that had me return to where that trail deviated from the main trail to find the others, as they could easily have already passed. I’m not always the best person to explore with, as I am absolutely marked as the first person to be killed in any sort of horror movie…or the idiot who causes other people to be killed by being short-sighted and more than a little bit caught up in my own thing, head up my ass and all.

The others did finally reach me and I convinced them to join me at the river. We spent a long while sitting there along the bank. I crossed shallow sections here and there to explore a bit further once I knew where the others would be, but I mostly stayed nearby.

Photos of the Hoh River Trail are below.

It was almost 5 PM when we returned to Port Angeles. We ate a late lunch/early dinner at Fast Burritos, a place we’d enjoyed eating at during our previous trip in 2017.

At 8:30 PM, we returned to Ediz Hook to watch the sunset as we had the night before. We remained on that spit of land for the next hour and I, for one, found a great deal of peace there. Photos of the second night’s sunset are below.

Silver Falls State Park

On Saturday, June 22nd of 2019, we got a late start leaving our hotel in Portland, Oregon. It was almost 8 AM when we began our trip South. Our sole destination for the day was The Trail of Ten Falls located in Silver Falls State Park.

Upon arrival before 10 AM, we were disappointed to find that our trek would be limited due to no dogs being allowed on a substantial portion of the trails that make up the larger hiking trail. Nonplussed, we started off just the same, intent on enjoying what we could, of the magnificent surroundings. Photos from the early section of trail are above.

It wasn’t until we reached a certain point in our hike that I determined I would separate from the others and explore another section of the trail while they continued along the dog-friendly portion until we could meet up at the far end.

It was a strange thing, to be hiking by myself for more than an hour, stopping at various places to capture some of the lush and verdant beauty with my camera.

Naturally, North Falls was the most spectacular sight to be seen on this section of the trail, the large path circling behind the cascading water producing a breathtaking barrage of sight and sound. Photos from my solo portion of the hike are below.

Upon meeting with the others in the parking area beyond North Falls, I remained with our dog so that they could head back the way I’d come in order to at least witness that spectacular waterfall for themselves.

When they returned, we continued our trek to Upper North Falls, another section of the trail that was dog-friendly.

The hike to Upper North Falls (pictured above) was not a particularly long journey from the North Falls parking area, and it makes for quite the terrific place to rest and relax, taking in the soothing sound of water battering the stone.

The return trip to the beginning of the trail was a long one and I ultimately went a significant portion of that hike alone as well. Dog and fellow adventurers, worn out from the hours spent on the trail, remained at a resting spot near the Silver Falls Highway while I returned to the car and came back to retrieve them.

It was after 3 PM when we returned to Portland, and we determined it was a good idea to relax the rest of the day, knowing that we would be departing from Portland and heading Northwest to Port Angeles, Washington the following morning.

Those intimately familiar with obscure slasher flicks of the 1980s might recognize some of these locations from the 1981 movie Just Before Dawn, significant portions of that B-Movie extravaganza having been filmed in Silver Falls State Park.

The Painted Hills and Columbia River Gorge

It was shortly after 7:30 AM on Wednesday, June 19th of 2019, when we began our journey Southeast from Portland, OR. The drive toward central Oregon is beautiful in a wholly different way from the beauty of the region West of the Cascades. You emerge from the Cascade mountain range and arrive at a wide, flat plain as you follow the path of Highway 26. Gazing toward the horizon, you can see the most prominent snowcapped peaks of the Cascade Mountains stretching along their North/South axis.

A relatively short while later, you pass through a smaller set of mountains and hills, quite reminiscent of the Black Hills here in South Dakota, as you’re cutting along the Western edge of the Ochoco National Forest. From there, our destination isn’t far.

Shortly before Mitchell, OR we take a left on Bridge Creek Road. We’d previously visited the Painted Hills in 2017, and we wanted to spend a more substantial interval there this time.

Located in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, the Painted Hills are relatively similar to certain features of Badlands National Park.

Our first stop is the Painted Cove Trail, a leisurely boardwalk trail circling through and around a series of beautiful, red tinted mounds. This only takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to enjoy, but slowing down to take in the scenery is a must.

From there it’s only a short drive to reach the Red Hill Trail, nestled further into the park area. The hike to a viewpoint overlooking the region is a gravel and dirt path that doesn’t suffer from poor maintenance.

Photos are both above and below.

Before leaving the Painted Hills, we stopped at the Painted Hills Overlook we’d enjoyed a great deal during our previous visit. The day was sunny and it gets hot in the high elevation desert environment, so our visit was cut short just after 12:30 PM. Photos of that stop are below.

Returning to Highway 26, we continued East, finally cutting North in Mitchell, OR to take the Service Creek-Mitchell Highway North. Reaching Fossil, OR, we took Highway 218 West to the ghost town of Shaniko, OR. The drive, taking approximately two and a half hours, is a fantastic one. The roadways curve up and down hillsides and mountains, providing lovely views of high-elevation valleys and farmland. If we’d not had other places to go, I’d have loved to spend more time there, stopping for photos on an annoyingly consistent basis.

Arriving in Shaniko, we took advantage of an ice cream parlor serving the people who come to see the ghost town. Goldie’s Ice Cream Parlor had a decent variety of flavors and the folks operating the establishment were pleasant and friendly.

Walking the streets of Shaniko isn’t a time consuming endeavor, and it was only twenty minutes or so before we were back on the road.

Photos of Shaniko are below.

We took Highway 97 North to Biggs Junction, OR where we joined Interstate 84 and headed West along the Columbia River.

Arriving in Hood River, OR around 5 PM, we stopped for dinner at Solstice Wood Fire Pizza. I can’t say enough about the quality of the food and the overall environment of that restaurant. The patio area provides a nice view of the Columbia River as well. I wanted to try something different and ordered the siragusa pear pizza, a pizza with pears (as the name would imply), bleu cheese, and caramelized onions…it was amazing.

Leaving Hood River, our next stop was the Bonneville Fish Hatchery. There’s an artificial pond on site for white sturgeon, complete with an underwater viewing window. I’ve submerged one of my GoPro cameras in that pond each time we’ve visited, and captured some excellent video of the two sturgeon swimming. There are also smaller ponds where one can feed trout.

Continuing toward Portland, we stopped at both Horsetail Falls and Multnomah Falls between 7:45 and 8:30 PM.

Naturally, we had to make the climb up to the upper terrace of Multnomah Falls, as the view is always so spectacular. This late in the evening, the crowds weren’t as dense as they often had been before.

Our final stop on the way back to Portland was Vista House, which seemed like a magnificent place to witness the sunset. We were not disappointed. The views overlooking the Columbia River from that location are spectacular. I may have had to drop down from a fenced area to get to a certain location or two, but it was worth the minor bit of trespassing to see some of what I was able to see.

We continued along the Historic Columbia River Highway after dark, unable to truly enjoy the scenery, returning to our hotel shortly before 10:30 PM.

Oregon Coast: Day One

We left our hotel in Portland at 7:20 AM on Monday, June 17th of 2019, and headed West through Beaverton on Highway 26, turning South on the Necanicum Highway so that we could connect with Highway 101 (the Oregon Coast Highway) in Nehalem, OR.

We arrived at our initial destination shortly before 10 AM and began climbing the snaking incline of the Neah-Kah-Nie Mountain trail in order to gain an elevated view of the Pacific coast. Our climb was more abbreviated than any of us would have liked, due to the other stops we wanted to make during that day’s adventure. Someday I hope to return and complete the climb.

Our next stop on the route North was the Cape Falcon trailhead. Just before Noon, we made our way to a sheltered beach where numerous surfers were enjoying the morning’s waves.

Photos from this first part of the day are featured above.

Our next stop was Cannon Beach. We arrived there and made our way to the beautiful, sandy beach around 12:30 PM. We’d been here previously in June of 2017 as well, and I’d been there on another vacation in June of 2014. It’s a lovely little town, but the feature I–and presumably most visitors–came to see was Haystack Rock, protruding only a short distance from the shore.

Photos of Haystack Rock are included above.

We stopped for lunch before venturing further North.

Our next stop was Fort Stevens State Park. Clouds had started rolling in and the day was turning gray. It was shortly after 3 PM when we visited the Jetty Observation Tower at the edge of the park, enjoying the view and witnessing some harbor seals poking up here and there amidst the waves.

We spent a period of time exploring the remains of the wreckage of the Peter Iredale. I hope to return there someday around sunset, as I can’t help but suspect the wreckage would make for a fantastic bit of foreground with the proper sunset over the Pacific behind it.

Photos from that part of our journey are located above.

The final stop of the day was in Astoria, OR where we climbed the stairs within the Astoria Column. The spiral staircase ascending the center of the circular column is an interesting experience, in and of itself. You can feel the vibrations of every footfall from those ascending and descending while you’re on those metal stairs. It’s a long way up–or down.

The views from the platform at the apex are astounding, allowing clear sights of the Columbia River’s mouth where its water mingles with the Pacific Ocean. The hilly neighborhoods of Astoria are laid out before you and you can follow the path of Astoria-Megler Bridge as it traverses the Columbia River and leads Highway 101 into Washington where it continues its own path North almost to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula.

I’ve included some of the photos from that magnificent landmark above.

It was almost 6 PM when we left Astoria and began our return trip to Portland, following the contours of the Columbia River as it meanders along the border between Oregon and Washington. It was close to 8 PM when we returned to our hotel room and settled in for the night.