Discovering Washington (not DC)

With Glacier National Park and Kootenai Falls fading in the rear-view mirror, Deb and I were off to Washington State. The drive on US HWY 93 from the Whitefish/Kalispell area followed the shores of Flathead Lake to Poison then down to Interstate 90, through St. Regis and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho before reaching the Spokane valley.

After running like we were being chased by the law, we found a nice military recreation park on a lake outside Spokane which was a perfect spot for us to relax and enjoy the 4th of July weekend and the Spokane area. We discovered that downtown Spokane was consumed with a 3 on 3 basketball tournament throughout the holiday weekend.

We ventured along the Spokane River to the Nine Mile Dam and Falls. On our return to the city, we followed Riverside Park Road to spectacular cliffside views of the Bowl & Pitcher Riverside State Park.

We wandered up to Mount Spokane to see the view of the surrounding valley. Quite a winter skiing destination, and at the mountain summit was Vista House, a stone building that was completed in 1930 and completely renovated in the early 2000s.

On a short drive we discovered this eclectic roadside attraction featuring “Cows Ahoy”.  We enjoyed a taco lunch date at Arturo’s Mexican restaurant in Cheney, the 4.6 stars were well justified. Our shelves and bins replenished from a trip to the Base Exchange & Commissary, we were rested up and raring to go do some dry camping, we were off to Yakima River Canyon!

Big Pines Recreation Site, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground on the Yakima River was our next Homefront. It seemed like the perfect place to launch a daytrip to Mount Rainier National Park and we were in for a pleasant surprise.

Our picnic basket overflowing with goodies, a Jeep full of puppies and camera gear, we were off to Mount Rainier. After a short drive to Yakima on SR 821, we took US Hwy 12 to Naches which followed the Naches river, then took SR 410 up the canyons and through the forests to the foothills of the NP. The switchbacks upon reaching the summit of Naches Peak were worthy of other Utah National park visits… The scenery, the majestic mountains, the huge Douglas firs, and the occasional waterfall made for a beautiful morning drive.

Stevens Canyon Road is the eastern access route to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center which is located at the base of Mount Rainier. We had hopes to stop at the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail head to see some of the largest Douglas firs on earth. Unfortunately, so did hundreds of others! Parking at this location, like many others, was VERY limited. It was completely full going into the park and no better on our way out.

The drive up was nothing short of spectacular. A little bit “Going-to-the-Sun Rd.” (Glacier NP), a taste of “Tioga Pass” (Yosemite NP) and throw in a glimpse of the “Grand Loop Rd” (Yellowstone NP) would be the best way to describe it.

Highlights along the way included the roadside waterfalls, Box Canyon, Rockslide Canyon, Reflection Lake, Paradise Picnic area, and the Visitor Center. The only thing missing ??.. You guessed it…. Mount Rainier! Cloaked in clouds, we NEVER saw the peak!

We took the Paradise Valley Loop drive in hopes that the skies would clear, but mother nature did not cooperate. Driving down the road, we spot a tarmac on the right with a bright yellow helicopter. There was the crew taking a well-deserved break, so we decided to stop and visit. Deb took this as an opportunity to get in a little “BNW film” action, and I went off to see how close I could get to the cascades on the Paradise River. Deb headed over with her 4×5 Graflex RB Series D and started taking a shot.  One of the crew members (Sidney) came over as she recognized the antique camera from far away. She invited us over to see the helo and meet the pilot. The pilot’s name was Christopher, Sidney was the co-pilot and they told us about some of their duties that they have, above and beyond, the obvious search and rescue missions. A very interesting and hardworking team! Deb gave them some history of the camera, we briefly talked about our nomadic lifestyle and they were kind enough to let her take their picture! A definite highlight of Deb’s trip to Rainier!

Only a few miles down the road, we stopped at Narada Falls and hiked down to one of the Photo-Op vantage points. It’s a horsetail waterfall that dropped 168 feet in several strands down a nearly sheer cliff. There was a trail that went to the bottom of the falls, but we opted to stay dry.

Then we began to retrace our route out of the park, frequently looking back over our shoulders in hopes of getting a glimpse of the mountain peak. After exiting Stevens Canyon Road onto SR 123 down to US HWY 12 east, beyond White Pass Ski Resort, Rimrock Lake, and a couple of “puppy pitstops” we made it back to Yakima and the campground at Big Pines.

A moment to reflect on this campground. Located in the Yakima canyon, less than 100 feet to the rushing Yakima river. An awesome open campsite with a fire-pit and a spectacular view of the river and mountains in the background.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) maintains this site and many others like it across the country. Deb and I have NEVER been disappointed with the quality and care these places get from the camp hosts. If you are looking for a place to get off the grid… BLM sites should be on your list.

Tacoma, Washington was next on the agenda. We drove up SR821 out of the canyon and hopped back on I-90 westbound to Snoqualmie Casino for a treat at the lunch buffet! Completely fulfilled, the quality of the food was spectacular, hot, fresh and delicious. The next time we go through this area we will have to be sure to visit the Snoqualmie Falls.

We found Camp Murray Recreation Park on the American Lake to be a nice location. It proved to be an excellent spot for our adventures in and around Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula. Nice trails, excellent kennel services and  still a convenient location to the base services.

This was all brand-new territory for us, and like many other places we have visited, we under-estimated how vast the area was. With that being said…Olympic National Park, here we come.

The Jeep was packed for another day trip, our initial goal was to get out to Ruby Beach, find a remote picnic spot, take in the scenery, shoot some pics along the way and come back to the RV park at Murray Beach. We took I-5 to Olympia, found 101 North which got us out of the city. We hopped on SR8 West which followed along the perimeter of Capital State Forest which offered up some beautiful views of the coastal evergreens. Deb found some rural routes which took us through Wishka, Nisson and Humptulips on our way to Quinalt Rain Forest Trailhead for a much needed pitstop for the puppies. Not completely sure what kind of trees that were nearly touching the outer atmosphere, but they were very tall and simply amazing to see.

As we were nearing the coast and inching our way to Ruby Beach, we saw a sign for “Big Cedar Tree”…. Of course, we took the short off-road drive to see what this was all about… Amidst the rainforest were some of the biggest Cedar trees we have ever seen. A short trail provided some spectacular views of these old forest giants. The decaying trees and the damp ground provided moss, ferns and many other flora and fauna  found in a coastal rain forest. You almost expected Frodo Baggins to appear.

Ruby Beach was a graveyard of huge trees that left their souls on this coastal shore. Hundreds of tree trunks scattered the beaches like match sticks. With the huge rocks piercing the waters, it reminded you of a scene out of “Lord of the Rings”. As we returned to the Jeep, we had to decide whether this was the end of our journey and start heading back or continue our trek around the peninsula. Of course, there was still plenty to see that was “just down the road” so we decided to continue our adventure.

We found Cottonwood campground to be the ideal spot for that remote picnic. In the middle of the rain-forest jungle of greenery, we had a feast, the puppies enjoyed the fresh air and the opportunity to sniff out the nearby wildlife.

Next pit-stop was Rialto Beach. We hoped it would have a similar mystical aura that we experienced at Ruby Beach. The beach was scattered with fallen timbers, but… huge crowds, no parking, it was NOT what we hoped to see. At times pictures don’t tell the whole story, but this was one of those times when being there in the flesh did NOT enhance the actual experience. Deb dropped me off, I took a few photos of the beach lumber debris and we continued our adventure up “The 101”.

A nice picnic area at Crescent Lake gave us a chance for a puppy walk, then the highway continued to follow the shores of the lake, then Maple Grove, through Elwha and finally our first glimpse of the Salish Sea before we arrived at Port Angeles. A quick drive through town, past the ferry landing to Canada, we pressed on as the day was quickly slipping away.

US Highway 101 was now a southbound road, then took some state roads to Silverdale, past the outskirts of Bremerton and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. It also took us across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and back to our campground. Deb and I reached an new all-time high for a day road trip – 394 miles…but what an awesome adventure.

Check out our route on Google Maps – Olympic Peninsula

Another day, yet another adventure, this story is a keeper. Deb, in her infinite quest to buy old cameras to clean up, fix and flip, purchased a 1925 Graflex RB Autograflex from the Seattle Goodwill Store on eBay. The camera arrived back in May while we were in Grand Rapids, MI. During the clean up phase, Deb notice some etching and discovered the words – FW Cowan, US Signal Corps on the camera plate.

After a couple hours of dedicated googling and some time on Ancestry.com, Deb found the Military Service Record, Obituary and a plethora of life details on Floyd Cowan.  He owned a camera store, worked at a camera store for many years and spent 20 years teaching commercial photography at a community college in Tacoma WA.  A treasure of information on a man who dearly loved photography.

Because of his love for photography, or maybe Deb’s love of photography and genealogy, she located his grave not very far from where we were staying,  so we took his camera and paid him a visit.  It was touching to reunite teacher and tool again after so many years apart.

In Olympia, we found a cool farmers market near the harbor, we are always in search of local treats and artisan cheese, entertainment was unique, there was an abundance of fresh veggies and flowers but no joy finding some “skunky Brie”. The day came to an end after we swung by the state capital building.

A morning in downtown Tacoma provided us a chance to visit the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and the old Union train station that is now a US District court.

Our travels to Washington allowed us to hook up with another old Mason County Central High School classmate that I hadn’t seen in over 35 years. It was awesome to see Dean and meet his wonderful wife, Diana.  Dinner, hospitality and adult beverages were spectacular. As the evening progressed, we all realized that you cannot catch up on a lifetime in one evening, but we definitely put a dent in it.

Our days in Washington were ending soon, so Deb and I went on a tourist trip to Seattle to see the sights of the city. Of course, we did not get completely sucked into the routine “TOP-TEN” things to see. We did drive by the Space Needle, through historic downtown and Chinatown but after that we went off the tourist grid to find Bruce Lee’s grave-site, the house where Kurt Cobain tragically ended his life and stopped at one of the biggest Goodwill stores we have ever been, to pick up a camera that Deb found online.

Our last stop was at the famous Pike Place Market. It IS definitely one of the coolest marketplaces we have ever been to. The famous fish tossing seafood place was slammed with people. Every time the fish mongers would get ready to toss a fish, the photo bombers swarmed in! Artisan shops, organic soaps & lotions, fresh produce and flowers, seafood galore and restaurants lined the marketplace alleys.

Deb & I had lunch at the Athenian Seafood Restaurant & Bar where we celebrated my birthday meal. Beautiful view of the Seattle waterfront, delicious meal and the best company a man could ask for!

Our last adventure in Washington was actually done after we arrived at the Columbia River gorge in Oregon. It just made more sense for us to visit Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument from there. The visitor center is a short distance from Interstate 5. Abundant parking and a nice trail to walk the puppies. It is 56 miles to the Johnson Ridge Observatory on SR 504-Spirit Lake Highway. There are several interpretive stops along the way describing the horrific events that occurred the day of the blast. The Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center is located inside the blast zone of the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It’s a partnership between Weyerhaeuser Company, Washington State Department of Transportation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. It is truly amazing how resilient mother nature is. The total destruction of over 45,000 acres that Weyerhaeuser replanted 18 million trees BY HAND took nearly seven years to complete. 39 years later it appears to be alive and well.

Today it is still an angry mountain and has the potential to blow its top. The most recent activity occurred in 2008. In its current state, a glacier has formed near the growing lava dome. We were astonished and amazed at the magnitude of the destruction that occurred at the time of the tragic event and the marvel of mother nature in its recovery.

Our three weeks in Washington were spectacular. Someday we will come back to the Seattle area. So much to see and do in the Puget Sound area and maybe even venture off to Vancouver, Canada. Next stop Oregon. Anxious to see what treasures lie ahead.

3 thoughts on “Discovering Washington (not DC)

  1. Great travelogue. Beautiful pictures. Brought back many memories as I grew up in Washington. Camped on mt. Rainer, st Helens as a kid. Puget sound wonderful body of water. Take a ferry ride next time. Walk on riders travel free.

    1. Thanks Bob,
      We had a lot of fun in Washington. As the case in many places we have visited, we ran out of time long before we ran out of things to do. Rainier is magical. Olympia NP was much bigger than expected. Appreciate you stopping by! More to follow.

      Chuck & Deb

    1. Jennifer,
      Thanks so much for dropping in and allowing us to share our adventures. Much more lies ahead, we hope you tag along as we visit America.
      Chuck & Deb

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