9-27-2014 A Day on Lopez Island

Current Location: Rocky Point Oregon Clear and 37 F at 8AM

boat launch at MacKay Bay I was so excited when I went to sleep after our beautiful evening sunset, knowing that the skies were clearing and we had a sunny day ahead for our trip to Lopez Island.  What I forgot about being around all that water, was the clear skies often bring fog.  We woke early Saturday morning to thick fog blanketing our campground with all views completely obscured.

Lopez Island (1 of 51) Ah well, it should lift eventually, right?  The weather people were predicting a gorgeous sunny day in the San Juan Islands.  Hoping for as much time as possible on the island, we left camp around 7 and arrived at the ferry terminal in Anacortes before 8.  What I didn’t understand properly was how to interpret the ferry schedules, and after we paid $44 for our round trip fare, the cashier told us to get in line in lane 1 for the first ferry to Lopez that would leave at 10:30 AM.  Hmmm.

Lopez Island (3 of 51) I knew we were supposed to be in line an hour early, but two and an half hours wasn’t exactly on our agenda.  Especially in the fog.  There was a small coffee shop near the lines that advertised fresh hot coffee, but when I reached the cashier, they were out of coffee.  Just down the road, however, in the terminal building was another coffee shop and I didn’t mind the wait in line.  Not much difference between waiting in the car or in the terminal.  I picked up a couple of coffees and gathered a big stack of brochures for the islands.  It was the smartest move of the day, since there is very little phone service on Lopez, and my most useful find was an excellent fold out map of Lopez Island.  Our day would have been much more difficult without that map.

Lopez Island tour The fog refused to lift or lighten, and by the time we were actually on the ferry traveling west, the skies and the views were still completely obscured.  The fog was so dense that they had a person spotting at the front of the ferry to give notice to the bridge of any hidden obstacles.Lopez Island (5 of 51)

Arriving at the tiny ferry terminal at the northern end of the island, I was impressed with the number of bikers in their northwest gear that lined up to get off on Lopez.  With a more level landscape than the other major islands, Lopez is very popular with bicyclists.  Driving up that first hill off the ferry and as we continued south along the two lane roads toward “town”, it did not look level to me!  I was glad to be in a car.

Lopez Island (7 of 51) In the fog shrouded landscape, a visit to Holly B’s Bakery  was a perfect way to begin our tour of the island.  Kayaking in the chilly fog wasn’t big on the agenda.  Holly B’s was busy on this Saturday morning, and I must say that the cinnamon roll I purchased was perfect.  Dense and not too sweet filled with nutty goodness, it was my favorite kind of pastry.  Next to the bakery is the local bookstore, with both new and used books.  A “real” bookstore, and we spent some time perusing the shelves and enjoying the ambiance of the place with lots of other folks who were visiting Lopez on this foggy Saturday morning.

Lopez Island (6 of 51) I knew there was a Saturday Farmer’s Market but it ended in mid September.  A nice surprise was finding two small booths filled with fresh produce from the local farmers.  I bought some heirloom tomatoes, one called “the mortgage lifter” because the variety paid off someone’s mortgage.  Yum!  I also bought some kind of giant purple carrot that we sliced for carrot chips and some greens, some fingerling potatoes, and a couple of ears of tiny corn.  I should have taken out the camera a bit more, but the fog was dampening my photo spirits and I didn’t bother.

Lopez Island (38 of 51)Best part of the farmer booths was the young man running one of them who told me, “Just head south!.  The southern end of the island is in full sunshine right now.  I had to leave it to drive into the fog to come to market”.  Yayay!  It was already after noon, and in Lopez Village the fog was thick.

Following our trusty little map, we traveled south over the narrow and picturesque roads right into the sunlight shining across the beautiful pastoral landscape.  The forests are dark, but where the land has been cleared the light is gorgeous and the farms are lovely.

Lopez Island (9 of 51) Our destination was Mackaye Harbor, suggested by Laurel, who volunteered on Lopez for a couple of months, as a good place to kayak.  The skies were clear and the sun was gorgeous as we arrived at the boat launch, and the winds were almost non existent across the bay.  Perfect.  As warned, however, that water was cold!  I have heard since forever that kayaking in the San Juan’s requires good skills and either a wet or dry suit because of the cold water.  We had neither, but with the sunshine and light winds it seemed perfectly fine.

Lopez Island (13 of 51) For a long time it was perfectly fine.  The water was clear and the rocky shoreline on the north side of the bay provided interest.  Our plan was to head north along the shoreline, hopefully rounding the point toward Davis Bay.  The closer we got to the narrows, however, the rougher the water became and the swells although not bad,  I had no idea how bad they could get.  After all, it was Puget Sound, it was cold, the wind was coming up, and we had no wetsuits.  I have to say I got a bit wussy, and suggested to Mo that maybe we should head across the bay toward the southern shoreline rather than going farther out into the straits between Lopez and San Juan.

Lopez Island (27 of 51) Even though our time on the water wasn’t as long as expected, it was good that we turned around, because by the time we got back to the launch, the winds were rising considerably and I could see little fog fingers coming across the hills toward the south. Our kayaks are wonderful on lakes, even in the wind they track well, and we have managed mild currents in rivers and high waves on windy lakes.  Still, something about these waters gave me an inner chill and I didn’t want to push my luck.  Especially with Abby in Mo’s boat and that cold water. 

Lopez Island (30 of 51) Laugh if you will, but kayaking dark clear rivers in Florida with alligators on the shoreline didn’t create the bit of apprehension that I felt in the cold water of the San Juan’s.  I know I would like to go back again, maybe when the weather is a bit more predictable, if it ever is, and explore the many other bays and shorelines of the islands.  I might like to actually pay for a guided tour in a sea kayak with someone who understands how these waters work and then it wouldn’t be such an unknown.  Still, I am so glad that we managed to at least get on the water and that the fog cleared up enough in the afternoon for us to do it.

Lopez Island (31 of 51) The timing was all good, and we loaded up the boats and followed a different route back north to the ferry landing.  The ferry was scheduled to leave at 5 and we were in line by 4.  However, because of the fog, the ferry was delayed and we didn’t board until 5:30.  So again, our lovely tiny bit of afternoon on Lopez was bracketed by several hours of ferry time. 

The ferry  trip back to Anacortes, however, was clear and beautiful, with no fog to mar the view.  I again went outside to try for some photos, but that cold wind drove me back indoors.  I wasn’t dressed in fleece and windbreakers the way locals know how to dress.  We arrived home at Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island just at dark.

Lopez Island (45 of 51)Our day on Lopez was wonderful in spite of the fog and the delays, and I am so glad that we managed the trip.  I re-read Nina’s post about visiting the San Juan’s again recently, and can only say that she is so right about her suggestions.  It is incredibly spendy to travel on the ferries with a motorhome, and there are delays and weather to consider.  We will go back for sure, possibly to Orcas, possibly to San Juan, and will pay the big bucks to get the MoHo to a spendy campground on one of those islands and actually stay for a few days. 

Lopez Island (41 of 51)The islands are beautiful, the water is everywhere, I would love to have more time to go slowly and see more.  I am not sure when the weather would be best, I think that part may be a crapshoot, with summer fog a possibility and winter cold rains a complete deterrent. 

Lopez Island (48 of 51)We planned our exit from Puget Sound perfectly, leaving Whidbey Island early on Sunday morning and traveling the dreaded route north to Mt Vernon and I-5, skipping the ferries.  We passed right through downtown Seattle around 8 am, without any traffic to speak of, and were in Portland in mid afternoon as the traffic started picking up.  In the future, when we go back to the islands, our choice might be to stay at Fort Lewis on a Saturday night and drive north to Whidbey Island via I-5 early on a Sunday morning.  It could work, and then our only big ferry expenses would be getting the rig onto the islands.

Deschutes River (1 of 14) Spending the night in Beavercreek near Portland with Mo’s brother Dan and wife Chere was delightful.  Hookups on the driveway and a great Mexican dinner topped off our visit.  On Monday morning we decided that rather than taking boring I-5 and Highway 58 back home, the longer route over Mt Hood on Highway 26 would be beautiful.  Sunny skies and a nice rest stop along the Deschutes River mid morning gave Abby a chance to test the waters and us a chance to warm up a bit. 

Deschutes River (8 of 14) No big trips for the MoHo are on the agenda in the next few weeks, but I am heading east to Vermont in a couple of days for Jeanne’s wedding.  It will be my first time in Vermont, and from what I hear the leaves are waiting for me to get there before they fall.  Mo will be holding down the fort here in Rocky Point this time while I go off adventuring on my own. 

Lopez Island (25 of 51) Abby is still with us, still eating and doing OK for now.  She does sleep a lot, and now she pants loudly and snores even more loudly.  The vet said that is a common side effect of the prednisone.  But she is still here, she still is smiling, and still enjoying pets and hugs and Mo and I are appreciating the time we have with her beyond what the vet predicted. 

Playing in Puget

Current Location: Whidbey Island NAS Cliffside RV Park 55 degrees F and dark skies

to Fort Lewis (40 of 97)Fort Lewis Travel Camp site 107

When planning our Puget Sound trip, I discovered again the fabulous retired military benefit of camping at Military Family Camps that are on many bases throughout the country. Finding good camping in this highly populated part of the west isn’t easy.  Boondocking sites are few and far between, with no public lands in the vicinity, and state parks are expensive.  I was delighted to locate two FamCamps in the vicinity of our planned travels.

Just south of Tacoma, at Joint Base Fort Lewis-McChord in what is called North Lewis, is a lovely forested spacious camp along American Lake.  Within noise distance of I-5, the thick forest muffles the sound of the interstate and I only heard traffic in the dark at 5am as the morning commute commenced.

to Fort Lewis (49 of 97)We had reservations, and were efficiently sent to site 106, a back-in spot surrounded by trees.  Cable is provided and until we turned on the TV we didn’t know that a digital television was required.  Ah well then, let’s set up the satellite.  Of course, we were surrounded by trees, but the empty site across the way, a pull through site, had full view of the southern sky.

to Fort Lewis (50 of 97)Without any difficulty, I went back to the office, requested the change, and in minutes we were settled into the new site with the satellite all hooked up.  Until the rain started and the signal scrambled.  Often camping without benefit of hookups, much less television, it was no big deal, but it is nice to keep abreast of world events now and then.

to Fort Lewis (52 of 97)My Verizon MiFi worked great, which was also a good thing since I saw nary a sign of the base wifi that was supposed to be available in this campground.  Mo was running low on prednisone for Abby and we needed to find a vet who would refill her prescription. 

to Fort Lewis (47 of 97)We found a vet at a nearby PetSmart who agreed to see Abby, and decided that we could continue north to visit Gig Harbor for the rest of the afternoon.  Gig Harbor is a beautiful small town with a famous walking waterfront, lots of good restaurants, and art galleries.  A trendy, touristy, fun place.  I have read about it often, and always wanted to visit.

As we crossed the Tacoma Narrows bridge on Highway 16 we were warned that traffic backup in Gig Harbor was more than 4 miles out.  Having no clue as to the cause, we simply assumed that it was standard traffic stuff for an area known for congested traffic.  We made it to town eventually and parked a few blocks up from the waterfront and the Tides Tavern, our destination restaurant.

to Fort Lewis (22 of 27)Tides was delightful, and I did have to do a “food porn” shot of my incredible salmon sliders.  We were just in time for happy hour, and in addition to a great beer selection, the happy hour menu was perfect for our late afternoon lunch/early supper.  Mo had a single piece of fish and chips, but my sliders were on fresh baked slider buns, slathered with chipotle aioli on one side and basil pesto on the other.  Yum.  Oh, and don’t forget the fried pickles as well.  First time I had them was in Seaside Florida, and these weren’t as good, but still yummy.

to Fort Lewis (23 of 27)Our waiter was perfect, just chatty enough and the service was excellent. Our waiter showed us where Mt Rainier was located in the clouds.  The tavern is famous for its view of the mountain. He told us where we might walk to see the town, but as we watched the rain pour down we decided that a drive through might be a better choice.  Gig Harbor is great, but not so much in a heavy pouring rain. to Fort Lewis (24 of 27)

That is when it got interesting.  The traffic was bumper to bumper, completely stopped no matter which way we turned.  It was impossible to get over to the freeway, so we drove north a bit, while I navigated with the phone to try to find a way around to get back south.  We turned off into no man’s land, only to find more bumper to bumper traffic in the middle of nowhere.

to Fort Lewis (27 of 27)It seems there had been a huge wreck on the freeway, with both directions closed for many miles.  With some creative navigating, I got us to the exit just before the bridge and we finally got out of the stop and go traffic.  It was an interesting experience…many hours of complicated driving and navigating for an hour or so of relaxing at a nice tavern on the water.

The next morning was our “Seattle Day” and after perusing several options, we decided to attempt a visit to the Chihuly Glass and Gardens show at the Seattle Center.  Neither of us wanted to do the same things we had done in past Seattle visits, aka Pioneer Square, Downtown, Pikes Market, all that “stuff”.  Also on our list was a visit to the Fremont District and the Ballard District, with perhaps a side trip to the Washington Park Arboretum.

It didn’t sound like a big deal or too much of an agenda until we actually got on the Interstate north into downtown Seattle. Bumper to Bumper.  Dead stop.  All roads on the Google Map traffic completely red.  Signs saying the interstate is gridlocked.  So.  Getting off the interstate, we drove downtown on the 99, enjoying the high level view of the city from the Viaduct…the one that needs some serious earthquake protection work, but that is another story.  The Seattle skyline is always magical no matter the vantage point.to Fort Lewis (54 of 97)

As we drove north, thinking we could bypass Seattle Center for the time being, we somehow ended up on 99, considerably west of our Ballard destination, but right in the middle of the Fremont district.  I was trying to navigate with the phone, trying to figure out where to go, when we somehow turned into a tiny side road that led us directly to the famous Troll under the Bridge.  I had read about the troll in years past, but it wasn’t even on our radar for this day of exploration. 

to Fort Lewis (1 of 97)The story of the troll is here, and definitely worth checking out. For us, it was a happy accident and we continued driving through the Fremont feeling as though we had been lucky.  We were in the baby car/Tracker, and even so the streets in the Fremont area are incredibly narrow and tight.to Fort Lewis (4 of 97)

Continuing through the district, we found the corner with the famous statue of Lenin that to this day is controversial.  There is another story behind this statue as well that is interesting.  The alternative culture of the Fremont is evident everywhere, with cannabis shops, art studios, artistic grafitti, and interesting people walking around.

to Fort Lewis (6 of 97)Without a good city map (a paper map!) I had to rely on the phone to try to navigate and without actual addresses it was a bit of a stretch to find “the Ballard District”.  We knew it was somewhere west, so kept driving narrow streets and tight traffic until we came to the Scandinavian Museum.  The Ballard District was originally very Scandinavian, but has since become more upscale urban and I didn’t see a lot of Scandinavian influence.  It was a bit confusing, but we drove most of Market Street.

Once again, this is the kind of neighborhood that requires more time to truly enjoy.  In the rain and with limited time, neither of us were really into the shopping eating and walking kind of thing that should be savored slowly.  Both the Fremont and the Ballard districts would lend themselves well to a B and B stay for a few days with ample time to sample the shops and brews and food.  Still, we at least got a taste, if a tiny one.

The Ballard Locks are in this area as well, and would be another fun place to visit with more time and less rain.

We could see the Space Needle to the south, and managed to navigate to the area, but then finding parking was daunting.  There are several public parking lots and one even had a weekday special for ten bucks.  I knew going in that parking would be difficult and expensive, but somehow when we actually got there neither of us was in the mood to pay a bunch for parking and a bunch more for the exhibition and we just decided to skip it.  I think both of us were getting pretty tired of traffic and crazy circuitous routes by that time.

to Fort Lewis (9 of 97)Thinking perhaps a walk in the Arboretum would be more to our liking, I attempted once again to navigate our way out of downtown Seattle toward the Interstate 5 and Washington Park.  The interstate north wasn’t too bad until we somehow managed to get into the Express lane and couldn’t get off until we crossed a bridge and then had to find our way back south over another bridge. 

to Fort Lewis (30 of 97)When we finally arrived at the spacious green expanse of the Arboretum, we were definitely ready for the calming effect of a walk among the trees. 

I used to love the energy of Seattle, it is a great city.  It is a city that should be seen without a car, arriving on a cruise ship, staying in a downtown hotel, making use of public transportation and walking a lot.  It isn’t a place to go to in a day with a car.  Ever again.  Not for me.  I was exhausted from continually trying to navigate, reroute, navigate again and keep up with the shifts. 

to Fort Lewis (13 of 97)The Arboretum is a treasure, a respite in the midst of a crazy day and we loved every minute we were there.  Again, it is a place that requires much more than just dropping in for a walk.  One could walk here for days and not see all the wonders, especially the 500 varieties of Japanese maples. 

to Fort Lewis (17 of 97)Our respite didn’t last long because we knew that in order to avoid complete gridlock we needed to leave Seattle no later than 2:30.  Daughter Deanna later told me we should have left by 2 at the latest.  I think that would mean we should leave before we get there to avoid traffic.  Deciding to skip I-5 altogether, which was already gridlocked, we drove across the 520 toll bridge (where the fees are only the pay by mail version if you don’t have a pass) to Bellevue and onto the 405 south toward Renton.  Again, bumper to bumper, stop and go…and this was 2:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday!  By the time we hit Tacoma, it was 3:30 and once again it was stop and go bumper to bumper.

to Fort Lewis (18 of 97)Ignore the google time thing.  WRONG!

seattle day mapWe were both starving and I seriously wanted a beer! I searched for and found a brewery not too far off the interstate north of our home destination, and we managed to slip into the Tacoma Mall.  Turns out the brewery was right in the middle of the huge mall and the huge parking lot was very full.  Ack!  Instead, we opted for sliding into the Red Robin parking lot nearby.  With a draft Octoberfest and some kind of southern whiskey hamburger, I finally began to relax, preparing for the next jaunt south on I-5 to our campsite.

Excited about finally getting back home, I prepared for our base gate entrance by getting out our ID.  Fort Lewis is a 100% ID check base.  UhOh.  Mo’s wallet was nowhere to be found.  Seems as though we spent the entire day with her driving and her wallet back on base in the MoHo.  With no clue how we were going to get back on base, we looked at each other and just kept driving.

At the gate, I had said specifically that I would be sure to keep my mouth shut and let Mo do the talking.  Of course, I am nothing if not mouthy at the wrong times, and in spite of my desire to keep my mouth shut, I started blabbering at the guard.  Sheesh.  In spite of my mouth, when Mo fully explained the problem, he let us in the gate, saying, “Just go ahead”.  whew! 

Back to the rig, wallet in hand, we got back in the car to go across to the other side of the base for provisions from the commissary.  Whew again.  Just writing about this day has exhausted me again, so I am not going to continue writing about our trip north to the Port Townsend ferry the next morning, reservations in hand.  Another crazy thing….but that is next.


Meandering Quickly to Puget Sound

Current Location: Whidbey Island NAS Cliffside RV Park 55 degrees F and raining

to Fort Lewis (10 of 27)The MoHo parked alone in the center of Shady Firs RV Park Randle WA

We had a good reason for taking a short trip to Seattle.  Thinking that a single day in the busy part of Puget Sound would be plenty to do our business, it seemed that we should make the trip count with an additional few days in the San Juan Islands.  I am fully aware that a short week isn’t nearly enough to really experience this magical place, but it is better than nothing.  We figured it would give us a chance to dip our paddles and check out the area for possible future trips.

map to fort lewisThen the business part of the Seattle day shifted and we actually didn’t really need to go to Seattle at all.  By then, however, reservations were made, and a day in Seattle is always fun, right?  Hmmmm.

When I say meandering quickly, I know that is an oxymoron.  The meander part has to do with the route we chose, avoiding any freeways and enjoying some side roads we haven’t traveled previously. The quickly part has to do with traveling almost 400 miles on our first day.

Mo asked once as the day lengthened why we had planned it this way.  I actually had forgotten, but then remembered, oh yes, it had to do with getting to Seattle for the business meeting and then still having time to play. 

The meandering route took us north on 97, incredibly familiar, but north of Madras we turned west to follow Highway 197 through Maupin toward The Dalles.  In all our years of traveling around Oregon, neither of us could remember taking this route.  Even with smoky skies the views of the canyon of the Deschutes River with Mt Hood in the distance were breathtaking.  Maupin (pronounced MOPin) seemed to be a cute little place, but we didn’t stop.  Remember, we were meandering quickly. So quickly that I didn’t even manage any photos through the windshield. 

At The Dalles, intersecting with Interstate 84, we decided to cross the river to the Washington side to Highway 14.  As we approached Hood River on the other side of the Columbia, the winds picked up as usual and the famous wind surfers looked like so many wild dragonflies darting across the choppy water.  Always fun to watch, I can’t really imagine how they stay upright at.  As we watched, several didn’t stay upright in the strong winds.

to Fort Lewis (21 of 27)Crossing at The Dalles turned out to be a great choice, because the bridge north across the river from Hood River is a toll bridge.  Nice.  We have traveled I-84 many times so it was a completely different view of the Columbia Gorge than we were used to seeing.  At the tiny town of Carson we turned north toward Mt St Helens and the rest of the trip to our camp spot in Randle was narrow and winding. 

After spending a large part of late summer in drought and smoke from forest fires, it was a treat to drive through rain and moist forests.  The views were less than spectacular, however, because this part of the Cascades is thick with trees, lots of them, and most of the views are completely obscured by timber.

to Fort Lewis (15 of 27)Along the southern part of the route especially, we were treated to the mosaic of timber grown and harvested as a crop.  It isn’t a forest, not really, it is a timber farm, and I love that these timber farms exist.  The private companies manage them much better than they did during the rape and run heydays of the 60’s, and as far as I am concerned it is wonderful to have highly managed productive timber lands that don’t tap into our wild old growth forests.  We drove through huge even aged stands of Douglas-fir, and many patches of clear cuts that had regenerated naturally into thick young stands.

to Fort Lewis (3 of 27)As we approached the St Helens Monument on the east side, we found a small roadside rest but only a couple of places where the Mountain was actually visible.  We visited the mountain back in 2004 while it was in an eruptive stage.  From the viewpoint I compared some of our previous photos and was amazed at how much the forest has regenerated on the blast devastated slopes in the last ten years.to Fort Lewis (5 of 27)

We arrived at the Shady Firs RV Park in Randle just after five.  A 400 mile day is an accomplishment on freeways but even more so on the winding side roads.  Daughter Deanna passed on a Rand McNally trucker’s GPS to us (she has three types and didn’t need this one) and I spent the day trying to figure it out and by the time we stopped I was worn out and hadn’t driven a mile! 

to Fort Lewis (13 of 27)I learned to pay attention to Deanna’s advice:  use the GPS, the Atlas, Google Maps, and some common sense.  I discovered that the Rand McNally worked great if I knew exactly where I wanted to go and how to get there and programmed it accordingly.  I did have to change the settings from “truck” to “car” because it kept trying to route me around things and send me a few hundred miles out of the way.  So glad I am not a truck and our full 46 feet of rig and towed length isn’t hard to manage.

Shady Firs was exactly what it claimed to be; a quiet park under shady firs with hookups for fifteen bucks cash Passport America.  I didn’t care at all about the rest rooms or the amenities because we only planned to stop for a night.  The sites are on grass, the hookups were fine and the dump was free.  There were just two sites with sewer, right next to the older trailer that housed a young caretaker.  We opted instead for a site out in the middle of the park, without a single camper joining us that night.

to Fort Lewis (11 of 27)It rained all night, a steady patter on the roof that was soft and soothing.  The morning dawned with beautiful sunshine streaming through the clouds but within a short time the rain took over once again.

Our second destination was a mere 77 miles away.  Mo asked again why it worked out this way and I could only reply that it had to do with finding a Passport America park on our route?  Who knows.  By noon we were settled into our new site.to Fort Lewis (41 of 97)

Next up:  Fort Lewis Military Family Camp and the joys of driving Puget Sound


08-15-2014 The Long Way Home from Kaslo Part 2

Current Location: Home in Rocky Point

It is getting dark.  I have been writing all day it seems, catching up on the last of our trip north to Spokane and British Columbia.  I am on a roll, you could say.  I have been posting and there are now three posts waiting to go up.  This is it.  I probably won’t write another thing any time soon.  Steamboat Rock SP (1 of 1)

This week we are off to the cottage, more repairs, more work on our winter place, visit daughter Deborah, hang out, do stuff.  Nothing big, just a nice little 2 hour drive over the mountain to Grants Pass. With a few days over the mountain coming up with no computer, I have had a reason to stay focused on catching up the blog. I have at the same time had a chance to catch up on other’s blogs as well, make comments, laughing on facebroke with friends, talking on the phone with other friends, stepping outside for a short bit of lawn mowing or weeding, and then getting back to writing. 

Nelson and homeward (28 of 70) The good part of this extended writing exercise is that the feelings of the trip have been coming back to me.  I am writing what it felt like, not just the litany of what we did.  For me, that is the fun part, remembering the feelings with my body and soul.  Sometimes when I write later, that doesn’t happen, but as often as not, if I allow myself to really get ‘into’ it, it does. 

Nelson and homeward (32 of 70) I am still in the feeling of the previous night at the Canyon Creek Campground west of Kettle Falls.  The last time I was on this road was on what was called “The Densic Tour”, a soil thing where we looked at dense glacial soils in several areas in the northern part of Washington State.  It was a great trip with wonderful scientists talking about really cool dirt.  The drive brought back good memories of the best parts of my working life.

Nelson and homeward (30 of 70) When Mo and I woke up on Friday morning, the rains had stopped but the skies were still cloudy. Back on the road, we climbed over Sherman Pass, stopped at the summit to read the signs, and learn about this highest drivable mountain pass in the state of Washington.  Didn’t really seem that high to me, compared to some of those in Colorado and Montana, but still, the signs were nice.  Especially the coyote sculptures and the information about the local tribes.

The town of Republic is in a wild part of Washington, remote, gold country, and still is a small town without many amenities.  There is a fossil museum, a couple of nice hotels, good coffee, that sort of thing, but not a lot to make us stop.  We had originally planned to travel south directly toward Keller and turn toward the Grand Coulee dam from there, but a few miles south on Highway 21 we saw a sign stating that the road was closed 17 miles ahead. 

476 miles to LePage The road was narrow, there was nowhere to turn around so we kept driving a bit before Mo tried to make the turn and failed.  It was a few tense moments as we were slightly jackknifed in the middle of the road before she managed to get us going south again.  Finally found a place to turn around,  The road was closed due to the large fire burning on the Colville reservation.  I knew about the fire, and later when I looked at Inciweb for fire information, realized it straddled both sides of our chosen route for several miles.  I hadn’t realized it was still burning.

We returned to Republic, with an extra hundred miles or so add to our day and knew it would be late when we pulled into the reserved campsite at the familiar LePage COE park on the mouth of the John Day River.  A 476 mile day is a bit much, but it was so much better than again following the interminably repetitive trip through Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

The road from Republic to Tonasket was a bit winding, but not a problem at all, and once we reached Tonasket and the river we again had to decide whether to stay on the main route south to Wenatchee or continue with our plan to cross the reservation directly southeast toward Grand Coulee.

Nelson and homeward (35 of 70)The Grand Coulee Dam is another place I had visited but Mo had never been there.  What can I say about that dam.  Sadly, it displaced many people and a few towns.  It destroyed the salmon run on the northern part of the Columbia River, the salmon no longer migrate to Kettle Falls.  And yet it is one of the greatest accomplishments that man has built.

Nelson and homeward (34 of 70) I love the story of this dam, much as I dislike the story of Glen Canyon.  Who knows why I pick and chose my battles, but Grand Coulee Dam isn’t one of them.  FDR was president and we were in the midst of a deep depression when the dam was built and thousands of people came from all over the country to build it.

Nelson and homeward (36 of 70)The visitor center is wonderful, with a 45 minute movie about how the dam was built.  Fascinating!  At the time, it was the largest concrete structure in the world, and it remained so for a long time.  It was the first of the dams to attempt to control the Mighty Columbia River and was initially built for the purpose of irrigating the desert of the great Columbia Basin.  Only later did power generation become  the major output of the dam and now it creates renewable power for hundreds of thousands of people. 

Nelson and homeward (46 of 70) The big generators are a wonder of engineering, but even more so are the pumps that lift water several hundred feet from Lake Roosevelt to Banks Lake to be the source of water for hundreds of thousands of acres of rich farmland.  The exhibits at the center were fascinating, including the wheelchair that FDR used when he visited the dam.  It was worth every mile and every minute that we spent to take time to visit and learn again about this incredible project. I know there is good and bad about the whole dam thing, and yet seeing it was amazing.  I loved it and so did Mo.

Nelson and homeward (48 of 70) We left the dam and traveled south toward Ephrata, along Banks Lake and past Steamboat Rock State Park.  Turning South from Ephrata we followed the highway toward the Dry Falls of the Grand Coulee, one of the more magnificent geological sites in the entire west.  As a new soil scientist in the Inland Northwest, my career was defined most by two huge geologic events, the eruption of Crater Lake/Mt Mazama, and the Great Missoula Floods from 13,000 years ago. 

Nelson and homeward (49 of 70) Knowing the ongoing story of the Great Floods, studying the landscapes created by these Ice Age floods, has been one of the most fascinating parts of mapping soils in Washington.  It almost made me cry to see the monument to J Harlan Bretz, the geologist who came up with the crazy theory of a catastrophic flood and was ridiculed for years before his theories were finally believed.  Evidence of the floods are everywhere in the Inland Northwest, but nowhere greater than Dry Falls.Nelson and homeward (53 of 70)

The visitor center sits high on a ledge, just a few hundred feet from the stone monument viewpoint built in the 1920’s  The scenery is breathtaking, the paintings of the size of the falls, bigger than anything that exists on earth today are fascinating.  In all my years of working around this part of the world, I had never had the chance to actually stop at Dry Falls and enjoy the exhibits and look over the edge of that great piece of basalt.  The great Columbia Plateau is the second largest extensive basalt plateau in the world, only one is India is larger.  I love this landscape.Nelson and homeward (60 of 70)

Back in the rig, we continued south toward the fading light as we approached the great and mighty Columbia River in the canyon below.  Huge windmills signaled that we were close to LePage once again.  Renewable power.  Birds and fish are the losers, but who wins when coal isn’t pumped into the atmosphere.  It is a conundrum, but I still love the windmills, and I love Grand Coulee dam.  Go figure. 

Nelson and homeward (70 of 70)When we arrived at our trusty campground, reservation in hand, the kiosk was closed and the sign said Campground Full.  Sure enough, a reserved tag held our spot and we set up in the twilight, once again turning on the air conditioner for the warm temperatures.  This time, however, I was able to turn it off and switch to the fan before 10 PM and that was encouraging.  On the next day we would be traveling Highway 97 home, through Biggs Junction, Moro, Madras, Redmond, Bend, LaPine and Chiloquin before turning west to cross the green Wood River Valley and slide into home in the forest.

Even two weeks sometimes feels like forever when I am away and it is always good to get back.

Next:  not a thing that I can predict at the moment.

08-14-2014 The Long Way Home from Kaslo Part 1

Current Location: at home in Rocky Point

There are many options when planning the route home, but there was no option that didn’t include visiting the little town of Nelson on the west arm of Kootenay Lake.  I remember Nelson as a small logging community, but even back in the 70’s and 80’s there was some cute stuff there.  By the time my friend Maryruth and I saw it, the cultural creative boom was already happening.

Nelson and homeward (4 of 70) Our last day in British Columbia started with rain, and it only got heavier as we traveled south.  Big thunderheads loomed above us as we packed up the rig and the first big drops fell just as we drove out of the campground.

There is a dump station associated with the campground in Kaslo.  It costs $5 Canadian if you are a registered camper, $8. if not, but it is only open for a couple of hours in the morning and in the evening.  We wanted to leave early morning, but the 9am opening of the dump lock gave us the luxury of a leisurely breakfast.  We decided to go get in line about 8:45, just in time to be ahead of a big fifth wheel that thought they were going to dump immediately.  Sorry, I told them, the manager doesn’t get up till nine.  She has a big sign on her door that is a pretty good indication that she doesn’t want to be bothered until exactly 9AM.  Who can blame her.  Being a campground host must be awful sometimes, everyone always wants something.

Nelson and homeward (5 of 70)Sure enough, just at 9, she showed up looking a bit sleep rumpled and unlocked the cover.  We were ready with hoses out and ready to go so it only took us a few minutes to dump.  We have that teamwork down pat.  We also have the hookup the car thing down pat as well, and I laughed to see a couple of people in the campground taking time out from morning coffee to watch us hook up the Tracker in a few quick clicks.  Moments like that I get all cocky and like to show off.  Men especially get a kick out of watching us do things efficiently.  I have to be careful to not get too cocky because I could just as easily do something stupid or the hitch would stick or the pins would drop in a manhole or something.

Still, we were on the road by 9:10 after a particularly good dump.  You know the ones.  The tank sensors are all the way green, the flashlight down the toilet reflects on the shiny bottom, and all is good.  I can’t figure out why they all aren’t like that.

leaving kaslo capture The road to Nelson followed our route to Balfour and continued along the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, where we saw gorgeous sandy beaches along the beautiful wide river/lake and homes to match.  The closer we got to Nelson, the more waterside mansions began to appear.  Hmmm, I could live here, I thought.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  A bit later, as I perused the Real Estate magazines in Nelson, I saw that those houses were in the vicinity of a couple million bucks.  Gentrification is everywhere.  What happened to the sleepy logging town in the wilds of BC??

We did love Nelson, and did our usual initial search for the Visitor Center.  Right in front of the building, across the street, was curb parking for the MoHo and Tracker.  No parking meters, and a driveway behind us so that if someone parked in front of us we could still exit gracefully.  A quick stop inside yielded a pretty young thing who knew ALL the best places to eat a great breakfast and told me we could park for a few hours free if we wanted to.

With the cool rain falling, Abby was quite content to remain inside resting.  This is a new phenomena.  At 12, it seems her separation anxiety has subsided enough that sometimes, not always, she will wait in the MoHo without barking and going into a general state of panic.  Lucky for us.  Hard rain means that even with dog friendly patios for dining, we might not want to sit outside in the rain with the dog.

Nelson and homeward (1 of 70)Climbing the stairs in the lovely little town built on the side of a cliff, we found the main drag and the string of shops and restaurants that are the mainstay of Nelson.  Full Circle Cafe at 11AM still had a long line of folks waiting, but it was the best and we wanted to try it so we put our name on the list and waited.  What a great place.  More of that signature British Columbia organic stuff with tofu scrambles, and 6 kinds of free range eggs benedict selections.  I think they specialized in hollandaise because it came on everything, even the tofu!

Nelson and homeward (12 of 70) Yum.  I had an omelet with perfect caramelized onions, goat cheese, and French ham, topped with hollandaise.  Insanely good.  Mo had what was called the Redneck Burger, free range beef, but that is where the redneck adjective stopped working.  I never saw spinach and sprouts on a redneck anything!  Her salad was one of the best I have tried.  Yum again.

Nelson and homeward (10 of 70) We wanted to get back on the road, with no idea of where we might spend the night, but knew it would be somewhere back in the US.  I navigated toward the border, but my BC map in the big Atlas didn’t have enough detail, and with my phone turned off I also didn’t have Google to help out.  The GPS is worthless if you don’t have an address, and we didn’t really know exactly where we were headed anyway. 

Nelson and homeward (11 of 70)Somehow we ended up going through Salmo instead of Trail and to the beautifully quiet border crossing at Metaline Falls. We didn’t stop at Salmo, but in passing I caught glimpses of some rather amazing stone murals that are the pride of this small town.  Hard rain and the upcoming border nixed any ideas of exploring.

sawrockmural_1 Getting back into the US was a bit more complicated than we have ever experienced, and the main culprit was dog food!  We knew about the requirements, so Mo was prepared with food in the original bags, but they saw the doggie treat bag and had to check that as well to be sure the treats were made in the USA.  They also asked to come in the rig and would we please restrain the dog.  Then they asked for the keys to the baby car where the big sack of dog food was stored. 

After searching the car and part of the rig, they then wanted an additional photo that matched our passports.  While looking at our passports and drivers’ license, they asked what we did before we retired, where we were going, where we had been, and the names of our firstborn children.  Oh not that last part actually.  They were kind and we had nothing to hide so it was more entertaining than anything, but different than we are used to.  After 20 minutes or so we rolled back into the good ole USA.

Nelson and homeward (13 of 70) Metaline Falls is a tiny town on the gorgeous Pend Oreille River, the downriver part of the same river we traveled on our trip north previously.  I had never been on this route and it was gorgeous.  Even in the rain we stopped to hike up to the lovely falls at the Sweet Creek Falls Wayside on the route of the North Pend Oreille Scenic Byway.  For those not familiar with the northwest, the pronunciation is Pond er Ray.  Just thought I would mention that.  As Spokane is Spo Can, not Spo Kane…and Oregon is Or E Gun not Or E Gone…and Nevada…ooops.  guess I got carried away.  I have been writing these posts for a couple of days now and am getting a bit rummy.

Nelson and homeward (21 of 70) We turned west toward Kettle Falls through the town of Colville.  It was originally the plan to enter the states through Northport and possibly find a place to camp somewhere along the Columbia River.  Instead, far south of good camping spots on the river, we continued west on Highway 20 toward Sherman Pass.  Stopping in Kettle Falls to top off our fuel, (did I mention we didn’t have to add fuel to the MoHo in Canada?) we wanted to be sure we were ready for boondocking and using the generator.  Sometimes it is easy to think, oh we have more than a quarter tank, we can fuel up tomorrow.  Not so smart when you want to run the generator.  It doesn’t take much fuel, but it doesn’t like a tank below a quarter full and will not run when it drops below that point.

Nelson and homeward (27 of 70) We started up Sherman Pass with a couple of campgrounds in mind, but looking more closely I could see that the more distant one was at 5200 feet and only allowed rigs less than 24 feet long.  We could fudge that sometimes, at 26 feet, but why bother when the closer campground had a 30 foot length limit. 

Turned out to be a fabulous choice.  Except for one other rig on the opposite side of the campground, we were the only ones there.  We got a perfectly level site with a campfire ring and no campfire restrictions, and best of all a nice big stash of ready cut firewood for Mo to split.  Mo loves a good campfire and with fire restrictions being all over the place it was nice to enjoy a big fire and some marshmallows.  The campsite fee was a hefty $3.00 with our senior pass.

Nelson and homeward (23 of 70) There were bear warnings at the campground kiosk, so we kept Abby close, but most of the huckleberries were gone so I didn’t worry too much.  Would have been nice to see a bear from the safety of the rig.  The signs indicated that in addition to black bear, there were also grizzly in the area.  What I didn’t know at the time is that there are also some viable, active wolf packs in that part of the country as well. 

Nelson and homeward (26 of 70) After our yellow lighted nights at the Kaslo Campground, the thick darkness and quiet of the Canyon Creek FS campground on Sherman Pass was incredible.  The sounds of the rain and a huge thunderstorm only added to the coziness of the MoHo, and actually being cool enough for a blanket was pretty nice, too.

I thought I could fit the entire trip home into one post, but it seems that isn’t to be the case.  We did some cool new stuff on the rest of the route that I don’t want to skimp on. Guess I’ll have to go change the title for this one.

Next:  The Long Way Home Part 2