Through the Smoke in North Cascades

Our next stop in the State of Washington was North Cascades National Park. A quick side note to mention that our route to NCNP took us on an epic boondocking extravaganza, much to Maggie’s chagrin. We “enjoyed” city camping at a park in Port Angeles, behind a Thai restaurant in Everett, WA; and the back of an ACE hardware store in Bellingham, WA. Maggie was grumbling, but I thought it was a great way to see the city and save a few bucks…now back to our stay at North Cascades.

While North Cascades is much less trafficked than the state’s other two national parks we found it every bit as beautiful. Its spectacular, craggy peaks are breathtaking and have been likened by some to the Alps. Unfortunately, we happened to be there during a time when the surrounding areas were engulfed in wildfires. While the smoke interfered with our views (and our lungs) the one upside was that we practically had the park to ourselves. We secured a great campsite with a private, sandy beach along the beautiful Skagit River which contained what I believe to be our coldest bathwater to date. The river’s temperature was in the low to mid 40’s, but Maggie and the kids know the routine at this point and were champs about it. I think I speak for all of us (or at least myself) in saying that I’m going to miss our daily dips in these pristine rivers when our trip is over.

After the first two days, we felt the smoke had cleared enough for us to do a decent hike. We hiked the 8 miles to Cascades Pass and back which offered stunning views of sub-alpine meadows, dozens of peaks, and a few glaciers. We even got to hear the rumbling caused by snow melting and sliding down the mountain into the valley. While we did not see any big game, we did see several marmots and learned that they emit a very loud and shrill whistle (hence the nickname whistle pigs) if they feel threatened. We also saw a few weasels and a particularly friendly ground squirrel that Liam and CJ were really taken by.

While we really enjoyed our time hiking and paddling in the park, it was not without incidents. Liam decided to eat a penny sized rock because he thought it would help “aid in digestion” and we’ve taken on a family of mice who seem to want a free ride from North Cascades to Glacier National Park. Our next stop on this road trip will be…to an ACE Hardware for traps.

Rain Forests, Twilight, and Humpbacks

I have been waiting 8 months to get to the Pacific Northwest. For some reason it is the area I felt the strongest draw to. It might be the combination of beach and mountains, or how it looks so startlingly different from the terrain I’m used to. The beaches have character, they are rocky, with massive sun-bleached trees littering the shore and craggy rocks shrouded by mist emerge out of the water. The forest is thick and envelopes you in a world of green made of ferns as large as grown men, fuzzy moss on every surface and towering old growth trees. It felt like the setting of a fairytale, as though you might stumble upon the Three Bears cottage or see a girl in red skipping down the trail.

Olympic National Park is large and spread out. We were able to explore several different parts – although I probably could have spent another 2 weeks there. Our first stop was Mora Campground. Situated on the beach, we were able to explore both the surrounding forest and coastline. We walked to Hole in the Wall and Second Beach, which offered tidal pools to explore and eerie views of rock cliffs rising from the water. We also visited the Hoh rain forest – a unique temperate rain forest that receives over 150 inches of rain per year and supports more biomass per acre of land than any other ecosystem on the planet!


From Mora we headed further into the interior to Sol Duc. Here we enjoyed a day at the natural hot springs and hiking to the Sol Duc Falls from the campground. Unfortunately, upon leaving Sol Duc we discovered the bent axle we had been ignoring was getting much worse and decided we needed to make a beeline to civilization to get it fixed. Luckily, Port Angeles, on the outskirts of the park, had a nice family-owned RV repair shop that was able to fit us in. While we waited to get service done, we made use of the local library, playgrounds, and I caught up on my Twilight reading…(when in Rome – or Forks I should say). On our last day we went on a whale watching tour where we were treated to an especially energetic humpback whale who breached no less than 30 times to the delight and amazement of the crew and passengers.

Bainbridge Island

From Mt. Rainier, we headed north to see our friends Gene and Abbey who live on Bainbridge Island. Along the way, my cousin Pam and her family, were kind enough to drive the 1.5 hours from Seattle to meet us at the Northwestern Trek Wildlife Park in Eatonville, Washington.  The park boasted large herds of elk, deer, bison, big horn sheep, and other native wildlife in a natural setting with plenty of room to roam. Liam and CJ really enjoyed playing with their cousin Paxon for the first time and talking shop with him about the various animals in the park and I was happy to have had a chance to see Pam even if just briefly.

Bainbridge Island is located in the Puget Sound a few miles west of Seattle. The island has all the amenities you would want in a city, but retains a quaint, small town feel. Gene and Abbey have a beautiful spread and their garden was in full bloom when we arrived. CJ would often go missing, only to be found gobbling blackberries from the bushes in the front of the house. Abbey is an organic farmer on the island growing crops and flowers at their house and at her business partners property. We got to tag along with her one day to help pick veggies, feed goats, and set up the farm stand. Coming from Atlanta we felt it was a testament to the island’s residents that Abbey could leave a money jar out on her stand for customers to pay by the honor system.

While visiting we also spent a day exploring Seattle. We took the commuter ferry over and given my penchant for sea sickness I prepared myself for some discomfort. To my surprise, the ferry was big, comfortable, and most importantly smooth. I felt like a million bucks when I deboarded. It’s definitely a commute that I could get used to. While in Seattle, we just had time to hit the tourist highlights. We swung by Pike Place Market and the kids got to see the employees throw a rainbow trout. From there we took the light rail train to Seattle Center to check out the Space Needle and to let the kids play at the playground and splash pad.  We cut our day trip to Seattle a little short because Bainbridge Island was putting on an open track meet for kids at the local high school. We thought this would be a fun opportunity for Liam and CJ who don’t get a lot of chances to participate in community events while on the road. The kids were classified by age and Liam made the most of his 4 years and 362 days by placing 2nd in three different races. Similarly CJ, bested most of the other 3 year-olds, earning a 2nd and 3rd place finish. The races were a lot of fun for the parents and the kids and another example of the strong character of the community.

As we’ve mentioned before, one of our biggest challenges of living on the road is finding playmates for the kids. Fortunately, Gene and Abbey’s two kids, Reed and Ivy, are very sweet and welcomed Liam and CJ into their space. We greatly appreciate Gene reaching out to us and welcoming us into their home for a few days. I can’t overstate how much good company and a respite from the road means for us after 8 months.

Majestic Mt. Rainier

As we were leaving Hood River area I had the brilliant idea for a fun family outing that would result in one of the trips most infamous events – The Blueberry Fiasco.

Hood River has a popular tourist attraction called, the Fruit Loop – essentially a driving tour of the areas fruit farms. U-Pick farms abound and I thought I’d recreate some fond childhood memories with my own kids picking berries. Rick was skeptical, but I found an organic blueberry farm not too far off our route. The memory of my purse being stolen fresh in my mind, I felt it better to have Rick  squeeze the car and trailer down the narrow and overgrown drive than leave it parked on the side of the road – ripe for vandals.

Turns out the camper is bigger than it looks – we took out a sign and several tree limbs trying to navigate down the narrow drive. Whoops! Once Rick ran out of curse words we had fun picking nearly 3lbs of blueberries – we literally had to tear Liam away from the bushes.

Unfortunately, our initial damage on the way in wasn’t the last of it. We got snagged in a ditch trying to turn out of the driveway, bending our doorstep and skid bars which protect our water tank in the back. Our bad luck continued when an unknown road closure diverted us onto a washed-out gravel road through the National Forest for over 40 miles. We had to stop several times to ask for directions as signage was minimal. Thank goodness we weren’t still newbies or we might have thrown in the towel. It was a long day of driving and after the Blueberry Fiasco our rig was already banged up – every pothole had us wincing.

img_0255It’s no surprise that we were thrilled when we finally reached Mt. Rainier. We decided to splurge after the day we’d had and treat ourselves to full hook-ups at a private RV park. It was located just outside the park and conveniently abutted the town’s library, which the kids were excited to spend an afternoon in once we were done hiking.

We only had three days at Rainier, but we made the most of it, rising early and crossing off all the family friendly hikes the park had to offer. As far as beauty goes – Rainier tops the list. Every where you looked wildflowers were bursting in bloom, rivers and waterfalls gushed and the park’s name sake dazzled above everything.


My two favorite hikes were Comet Falls, which I found to be prettier than anything we saw at Yosemite with a fraction of the crowds, and the Silver Forest Trail. The latter took you high up in alpine meadows, everywhere you looked was a rainbow of blooms, Mt. Rainier was hard to tear your eyes from and glacial lakes dazzled turquoise in the valleys far below. If I had to recommend just one park to visit, Mt. Rainier would definitely make the short list. It’s beauty and scenery were unlike any we have visited so far.

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Minor League and Fish Hatcheries

We left Ketchum and were planning on driving straight to Mt. Rainer NP. At the last minute, however, we decided to swing by Hood River, Oregon for a couple of days because we’d had it recommended to us by several people. Along the way, we stopped in Boise, Idaho for two nights and happened to camp within walking distance to the Boise Hawks’ stadium. They were playing at home so we decided to check them out. The game was fun, but I’m still partial to the Montgomery Biscuits or the Asheville Tourists. The next day, after an early bike ride on Boise’s wonderful intown hike/bike trail and a trip to the Boise Children’s Museum, we continued on towards Hood River.

As we crossed the state line we spotted a sign for the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center located near Baker, Oregon and had to pull off. Having spent hours playing the Oregon Trail computer game as kids, Maggie and I both thought it warranted a stop. We laughed a lot reading some of the diary entries from the pioneers as we felt like we could sympathize with many of their experiences (minus the dysentery – fingers crossed). A prairie schooner is pretty much the same as a travel trailer right?

Hood River is an active, outdoorsy town located along the Columbia River near the Bonneville Dam. We secured a campsite at a state park located just outside of town along a railroad track. We decided to stay at the park despite the tracks since it was located on the Columbia River and offered access to several waterfalls and hikes. We were unpleasantly surprised though by the frequency with which the trains passed during the night. Liam got used to it, but CJ was pretty terrified every time it came through, which was 3 or 4 times a night.

After hiking to a few different waterfalls in the area, we decided to visit the Bonneville Dam. The Bonneville Dam was built in the 1930’s and is open to the public. In addition to information about the construction of the dam, it also allows visitors to view the fish ladder that the salmon and other fish use to swim upstream. The kids really enjoyed watching the fish through large viewing windows.

After the dam we headed a little further down the road to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery, home of Herman the Sturgeon. Herman is a 79 years old and weighs a whopping 500 pounds! The kids got a kick out of seeing Herman and feeding the rainbow trout. Normally a fish hatchery wouldn’t be high on our list of tourist stops, but this one was actually pretty nice with beautifully manicured gardens and plenty for the kids to see and do.

Before we left, I was given leave to wake up at the crack of dawn to hike Mt. Defiance. The hike was only 12 miles long but gains 5,000 feet in less than 6 miles. While I enjoyed the challenge of hiking up the mountain, I did not enjoy the steep decent and had to practically run down whether I wanted to or not. While I’ve certainly done longer hikes, I can’t remember doing a tougher one than this and don’t believe I’d be doing this hike too frequently if I was a resident of Hood River.

Way To Go IDAHO!

After burning up in Hells Canyon, we drove west towards Ketchum to meet up with our good friends Dan and Eleanor. Along the way we stopped for a couple of nights at Ponderosa State Park in McCall, ID –a cute little resort town located along the shore of Payette Lake. We appreciated the opportunity to charge our devices, play on the beach, and escape the triple digit temperatures of Eastern Oregon.

From McCall, we continued southeast towards Ketchum, passing first through Boise National Forest where we camped for a couple of nights at Pine Flat campground. In addition to being located in a mature pine forest along the Payette River, it also boasts a natural hot spring hidden down a ¼ mile trail from the campground. The pool was nestled in the hill giving it an infinity-style view over the river below – we felt pretty special to discover it. It was a nice way to cap off the evening after a day of hiking. While the hikes in the area weren’t particularly glamorous, on one of our hikes we found several animal remains including an intact jaw bone which Liam thought was pretty cool. We found so many skeletal remains that Liam dubbed it the “Boneyard Trail.”

From there we headed to Stanley, Idaho and camped in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The Sawtooth Mountain range was aptly named for their jagged, saw-like peaks. Dan and Eleanor tagged up with us for a night on their way to Ketchum. We enjoyed a family paddle down the Salmon River to our campsite where the kids played together, and the grownups had a chance to catch up. Also, while in the Sawtooths, we enjoyed several day hikes through wildflower meadows and beautiful sub-alpine lakes. Despite all the natural beauty of the area, Maggie would argue that the most notable portion of our stay in Stanley was the discovery of Huckleberry ice cream, which she claims is the best ice cream she’s ever had (if you know Maggie that’s saying something).

From Stanley we made the short jaunt to Ketchum, a posh resort town surrounded by the Sawtooths. We found a campsite in the national forest that was biking distance to town. Dan and Eleanor had rented a house nearby with the rest of Eleanor’s family and were kind enough to invite us over for dinner and drinks a couple of times. We also got to explore the area with them, including a trip to the top of Bald Mountain (9150ft!) and a paddle on Silver Creek Preserve which was teeming with trout.

After many months away from friends, a chance to spend time with the Macken family buoyed our spirits. Liam even made a new friend in Eleanor’s mom, Mary. He barely left her side on the hikes and when he found out she was an avid bird watcher he brought over his collection of bird literature to read with her. We sincerely appreciated Eleanor’s family letting us mooch off their rental house’s amenities (cocktails in the hot tub!) and generally crash their family vacation.

Bend and Beyond

Excited at the prospect of seeing some familiar faces (our friends The Mackens), we started making a beeline for Idaho. Along the way we stopped at a few places in Eastern Oregon, that had it not been for the heat, we might have enjoyed.

First up was Bend, Oregon. We’d heard good things about the town so decided to stop by. It didn’t disappoint, it was definitely a cute little city, saturated with breweries and limitless outdoor opportunities. Rick lived out his vagabond dreams to the max — we boondocked in a Boy’s and Girl’s Club parking lot for the weekend. During our squatter’s stay we checked out “Lego Day” at the local library, hit up the local artists market, stopped by the Deschutes Brewery, and explored some of the city parks. We also ventured outside the city to one of the Cascade lakes near the Three Sisters mountains where we spent the day paddling. Following the weekend, we thought the fuzz might be on to us, so we moved to a more reputable and established RV park in Redmond, the neighboring town. There we gave Rick a free pass to hike Misery Ridge and several other trails in Smith Rock State Park, while the kids and I visited an alpaca farm…I’ll let you decide who had the better day. While in Redmond we also visited the rodeo that was in town, which was a fun time for all. I’m fairly certain Rick is going to be training the kids for “mutton busting” when we return (a rodeo event for kids where they try to ride a bucking sheep). The trip wouldn’t be complete without propping up the local economy, we dropped a pretty penny on new tires for both the SUV and trailer, so depending on how you look at it, Rick’s squatting in various parking lots paid off.

After Bend/Redmond, we headed further east to visit the John Day Fossil Beds. Liam is obsessed with prehistoric animals so, with the prospect of saber tooth cats and wooly mammoths, we hit the road. Temperatures continued to increase, and the scenery became more barren, but we found a cheap camping spot on the John Day River where we had the place to ourselves. When we weren’t digging for fossils or visiting the museum, we were on the river. Either canoeing or swimming, being near the water was a must. With no one around for miles and the temperature in the upper 90s we enjoyed skinny dipping at our private beach and catching crayfish in the shallows.

Gluttons for punishment, we headed next to Hells Canyon…often mentioned in the tourist literature for it’s beauty and outdoor potential we thought we’d give it a shot…although we were curious why it had been dubbed “Hells Canyon.” Upon arriving we quickly found out – it’s hotter than Hades. We sweated through three days of 100 degree temperatures that never got below the 80s. I think Rick was holding out because we found a free camping spot on the Snake River, but without electricity to run the AC, I finally revolted and convinced Rick it was time to move on. The only highlight from that miserably hot stint that I can think of, was me catching a fish on the Snake.