We decided to break up our drive to Glacier NP by stopping in Spokane, WA. Using one of our camping apps, we landed at Wild Rose RV Park, a little north of the city. In addition to the usual perks offered at a private RV park, Wild Rose also boasted a club room with a full kitchen, TV, movies, board games, and most importantly SPACE. Our family took over the clubhouse each night with oven-cooked meals, games of Candyland, and movie screenings. I’d be shocked if a more enthusiastic group ever descends upon the Wild Rose RV Park’s clubhouse. In addition to the clubhouse, we also took full advantage of the large kitchen garden the owners made available to guests. Maggie and the kids went out each day to pick tomatoes, lettuce, kale, cucumbers and squash that were all incorporated into the day’s meals.
When we weren’t hanging out in the clubhouse cooking up tasty dishes, we were exploring Spokane. Spokane is the second largest city in Washington and has a vibrant downtown that is centered around the Spokane River. We explored the riverfront area where the kids got to ride on the Looff Carousel (hand-carved in 1909) and got to play on the world’s largest Radio Flyer Wagon (27 feet x 12 feet). After chasing the kids around the riverfront all day, Maggie and I decided to treat ourselves to several new books at a cool, independent bookstore called Auntie’s.
The next day, we took the kids to Manito Park which is a 90-acre park that contains multiple playgrounds, a duck pond, and the most beautiful European flower garden that we’d ever seen. The garden was bursting with color from orderly rows of zinnia, marigolds, and dahlias which framed a large ornate fountain in the middle. We haven’t been to a city park with so much variety, it’s a real treasure for the people of Spokane.
I’m also happy to report that we trapped the four little stowaways that we picked up in the North Cascades and that Liam passed the rock that he swallowed. All in all, our time in Spokane was as enjoyable as it was productive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’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.