A Travellerspoint blog

Thar she blows - eventually!

Washington State: day fifteen

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Humpbacks, but no orcas

Café Demeter

The Café Demeter sits immediately opposite the Nichols Street apartments so was an obvious choice for breakfast today - good strong coffee and OK muffins.

We had made reservations to go whale watching with one of many companies operating out of Friday Harbor, Spirit of Orca. But we weren't due to leave till 11.00 am, so to put us in the mood we first went to the Whale Museum. Your $6 entrance fee here helps to support conservation efforts so it is well worth supporting, and you will also learn a lot about whales in general and the resident orca pods of the Salish Sea in particular (known as pods J, K and L). We especially enjoyed reading about some of the specific whales who have become known to scientists and researchers over the years, such as long-lived Raggedy. I also liked the beautiful stained glass windows.

The Whale Museum

The Spirit of Orca

After our visit to the museum and a coffee it was time to head to the boat and meet up with Ken, our guide and captain. We had chosen this company because of the small size of the boat. The bigger boats cost less but you are jostling for views with lots of other people; the Spirit of Orca takes a maximum of six. We shared our trip just with a young couple from LA and their baby.

As we left the jetty Ken prepared us for disappointment. The only resident orca pod, L, which had been in the area recently had last night been seen heading west, out to sea. However, we still hoped to see some of the transient orca who visit these waters.

Heading out to sea

But although Ken took us quite a long way to the north, and although we had a lovely ride and enjoyed being out on the water in the sunshine, we saw no whales that morning. We did see a few bald eagles, and some harbour seals basking on the rocks, but no orca and no humpback whales, which are also often seen here.




Harbour seals

Mount Baker

On returning to Friday Harbor Ken offered to take us out again in the afternoon, at no extra cost, as he had space on the boat. His suggestion was that we try to find some humpbacks who had been seen that morning west of Victoria, Vancouver Island. We decided to take him up on this kind offer, so after a quick lunch at the Cheesecake Bakery by the boat landing we were back on board.

This time we were joined by a family of four from St Louis. They agreed to the plan to hunt for humpbacks rather than orca, and off we went. It was a long ride in worsening seas, but rather fun despite the splashes.

After about 90 minutes we arrived at the spot, where a handful of other small boats were gathered (it seemed that the larger ones didn't make it out this far - maybe they can't travel fast enough?) And we did see whales!

Thar she blows!

Two or three were in the vicinity, blowing and diving from time to time. The seas were choppy (one of the other pilots, on Ken's radio, described as a 'washing machine') so it was hard to take photos, and owing to the long journey out we couldn't stay as long as we might have liked, but at least we had seen them.

'Our' humpbacks

It was a long and rather chilly ride back. On the way, we slowed a couple of times to see bald eagles, including a chick, and the harbour seals again. But it was whales we had really come to see, and we had done so. We were very grateful to Ken for offering that second chance, and very glad we had taken him up on it.

Bald eagle and chick

As part of the cost of the trip Ken sends everyone a set of his own best photos from the day. You can see these, and read his blog entry about it, on his website: Humpbacks West of Victoria. I do encourage you to check this out and to look at some of the other entries too, if only to see what we might have seen, with better luck.

Late afternoon on the Salish Sea

While we were disappointed, naturally, not to see orca, we still had a fabulous time out on the water and were so grateful that we got a second chance and at least saw the magnificent humpbacks. I do recommend Spirit of Orca and Captain Ken should you be looking for a whale-watching experience in Friday Harbor.

We returned to our apartment rather tired and cold. The weather had deteriorated a little here in town too, so we dressed a bit more warmly for our evening and headed off in search of dinner. We found a good one at Downriggers on the waterfront. We decided to start with cups of soup to warm us up - Chris had tomato and I had the clam chowder. Both were excellent and came with warm bread and the restaurant's signature sundried tomato butter - lovely! Chris then had the mac and cheese with spicy prawns, and I had one of the day's specials, halibut with salsa, brown rice and broccoli. Both dishes were very good, and washed down well with a Seattle beer, Rueben’s Porter. A second beer each and we were both full, as well as tired from our long day out on the water, so an early night was in order.

Dinner at Downriggers - clam chowder, mac and cheese, halibut

Posted by ToonSarah 10:32 Archived in USA Tagged birds boats wildlife seas seals whale_watching washington_state Comments (4)

To the islands

Washington State: day fourteen

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

The journey to San Juan Island

Drive-in espresso

The Buffalo Run Inn provides a complementary continental breakfast, which in practice means helping yourself from a well-stocked fridge in a lounge area shared by all the rooms. We took a croissant each and some juice, but rather than make filter coffee went to the drive-in/walk-in espresso place next door, where we enjoyed good coffee sitting in the early morning sun.

I promise you this is an elk!

Then we were on our way, travelling further west on Hwy 20, towards the coast. We stopped once in a wildlife viewing area called Hurns Field, from where elk can sometimes be seen. In the summer, though, the herd usually makes for higher ground, but we did see one lone female grazing, although rather too far away for decent photos.

An information board explains that the wild elk seen here are part of the North Cascade herd and are Rocky Mountain elk, descended from some transplanted here from eastern Washington State and from Yellowstone Park (the native Roosevelt elk having been hunted out of this part of the state by the late 1800s).

Padilla Bay

We also stopped when we reached the sea, at Padilla Bay, where the Breazeale Interpretive Center provides access to a deck overlooking the bay. This is considered part of the delta of the Skagit River although its main outlet lies some miles to the south, and is very shallow, flat, and muddy, attracting a large number of sea birds.

Padilla Bay

Heron in flight

We strolled from the centre’s car park to this deck to take a few photos, but didn’t go down on the rather muddy beach. The centre itself had not yet opened for the day so once back at the car we drove on.


We continued the last few miles into Anacortes, where we got coffee in a rather nice second-hand bookshop on Commercial Avenue, Pelican Bay Books.



In Pelican Bay Books

We then took a stroll around this part of town. One feature of Anacortes is the Anacortes Murals Project, created by local artist Bill Mitchell. Over 150 images of local characters past and present adorn the buildings on and around the main street, Commercial Avenue.

Anacortes Murals Project



In Anacortes

Unusually they are not painted directly on to the buildings but on plywood. Although attached to the buildings they are owned by Mitchell, a step he has taken to ensure they can’t be painted over or destroyed (if a building’s owner no longer wanted to host a mural it could be detached and moved elsewhere).

As well as the locals depicted there is also a sprinkling of famous people (John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe outside the theatre, Andrew Carnegie outside the former library) and a few imaginary ones (such as a mermaid) and even animals (a gorilla who once lived in a zoo here).

What I hadn’t realised at the time and have since discovered is that Bill Mitchell is a quadriplegic, having been paralysed as a teenager in a car accident on Whidbey Island, making his contribution to the recent revival of Anacortes’ downtown area all the more impressive.

Cap Sainte Park

After exploring the downtown area on foot, we drove up to the viewpoint in Cap Sainte Park, from where you can see snow-capped Mount Baker inland and the San Juan islands out to sea. There was a bank of fog lying offshore but otherwise the views were very clear.

View towards the San Juans

View inland, towards Mount Baker

Fog rolling in

Returning to town we shared a (very large) tuna sandwich in the Gere-a-Deli, which seemed to be something of a local institution and very popular. Despite the crowds though, the service was speedy and the food good.

In Gere-a-Deli

Cormorant at the ferry landing

We then drove the few miles west of town to the ferry terminal for the San Juan islands. We were booked on the 2.00 pm sailing to Friday Harbor, but when we checked in we were told that a ship had broken down and they were running behind schedule, so would put us on the next available one, which proved to be the late-running 1.10 which actually departed at 2.20!

Our ferry approaching, at last!

Once finally on board the crossing went smoothly and the views were lovely - the sea sparkling in the sunlight and lots of marine activity to watch.


The crossing to San Juan Island


Approaching Friday Harbor

Arriving in Friday Harbor we drove the few blocks to Nichols Street where we had reserved an apartment above the eclectic Funk and Junk shop - one of two Nichols Street Suites. Both shop and accommodation are run by a friendly couple, Mike and Annie Adams, and artwork by the latter decorates the apartments.

Funk and Junk with apartments above

Although the smaller of the two ours was of a pretty generous size, with two bedrooms, a comfortable sitting area (with limited cooking facilities, which we didn't use) and bathroom. Cosy accommodation for our three nights in Friday Harbor! The only downside was rather unreliable and patchy wifi, but on the whole this was probably our favourite of all the places we stayed on this trip.

Sitting area
Bedrooms - we used the one on the left


In Bluewater

For dinner on this first evening in Friday Harbor we went to Bluewater down near the ferry landing (only a short walk from Nichols Street). We got a window table inside so we could watch all the action as we ate.

Fish tacos

Chris ordered the burger, which he enjoyed, while I went for the fish tacos. These come in two versions - beer battered or blackened cod - and I chose the latter. When the meals arrived however, mine was barely warm. I questioned this with the waitress who was quick to offer and bring a replacement which was much hotter and was delicious. I was glad that I'd spoken up about the original plate and been able to enjoy such a good meal.


In Bluewater

After a short stroll by the water's edge we finished the evening back in our cosy apartment, with a wonderful sunset to round off another great day.

Sunset over Nicholls Street

Posted by ToonSarah 07:46 Archived in USA Tagged boats islands wildlife restaurants seas street_art washington_state Comments (4)

A day in the mountains

Washington State: day thirteen

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

The majestic North Cascades

From our hotel window

Looking out of our window at the Rio Vista in Winthrop soon after getting up we spotted a deer foraging on the stony island opposite - what a great start to the day!

And breakfast was pretty good too. The Rio Vista is right next door to a great local coffee shop, the Rocking Horse Café, where we got excellent cappuccinos and muffins as well as buying cold drinks and sandwiches to take with us on our drive through the North Cascades.

Highway 20 is recognised as one of the most scenic drives in the North West, possibly in the entire US. We had planned our route such that we would travel it east to west, as I had read that this offers the best views as you drive (though a small downside is that the national park visitor centre then lies at the end of your journey through the park, making advance planning more essential if you are to get the most out of your visit).


The Methow near Mazama

Leaving Winthrop straight after our usual early breakfast, we stopped first briefly in Mazama, a tiny community just off the highway with a wonderful general store selling an eclectic mix of travel goods, souvenirs, hardware, food and more. It also serves as a café and the coffee smelt so good I wished I hadn't just had that strong cappuccino in Winthrop! But we did stock up on cereal bars to add to the sandwiches and drinks bought earlier.

In Mazama

Washington Pass

After taking a few photos in Mazama we started the steady climb towards Washington Pass, the highest point on the road at 5,477 feet. We stopped for photos in a couple of spots before reaching that high point, as the road was already pretty spectacular.

Highway 20

At the top we pulled over again and could look back at the road we'd just driven - a fabulous view!

The road through Washington Pass

North Cascades NP

The North Cascades National Park is split into two sections, Northern and Southern. Between them runs Highway 20, along a corridor that forms the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and offers the easiest access to the park. Much of it is inaccessible to all but the serious hiker, mountain climber or those boating on the extensive waters of Ross Lake. The casual day visitor, like ourselves, will be mostly confined to the area on either side of the highway, so technically not in the park itself for the most part. But that doesn't mean there is any lack of things to do!

Our first stop of any length was soon after Washington Pass, at Rainy Lake. Here you are on National Forest land so a fee of $5 is required, although there is no national park fee payable for the North Cascades. Several trails of different lengths start here. We did the easiest, a one mile each way walk to Rainy Lake itself. This led mostly through mixed forest with a few patches of sunlit grass. We crossed two small waterfalls on wooden bridges quite near the start of the walk.

On the Rainy Lake trail


One highlight on this walk was first hearing and then seeing two woodpeckers tapping frantically at the bark of one of the larger trees. Well, one was tapping frantically, while the other seemed happy to mostly just watch and (I guess) catch any insects that fell from above. The photos aren't great but it was fun watching them. By examining species lists for the park and checking a few images online my best guess is that these are Downy Woodpeckers.

The walk ends on the shore of Rainy Lake. An information board explains that this lies in a cirque, a hollow carved out by a glacier. It is a lovely view - the water is clear, the lake surrounded by mountain scenery, and to the right a waterfall spills into it. One thing slightly mars this otherwise idyllic spot - the water draws clouds of biting insects, so make sure to use repellent.

Rainy Lake

Ross and Diablo Lake overlooks

Our next stops were at pull-outs offering views of the park's two main lakes. The first was at the largest, Ross Lake, which stretches north from here right to the Canadian border. Indeed the distant mountains you can see from here are in Canada.

From the Ross Lake overlook

From here we drove the short distance to a spot which provided the most breath-taking views of the day. Diablo Lake may be smaller than neighbouring Ross, but it is a most beautiful colour, and the tiny islands that dot it add to its picturesqueness. We spent quite some time here taking photos and admiring the landscape before us. There are also lots of information boards explaining the geology of the lake and mountains and something of its history too. We read about Jack Kerouac's love of the North Cascades, and learned that deep turquoise colour of the lake is due to the surrounding glaciers that grind rocks into a fine powder which is carried into the lake by the streams that feed it. The fine powder stays suspended in the water, giving it its vivid colour.




Views of Diablo Lake



Colonial Peak and other distant mountains, from the Diablo Lake overlook

This is a man-made lake. At its far end you can drive across the dam that holds back its waters (visible in the distance in some of my photos above). We did so and parked up at the far end for a closer look. You can walk out along the dam (stopping your car on it isn’t allowed, for obvious reasons given the narrowness of the road) to get some good views of the lake and of the sluices.

The dam from the far side

Here you become aware just how much man has shaped this landscape and continues to do so. The waters spill out of the dam's sluices at a controlled rate, creating a man-made waterfall to rival the natural ones elsewhere in the area. It's another reminder that here you are not actually in a national park where this level of human activity would be unlikely to be permitted.

Water spilling from the dam

Before that we had stopped to eat our lunch at the Colonial Creek campground's picnic site but didn't attempt the far more strenuous hike that starts here. Instead we carried on and made a brief stop at Gorge Creek where you can walk out on to a bridge to see the falls of the same name and the narrow canyon that delivers their waters into Gorge Lake.

Gorge Falls


At the visitor centre

By now we were almost at the far end of the park and had reached the visitor centre at Newhalem. As I mentioned, it was not ideal coming here at the end of our visit, but the views as we approached the mountains through Washington Pass had more than compensated for that. We spent a little time here looking at the displays, watching an interesting short film about plans to re-habituate grizzly bears to the North Cascades, and took the short boardwalk to a beautiful view of the Picket Range, apparently named for its resemblance to a picket fence!

The Picket Range

There proved to be no refreshments available at the visitor centre so we retraced our steps a little to the power company's facilities where there is a general store as well as various visitor attractions such as an information centre, old locomotive and walks.

Old locomotive at the visitor centre

After our ice cream we had a quick look at the Gorge power station but decided against doing the fairly steep trail to Ladder Creek Falls as I needed to pace myself with the various mobility issues I'd been having prior to the trip - in fact, I was quite impressed that I'd managed the earlier two mile walk as well as several shorter ones! We did however cross the suspension bridge over the Skagit River to its starting point near the old power station to take a few photos.

Gorge Power Station

The Skagit RIver from the bridge

Swallow by the Skagit



So we returned to the car and drove the last few miles to Marblemount where I had reserved a room for the night at the Buffalo Run Inn. I wasn't quite sure what to expect here as reviews on Trip Advisor and elsewhere are mixed, to say the least. The bad reviews attract very robust responses from the owner and I suspect some are written specifically to wind him up!

Certainly, we were impressed when we saw our room and had no issues with the welcome we received nor with the accommodation provided. This is in a block across and about 100 yards along the road from the restaurant, where you check in. We had room #7 and found it more than adequate for our needs - a good size, nice and clean, with facilities that included a fridge, microwave and coffee machine.

Buffalo Run Inn accommodation block, and our room

In the evening we ate at the Buffalo Run restaurant across the street, which seemed like the natural choice, especially as those staying in the Inn get a 10% discount. Like most other diners that evening we ate outside in the garden area. I had anticipated biting insects as the Inn is right on the river, but either they weren't interested in me or my repellent was doing its job, as I came through unscathed! We very much enjoyed our dinner here. My elk medallions weren't cheap but were excellent, and Chris's Mexican-inspired veggie dish, Latino, was also good, if far too large a portion. With a couple of beers each we paid $75.

The empty restaurant (everyone was in the garden!

We also had a bit of a chat with the owner who came around to each table during the course of the evening. He told us about the theming of the rooms in the Inn – half have an animal theme (bear, moose) which was his wife’s choice, while the other half are decorated for a city – we were in the Venice-themed room. We’d found it a little odd to encounter paintings of that city in such a different environment but it made a nice talking point.

A pleasant evening to end a wonderful day.

Posted by ToonSarah 02:31 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes mountains lakes views national_park washington_state Comments (3)

Of wild fires and the Wild West

Washington State: day twelve

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Towards the North Cascades

We breakfasted again today at the Riverwalk Café, where I had some great scrambled eggs and Chris enjoyed his eggs and bacon. Then it was time to check out and hit the road again, heading towards the North Cascades.

The Methow Valley

Methow River

Our route today took us north, first on Hwy 97 and then on the scenic 153 through the Methow Valley to Twisp. Or at least, that was the plan. Roughly halfway along the 153, approaching the small community of Carlton, we were diverted on to a side road that seemed to run parallel to the main one. We assumed we were just going round some roadworks and would quickly rejoin the 153 but it soon became apparent that this was a lengthy detour, necessitated by the wild fire that was burning on the opposite hillside. We could see helicopters flying above, presumably dropping water, and I later read online that the road closure was because of the firefighters needing to use the road for access and equipment. I also read that it was around Carlton that Washington experienced its worst ever fire, in 2014, so I can imagine that this one evoked some bad memories here.

Wild fire near Carlton

For us though it was only a minor inconvenience as we speculated whether the road we were now on would take us, as it seemed to be doing, in the direction of Twisp. And indeed it did, joining Hwy 20 a little further west than the 153 and just at the edge of that small town.


The town of Twisp was founded on mining and timber (there is an interesting history of the town here: http://www.historylink.org/File/9943), but with both of those activities long since ceased, today it is a centre for local farmers and passing tourists. It is developing a reputation as an arty place, with galleries and an artists' cooperative, Twisp Works, and it was this that attracted us to stop here. But we soon realised that unfortunately none of the galleries are open on a Sunday. Still, there were plenty of interesting details on the streets of the town itself to keep our cameras busy.



In Twisp


And we enjoyed meeting this cool-looking local guy who was happy to pose for photos and chat for a while about the North Cascades area.

The Cinnamon Twisp Bakery in the centre of town is well known in the area, as the queue we encountered when we went there for an early lunch proved. But it was worth the wait, as Chris's pizza slice and my savoury brioche were very good, as was the orange and lemon juice - very refreshing.


After lunch we checked out the Twisp Works studios complex on the edge of town, finding them also disappointingly closed.

With everything shut up, and no works on display, there was little to see here, apart from a few pretty flowers in the garden of a textile artist, used for natural dyes.


In Winthrop

So we drove on to Winthrop, where we were to spend the night. Unlike Twisp (just nine miles to the east) Winthrop is very much open for business on a Sunday and parking space was at a premium, but the receptionist at our hotel, the Rio Vista, was happy to allow us to leave the car there even though it was too early to check in. So we parked and went exploring.

We browsed several galleries and shops, finding quite a lot that we liked but none enough to buy. We also of course took plenty of photos! Winthrop is somewhat bizarrely themed as a Wild West town, with raised wooden sidewalks, wooden store fronts and lots of appropriate decorative touches. It's a bit twee perhaps but unlike Bavarian Leavenworth we rather liked it - perhaps because at least the theme here is American.


A sign in town explains how Winthrop came to be this way. A former lumber mill owner, Otto Wagner, dreamed of restoring the town to the early 1900 era (I have no idea why he would dream of this, by the way, except that the sign says that it was to 'repay the people of this town' for their help in building the mill). The sign goes on to say that in 1972 the dream was realised, thanks to the efforts of his wife, and that the townspeople 'wish to express our deepest appreciation and heartfelt thanks for a dream come true …'

I also liked the fact that Winthrop seemed to have a broad appeal, visited by tourists, yes, but also popular with bikers, giving it a slightly rougher edge.

Bikers in Winthrop


We stopped for ice creams at the very popular Sheri's Sweet Shoppe (very good, especially the salted caramel) and then climbed the steps opposite our hotel to the Shafer Museum.

In some ways this is similar to the Pioneer Village we had visited in Cashmere a couple of days previously, in that it is a collection of historic buildings brought together in one spot, and we had been in two minds about bothering to visit. But I'm really glad that we did, as is more than enough difference to justify visiting both. Here there are fewer buildings but they are much more comprehensively filled with all sorts of objects appropriate to each. The General Store is packed with the goods that would have been sold in such an establishment, the Dress Shop hung with genuine costumes from 1900-1930, the Doctor's House full of bizarre instruments (including an early x-ray machine) and so on.

The museum was created around the home of the pioneering founder of Winthrop, Guy Waring. He built the house for his wife, Helen, in 1897, after she insisted on having a comfortable home before agreeing to move “out West”. She called it The Castle, and her home now forms a centrepiece for the museum, having been redecorated as a turn of the century rustic pioneer home. I also particularly liked the early Homesteaders' cabin and the Schoolhouse.

Homesteaders' cabin

Parlour in the pioneer home


Also on the site are numerous pieces of mining equipment, farming machinery (including an area devoted to the region's apple-growing), a stable, several old cars and carriages, and no doubt much more that I didn't even spot!

The stable

Old car

In the farming machinery area

For me the buildings were of the most interest but if you have any liking for old machinery you could happily poke around here for several hours. The museum is free, by the way, although donations of $3 per person are encouraged - and merited.

Our room at the Rio Vista

By now it was time to check into our hotel. I had chosen the Rio Vista for its convenient location in town as much as anything, but we were impressed by the size of our 'single queen' room (one of their smallest but much larger than many we had stayed in in this trip), while the promised river view was lovely.

When the afternoon sun had lost its heat we enjoyed sitting out on our private balcony watching (and listening to) the river flow past - or rather rivers, as two meet here, the Methow and the Chewuch. The confluence is right opposite the hotel, forming little stony islands littered with large trunks and dotted with shrubs and firs - a very pretty scene.

Views from our balcony

Carlos 1800

For dinner that night we decided on Mexican and went to Carlos 1800 at the other end of the main street. I had a very good margarita here, with cilantro, and the beers were good too (Modelo Especial). Chris reckoned his burrito was one of the best he'd ever had! My main course was one of their regional Yucatan specials, Pollo Mole, but although tasty I didn't enthuse quite as much as Chris. Service was friendly and the prices reasonable, but I'd have preferred the a/c to be a little less fierce as it wasn't that hot a night – but then, I often find that an issue in the US.

So back to the hotel, in anticipation of another national park tomorrow, and more mountain scenery ...

Posted by ToonSarah 02:33 Archived in USA Tagged buildings road_trip history river museum photography washington_state street_photography Comments (8)

A day on the lake

Washington State: day eleven

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Lake Chelan

On Lake Chelan

Those staying at the Riverwalk Inn get a 20% discount in the café but we would in any case have breakfasted there, because of its convenient location and extensive menu. The former was particularly important today as we had a boat to catch!

Chelan is situated at the south eastern tip of the lake that bears the same name. This lake is the third deepest in the USA (after Crater Lake in Oregon and Lake Tahoe in California) and the largest in Washington State. Its depth (a maximum of 1,486 feet or 453 metres) is all the more remarkable given its narrowness, with an average width of just one mile and length of over fifty miles. I had assumed wrongly that it was created artificially by the building of the Lake Chelan Dam in 1927, which we had passed yesterday, but that only served to deepen an already large lake which was formed by two glaciers. As a result of their action the lake is in some ways two lakes in one, with two distinct basins separated by a ridge or sill. The lower basin, Wapato, is the smaller and shallower of the two, with a maximum depth of only 400 feet (120 metres), while Lucerne, at 38 long with an average depth of 1,148 feet (350 metres), is by far the larger of the two. The town of Chelan sits at the southern tip of Wapato.

The Lady Express at the Chelan landing

At the opposite end of the lake to Chelan is Stehekin, which lies within the North Cascades National Park and is inaccessible by road. The only way to get there is by boat, either as a day tripper or for stays in the lodge or other accommodation offered there. We had reserved tickets for a day visit, travelling 'up lake' (as they say in these parts) on the faster of the two boats that ply the route, the Lady Express, with an 8.30 departure. The second boat, Lady of the Lake II, also leaves at that time but takes four hours to make the journey, stopping in several places en route, whereas the Lady Express only stops once and takes 2.5 hours. By travelling up on that boat and returning on the Lady II, as we did, you can maximise your time in Stehekin. The different combinations of tickets available give you either 60 minutes, 90 minutes or three hours there.

Water sports in the Wapato Basin

The Narrows

With another hot sunny day forecast we made sure to board the Lady Express promptly and secured shaded seats on the upper deck. The outward voyage passed pleasantly, and we enjoyed watching the passing scenery. The first part of the lake, known as the Wapato Basin is less deep and is the focus for human activity, with houses built along the shore and lots of boating etc. After passing the point known as the Narrows (for obvious reasons) you are in the larger upper part, the Lucerne Basin. This holds 92% of the lake's water, 5% of which is below sea level. There are no roads along the shore here and very few buildings, with the scenery mainly consisting of rocky hills dotted with pine trees. Ahead of us as we journeyed up the lake were the taller mountains of the North Cascades, with patches of snow lingering well into July.

Mountain views from the Lucerne Basin

Waterfall on the lake

In Stehekin

Lakeside in Stehekin

The Lady Express at Stehekin

We arrived in Stehekin at about 11.00 AM. We had decided to do the short bus trip to Rainbow Falls offered by the NPS (at a cost of $10 per adult) so we went straight from the boat to the red bus waiting nearby. The tour has to leave promptly as some passengers are likely to be travelling back to Chelan on the Lady Express's midday departure.

The bus driver also acts as guide and as we drove to the falls she told us something of life in Stehekin, which has a year-round population of just 85 (swollen by an influx of summer workers each year). There is a school with (currently) just seven pupils, a post office and just four miles of paved roads with a single stop sign! Everything the residents need has to be delivered by boat - the Lady of the Lake II for smaller items (such as groceries) and a barge for large items such as cars.

When the bus arrived at Rainbow Falls we had about 25 minutes to explore. A short path leads to a spot with good views of the waters near the base of the falls, and you can also climb further and get closer. Watch out for the spray if you do this - I rather liked its cooling effect but had to be careful to keep my camera dry. The falls are 312 feet tall and although we didn't see the rainbow in the mist that gives them their name, they were spectacular enough.

Lower view of falls

On the path to the upper viewpoint

In the spray!

When the bus returned us to the dock area we went to the small store attached to the lodge and bought some cold drinks and snacks. We took these up the path to the Visitor Center and enjoyed our 'picnic' on a shady bench near there, with a great view of the North Cascade mountains in the distance.

Picnic spot views

We then went to the small art gallery attached to the Visitor Center before taking a walk along the lake shore. The weather was great - hot sun but a strong wind moderating the temperature a little.

Along the lake shore in Stehekin

Back to Chelan

Our departure on the Lady of the Lake II was scheduled for 2.00 and we couldn't afford to miss what was the last trip of the day, so we were back at the dock in good time. This is a larger boat than the Lady Express, but it travels slowly and the four hours back to Chelan dragged a little, despite the scenic surroundings.

The journey back to Chelan

We were back in Chelan by 6.00 pm and once we had freshened up we went in search of dinner. We had settled on Tin Lilly, out of several restaurants that appealed to us, and it proved a great choice. When we arrived around 7.00 it was full and we were told there could be a one hour wait, so we put our name on the wait list and settled at the bar for a drink. Chris had a Black Butte porter and I tried the House Margarita, which was less sharp than usual as it mixed orange with the lime, but nice nevertheless. And so much for the one hour wait - in less than 15 minutes our name was called and we got a good table inside (there is also seating on a terrace out the back and we had said we'd be happy with either).

In Tin Lilly

Chicken burger

Chris looked no further on the menu than his favourite US sandwich, the Reuben, while I chose a chicken burger with avocado, cheese and jalapeños. Both dishes were great, though I was less keen on the fries which were soft rather than crisp.

With large portions we had no room for dessert but did have a couple more drinks - the porter for both of us this time. Service was friendly and the prices here were really good value, with our bill coming in around $50 for the mains and four drinks.

Posted by ToonSarah 01:56 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes waterfalls lakes boats restaurants washington_state Comments (4)

Pioneer history and scenic drives

Washington State: day ten

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Heading north

On SR 821

Breakfast at Essencia

The Guesthouse Inn in Yakima provides a complementary continental breakfast but we decided to pass on this, anticipating weak coffee and unexciting eats, based on past experience of similar establishments. Instead we drove back downtown to Essencia, where we got good coffee and excellent pastries - Chris got his favourite pain au chocolat and I had a great orange and raisin pastry.

We were headed north today and could have used the interstate for the first part of our journey (IS 82) but chose instead to drive the shorter but slower route along SR 821. A great choice - not only was the drive through the Yakima Canyon very scenic, we also spotted some deer drinking in the river at one point (although from some distance, so the photos aren't great).

Road through Yakima Canyon

Can you spot the deer?

There they are!

We stopped briefly once or twice more for photos along this scenic route, before reaching the Wenatchee Valley and turning west for a short distance.



Our aim was to check out Leavenworth and maybe get a coffee there. This is a bizarrely Bavarian themed town with all the trappings of a village in southern Germany - chalet-style buildings, wall paintings, Christmas shops, German street signs and more. It all seemed very corny and we didn't linger long, especially as it was also crowded with visitors and parking for longer than twenty minutes proved a challenge.

In Leavenworth

Retracing our steps, we stopped instead for coffee at a huge farm shop complex, Smallwoods, on the roadside just east of Leavenworth - a good spot for photos too. The Wenatchee Valley lies in the heart of Washington’s fruit-producing area and we passed orchards of cherry, apricot and apple trees all along this road. The produce looked great but the baskets of cherries, though tempting, seemed too large for just two people and we weren’t sure how a request for ‘just a few’ would be received so we decided not to bother.

At Smallwoods' farm shop

We then drove the few miles to the Peshatin Pinnacles State Park where we got to use the Discover Pass we had bought a week earlier in Port Townsend (this allows unlimited access to all state parks in Washington and is good value if you plan to visit more than a couple.

We ate our picnic lunch at a table in the shade of a tree (the temperature was in the mid eighties by now) and then climbed a short way up the path that leads to the rocky outcrops. These sandstone formations are popular with rock-climbers, although we didn’t see any. After our lunch, we walked a little way up the path that winds between them and took a few photos, although the telegraph poles and overhead wires here frustratingly got in the way somewhat. But it was a good spot for a picnic, with trees near the tables to give some shade from the very hot sun, and restroom facilities too.

The Pinnacles

Old Mission

At Old Mission

In nearby Cashmere we visited the Pioneer Village, Old Mission, and attached museum. We were welcomed by an enthusiastic and friendly volunteer who took time to explain the collections to us and how the museum was founded. I later read more about it on the museum’s website and reproduce an extract from it here, as it added even more to my appreciation of this excellent venture:

“In 1955 Willis Carey had a dream, and he had cancer, and it was going to be a race to see which won.

During his lifetime he amassed a personal collection of Native American artifacts, historical relics, antiques and curios that were famous throughout Central Washington. As his cancer progressed, he lamented to friends there was no place to house his treasures after his death. The word spread among the local businessmen and the Chamber of Commerce, led by John McDonald, began exploring the possibilities of building a local public museum for the Carey artifacts.

On a late summer day the committee visited the terminally ill Willis Carey at his home to acquaint him with the proposal. McDonald later reported that “tears of joy streamed down Carey’s face” when he realized his collection might be preserved for the people of Cashmere. He immediately called for paper and pen and on the spot, signed over his entire treasure. He died the next day.

Nearly 30 years after Carey’s dream was realized another addition was opened, the Russell Congdon wing with its collection obtained from archaeological sites on the Mid-Columbia. It has been called the most significant collection in the world. During the same time, a small village of original pioneer cabins was growing below the museum, preserving the rich heritage of the pioneer’s contribution to the valley.”

We first visited Old Mission, a collection of around 20 historic buildings assembled from the surrounding area - log cabins, a general store, small hotel, mission church, school house and more. You can't go inside but can look into each through the doorways to see that all have been furnished with genuine artefacts from their era. Here are some of my favourites, with descriptions taken from the free leaflet we were given along with our $7 tickets.


The General Store was originally built as a home by Archie Smith, in 1846. Inside it is crammed with all the items a pioneer family might need to buy, including linens, foodstuffs, kitchen and farm equipment and more.


The Horan log cabin was built in 1872 by Samuel C. Miller, the first permanent settler in the Wenatchee Valley, on his homestead and in 1898 was the birthplace of Congressman Walt Horan (the Horan family having bought it in 1896). The Horan family provided all these antique furnishings.


The Buckhorn Saloon (on the left) was built as a cabin in 1886 on Badger Mountain, north of Wenatchee (a few miles east of Cashmere, and adapted to serve as Old Mission’s saloon. The Post Office dates from 1872 and was originally a trading post in the city of Wenatchee, operated by the same Samuel C. Miller who built the Horan Cabin, later becoming a post office.


The Mission Hotel was built as a cabin in 1898 but has been fitted out as a typical late 19th century hotel. You can go into the corridor to see several rooms opening off it, including the dining room.


The Weythman Cabin was built in 1891 by Jim Weythman as an addition to his log cabin, to honour his new bride, Elizabeth; unlike most of the structures here it is not built of logs but of boards battened onto a frame.


The Richardson Cabin was built in 1888 with logs cut at Horse Lake above Wenatchee and was home to a large family – the Richardsons had twelve children!


This one room Schoolhouse, dating from the 1880s, was the first in the Cashmere Valley. The volunteer in the museum told us that for the last week of the school year the local fourth graders are taught in this school house, many of them wearing historical costume – what a great idea!


The St. Francis Xavier Mission is the only non-original structure here, being a replica of an 1873 mission church which burned down – this modern copy was built by volunteers of St. Francis Catholic Church

“John McDonald Railroad”

This little stretch of railroad, named for the man who led the plan to build the museum, has a 1922 Great Northern Caboose as well as a number of buildings including a ticket office and various pieces of railroad equipment

In addition to the buildings I have described above there are several other cabins, a jail and sheriff’s office, millinery shop, saddle shop, blacksmith and more, as well as a mine portal and assay office.

We had the village to ourselves (maybe the heat had kept some people away or maybe it’s never busy on a weekday?) and really appreciated the tranquil atmosphere of this pretty setting – apart perhaps from when one of the sprinklers that were watering the grass caught me unawares while taking a photo and I let out a yelp!

We then had a quick look round the museum too, appreciating its coolness (it was a very hot day) and the clear way it was set out. We were most interested in the pictographs displayed and the objects relating to the Native American way of life in this region, but there are also paintings by local artists, artefacts from the pioneer days, archaeological finds (tools, jewellery and household objects), dioramas showing local fauna and other scenes, and much more. You could easily spend an hour here in addition to the time you take to walk round the outdoor buildings. It's all excellent value for the $7 (adult) entry fee.

Pictographs in the museum


By now time was getting on so we didn't stop again before Chelan. Arriving there we checked into our accommodation for the next two days at the Riverwalk Inn. This is a café with rooms attached, in a good central location (and much less costly than the hotels down on the lake just a couple of blocks away). We were allocated the Jasmine room, one of several in a small block behind the café. It wasn't large but was nicely decorated and had a pretty garden in the front with a bench.



Jasmine room and garden

The light switches and electric sockets were all decorated with bits of old maps - a nice touch for travellers.

We had a walk through the town, taking a few photos, and stopped for a cold drink before going down to the water's edge to look at the lake, but we didn't stay out long. The heat was intense so we decided to go back to our room to cool off in its very efficient a/c.

In Chelan
Lake Chelan view from the town

In the evening we had dinner at the nearby Local Myth Pizza. This is a casual place with seating outside as well as in. We had to wait 30 minutes for a table which, once we got it, was inside near the back. We found the restaurant rather too noisy for conversation and the smoke from the pizza cooking hung in the air, making my eyes smart. But the pizzas were delicious and made up for any shortcomings in the atmosphere of the restaurant. The prices were reasonable too - for two small but more than adequate (eight inch) pizzas and four large beers we paid a little over $60.

Local Myth Pizza

Posted by ToonSarah 05:41 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes buildings history views hotel museum washington_state Comments (6)

A day of weather extremes

Washington State: day nine

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

What a difference a day makes

Or rather, in this case, a night!

Fog in Mount Rainier NP

We had fallen asleep under clear skies but woke to thick fog obscuring all the surrounding mountains and indeed everything apart from the trees closest to the lodge. A perfect demonstration for us of the way that the mountain creates its own micro climate, but not an especially welcome one. Look at the difference in the view from our room, yesterday and today:

View from our room at the Paradise Inn

We had a light breakfast in the lodge's café, hoping to see the early morning sun appear and burn off the cloud, but the fog persisted, as it did while we lingered for a time in the hotel lobby before giving up the wait, and leaving Paradise.

So much for plans to spend the morning on a slow drive through the park with stops planned at Reflection Lake in particular. We could barely see the lake, never mind the classic view of Mount Rainier reflected in it.

You will have to take my word for it that this is Reflection Lake

To compare what we saw with what we might have seen, have a look at the photos on the Visit Rainier website.

We had slightly better luck at our next stop, Sunbeam Creek, where appropriately a watery sun appeared and a glimpse of blue sky between the wisps of fog.

At Sunbeam Creek

Flowers in the mist

We toyed briefly with the idea of returning to Reflection Lakes but knew that it would still be some time before the mountain emerged from behind the clouds. As we drove on the fog closed in again almost immediately, reinforcing our decision to press on.

Our next stop was at Box Canyon where we did the half mile walk to the viewpoint. This leads past lichen-covered rocks which looked rather atmospheric in the mist. There were pretty tiger lilies growing beside the path, also small-flowered penstemon, bunchberry and several I couldn't identify.

On the Box Canyon trail

Tiger Lily and (I think) Penstemon

Chipmunk seen on the trail

At the furthest point of the trail it turns to cross a wooden bridge over the canyon. This is a slot canyon, narrow and deep. The waters of the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River tumble through it, 115 feet below you.

Box Canyon

You can then follow the river on its far side back to the road where another bridge, this time of stone, also afford good views.

On the far side of the canyon

View from the stone road bridge

We stopped again at Falls Creek, where a pretty waterfall drops 45 feet (in two sections) right next to the road - accessible to all. There is no trail here though, so we didn't linger long.

Falls Creek

We decided against doing the popular Grove of the Patriarchs trail near the park entrance as the weather was still gloomy and damp and we had already enjoyed the old growth forest of the Olympic Peninsula at Hoh. Instead we carried on to Ohanapecosh where we had a pleasant stroll on the short Hot Springs trail.

On the Hot Springs trail

"Hot" spring

This was once the site of a spa-style resort, long since gone. The springs themselves are small and seemed to me to be warm rather than hot, with only a hint of steam rising from one pool, but the surroundings were pretty and there were some lovely delicate grasses and wildflowers to photograph.




Don't you think the centre of this flower looks like a cat's face?!

Scenic route 12

This was our last stop in Mount Rainier National Park. It had been a brief visit but a fantastic one, especially on our first day when the sun shone and the air was fresh. But now it was time to move on - we were, after all, on a road trip. And the road in question now was SR 12 which led us east, through ever-improving weather, towards White Pass. Before reaching that point however, Mount Rainier had one more surprise for us. We pulled over at a viewpoint when we spotted other cars parked there, to discover a wonderful view of the mountain which had at last emerged from that morning's shroud of fog. So we were able to say our farewells to this most majestic of peaks.

Farewell to the mountain

We stopped for a coffee in a shop/café at the top of White Pass and again a little further down the road at a scenic viewpoint, Clear Creek Falls Overlook, to eat a picnic lunch. We were amused by the antics of a cute chipmunk who was enjoying his own meal of leaves from the shrubs growing near our picnic table.

Clear Creek Falls and our lunchtime companion

By now the weather was warm and sunny, the morning's fog left far behind. When we had started out that morning, the car's temperature gauge showed just 50 Fahrenheit; by mid afternoon in the Naches valley it had hit 90 F. And the scenery had changed, from mountain forests to a wide valley with some dramatic rock formations towering above it.

On Hwy 12

We made a few more photo stops, the first at a picturesque old farm stand, the Little Red Schoolhouse, which caught our eye while driving past sufficiently to prompt a turn-around for a closer look.

The Little Red Schoolhouse

We also detoured briefly into Naches, a small place with a one-street downtown.

In Naches


In Essencia

We arrived in Yakima, our destination for the night, by around 3.00 PM - a little earlier than planned because the poor weather had curtailed our explorations at the start of the day. We drove into town in search of refreshment and found it at Essencia, an artisanal bakery and coffee shop on 3rd St. I had a great iced coffee here - perfect in the afternoon heat. What a contrast to our breakfast coffee in chilly Paradise!

Resolving to return to Essencia for breakfast the next day, we decided that for now an early check-in to our motel would be a good idea, giving us an opportunity to cool off and also catch up with messages, mail and news, as we had been offline while in the national park.

Guesthouse Inn

The Guesthouse Inn is one of several motels in a cluster just east of downtown Yakima, near the Interstate. This was by some way the cheapest overnight stay of this trip, but the price was a reflection rather of Yakima's relative lack of tourist attractions (we had chosen it for its convenient location on our route) than of the motel's qualities. While not fancy, it has everything you'd expect of a US roadside motel and we had a comfortable night here.

Sign in Bob's

Our first floor (US second) room was a good size with a king-size bed and all the necessary bits and pieces - even an ironing board! The wifi was fast, the TV screen large and the a/c worked well, albeit noisily. There were a few rough edges (cracked glass on a framed picture, scuff marks on the paintwork, a stain on the carpet) but on the whole the room was good for what we paid.

For dinner that evening we went to the only option within walking distance, Bob's Burgers and Brew, located one street away beyond the Holiday Express. Here we had an enjoyable evening, with good beer (Irish Death porter), casual food (mine a great chicken jalapeño wrap) and a chat with our waitress and a couple of locals who sat near us - actually Hawaiians, but recently moved to Yakima. The latter had never seen snow so were interested in the fact that we had experienced some just yesterday in Mount Rainier NP. Good food, good prices and good company - we did like Bob's!

Posted by ToonSarah 03:03 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes waterfalls mountains flowers national_park washington_state Comments (7)

In Paradise

Washington State: day eight

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Another national park to explore

Looking towards the mountain


Today began much as yesterday had ended, or at least, where it had ended - in the Copper Creek Inn's restaurant. We had a good breakfast of eggs and hash browns, spoiled only by what was easily the worst coffee we have had on this trip. As the birthplace of modern coffee culture (aka Starbucks), Seattle and more generally Washington State are well supplied with coffee shops and even espresso drive-ins, and we had been spoiled up to this point with some excellent brews. I had forgotten just how weak and tasteless US coffee could be.

The morning light on the forested slopes near the Inn was beautiful, so a few photos were called for before we loaded the car and drove the couple of miles east to the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.

Mount Rainier National Park

Having paid our fee ($25) we started our explorations with a brief stop at Kautz Creek where a short trail leads to a viewpoint of the mountain and an information board describing the impact on this landscape of a major mud slide in 1947.

View of Mount Rainier from Kautz Creek

Our next stop was at Christine Falls a few miles east of the Longmire Visitor complex (which we had decided to skip in favour of more time at Paradise). Here you can take a few steps down to a view of the falls framed by the road bridge you have just crossed.

Christine Falls

Waterfalls are best seen in motion, so I took a short video, trying to capture the rainbow that danced in the spray.


But Paradise was our main destination for the day. This area of the park lies on the south side of Mount Rainier itself, at a height of 5,400 feet, and is only open in summer.

Visiting in the second week of July we still encountered snow on the ground here and that isn’t unusual, as it is normally snow-free only from mid July to September. The National Park Service claim it is “the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is measured regularly”, with an average of 643 inches (53.6 feet or 16.3 metres) of snow a year.

Snow in Paradise

It is famous for its wildflower meadows and owes its name to these – when the daughter-in-law of explorer James Longmire (who lends his name to another area of the park) first saw this spot, she is said to have exclaimed, "Oh, what a paradise!"

This is understandably one of the most popular areas of the park to visit and we wanted to arrive quite early as I had heard it could get very crowded - to the point that sometimes parking there is impossible. Although already busy at about 9.30, we found a parking place in the lower car park easily enough and set off on our first walk of the day, on the Nisqually Vista Trail.

Start of the trail

This 1.2 mile walk is described as 'easy' but with the various mobility issues I had been having felt like a bit of a challenge, especially as snow still covered the trail in places. But I managed it, and was very pleased that I did, as it was a wonderful walk.

Snow on the trail

There were perhaps fewer wild flowers than I had expected, as there was still too much snow for many of them to have bloomed yet, but those we did see (primarily the delicate Avalanche Lily, always the first to flower) were beautiful.

Avalanche lilies and other flowers

And the views of the glacier once reached were awesome. It is one of the largest on Mount Rainier and has retreated and advanced several times, though the general trend, according to the NPS, has been retreat. From the viewpoint we could see the point where glacier becomes mountain stream, and also a waterfall on the far side of the valley.

From the Nisqually Vista

More avalanche lilies

The walk took us considerably longer than the 45 minutes the park website suggests - partly because I had to take the snowy stretches slowly but mainly because we stopped to take so many photos. We also met a couple of rangers at one point, who stopped to tell us something about the various flowers and give us a descriptive leaflet on them, which proved very helpful. I do love the US National Parks system!

This trail is a loop, so it brought us back to the spot where we had started in the lower car park. Returning to the car we drove up to the main parking lot near the visitor centre, which was by now (after 11.00) very full. We decided that as we had a reservation for the night at the Paradise Inn right next door we would ask if we could park there, despite being well before check-in time. Yes, that was no problem, so we displayed the permit they gave us and walked down to the visitor centre.

Visitor Centre flying the Stars and Stripes

We went in there to use the facilities and check out the exhibits, and then bought an early lunch from the self-service café which we ate at one of the outside tables overlooking some of the other mountains in the range. We were so lucky with the weather here (as we had been at Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic NP a few days earlier). Some people visit Mount Rainier and never actually see the mountain owing to bad weather and low cloud (something we were to experience ourselves very soon …)

After lunch we watched the 20 minute film shown twice hourly in the theatre (which had some great views and was very informative, I thought). By now I was somewhat rested and decided that it would be a shame not to do one more walk as we would be unlikely ever to be in this wonderful spot again. So we took the other easy-rated trail, a 'there and back' walk of .5 mile each way to Myrtle Falls.

This is described as wheelchair accessible, with help, and for the most part was even easier going than the morning's walk, especially as here there was almost no snow on the trail. We saw a much wider variety of wild flowers here - avalanche lilies again but also magenta paintbrush, lupine, pink and white heathers, beargrass (one of my favourites), glacier lilies, pasqueflower (my other favourite, I think), arnica, valerian - and almost certainly more that I have since forgotten. Wonderful!


Magenta paintbrush and glacier lily

Pink heather

Pasque flower

Mount Rainier with pasque flowers

The trail ends at the falls and here I would challenge the 'wheelchair accessible' description, as to see the falls properly you have to descend about 20 steep steps. To be honest though, I was more impressed by the views along the way than by the falls, so you wouldn't be missing out too much if you couldn't get down to them. To me, the upper section of the falls, which can be viewed from the path itself, looked just as pretty in its way, with snow still on the ground around it and Mount Rainier towering above.

Upper Myrtle Falls

Lower Myrtle Falls

We retraced our steps and just as we got back to the start of the trail we were lucky to encounter a deer who seemed relatively unfazed by the groups of people stopping to photograph him as he ate, although after a while the exclamation of an excited child did spook him and he bounded away.

Blacktail deer

And here's another video, shot at various points on this trail, including with the deer:

We rewarded ourselves for our efforts (well, my efforts - Chris found both walks very easy) with ice creams. Once we had finished these it was time to check into the Inn so we headed over there to do just that.

Paradise Inn is around 100 years old, having been built in 1916 to accommodate travellers to Mount Rainier who wanted somewhere more comfortable to stay than the camp that preceded it. The Inn’s website describes it in those early days:

“The Paradise Inn opened for business in July 1917 with thirty-seven guest rooms and a dining capacity for four hundred guests. Platform tent structures were built behind the Inn to house additional guests and meals were announced when the dining room manager blew a whistle from the back porch.”

Paradise Inn

The Inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains barely changed in appearance from the 1920s. The main room with its massive timber frame is particularly impressive. The sense of history that pervades it extends however to the facilities - there are no TVs, no wifi, no mobile phone signals - you are completely isolated from the world.

Our room at the Inn

Much of the accommodation here is in the original rooms which are on the small side (though bigger than Jennie's Sleeping Room at Copper Creek, where we had stayed last night). Those in the main building, where we were, don't have en suite facilities and the cost reflects that, though a stay here isn't a budget option - the relative isolation of this spot must push up their costs, while its popularity ensures that there are enough people willing to pay. We definitely felt it was worth it as this is a rather special place to stay.

The restaurant

Dinner in the restaurant here is also not cheap - in fact it was probably the dearest meal we had on this trip but it was pretty good. We shared Dungeness crab cakes to start with, then I had the salmon which came with a blackberry and ginger sauce and small roasted potatoes, all of which were good, and vegetables which were less so, being over-cooked. Chris had the burger which was cooked medium rare as he had asked and was very good. I managed to fit in a dessert of poached pear, with a bit of assistance from Chris. Our bill, with a bottle of porter for Chris and glass of white wine for me, was $105 without service.

Beautiful poached pear

We got a second drink from the café to enjoy in the main room of the lodge, from where I popped out a couple of times to take photos of the mountains which had a slight pink tinge from the sunset.

Sunset on the mountains

I also took some photos of a few of the 60 lampshades which are a particular feature of the lodge - each depicting a flower, tree or shrub that grows in the national park. A fitting reminder of the flowers we had seen out on the trails.

Paradise Inn lampshades

We went to bed eager to see more of the mountain tomorrow …

Posted by ToonSarah 06:23 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls mosque flowers wildlife views national_park washington_state Comments (7)

City streets and mountain views

Washington State: day seven

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

From one national park (almost) to another

Lake Quinault, morning light

We woke at the Rain Forest Resort to lovely early morning views of Lake Quinault.


The Salmon House restaurant here, where we had eaten dinner, doesn't open for breakfast, so we drove the one mile to Lake Quinault Lodge, a historic lodge very much on the same lines as Lake Crescent where we had stayed a few days earlier. There we got breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the lake, with hummingbirds and other birds flitting around the feeders outside the window. The breakfast was a little disappointing (watery poached eggs, lukewarm potatoes) but the coffee good and the view lovely.

Hummingbird at Lake Quinault Lodge

Today's was to be the longest drive of the trip so we didn't hang around by the lake but set off south on Hwy 101 towards Aberdeen (birthplace of Kurt Cobain and of Nirvana). After several days exploring the rainforests, mountains and beaches of the Olympic National Park it was a bit of a shock to be back in an urban area, negotiating the traffic of city streets and main roads.


We didn’t stop in Aberdeen but instead headed east to Olympia, the state capital. Here we did stop for an hour or so, pausing to photograph the Capitol building before parking in the historic downtown area.

Washington State Capitol, Olympia


We had coffee in the fascinatingly alternative Burial Grounds coffeeshop which seems to epitomise Olympia's liberal attitudes ('Make America gay again', said the slogan on a cap on display, and 'Refugees and immigrants welcome', said a sign on the door). The coffee was good and the atmosphere laid-back and friendly.




In Burial Grounds

After our coffees, we took a walk around the streets in the immediate vicinity - 4th and 5th Avenues and their cross streets. There was some interesting architecture to see and photograph:

In Olympia

And some photo-worthy details:

In Olympia


In the small Sylvester Park there is a small monument marking the end of the Oregon Trail.

I have to say that when I'd read about this I was imagining something more substantial to commemorate such a significant period of US history - a sculpture of a covered wagon, perhaps, or a weary-looking Pioneer family, or at least a cast of wagon ruts like the real ones we saw some years ago in Wyoming. But no - what you see here is what you get - a smallish rock with a plaque on it!

Mount Rainier

Returning to the car we drove on eastwards. Just beyond Yelm we got our first sight of the majestic Mount Rainier. A bit further on, on Route 7, a church had helpfully provided parking and a marked viewing area where we could stop and take some photos.

First view of Mount Rainier

We also stopped briefly at Alder Lake, created by the Tacoma Water Project's damming of the Nisqualy River.

Alder Lake and dam


From here we continued to Elbe. This small town was founded by German settlers and their Lutheran church still stands beside the road and railroad tracks. It was built in 1906 and has room for just 46 worshippers – one of many churches that have been badged as “the smallest in America”!

Elbe Lutheran Church

The rail tracks are used by a scenic railway and are also the base for a collection of old cabooses which are used for tourist accommodation and also house a restaurant.


4_Mt_R_11_..7__06_06_55.jpgRailroad memories in Elbe


We had a light lunch in the restaurant (a shared appetiser of popcorn shrimp and fruit juices) before driving the couple of miles to the home of Dan Klennert, an artist who works with junk metal and driftwood to create some amazing and fantastical sculptures. I had read about the Ex-Nihilo sculpture park he has created here and knew it would be just our sort of roadside stop, which it was.

Recycled Spirits of Iron

Spirit of Iron horse

Dan Klennert calls his creations “Recycled Spirits of Iron”. We spent quite some time walking around the two paddock areas where the sculptures stand, and also enjoyed meeting Dan and his dog Lola. He told us how his passion for recycling old metal objects into art began, when as a mechanic he was first taught the skill of welding. Needing to practice he picked up some bits of discarded iron and turned them into a sculpture. More – many more – followed.


Dan with Lola

Dan is on a one-man crusade against today’s throwaway society, creating beauty out of objects others have rejected as no longer of use. On his website he says:

"My love is preserving older pieces of metal that contain some history and were made by the hands of man. I feel I'm giving new life to the tools and machines that made America what it is today."

In one of the paddocks

You can also go in the house where smaller items are on display and a shop sells related objects (kitchen implements, craft items etc.)

Around the house

There is no charge to visit, by the way, but donations are invited and are definitely merited, in my opinion.

American robin among the sculptures


By now we were nearly at our accommodation for the night at the Copper Creek Inn just east of Ashford, but it was a little early to check in, so we stopped again in Ashford itself and visited a very good gallery specialising in North West art, with some lovely paintings, photos and pottery. We didn't buy anything, though a few pieces did tempt us. We also filled up the car with petrol (OK, gas!) as is advised before visiting Mount Rainier NP.

At an Ashford gallery

Then it was on to the Copper Creek Inn. This restaurant has a number of cabins and rooms providing accommodation close to Mount Rainier NP. We had reserved one of the latter, Jennie's Sleeping Room, which is advertised as being 'small' - very accurately! Any cat swinging would have to be limited to kittens, and even then done standing on the bed! It was OK for one night but if staying any longer you would quickly tire of having continually to manoeuvre around each other and having nowhere to put anything! On the plus side, the bed was comfortable and the free wifi worked well.

Jennie's Sleeping Room, and Copper Creek Inn at night

We had dinner that evening in the Copper Creek restaurant. There aren't any other options unless you want to drive into Ashford, but in any case we were pleased with our meals. While not pretentious, this place does a solid job it seems. My trout was beautifully cooked and the accompanying rice not bad, though it needed a bit more seasoning I felt. Chris liked his chicken pesto and good fries. All meals come with a salad which was fresh and had a nice dressing, and with a mini loaf of bread and their trademark blueberry butter. With a couple of beers each from a reasonable menu we were very satisfied with our dinner and with the $70 bill.

Salad and trout

West coast beers

In the restaurant

Posted by ToonSarah 06:25 Archived in USA Tagged mountains lakes art architecture restaurant city washington_state street_photography Comments (9)

Exploring the Olympic Peninsula – part three

Washington State: day six

View Washington State 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Of rainforests and beaches

In the Hoh Rainforest

With the body clock adjusted at last (it had taken longer than on similar trips in the past - a sign of age perhaps?) I slept well in our Forks motel. Just the same, we were up early and on our way. We had noticed yesterday that the Thriftway supermarket at the southern edge of town has a small coffee shop attached so we went there for breakfast (good coffee but only pre-packed pastries, unless you fancy a doughnut which I didn't - too sweet for my taste). Then it was into the store to pick up a few things for lunch as we planned to picnic today.

The Hoh Rainforest

Our first destination was the Hoh Rainforest, about 30 miles from Forks. The Hoh had been on my wish list since first starting to plan this trip. It is an unspoiled swathe of temperate rainforest in an area otherwise somewhat altered by logging activity (you can see the difference in the landscape as you drive back into the national park along the Hoh Valley Road). The Pacific coast was once dominated by temperate rainforest from south-eastern Alaska to the central coast of California but today few stretches remain – the Hoh is one of the most pristine and is considered one of the finest remaining examples of temperate rainforest in the United States.

On the Hall of Mosses trail

The Hoh is also well-known, as might be expected of a rainforest, for high levels of precipitation – it has an annual rainfall of 140 to 170 inches (or 12 to 14 feet – 355 to 432 centimetres) and while much of this falls in the winter, even in summer dry days are rare. But we lucked out and had a rare dry day for our visit, even seeing the sun towards the end of our time here.

There are several trails to choose from, with the shortest being a .1 mile accessible loop and the longest an all day hike. We opted for the most popular, the .8 mile Hall of Mosses trail. Having arrived early we had the first part of this to ourselves, and I wouldn't describe it as crowded even towards the end of the walk when some did catch and overtake us (owing to a combination of stopping to take a ridiculous number of photos, and my enforced slowness as ever on this trip).

On the trail

And the walk is so worth doing, and worth doing slowly to absorb the special atmosphere exuded by these majestic ancient trees. Every possible shade of green seems to be on display here, from khaki mosses to lime-green young maple leaves.

Taft Creek

At the start of the path you cross a pool in Taft Creek, before making a short climb among the tall Douglas fir trees and spruces. After that climb, the trail is easy going. Information boards along the way describe the main features of the rainforest, such as the nursery logs - fallen trunks that provide the nutrients for new trees to grow, resulting in 'colonnades' of trees perfectly aligned with each other. But while it was interesting to learn about what we were seeing, it is the greenness and mysteriousness that I will remember long after any facts may be forgotten.

Shades of green

Perhaps the most beautiful spot of all was the grove of big leaf maples reached down a short spur off the main path – do take this if following this trail as you miss a lot by skipping it.


Big leaf maple grove

After our walk we drove back down the Hoh valley, stopping to take photos at a beautiful reflective pond and for coffee at the Hard Rain café - a rather cool little place we had spotted on our way up the valley.

Pool in the Hoh valley

Hard Rain Café

Ruby Beach

Returning to Hwy 101 we continued our journey south and after a few miles were by the sea again in one of the coastal strips of the national park. We stopped at the northernmost beach on this stretch, Ruby Beach. The beach lies some distance below the parking lot, reached by a fairly steep path and a scramble over large tree trunks. I decided to pass on this so I stopped at the first viewpoint on the descent to take photos from there, while Chris continued to the beach alone. Even so, it was a magnificent spot for photos.

Ruby Beach

More beaches

After Ruby Beach we stopped again at the rather boringly named Beach 4 (one in a string of six similarly named beaches - you would think someone could have had the imagination to come up with some more interesting nomenclature than simply numbering them!). Here we ate our picnic and took a few photos from the viewpoint. We could see a couple of whales some distance out to sea - too far though to get any sort of photo.

Beach 4

We also stopped more briefly at Kalaloch Beach, but by this point the photogenic sea stacks found further north had petered out so we didn't linger long.

Kalaloch Beach

Lake Quinault


So it was back in the car and off to our final destination for the day, Lake Quinault, where we had reserved a room at the Rain Forest Resort on the lake shore. Our room (bottom left in this photo) had a wonderful view of the lake from its picture window so as soon as we had checked in and dropped our bags in the room we wandered down to the edge of the water to take a few photos.




Lake Quinault

We then followed the little nature trail that leads to the resort's pride and joy - the 'World's largest spruce tree' (apparently - we must take their word for that). It is certainly an impressive size, and consequently rather hard to photograph - although Chris's presence in the first photo will give you a sense of the scale.

'World's largest spruce tree'


We had dinner that evening in the resort's restaurant, the Salmon House (there are no other options unless you want to drive to the Lake Quinault Lodge, a mile or so away). The food was solid rather than spectacular but the views of the lake lovely.

We had a drink afterwards in the attached bar and I managed to photograph a visiting hummingbird as well as the colours as the sun set behind the mountain on the far side of the lake.



Lake Quinault sunset

Posted by ToonSarah 06:34 Archived in USA Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises lakes beaches trees national_park olympic_peninsula washington_state Comments (12)

(Entries 1 - 10 of 59) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 6 »