Our Great Northwest Adventure
Feeling the squeeze of middle age ending, I am working hard on my bucket list, and have rekindled a long love affair with the out of doors. This trips items to check off my bucket list are *see the Pacific Ocean in the Northwest. *meet my half sister. *visit my brother where he lives in Seattle. This adventure checked off these, and added a ton of more incredible adventures. I went with my husband, Larry, my daughter, Melody, her husband, Johnnie, and my 2 grand sons, Aiden age 7 and Chase age 11. We had checked with my brother and his family, and they told us that the best weather window was mid-July thru the end of August, so we planned our trip from July 26 thru Aug 19, 2014.
I love Kayak.com. Melody and I haunted that site for months and months, and got terrific plane ticket deals. We flew out of Richmond, VA, on a Saturday at 2:30 in the afternoon, after my morning lessons. The flight left an hour late, so we had to RUN, literally, to catch our connecting flight in New Jersey. We barely made it. Our suitcases did not. When we landed in Seattle at 8:30 their time, we did the paperwork for the luggage, which they promised would be delivered to our doorstep in the middle of the night, and went to the car rental. We had reserved a minivan (again, Kayak.com and an incredible deal) and a car. They didn't have any minivans clean, so they asked if we would take a Suburban, and the same great price I had found on the minivan (Enterprise). Um, hell yeah !!!!!!. We popped our carry on suitcases in the truck. It was actually really nice not to be dealing with the big suitcases, and we all had a change of clothes in our bags. Then we headed down the road to my brother, David's, house. Melody and her family had opted for a hotel room, to avoid sleeping on the floor. It was well past midnight to us, but I was too excited to be tired. We got a warm welcome and a nice bed to sleep in. Sure enough, during the night, our pile of suitcases was quietly delivered right to the house.
We awoke to beautiful summer Seattle weather and had some breakfast, catching up with my brother and his wife Nancy. Melody's family slept in some and then came to the house to join us. We opened the zillion large suitcases in David's spacious living room and started sorting and piling stuff. We had sent Nancy a list of stuff we wanted to borrow, and those items got collected into the piles also, plus we had pre-mailed some gear and books to their house. One of the greatest ideas we had was, I ordered a soft car top carrier off REI and had it shipped there. It turned out that we couldn't have done the trip without it. No way we would have fit all of our gear and clothes into that Suburban. We had car camping tents, backpacking UL tents, and mountaineering tents. We had car camping air mattresses and backpacking R-rated air pad. Some of us had 2 weights of sleeping bags. We had to take gear for possibilities of 30 degrees up to 100 degrees, sun, rain, or snow, super light weight and heavy comfortable weight. We had an insane amount of gear. Our goal was to be prepared for anything, and we met that goal with gusto.
Once we had a good idea of what our needs were, we took our shopping list to Walmart and started walking the isles. Between the 6 of us, we ended up with 2 large carts full of random items and groceries. Checking out was a nightmare because our cashier was new and the manager was not-so-bright, but we finally made it out of there with our wits somehow still intact. We dropped all the groceries off at David's house, along with Melody, and then Larry and I hurried to the dive shop we had an appointment with. We had arranged to go Scuba Diving in the Puget Sound the next day, so we had to go find gear that fit. The guy at TLSea diving was wonderful, and we soon had a pile of cold water diving gear to use. The water there is in the low 50s, which is quite cold to dive in, so I had worked hard over the spring and summer to get Dry Suit certified. It was a challenge, but I got the certification, and practiced enough at home to be comfortable.
Almost everywhere you drive in that area, you get views of Mt Rainier, which seems so close you can almost touch it
Back to David and Nancy's house to organize and pack everything we needed in an organized fashion. We had one large tub just for shoes. The 6 of us each needed hiking boots, water shoes, sneakers, and camp shoes. That's a lot of shoes. One tub for sleeping pads. One tub for tents. One tub for cookware stuff. 3 tubs for food. You get the idea. And the clothes stayed in suitcases.
We had a great dinner at Nancy's, with Salmon that they had caught on one of their fishing trips. It was delicious, along with plenty of side dished. We all pigged out. They also have a patch of blueberry bushes and a patch of blackberry bushed in their yard, which the boys LOVED to go pick.
Melody stayed in a hotel that night again, and we stayed at David's again. We got to sleep in Lance's room, and his room is super cool. He does all sorts of outdoor adventure sports, and his room is full of pictures and mementos. I loved to see all the awesome stuff he's done, including submitting Denali.
Larry and I got up early and headed out with our rental gear to meet our diving guide at the sound front. We did 3 dives that day. We did shore dives, gearing up in a parking lot, walking across the tiny street, and walking into the water. Very different than what were are used to. We saw a few octopus, plus anemones, starfish, crabs, flounder (they call it something else.....) and more. It was very cool, and the water was COLD, about 52 degrees. Brrrr. We were glad we had dry suits on. (the last pic is an octopus). The dives were not without their own little adventures. I had taken my own BCD (vest-thingy for non-divers), and we had taken our own regs (the hoses thingy) and face masks (the thing you breath out of). We had rental suits that were very different than the one's we were used to, and Larry rented a BCD. He was unfamiliar with the way that BCD worked, and ended up loosing control of his buoyancy while we were returning from the first dive, which was at 80 ft or so. In that same dive, I used considerably more air than I figured, and had a flash-back-panic-attack to a scare I had a couple years ago. I did get a hold of myself (I panic quietly) and safely finished my dive, while quietly panicking to myself. Ugh. To make matters worse, my camera was fighting me, and I wasn't getting the great pictures I had hoped for. After we took a rest, and then started our second dive (shallower, maybe 50 ft), we started getting the hang of the new gear, and by half way thru, we were both comfortable with our suits. Another rest time, and our third (and shallowest) dive went easy-peasy, AND I managed to get some good pictures.
Melody and family went with Nancy to the Seattle Aquarium where they got a personal tour behind the scenes from a friend of Nancy's. The aquarium is great and they had a wonderful time. They also got to see the waterfront area, plus visited the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park.
We met back at Nancy and David's house in the late afternoon, hung up our dive gear to dry in David's garage, and set about getting the Suburban packed. It was no easy task, but we got it all in. Then we said our goodbyes and headed north to Anacortes. David had told us that if we didn't leave till 6:30pm or so, that we would get there the same time as if we left at 4pm and hit the HORRID Seattle traffic. He was right. The roads were busy, but we stayed doing 60-ish the whole way. For much of the drive up, we could see Mt Baker, a prominent peak in the Northern Cascades. They have some incredible mountain views here. I wonder if they know how lucky they are.
Once we got near Anacortes, we took a side trip up to Mount Erie Lookout, just in time to watch the sunset over the San Juan Islands. It was mesmerizing, as the sun turned the hills and water to many shades of gold.
Back down we drove, and to our hotel we had reserved- The Marina Inn. It was quite nice, and very reasonably priced. We reviewed our plans for the next day, set an early wake up time, and off to bed.
We were aiming to take the 9am ferry over to San Juan Island, so we got up early and got in the ferry que line at 7:30am. It is quite common for the morning ferries to fill and leave people waiting for the next one. We did NOT want to miss our boat. The fog hung on the water all around, but you could see hilly islands above the fog. It was a different site than we are used to from the Virginia area. All around the San Juans, you are treated to views of Mt Baker in the distance on one side, and the Olympics on the other. Sooooo magnificent.
The ferry dropped us at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. We then drove to the other side of the island for a quick visit to Lime Kiln State Park, to explore, and see the lighthouse. It was delightful, with it's rocky shoreline and the other islands across the water.
On the way back, we saw Orca Whales from the road side.
Then we headed back to Friday Harbor, where we had reservations for a 1:30pm Whale Watching boat trip. It was SUPER AWESOME. It was a 3 hour trip, and the captain knew just where to find the Orcas. They have a pod that lives in those waters, and we flanked them (100 yards away as standard to not harass them) for quite a long time while the guide told us all about them and pointed out different members. She had lived there all her life, and knew them all by sight.
She also pointed out seals, and told us about other marine life around there, plus birds including bald eagles.
As a bonus, we got to see Turning Point Lighthouse, the most northern lighthouse in the US.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip, and I highly recommend San Juan Excursions. They were wonderful. Once we returned to Friday Harbor, we did some quick souvenir shopping and then got the car and truck into the ferry line, for the 5:40 ferry. Next stop, Lopez Island. We had reservations for the Spencer Spit State Park for camping that night. We arrived at Lopez Island about 6:20pm and drove to the park. Our campsite was a "walk in" site, so that we could have a waterfront site. The distance to walk wasn't long, but turned out to be down a steep bank, and longer than they let on. They had yard carts available to borrow, so we proceeded to pull all of our camping gear down to the beach.
It was a little nuts, but the site was wonderful. It was very peacefull. We cooked some dinner and explored the beach some. We watched the sun set and had a campfire, and then turned in for the night.
As a note- The San Juan islands.........there are 297 islands at high tide. At low tide there are hundreds more. I wonder what it would be like to live there and boat around the area. I have no sense of direction. I'm sure I'd get lost.
What a sublime place to wake up to in the morning. We rolled out of our sleeping bags and enjoyed the views, and then had some breakfast.
Time to break camp and drag all that camping gear back up the hill. Ugh. Back in the ferry line with us, to make a 10am ferry back to San Juan. We had an early lunch sitting on the truck tailgate on the ferry, then, once we landed, checked in to Crystal Seas kayaking for a 3 hour nature kayaking trip with Crystal Seas.
They drove us and one other couple, in a van, to the other side of the island to where the kayaks were. We all got fitted for PFDs and spray skirts, then into 2 person kayaks. Each of the kids went with a parent each, and Larry and I went together.
It was a nice paddle along the coast line, but we never saw any seals or Orcas or otters. That was a little disappointing, but the scenery was idyllic. The Bull Kelp is astounding, and the Ocre Sea Stars are colorful in shades of purple or orange. Once the van dropped us off at Friday Harbor again, we took a quick drive over to see American Camp National Historic Park and the lighthouse there. Yes, I like lighthouses.
A quick look around, then back to Friday Harbor to catch the 6:30pm ferry back to Anacortes. What a whirlwind tour of the San Juan Islands. There are so many more things to do, but we were out of time. Our adventure was to continue down the road.
From there we drove south, along Whidby Island, to Deception Pass State Park. The Pass is where the water squeezes between 2 islands, and it is very steeply cliffed with water surging thru at quite a pace. There are 2 gracefully arced high bridges spanning the upper cliffs of the gorge. We stopped briefly for a look around.
The sun was setting and the view was so delightful bathed in the evening glow. Then off to find our campsite and set up in the falling darkness. What a full day it had been.
We had ferry reservations at 8:45 for the Port Townsend Ferry, so we got up early, packed up camp, and put the jigsaw puzzle Suburban back together. We spent about 20 minutes exploring Deception Pass again, in all it's power. There is a small craggy island between the two larger islands. You can pull off into a parking area, and walk around on the small island to explore. We did not go too far though, and one wrong slip could plummet you down a cliff into the icy churning waters. You could really feel the power of the current standing there on that cliff. Now it was time to head down the road to the ferry landing. A quick small side trip earned us another lighthouse (Admiralty Head) to see at Fort Casey State Park.
Once we had qued up in the ferry line and parked, we of course did some exploring of that coast area. I am insatiably curious, and the boys love to go explore with me.
Finally on the ferry, we enjoyed the sites, then started our drive again on the other side of Puget Sound. That ferry ride is short, but saves hours of driving time, all the way around Puget Sound. It was well worth the money. Another quick stop to see Point Wilson Lighthouse (are you seeing a pettern here?), then down the road to Port Angelas.
First stop, the Port Angelas Visitors Center for Olympic National Park, and the backcountry office to pick up our permits for hiking. I had gotten my bid in early to secure permits for the most rugged section of coastline. They keep the numbers limited so you have to get in the lottery to get a site. I had secured our first choice of dates and itinerary. We also had to pick up rental bear canisters. After this trip we determined that bear canisters SUCK and there is NO good way to deal with them. We also got the Junior Ranger books and the Coastal Ranger books to work on. Then we drove the Heart-of-the-Hills Road all the way up-up-up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center. The drive was incredible. The VC was incredible. What a gorgeous place. There are jaw-dropping views everywhere you look, and you can see all the way to Mount Olympus.
We had lunch sitting on the curb by the truck. This was starting to be the "norm" with us. Then we drove further into the mountains on that spur road, to the end, and hiked the "Hurricane Hill" trail. It goes up-up-up this "hill" to a lookout from the top, where you can see Mt Olympus, the San Juans, Canada, and Mt Baker, plus the Cascades and half the Olympic mountains. It was a magnificent, breathtaking view. The hike is several miles, and is a steady climb, but well worth it. Take plenty of water and sun block, as it's quite exposed, and the high altitude sun is much stronger than we are used to. The wild flowers were bursting with color everywhere we looked, making a dazzling display all around.
We got back to the Visitors center in time for a Ranger Program (for our books), and then headed back to Port Angelas. We had motel reservations for the Red Lion, to shower, recharge batteries, sleep in a real bed, and re-supply as needed. This would be our last civilization for the next 5 days.
This day we were to meet Nancy, my sister Barb, and Barb's husband Al, at the Port Angelas Visitors Center at 9am. We had finished our Junior Ranger books, so be got those turned in while we were there. Next we all caravaned to Elwha to get a stamp for Melody's passport book, and to see the sites. We intended to take a short hike to Madison Falls, but the trail was closed. They are in the long process of dismantling the Elwha dams to help bring salmon back from the endangered brink.
Next we drove along Lake Crescent which was sparkling under the blue alpine sky. The road follows along it's beckoning shores for quite a ways . We stopped for lunch in a wonderfully secluded picnic area on the lake.
Further down the road, we drove north to where the road follows the Straights of San Juan Fuca,
and we went to our next destination, Cape Flattery, which is the most western point in the US. It is at the top corner of Washington, where the Pacific Ocean and the Straights meet. The whole group of us took a nice hike out to the point. There are rustic boardwalk trails most of the way, to keep the foot traffic from destroying the vegetation. The area is old growth forest, with huge trees, lots of ferns and moss, etc. The hike was idyllic, and the view from Cape Flattery was astounding. You are on wave beaten cliffs well above the water, and the cliffs have plenty of caves carved out from the waves. Across the way from us was an island that has the Cape Flattery Lighthouse on it. (yup, another lighthouse). We saw Cormorants, gulls, and PUFFINS. I had no idea that they had Puffins out there. I love Puffins. We stayed there a while, soaking in all the sites. It was awe inspiring.
Finally we had to pull ourselves away, and hiked back out, to continue our driving, to end up in Ozette. Our plan was to camp at Ozette so in the morning we could just hike out for our coast backpacking. There were NO campsites left. BUT, there was a private type campground right next door, and they had plenty of sites. We got 2 adjoining sites (one for us, one for the Nancy crew) and set up camp and made dinner. We had a difficult car shuttle to drop the Suburban at the end of our hike (22 miles of hiking, but 1 3/4 hour each way to drive the car there). We tore apart all our gear, and packed our backpacks for our 4 day beach hike. This was no easy task. It was important not to forget anything, but everything that we DIDN'T need HAD to go into the Suburban. Once the Suburban left, there was no second thoughts. There was NO cell reception out there.
Finally we got Larry and Johnnie out of there to go drop the truck and come back in the car. Barb's crew was doing a loop hike from the same area we were at, so the plan was for her to drive our car to meet us at a motel we had for the night after our hike. The guys got back to the campsite in a few hours and we turned in for the night, excited to be starting our 4 day backpack along the rugged coast in the morning.
Note- In the evenings, I always felt, thru out this vacation, that there was something "different" or "odd" but couldn't put my finger on what it was. Then it finally occurred to me. It was QUIET. Here in Virginia, there is almost always "white noise" outside, especially in the evening and night. We have Katydids and Crickets and grasshoppers, and other scritchy noisy bugs that sing a constant drone. There is no such thing as "silence" at night except in the winter. The camping out west is not at all like that. It was very quiet. An odd sound to us.