Whew – we did so much during June, from Oregon to Washington to Alaska and back, with a quick stop on Vancouver Island – where do we start! (No, we didn’t drive up to Alaska and back in that short time – we left the driving, rather, cruising, to the captain and staff of the Sapphire Princess – more on that later.)
We finished our volunteer gig at Fort Stevens State Park at the end of May, so bright and early on June 1st, we headed east for the Columbia River Gorge, after a quick stop to change the oil in the motor home at Astoria Ford – we were in and out in a jiffy. Karen and Galen would join us again when we got to Castle Rock - they had already visited the Columbia River Gorge area.
Ainsworth State Park is a first-come, first-served Oregon state park – by arriving mid-week, and because schools weren’t out yet, we had our choice of sites. To make our stay even better, Oregon offers a program for military folks, whether they are Oregon residents or not -- free camping and day-use fees for either active duty military on leave or retired military with service-connected disabilities. We had already submitted the required paperwork but hadn’t received the pass yet but followed their instructions to send in our paid receipt for reimbursement. (We got back 100% of our stay there within a few weeks – click here for more information.)
Highlights from the Columbia River Gorge area: The Columbia River Gorge is eighty miles long and up to 4,000 feet deep and is the only sea-level route through the Cascade Mountain Range. Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery traveled through the gorge in 1805 and again in 1806. We’ve been following their trail in reverse since Astoria.
The Historic Columbia River Highway, started in 1913, connected Portland with The Dalles by 1922. One of the greatest engineering feats in modern history, its engineer, Samuel Lancaster, did ‘not want to mar what God had put there’ and designed the road to showcase the waterfalls and other scenic areas on the road through the Gorge. Today, only segments of this historic highway are accessible. Several of the tunnels have been filled in and bridges destroyed. Be aware that the road is narrow, at times only eighteen feet wide on the bridges. We couldn’t picture driving our dually truck on the bridges without taking up more than our side of the road.
Multnomah Falls plummets 620 feet from its origins on Larch Mountain and is the second highest year-round waterfall in the nation. It can be reached either from I-84 or the Historic Columbia River Highway. We walked up to the lower bridge, then continued on up to the top of the falls, an elevation gain of over 700’ with at least eleven switchbacks. The view from the top was definitely worth all the huffing and puffing.
We also stopped to see both Horsetail Falls and LaTourelle Falls – this year’s increased water flow makes for spectacular falls.
Vista House at Crown Point was built in 1918 to serve as an ‘Isle of Safety to all the visitors who wish to look on that matchless scene’, referring to the historic highway. This two-story structure building, visible from I-84, is 44 feet in diameter, 55 feet high, with a gray sandstone exterior. Inside, the floor, stairs and wainscoting on the basement walls are surfaced with rare Tokeen Alaskan marble with the inside of the dome and supporting ribs painted to simulate marble and bronze. We had to touch it to confirm it wasn’t marble.
Bonneville Lock and Dam forms a connecting point between Oregon and Washington. Built and operated by the Army Corps of Engineers, this was the first federal lock and dam on the Columbia River and was dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. This public works project during the Great Depression helped to put people back to work, generate power, and improve navigation on the Columbia River. During World War II, more generators were added to provide energy for building wartime ships and aircraft. Later, the addition of a second powerhouse doubled electrical output – Bonneville can provide power needs for 500,000 Northwest homes.
The five-level Bradford Island Visitor Center has exhibits, a large theater, an observation deck, a panoramic view of the Columbia River Gorge and on its lowest level, views of migrating fish moving up the fish ladder and passing by underwater windows. We saw but a few fish maneuvering past the windows – but an employee still is on duty counting the various species of adult fish moving up the fish ladder, helping biologists and engineers track increases and decreases in fish runs. While we were at the dam, we saw barges being locked in and out – always interesting to watch.
The Bonneville Fish Hatchery is located nearby and is one of the oldest hatcheries in Oregon and largest in terms of fish production. A self-guided tour led us past several ponds, the historic egg incubation building and the spawning room where during the months of September through November, workers will collect and later ‘spawn’ the adult salmon. The workers collect the eggs of the female salmon and sperm of the male salmon to fertilize the eggs, starting a new life cycle of salmon. Up to 30,000 adult Chinook and 50,000 adult Coho are handled there each year. We watched the video about spawning and other hatchery activities – we didn’t realize these processes were so labor-intensive.
Time to leave the beautiful Columbia River Gorge area - north to Castle Rock, Washington and the Mount St. Helens RV Park, meeting back up with Karen and Galen. There was a regional Good Sam rally going on there that weekend and the four of us were graciously invited to join them for their potluck dinner that night – who are we to pass up a good meal and fellowship!
While in Castle Rock, we drove to the nearby Mount St. Helen’s Visitor Center run by the Washington state park system. After listening to a ranger program there, we then drove 45 miles to the Johnston Ridge Observatory at Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument. At the top of the short trail, we had a great view of the lava dome. A video in the visitor center explains how the landscape was reshaped by the 1980 eruption. Be sure to watch the video if you visit and be prepared for a breathtaking view of the volcano at the end.
On our ride up and back, we saw miles of standing-dead and blown-down forests, still present after all these years. Mount St. Helen’s is one of the most studied volcanoes in the world – the regeneration of the forests and meadows after the eruption is studied by scientists world-wide.
Still within the park but south is Ape Cave, the third longest lava tube in North America. A Boy Scout troop, the Brush Apes, not only discovered the cave but helped to map it out, thus the name Ape Cave. There are two accessible trails within the tube – we chose the lower cave, which is a fairly easy walk, about three-quarters of a mile. Bring sturdy shoes, warm clothes, and two light sources – there are no lights in the lava tube. The more rugged trail, the upper cave, is about one and a half miles long. We got there in time to take a ranger-led tour which brought us to the first rock pile in the upper cave, then down a little ways into the lower cave. We then finished hiking the lower cave on our own. From the glimpse we got of the rock pile in the upper cave, it would be quite a workout to crawl up and over the rock piles, maintaining your balance while lighting your way at the same time. We’ve taken cave tours before but this was our first lava tube – pretty interesting.
After a quick lunch, we walked on the Trail of Two Forests – a really neat place where you can see the old forest where lava flowed, including almost perfectly round holes that held tree trunks. When lava flowed around it, it made a crust. The trunk eventually disintegrated leaving an empty hole. Some had small trees starting to grow in them. The second part of the trail, all of which was on a boardwalk, was the new forest. For the adventurous and non-claustrophobic, you can crawl through a 50’ mold left behind from a tree swallowed by lava. Our sense of adventure was to shine a light in it.
Our next destination was the Escapees’ Evergreen COHO Resort in Chimacum on the Olympic Peninsula. The drive north on I-5 and Hwy 101 from Castle Rock to Chimacum was scenic, following the Hood Canal for a ways.
Our initial one week stay turned into almost two weeks when we realized we could ferry our rigs over to the Seattle area almost as cheap as driving south to Tacoma and back north again, a distance of about 180 miles. We learned there are several nearby ferries to get us back to the Seattle area so we planned a couple of day trips to do just that. One of the bonuses of traveling full time is meeting up with friends, sometimes unexpectedly. What a pleasant surprise to see Ron and Jean at Evergreen, folks we’d met when we worked with Habitat in Mobile, Alabama. Over happy hour one afternoon, we caught up on our lives since we last saw each other.
Our stay in Chimacum was pretty laid back – we did get in some sightseeing but got in some much needed downtime. While in the area, we visited Port Townsend, where we enjoyed lunch at Siren’s overlooking Puget Sound, and later ice cream at Elevated Ice Cream. Nearby is Fort Worden, a military base commissioned in 1902 to guard the entrance of Puget Sound and decommissioned in 1953. There are miles of trails and old military bunkers to explore, as well as the Coast Artillery and Commander Officer’s Quarters Museums – neither were open when we were there but would be worth a repeat visit. We did a couple of geocaches while we were checking out the lighthouse and what’s left of the batteries.
Olympic National Park is a pleasant day trip from Chimacum but you can easily spend days there checking out the park in several directions. This World Heritage Site encompasses nearly one million acres – from glacier-carved lakes, waterfalls, campgrounds and scenic vistas, to rain forests and pristine coastlines. We stopped at the main visitor center in Port Angeles, and then drove the paved road up to Hurricane Ridge. We checked in advance to make sure it was driveable because of all the snow they’d had over the winter. The parking lots were clear but snow banks ten feet and taller surrounded the lots.
From mountaintop to rain forest….based on the ranger’s recommendation, we drove to another section of the park, stopping to hike to Marymere Falls. That area of the park gave us a glimpse of the Olympic’s rain forest.
Eaglemount Wine and Cider is near Chimacum. This artisan winery was founded in 2006 and specializes in premium wines and hard ciders. We sampled some of their wines and ciders. Besides apples, they also produce ciders made out of pears, quince, raspberries and even apple cider flavored with ginger root – an interesting combination.
Our first ferry excursion was from Kingston to Edmonds to get to Everett for our plant tour of Boeing. Reservations are highly recommended for the plant tour. The 90-minute tour is a little pricey but well worth the cost to be able to tour the largest manufacturing plant in the world. They build the 747, 767, 777 and 787 lines here although production of the 787 Dreamliner will move to South Carolina. After watching a short video on Boeing’s history, a bus brings you back and forth to the manufacturing facility.
Some factoids about Boeing and its facility: The plant is so large that twelve California Disneylands, including twelve acres of covered parking will fit in it; or 911 basketball courts; or twelve Empire State Buildings laying side by side – it is humongous!
Some more facts: the number one most expensive part of the plane is the engine; number two is the landing gear. There are six million fasteners and rivets in the 787. There are so many 787s on order, it would be 2020 before you got one if you ordered it today. Its cost is about $287 million, one of the lowest cost planes they make because 50% of it is made from composite materials, making it 20% more fuel efficient. 30,000 employees work at this one plant alone.
We thoroughly enjoyed the tour but had worked up an appetite by this time – we had lunch at Ivar’s, in business since 1938. Ivar Haglund started out running a waterfront aquarium, adding chowder and fish and chips to feed his customers. We didn’t see any signs of an aquarium and that may be because the food probably brought in more business than the aquarium. The fish and chips were very good and reasonably priced.
Another day we caught the Bainbridge ferry to Seattle, going on as walk-ons because this ferry brings you to downtown Seattle. Our first stop was the Pike Place Market. We’d visited here in 2000 but obviously forgot how crowded it was – so many people that you moved with the flow. We picked up lunch at the Market Grill and snagged a table on the waterfront. Afterwards, we walked down to the Seattle Aquarium – a much quieter and relaxing tourist attraction. When you first enter, there is a huge wall of water with several fish swimming by – very peaceful to watch them as you sit a spell. One room has several touch tanks, for kids of all ages. We were amazed at the colors of some of the fish in the Pacific Coral Reef section. Other areas have viewing stations of shore birds, puffins, sea and river otters, northern fur seals, and other water marine mammals.
A short ferry ride back to Bainbridge and we were back at our rigs, getting them ready to head out the next day on yet another ferry ride, to Bothell this time from the Kingston-Edmond ferry. We opted to get an early start and try to catch high tide rather than low tide so that there would be no clearance problems with the motor home and car – not a problem at all. We checked in at Lake Pleasant RV Park around 10:00 am and were able to get into our sites. Bill and Margaret, whom we’d first met in May at Fort Stevens, had been there for several days, in anticipation of when we’d all leave for Seattle and our cruise. After getting set up, we met at Sparta’s Pizza and Spaghetti House, at which time Kathie and Fred joined us. Kathie and Karen are sisters – Fred and Kathie were also taking the cruise, celebrating their honeymoon.
We have Margaret to thank for finding out about Lake Pleasant RV Park. If you pay for at least one full night there, you can move your RV over to their storage area while you are on a cruise, keeping the RV plugged into limited electric to allow the batteries to stay charged and the fridge to keep running – the storage fee is then just $3 a day – a bargain.
The three fulltiming couples (Kathie and Fred had flown in from Texas and were staying at a nearby hotel) moved our rigs over to the storage lot early the next morning then waited for our shuttle van. The RV park had given us their name – the shuttle service picks you up at the storage lot, brings you directly to your cruise ship, then reverses the process when you get back from the cruise. We highly recommend using Puget Sound Limousine LLC Towncar Service. They sent a multi-passenger van, large enough for the eight of us and our luggage.
Ninety minutes after we got to the cruise line, we finally got to our state room. There were lines to drop off your luggage, to check your ID, to x-ray your carry-on items, to fill out a medical form, to get your cruise card, and then finally you’re on board. Several of these checkpoints have been added since 9/11 – we can’t complain about the stepped-up security. Our luggage arrived shortly after we got to our room, where we met our cabin steward Luis.
This was only our second cruise and our first with Princess Cruises, sailing on the Sapphire Princess. After attending the mandatory lifeboat drill, including how to use the life jackets, we met up with Lucille’s sister Yvette, husband Pat and the other members of the group Yvette had booked for this cruise, for a meet and greet at one of the local lounges on the ship. From there, we went to the Vivaldi Dining Room where we met head waiter Ferdinand and his assistant Paolo. The Vivaldi is where we’d eat our dinner evenings during our scheduled seating. For those who prefer something on their own time schedule, there are several other dining locations on board.
We won’t bore with you all the cruise details but we’ll try to summarize our week. The meals were outstanding, whether it was in the dining room or the buffet or the pizza bar. It is always fun to try different foods and different combinations but best of all – we don’t have to cook or clean up! To offset these wonderful meals, we’d take the stairs as often as possible and walk around some of the decks.
The Sapphire Princess is registered in Bermuda and was launched in May, 2004. Click here for more information about this particular ship. Ports of call during our cruise were Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia, with one morning touring Tracy Arm before we got to Juneau.
Ketchikan: Population around 13,000 – we booked a walking tour with Tlingit guide Joe Williams, the former borough mayor. We learned about two Tlingit clans – Eagles and Ravens. One has to marry from the opposite clan. Totem poles are commissioned by one clan and built by the other, at approximately $2.5K - $4K per foot to carve it, taking about four years. Totems are built to either honor someone or something, to tell a story or to ridicule. To guarantee payment and no disagreements on the amount, the pole is partially lifted and the wives of the one who commissioned the pole and the one who carved it stand underneath while the pole is finished being raised, thus guaranteeing payment so they don’t get killed.
Ketchikan is in the Guinness Book for having the only city with a tunnel that has both pedestrian and vehicular traffic; a road with the same around the tunnel; and an upper road with the same. A tunnel was built to accommodate greater than 32’ long mobile homes that couldn’t make the turn on the road but shortly afterwards, mobile homes were no longer allowed.
Larry went on a zipline tour later that afternoon while Lucille went back to the ship with Pat and Yvette. That evening we attended one of the many professionally-done production shows in the theater.
Tracy Arm: The ship carefully navigates through this area as we passed steep fjord walls, hanging valleys, waterfalls and ice floes floating by, some of which had seals on them. There was too much ice to get close to the glaciers there unless you took an excursion from the ship.
Juneau: Population 30,000 and the state’s capital. No excursions planned here but we did visit the Alaska State Museum, the official repository of the state’s history and home to artifacts, works of fine art and natural history specimens.
Skagway: Population 800. Larry went kayaking in the morning while Lucille joined Karen, Galen, Pat and Yvette on the Good Times Girls and Ghosts tour led by Madame Lacey Knickers (an actress working in Skagway during the summer). The tour was informative, ending up at the Red Onion Saloon, a former brothel and now a brothel museum.
Victoria: Population about 300,000. This is a very senior-friendly community, most likely drawn by the temperate weather. We took a shuttle bus into town and checked out the totem poles at a local park and the waterfront.
During the week, in addition to attending some of the musical shows, we also listened to a very talented string quartet, attended a culinary demo with the Maitre D and the head chef – a good show. We learned that an average of seventeen tons of food and beverage are consumed daily. We board as passengers and leave as cargo. We got a quick tour of one of the two galleys – to prepare meals to feed so many passengers is like a well-orchestrated ballet.
We attended two different performances put on by musician and comedian Steve Moris. He accompanied the Beach Boys for over twenty years and has been performing on his own for several years and will soon open up his own show in Las Vegas. His first show was more comedy than music but the second show featured his talented playing.
Before we knew it, our week-long cruise had ended. We opted to disembark on our own, carrying our luggage, rather than having cruise personnel pick it up the evening before and have it ready to pick up in the terminal. We found this to be a quicker way to disembark. Going through customs took just mere minutes, our shuttle van picked us up and by lunchtime, we were back on the road and headed to our next destination, Anacortes.
Several years ago, we’d been contacted by Chris and Alex, still waiting to go full-time, about pet-related questions they had. We’ve kept up with each other since then – they are entering their second year full timing. When we learned how close we’d be to where they were staying for a couple of months, we made plans to meet them and spend a few days in that area. Pioneer Trails RV Park was just a short 65 miles from Bothell. Shortly after we got set up, Chris and Alex came by to introduce themselves and drop off area brochures – how thoughtful!
We spent our first day in Anacortes catching up on laundry and trying to unwind from our whirlwind week of cruising. Chris and Alex invited the four of us to a cookout one evening – we still weren’t ready to do our own cooking!
Anacortes is located on Fidalgo Island and just a few miles from the Juan de Fuca Straits and Whidbey Island. Once known as the salmon canning capital of the world, timber then became its vital industry, until resources grew scarce in the 1950s. In the mid-1950s, Texaco and Shell built refineries on March Point, and continue today to fuel the regional economy. We spent part of the time in Anacortes finding some geocaches. In the process, we came across the W.T. Preston snagboat, a retired Corps of Engineer vessel that once cleared debris from the Puget Sound waterways. With our luck, we visited it on the one day of the week it was closed.
One day the four of us set out to explore part of Whidbey Island, stopping first at Deception Pass State Park. Chris and Alex had given us good directions on how to find a good viewpoint of Deception Pass Bridge that links three islands. The bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its scenic walkway is 180 feet above the Puget Sound.
Next stop was the small waterfront town of Coupeville, the second oldest town in Washington. We walked out on to the wharf, spotting several colorful starfish under the boardwalk. We then continued exploring the town, stopping at a tea shop to sample some teas and make a couple of purchases. A few chairs in the rear patio allow you time to drink your tea and admire the gardens there, as well as the unusual wood fence with old doors linking some of the posts.
The Island County Historical Society is near the wharf and has a wealth of information about the area. Based on the docent’s recommendation, we walked up to the Knead and Feed bakery/restaurant for some great homemade soup and sandwiches.
Last on our stops on our outing that day was Greenbank Farm, one of the largest loganberry farms in the United States. We just had to try a piece of loganberry pie at the Whidbey Pies Café located at the farm. There is also a cheese shop, a wine shop with wine tasting available, galleries displaying works from local artists, and walking trails with views of the Cascade Mountains.
All too soon, it was time to say so long to Chris and Alex – we look forward to seeing them again, somewhere down the road. And so the month of June ended.
Coming up: A few days in Coulee City to visit Grand Coulee Dam; spending the July 4th weekend in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; a few days in Wallace, Idaho; a week touring Yellowstone National Park; then on to Cody, Wyoming before we get to the Rapid City, South Dakota area to visit Mount Rushmore, the Black Hills, the Crazy Horse Memorial and whatever else we can visit while in that area.