Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Where Montana Began

We finally left the Evergreen-Coho campground and headed east, down the hood canal and across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.  We had been warned that the traffic through Tacoma would be horrible, but it turned out not to be all that bad.  When you come from Southern California, it takes a LOT of cars to get on your nerves.  We spent a night in Ellensburg right on the Yakima River, which should have been nice, but it was 102 degrees in Ellensburg so as near as I can remember we just cranked up the AC units and hunkered down in the motor home, then hit the road again the next morning before the heat started building back up.

Riverside Park in Spokane through the smoke
Our next stop was Spokane.  We had intended it to be Couer d'Alene but the only campground there that could reasonably accommodate our rig was full, so we stopped a little short and spent 2 days in Spokane.  It's a frustrating town to drive through.  The main drag is about 8 miles long and has stop lights every 100 yards specially timed so that you are guaranteed to have to stop at about 3/4 of them.  In our bus-sized vehicle that is not a pleasant experience (though I suppose the buses do it everyday).  We finally got to our campground at the north end of town and got it set up, then turned around and drove right back down town in the car where we ate at a Korean restaurant that turned out to be pretty good.   We kind of got hooked on Korean food when we lived in Hawaii back in the eighties.  When we first came back to the mainland you couldn't find a Korean restaurant here but they are becoming more and more common and in unexpected places.  There are at least three of them in Temecula.  On the way back through the signal gauntlet to get home we were overshadowed by a plume of smoke rising from the west of town.  We never did hear what that was all about, but the next day all of Spokane was smokey and our car was covered with a thin layer of ash.

Programmed water fountain
There is not a whole lot to see in Spokane.  They do have a nice riverside park downtown that we went and wandered around in for an hour or so.  There is a pretty cool water fountain there that puts on a varying show, changing patterns every few minutes.  There is also an old carousel that was fun to look at through the windows of its enclosure.  It wasn't scheduled to open up for a couple of hours yet when we arrived and seeing it in action wasn't worth the wait.  The Spokane River goes over a falls just west of the park and was used to run an early hydroelectric generator which is still in use but they didn't tell us what percentage of the city's electricity it produces.  We had planned to take a scenic drive up to the top of Spokane Mountain but with the visibility at only 4 or 5 miles tops, we decided to skip it.
Antique Carousel
Frank's Diner
That was about it.  The next morning we got up and went to Frank's Diner, an eatery in an old railroad car that was parked right across the street from our campground.  In the early part of the 20th century it was the posh, private rail car of the president of the Northern Pacific Railroad.  It was retired by the railroad during the Great Depression and converted to a diner in Seattle in 1931.  It was moved to Spokane shortly thereafter and is something of a local legend.  After waiting in the smoke and 85 degree heat for about a half hour we finally got to go in.  The seating was pretty tight for someone my size but the breakfast was excellent.  If you are in the area give Frank's Diner a try.  Then hit the road for someplace else like we did.

Someplace else was Missoula.  This is where we got our flat tire fixed 2 years ago which you can read about here.  We stayed in a really nice campground on the west end of town about 1/4 mile from the truck stop that  replaced our flat.  There were no fires nearby, but the prevailing winds were apparently funneling smoke from distant fires both west of us in Washington and north around Glacier Nat. Park right down the I-90 corridor so while it wasn't quite as smokey as Spokane, it was far from clear the 3 days we were there.

Oldest Pharmacy.  Hills barely visible in background are only a mile away.
We did explore the area somewhat.  We took a scenic drive down the Bitterroot Valley from Missoula.  In the town of Stevensville we found the St. Mary's Mission complex "Where Montana Began".  When we visited Coeur d'Alene 2 years ago we visited the Cataldo Mission about 8 miles east of town.  You can read about that here.  That mission is the oldest still extant building in Idaho and was founded by Father Pierre Jean De Smet in 1842.  Well, it turns out that a year earlier this self-same Fr. De Smet had founded the St. Mary's mission in  present day Stevensville, although at the time it wasn't known as Stevensville. It was just known as some God forsaken place out in the middle of the prairie.  The buildings there are the oldest in Montana.  Before that, Fr. De Smet had founded missions in Iowa and after Cataldo he wandered around the west doing missionary work until 1846, leaving other Jesuits behind at various places to do the actual work of getting buildings up and whatnot.  Then he went back to St. Louis and spent the next 20 years fund raising among the faithful in the East to keep all these missions going.  Much like today if you're a Baptist.
St. Mary's Mission
Very old bottles
The mission building has a kind of telescoping design.  We didn't go in because you had to arrange a tour in advance.  A small cabin on the site is the oldest pharmacy in the west as indicated by the display of very old bottles in one of the windows.  There are a couple of other buildings and displays and the old church graveyard.  While Stevensville is obviously proud of its historic past, little else seems to have happened there and it remains a tiny 3 street town out in the middle of the prairie, but maybe just a wee bit less God forsaken.

On the way back to Missoula we stopped at the Traveler's Rest State Park.  The name comes from Lewis and Clark who camped here on their way west in Sept 1805 and again on their return trip in July, 1806.  This area has changed little in the 200 years since their Journey of Discovery.  Interestingly, while you can follow what we think is the "Lewis and Clark Trail" from St. Louis to Astoria, this is the only place where we have any archaeologic evidence that Lewis and Clark were actually here.  The story is interesting (and a little disgusting).
Lewis and Clark trading with the natives
Lolo Creek
Traveler's Rest was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960 but they had it in the wrong place.  Historian's thought the camp was at the confluence of the Bitterroot River and Lolo Creek, but careful reading of the explorers' journals lead some to believe the campsite was actually a few miles up Lolo Creek and they went looking for it.  In 2002 they found the evidence they were after in the form of one military coat button and a lump of melted lead in a fire pit left from making musket balls.  These seemed like pretty thin gruel to me, but here is the clincher.  The campsite appeared to have been laid out according to American military specifications of the time.  From this they knew exactly where to look 75 yards away for the camp latrine.  From the journals they knew the expedition medic had been
Site of the tell tale latrine
handing out powerful laxatives to some bound up members of the party which contained mercury
(not recommended these days).  So they went and dug up the latrine area and, sure enough, found traces of mercury in the latrine pit from somebody's 200 year old pee.  Ain't archaeology grand?

We walked the 3/4 mile trail around the camp area and learned that, other than a few rocks that were supposedly parts of fire pits, there is absolutely nothing left there to see.  Just dirt and grass.  But we did stand on a spot where Lewis and Clark likely stood.  And at least the trail was flat.

The whole area around Missoula looked like it would have been beautiful if there were less smoke in the air and there were points of interest we didn't have time for, so we are already talking about coming back and spending a little more time here some year when the west isn't on fire.  In the meantime, we will be hitting the road for Glacier.  What's at Glacier?  Well, at the moment there is fire.

Friday, August 14, 2015


We had been living in our new rig for a couple of months before our first exposure to precipitation occurred while we were on the Oregon coast and we learned, to our dismay, that the roof leaked.  Not a lot.  Just a slow drip-drip that started coming off the ceiling decoration about a half hour after the rain started and continued for about a half hour after the rain stopped.  I'm not sure I trust an RV roof to hold my weight, so we called an RV repair guy who came out to our campground and re-caulked some of the fixtures up there and said to call him again if the leak didn't stop.

Well, the leak did stop, but it was because that was the last rain we saw until we had been in Chimacum a few weeks.  Then we got another few showers and, sure enough, the drip-drip came back.  Now we weren't sure what to do, so we made an appointment to take it to an RV repair place in Sequim, about 40 minutes away.  There, a guy climbed up and looked around and said the caulking job looked fine and there were no obvious cracks in the fiberglass, but he could see where water was collecting a little around the front air conditioner and there was probably a leaky gasket up there.  If we left the coach with him for the day, he could replace that.  So, we found ourselves with some time to kill in Sequim.

Lavender farm
One of the things the area is known for is growing lavender.  I don't know why.  You can't eat it and it doesn't smell that great to me.  It has some medicinal uses but the studies use all kinds of hedge words which make me suspect its effectiveness may be more related to belief than pharmacology.  But around Sequim it's a big deal.  The previous weekend had been the big annual Lavender Festival in Sequim but they hadn't chopped down all the plants yet, so we went and visited a lavender farm.  Vicki explored thoroughly, traipsing up and down between the rows, then visiting the gift shop.  To me, one lavender plant looks pretty much like another, so after a couple of minutes, I found a nice chair in the shade and admired the color from a respectful distance with the dogs on my lap.

All pretty much the same to me
With Vicki finally done, I got up and headed for the exit when we came upon a flock or gaggle or whatever of apparently free range ducks and geese and chickens wandering between the lavender and the farmhouse.  The schnoodles went berserk.  I didn't know what they would do if they actually got hold of a goose (since it probably outweighed the two of them combined) but I was pretty sure I didn't want to find out.  Fortunately, they were well leashed and I had a good grip.  I herded them back to the car as quickly as practicable and we took off to a chorus of yips and barks.

The lighthouse on its sand spit
Sequiim has a lighthouse that sits at the end of a 5 mile sand spit.  I had no interest in hiking 5 miles to see another lighthouse, but we managed to find a small beach park across from the end of the spit where you could see the light pretty well without the walk.  We got out to gets some pictures and noticed a lot of clam shells on the ground in the parking lot.  As we walked out to the beach, we notice a seagull apparently picking something up and dropping it on the rocky shore.  These birds have apparently learned to get clams and mussels and fly them up about 20 or 30 feet and drop them to crack them open.  Then they pick out the
Mussel ready for cracking
insides with gusto.  Sometimes it takes 3 or 4 drops, but it works.

We sat on the beach and watched as a small brownish gull, a juvenile, accompanied a bright white adult as it went through this mussel cracking routine.  A mother teaching the behavior to her offspring.  I certainly read it that way.  Most of the birds cracked their dinners on shore rocks, but occasionally one would fly up and use the asphalt parking lot, a much easier target.  I have read about crows doing this sort of thing, but have never seen seagulls do it.  They're still flying rats, but not stupid rats.
Bombs away

It was time to go back to the shop where we were told the AC gasket looked fine.  There is a pump that is supposed to get rid of condensation from the air conditioner and it was frozen up, so they fixed that just because they had it open, but that would have caused a leak from running the AC, not from rain.  So as far as they were concerned they had not found the problem.  We talked about bringing it back in a couple of days for another look but weren't too enthusiastic.  As chance would have it, the next day it rained again and guess what?... no leak.  So we didn't go back to Sequim.  Since then we have been through a couple of thunder storms, including a pretty impressive one a couple of hours ago, and the interior is dry as a bone.  So I guess we'll call that problem fixed for now.  But we will still cross our fingers every time it rains.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Whidbey Island by Vicki Rains

Roger has gotten a bit behind in his blogging so he agreed to let me write one.  I think he might be a bit uncomfortable writing about our visit to his brother’s “palatial mansion” so he let me write it.  I had a wonderful time both times we took the ferry to Whidbey Island so I am happy to describe the experiences.

Leaving Port Townsend on the Keystone ferry
We took the 1st ferry we could get up for at 9:30 AM from Port Townsend to Keystone.  Riding Washington ferries is an experience in itself.  It was a half hour ride with awesome views of Port Townsend and Whidbey Island across the strait.  We called when we arrived on Whidbey and by the time we got to their house breakfast was ready, well almost.  Both Lyle and Linda (L & L) are great cooks.  The baked pancake was really like a breakfast bread pudding with maple syrup, instead of a whiskey sauce.  It was yummy! 

L & L may not live in a palatial mansion, but it seems like it
Mt Baker from Lyle's house
compared to our 45 foot rolling home.  They have wonderful views, however.  Every morning and evening I would take the dogs out for a walk down to the bay and what I saw just took my breath away.  L & L live on the east side of the island overlooking the mainland and some smaller lesser known islands.  They also have a magnificent view of Mount Baker which generally presented itself outside of the cloud cover each evening.  Also the dreaded deer came out to feed on the neighbor’s plum tree about the same time.  Being a city girl, I enjoy the deer.  L & L don’t like them because they eat the flowers, fruit and vegetables they are trying to grow.
Deer in L&L's yard
Coupeville waterfront
Each day we went out site seeing.  Our challenge was to see if we could find places that L & L hadn’t visited.  We were successful only part of the time.  The 1st day they took us to Coupeville, a historic town known for its muscles since they are grown in the bay nearby.  One gets to Coupeville by way of the road named appropriately, Madrona Way.  The Madrona tree is a red-barked tree that looks like a giant Manzanita.  These trees line the bay along the road from the turn-off from the main road to Coupeville.

View from atop Mt. Erie
The next day we did a first for L & L. We drove up Mount Erie in Anacortes on Fidalgo Island.  It had almost 360 degree views of the surrounding islands, bays and mainland.  I believe it was built as a road for the cell and TV antennae at the top but is maintained as a city park.  On the way to and from we stopped at Deception Pass state park, the most visited park in the Washington state system.  It was named by Captain Vancouver in 1792 when he was deceived, thinking that Whidbey was a peninsula.  He sent one of his men, Joseph Whidbey, out to check and he initially failed, but then in a smaller boat circumnavigated the island.  The bridge from Fidalgo Island to Whidbey connects Whidbey to the mainland.  The turnouts near the bridge to take in the views were definitely crowded but the beaches and bays were almost empty by California standards.
Deception pass from the top of the bridge
Finally, Linda and I revisited the historic, tourist town of LaConner while Lyle went to the doctor.  Since Linda & I planned to shop until we dropped, Roger had no interest and went with Lyle.  The weather wasn’t great so I don’t have any new pictures of the town but I was interested in the crab fishing boats across the water from the town as they reminded me of the lobster boats in Maine last year.

Lyle and Vicki at Washington Park
On our next trip to Whidbey we did another first for L & L, we drove the scenic drive through Washington Park in Anacortes.  Roger & I actually drove this a couple of times when we lived in Tacoma 35 years ago. There were some nice views of Whidbey Island and Orcas Island with its Mount Constitution, as well as Mount Erie in Anacortes.

The following day, we accomplished another first, a sumptuous Sunday brunch buffet at Chuckanut Manor Seafood & Grill. This is surprising as L & L are foodies and generally have been to or know of every fine restaurant where ever they are. Well, I guess they knew of this, they just hadn’t tried it. The views of the bay from our table were lovely despite the overcast weather.

We then continued on Chuckanut drive to Larrabee State Park which was nice except for the cloudy weather. This drive concluded at Trader Joes in Bellingham, where good food was bought by all. 

West coast blueberries
Our return drive included a blueberry farm, where I was astounded by the size of the berry bushes. Last year in Maine the bushes were about 5 to 6 inches high. Here in Washington they are 5 to 6 feet tall. The berries are bigger too, although New Englanders would have you believe that those in Maine are more flavorful. Linda makes fabulous jams, which we were fortunate enough to try while we were there and bring several jars away with us. Linda bought blueberries. I don’t know if she planned to make more jam, but we were about to leave Washington so if she does we’ll never get to try it.
The weather was starting to clear as we took the ferry back to Port Townsend so I got a couple of nice pictures from the ferry as we left. As always, we had a great time with L & L.

Bonus Pics

Madrona tree
Fort Worden light from the ferry
Aquafarming mussels at Penn Cove near Coupeville

Deception Pass Bridge

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Port Townsend

Port Townsend from the Whidbey Island ferry
In 1792 Capt. George Vancouver was exploring the Pacific Northwest and stumbled upon the Puget Sound.  Near its entrance he found a good, safe natural harbor and named it after his buddy, the Marquis of Townshend.  The Marquis was a high mucky-muck known at the time primarily for making Irishmen miserable but now long since forgotten.  So much so that at some point in time they dropped the "h" out of his name and no one noticed.

The settlement of Port Townsend was officially established in April, 1851 and was early on called "the City of Dreams" due to speculation that this would become the largest commercial harbor on the west coast.  By the latter part of the 19th century it was a well known and active seaport with speculators buying up property and building homes on the theory that the northern transcontinental railroad line would end there and most major shipping north of California would go through the town.

Victorian house preserved by neglect
Then, in the 1890s, a depression hit the U.S. and the Northern Pacific Railroad decided it wasn't worth the extra cost to build a line across the Tacoma Narrows, that the little ports at Seattle and Tacoma would work just fine, so the bottom fell out of Port Townsend.  Large hotels and business buildings were left unfinished and ornate Victorian homes became unsalable, many of them abandoned.  The result was that while the old architecture on the east side of the Puget Sound was demolished and built over as the cities expanded, that of Port Townsend was largely spared (through neglect)  until the impetus for historical preservation and restoration finally hit in the 1960s. 
Numerous Victorian homes were refurbished and turned into homes for retirees or, commonly, bed and breakfast lodgings.  The Port Townsend Historic District was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

Most opulent post office I've ever seen
A drive through Port Townsend today takes you in a zig-zag path past over 50 historic houses and buildings.  The city has styled itself as something of an arts enclave  hosting numerous festivals and workshops.  In addition to the Fiddle Tunes festival we attended, there are music festivals for jazz, blues, voice, chamber music and more.  There are schools for dance and woodworking and for the woo crowd there is a "mind/body institute".

Port Townsend boatyard - a west coast mecca
In the 1960s they filled in part of the harbor and lagoon to expand the town's boat yard and it has become a mecca for wooden boat building and repair.  It is the home of the Wooden Boat Foundation and the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building.  Since some updating in the 1990s the yard is capable of hauling out boats up to 150 feet long with up to 30.5 foot abeam.  Boats are brought to Port Townsend from all over the west coast for refitting.  We spent a morning wandering around the yard taking pictures and marveling at how they operate.  I assume the yard has experts and craftsmen for hire, but it looked like a lot of the boat owners were doing the work themselves.  They are braver men than I. I just paid someone else to caulk my RV roof fer cryin' out loud, and it doesn't even have to float.

The Barn
Just south of Port Townsend down US 101 is the small town of Quilcene.  There, in keeping with the local artsy ethos, they host  the Olympic Music Festival.  Their summer long "Concerts in the Barn" series is presented weekends in a dairy barn on a 55 acre farm.  We went with my brother and his wife to a concert there by a group of seven musicians from Florida's "Garden Music" group.  They played an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, and pop music as well as some original compositions by group members.  The group itself was as eclectic as its music, comprising 2 violins, a clarinet, a percussionist, a string bass player and two pianists.  The concert was very casual with seating on old church pews and hay bales and everyone had a ball.

Murhut Falls - was it worth it?
We had visited Quilcene a week earlier to take the hike up to Murhut Falls.  This was another of my great mistakes, hiking a 1.6 mile round trip up a steep incline to see water fall over a rock.  Oh well,  here's a picture.  Hope you enjoy it.  Afterward, as I gradually recovered,  we had early dinner at a restaurant called the Olympic Timberhouse, a really nice log lodge kind of place in a little town most people will never hear of.  The food was excellent and well worth the drive out if you are ever in the area.

 Port Townsend Bonus Pics
 Victorian Architecture


 The boat yard

How to pull a big boat out of the water

Inside the barn

Deer wander the streets