Washington State

Danielle’s spring break snuck up on us, so we didn’t plan anything until 3 weeks before it happened. We wanted to use my frequent flyer miles plus free ticket to go somewhere, and North Carolina sounded nice. Unfortunately the cheap (25k miles) frequent flyer seats to there were full. After trying a number of destinations it seemed Seattle was the only place we could fly for free, so that’s where we went.

At 10am on Saturday, April 3, 2004 we were at Nathan’s house so he could drive us to the airport. We were nicely on time (unlike last time). While waiting for the plane we chatted to some people who lived in Seattle. They had lots of suggestions for things we should check out. They recommended the San Juan Islands, the Experience Music Project, the National Parks, and lots of other things I don’t remember. Our flight to San Francisco was uneventful. We ate lunch, and then flew to Seattle. The guy sitting next to Danielle was so nice to switch with me so we could sit together.

In Seattle we picked up our rental car, a Dodge Neon, from Dollar. The car smelled quite strongly of air freshener but it didn’t seem like it was masking a cigarette smell. Our first stop was the REI. It’s another huge one, which meant it took us a while to locate the rental department. There we picked up a 2-burner gas stove and some fuel for it. There was a Forest Service station inside the REI. The lady there dashed our hopes of doing much hiking by basically saying there was too much snow everywhere. She did point out some trails along the shore, though. After visiting REI we headed for the campground at Wenberg State Park, stopping at a grocery store along the way. The sites were stacked right on top of each other, but it wasn’t terribly busy so we had some privacy, although we could see cars driving on the road adjacent to the park.

The next morning we got up fairly early, and started driving to Seattle. We stuck with the small roads, which were scenic at first but later just slow. Along the way we stopped at a diner for breakfast. Danielle wanted to see Pike’s Market so that was our first stop. We parked the car fairly close and walked over there. It was quite a sight, with fish and other food vendors on one side of the covered walk way, and tulips and vegetables dominating the other side. We didn’t see the place where they throw fish around, although we did catch a copy-cat in action.

Because the couple we talked to in the airport suggested it, and because it’s a AAA GEM, we went to check out the Experience Music Project. It wasn’t very far away so we walked. On the way there we discovered it was actually in the middle of the Seattle Center Campus, which also includes the Space Needle. EMP is housed in a weird-in-a-cool-way reflective building. By the main entrance is a neat area with a light show. Inside, we walked through several music-related exhibitions: the history of guitars (focusing on electric), music of the northwest, and a gallery of Bruce Springsteen pictures.

Tired from standing, we went outside and sat down near a huge spherical fountain. It had lots of holes and water came out in complicated patterns, occasionally accented by music. Occasionally “smoke” would be generated as well, giving the whole somewhat the impression of a volcano. Kids were having lots of fun playing by the fountain, which was very entertaining to watch. During a quiet period Danielle and I ran down to touch the sphere as well. Behind us there was a rhythm festival going on, which was mainly a lot of people with drums, and some others dancing. Well past lunch time we ate some decent Thai food at a restaurant.

We started back towards the car in a roundabout way. Just past Pike’s Market we saw one of those places that gets you show tickets for half price. On the board was a listing for a DJ’d swing dance. Since we’d been wanting to go dancing for a while, we got some very cheap tickets for the event. This left us with some time to kill before the dance, which we tried in a Borders, a coffee shop, and in the car. Still, we arrived early and watched the tail end of the level 2 class. Then we took part in the free pre-dance class. I was relieved to discover it was basically the same style of swing as we know. We had a good time, and left a bit after 10. At around midnight we went to bed.

On Monday we broke camp, after having a breakfast of baked beans and sausage. Our first stop was the Boeing plant, which we reached at 10:30am. We got tickets for the 11am tour, and killed the time reading about Boeing’s history in the visitor’s center. The tour started with a movie, and then took us to the 747 assembly line. Sid, our tour guide, had some explanation or numbers to share about everything and was even funny. One thing that struck me was the use of bicycles by workers to get around. The assembly line is in the largest building in the world (by volume). You could fit Disneyland inside it. Finally we drove by the planes which were almost ready for delivery. We also watched a 777 take off.

After the tour we drove to Skagit Valley where tulips were in bloom. At an info booth an old lady gave us the best route to take. After a short drive we saw a field of tulips as promised. Since there wasn’t a good place to stop, we drove on. The next field was about 67% red, and 33% yellow tulips. The large expanse of color was a sight to behold. We parked there (\$2) and walked around the field. A few miles further we came upon an even larger field with more different colors, mostly purples and pinks. Another \$2 later we were wandering through that one. The next stop was a grower’s own garden. Parking was free but admittance was \$3 per person. We decided we’d seen enough tulips, and drove on.

It was well past lunch time so we started following signs to the Kiwani salmon barbecue. There, we payed \$10 each for some fine salmon, coleslaw, and baked potato. Next we drove to a cheese farm, hoping to catch a tour. When we got there it was closed though, and there wouldn’t be any more tours until the next weekend. So we drove on to Washington Park near Anacortes and made camp. The sites were in a nice wooded area, but pretty close together. There were few other campers out, so it was a pleasant stay. Since it wasn’t dark yet we went for a scenic walk on the road that loops through the park.

We broke camp pretty quickly in the morning so we could make it in time to the ferry to Orcas Island. On the way there we saw a large old boat on top of a dock. Resumed writing this many months after the actual trip. We saw a bald eagle while waiting for the ferry. The ferry ride went smoothly, and we drove off the boat at Orcas Island, which made me think of what New Zealand must look like (without the tall mountains). We had lunch in a small town at a beach, where we saw a little underwater house. (Or at least, we saw a roof coming up from under the water.) We just drove on to our campsite alongside a lake in the state park on the island.

The next day we went kayaking. The harbor was almost the best part of the trip, with shallow clear water with an abundance of sea life. In particular we saw some very large (several feet across) sunflower starfish crawling along the bottom. We went on a guided kayak tour in between a few of the islands. We saw a bunch of birds, including more bald eagles, and some seals. Mostly though, I felt cramped up, probably because I didn’t have the kayak adjusted right. By the time we’d driven back to our campsite it was getting late in the afternoon. We drove up to the top of the mountain, which gave us a nice view of Canada to the north.

The next way we took the ferry back to Anacortes. After a small drive south, we got in a long line for a ferry from Keystone to Port Townsend. We killed the time by having lunch and wandering around a bit. On the Olympic Peninsula, we started driving around Olympic National Park counter-clockwise. At Port Angeles we drove up into the mountains, where we went on a short hike. The altitude was definitely affecting us, and the fact that we walked on snow most of the way didn’t help. The views were great, though. Then we drove on, to a free campsite that used to be an old mining camp. The small restaurant there sold great cookies, too. When we were setting up camp, Danielle discovered that she didn’t have her purse anymore. We called the ferry people, hoping that they might have it, and left a message on their machine. That night I managed to build a fire using just dead wood I found. It did help that there were a lot of wood shavings on the ground in our camp, though.

The next day, we walked down to the river, but there was no trail there. Back at the payphone, we learned that the ferry company had found Danielle’s purse, and we could go pick it up in Port Townsend, so we drove back. Port Townsend was only about 80 miles away, but the roads up there are almost all regular undivided 1-lane roads. We stopped at the ranger station in Port Angeles to ask what we should do with the rest of our time. A volunteer there convinced us to go see the rain forest, even though it seemed far away. So after collecting Danielle’s purse, we drove back again, past Port Angeles, and onwards to the Hoh rain forest. We got there late enough that we saw a herd of deer on the road, but luckily just past the turnoff to the campground. I had a pretty bad headache that night, for no good reason.

In the morning I was feeling better, but still not that energetic. We did all the tiny trails by the campsite, which led us through several stages of forest growth. The rain forest really is quite amazing, and worth seeing. It would’ve been great to do the overnight hike up the river, but there was no time for that. Then it was time to drive back, so we could catch our plane the next day. We drove a long ways, and got some good views of Mount Rainier in the distance. Fairly close to the airport, we found space on a campsite populated by drunk rednecks. (Really, there were just a few of them, but they were loud enough that it seemed like they were everywhere.)

In the morning we returned our rental car, and flew back to Santa Barbara through San Francisco.

Lessons Learned: Sausage, all kinds, is a great meat for car camping since it keeps better and is easier to manipulate than eg. ground beef.

About the author

Living the good life in Seattle, occasionally sharing something interesting with the Internet.