Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shadow Wood

In the shadow of Mt Rainier was a retreat designed for the camping enthusiast. Lori and Dennis have placed a 22' camping trailer on there property where they charge visitors a small fee for the use of the camper, their woodpile and fire pit, the bbq grill with popcorn and coffee thrown in for good measure. We couldn't resist staying in the camper for a night. There were a few other options for lodging but this one caught our attention.

We weren't dissapointed. We slept in very close quarters just like we were back in our pop-up camper. It was a chance for us to get close as a family. We roasted marshmellows until I had a wild hare to try and photograph Mt Rainier in the final glow of the setting sun. I didn't get any majestic shots and I missed the marshmellows over the fire. Lori entertained the children by giving them permission to clean up any sticks and pinecones and throw them into the fire. The children found every stick on the property and within fifteen minutes had high flames raging in the fire pit.

On the way to our camp out we stopped at a motel where all of the rooms were old converted cabooses. We ate our lunch in the dining car restaurant and paid too much for mediocre food and snail paced service. We would have eaten at the little burger stand across the street had we seen the crowd assembled there when we went in to the dining car. There were some fifteen motorcycles parked in front of the place and a line of people getting food the entire time we waited for ours. The whole dining car ambience didn't make up for the price or the food. We did get enough to eat to fuel our adventures for the day.

We took the shuttle up to Paradise on Saturday. The shuttle was an old school bus with a driver who gave a constant oral presentation about the sights along the trek up the mountain. She directed our attention to glacier remnants, waterfalls and historical sites. She was so absorbed in her dialogue I had to constantly check if she was watching the road, a bus that size on the winding roads could get out of hand very easily. Each time I saw her reflection in the rearview mirror her hands were both working the steering wheel while her eyes expertly cased the road for danger. She pointed out the Tatoosh mountains also known as the Sawtooth range. These had jagged edges pointing into the sky and had been around seven million years before Rainier was even a thought. These were the same mountains in Idaho I had climbed into a year ago with some friends. They were receding while Mt Rainier was still working its way skyward.

Paradise was the location where flowers bloomed in open mountain meadows with the white capped peak looming in the distance creating a scene inspiring one visitor to exclaim "This must be what paradise is like." Mt Rainier has some 26 named glaciers on its slopes, the most in the lower forty eight states. This was mostly due to the Pacific Ocean sending moisture laden weather systems across Washington to be trapped against the mountain and wrung out on the mountain top. It was an impressive site.

We learned most of our facts about Mt Rainier by tagging along on a ranger walk. She spoke of the movement of the glaciers and their accelerated retraction over the recent few decades.

Shane, Savannah and Sophie had snowball fights. We heard a blue mountain grouse grumble.

We walked along the paved trails enjoying the bright blue skies.

We went back to the camper to cook some hot dogs and chicken kabobs on the grill. The meal came out good and the fire was started. The kids had fun starting the fire and throwing all of Lori's debris in.

Before going to bed Shane noticed a visitor to our campsite had laid claim to one of Savannah's flip flops. A six inch long banana slug had curled up on the black shoe and made itself at home. It looked quite comfortable on Savannah's foot wear. Savannah was not as comfortable with the slug and sent it on its way in the woods.

We slept. Most of the time turning. Some time tossing. Some bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. I woke a little sore but for the most part healthy. The kids were jubilant. Shane was up and outside first announcing our visitor from the previous night had returned. This time the little cutey had crawled into Savannah's brown shoe, the one she was going to wear all day. Once again Savannah helped the little guy out of her shoe.

We drove around the mountain to the Sunrise area stopping at the Grove of the Patriarchs along the way. This was a section of 1000 year old trees spared from destruction by their location across the river from the mountain. The 3/4 mile trek to the grove followed the Ohanapecosh River and included a suspension bridge. These attractions broke up the hike with little side adventures. We came into the grove and were surrounded by these giant trees. They were impressive. There are two 1000 year old Douglas Firs standing side by side massive in their height and girth. We had lunch on a log in the Ohanapecosh River then walked back to the car.

I thought the drive to the sunrise area was incredible. The views of Mt Rainier and the surrounding peaks were stunning.

We found another ranger walk from the sunrise area joining this one from the start. She pointed out the different glaciers visible from the east side. She described one glacier as being 700 feet deep in some areas, deep enough to swallow the Space Needle. We walked through more flower choked mountain meadows. There were constant reminders to stay off the delicate and fragile meadow vegitation and only walk in the trails. We often saw people walking out into the meadows and picking the flowers. To illustrate the difficulty the meadows have when regrowing the ranger pointed to an old horses trail going up the side of the mountain. The trail was fifty years old and was clearly marcated with sparse growth of grasses and flowers. It was a reminder to stay on the trails. We pulled out of the parking watching an entire family playing frisbee on the meadows.

>We drove home, unpacked our things, argued a little with the children and each other then went to bed. We had seen Mt Rainier in its best summer light. We learned the peak was often so shrouded in clouds it was not visible. We stayed in Shadow Wood the quaint camper in the shadow of the mountain.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Island Fun

Our friends the Weeds were here for some time and gave us a great excuse to venture out to San Juan island. Traci had been trying to work this trip in for several weeks and things never seemed to come together. We made plans when Grandpa and Grandma were here but the time it would take to get to the ferry, then the ferry ride to the island would have left us shirt on time for exploring the island.

We drove across the San Juan island after landing in the ferry and quickly realized everything was no more than ten miles from anything else. A short twenty minute drive was between one shore and another.

We left in haste from our home with two families consisting of four parents and five children. Our custom on the Miller Big Trip has been to leave at the latest time possible to make each arrival to our destination an adventure, trying to beat the clock to make it on time. This occurs mostly either due to being unorganized or thrilled by the challenge or a little of both. We left our home with enough gas to get us to Anacortes where the ferry launched and enough time to severely limit our opportunity to fill our tank. I thought there would be gas at Anacortes and we could fill up there. We drove into the ferry parking about fifteen minutes before the boat would leave, no time for gas.

We loaded on to the ferry, jumped out of our cars and explored the Yakima. The reviews of this ferry ride had been recited several times by our San Juan tour guide Traci as one of the best ferry rides in the world. We passed islands and found Mt. Baker in rare beauty. We were hoping to impress the Weeds on our new surroundings but they fell in love with the area before they even arrived at the hotel in Edmonds. They vowed to move there soon, checking housing prices on our many walks down to the beach and around town. The ferry ride to San Juan was just making their determination to live in the Puget Sound area solid. We joked if we could only afford an apartment in the area it would be nice. Then the cost of groceries...

We landed on San Juan and drove right past the sign directing us to the gas station at Friday Harbor. We had sights to see. There would be time and gas at one of our stops across the island.

Our first stop was Roche Harbor for lunch. I ate this seafood cobb salad with dungeness crab and shrimp. The restaurant looked on garden on one side and the marina on the other side. The fourth of July holiday was nearing so the place was decked in American and Canadian flags with red, white and blue sashes hung along the railings. The old hotels and shops surrounded the harbor and people were outside enjoying the sunshine. we explored the marina and talked to some of the boaters as they lounged on the decks of their boats or made preparations for the holidays. The place was busy but not crowded.

We left the harbor and went to the English camp where the British occupied part of the island from the 1850's to the 1870's. There had been some dispute over which country would take the island the United States or Britain nearly setting off a war on the western side of the country. The two sides lived peacefully and cordially on the island together until in the 1870's when Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany settled the dispute in peaceful arbitration. The English left their camp and some buildings remain. Most of the buildings were sold off and transported elsewhere on the island. Once the English left the family living on the property tried to lay claim to the property and after much fighting between the family and other claims to the land the family won out. They promptly sold off nearly every building on the property. There are efforts now to return some of the buildings to their original locations. The largest Union Jack I have ever seen on American soil flies at this location and was donated from England as a token of friendship between the two countries. Traci and I think they may return one day and reclaim their island.

We left the English camp, debated about a stop at the seafood farm, noticed the light on the dashboard reading we should have gotten gas already was on and decided to go on to Lime Kiln point to see if there were any Orcas. The area was one of the few places Orcas could be viewed from the shore. I checked the map for directions and discovered a sentence I hadn't seen before.

The map was a little tourist guide for the island explaining the different sites and where they could be found. The sentence at the bottom of the map clearly stated there was only gas in Friday Harbor.

I tried to comfort Traci with a little math. She was driving. I told her the gas light comes on when the computer figures you have enough gas to go about thirty miles. Each site was only 10-11 miles from each other. We had visited two sites and were on to out third site. we would only need two thirds of the remaining gas to get to Friday harbor. One third would take us to Lime Kiln Point, the second third would take us to Friday Harbor and we would have gas and all would be well. The one bug in my math was we could not remember when that pesky little buzz kill of a light had come on. If it came on before Roche Harbor we may have had to walk a little and beg for gasoline. I figured with five kids we could pull at some sympathies and get some gas. Traci just said I would have to walk and with everything only ten mile away I would need to only walk twenty miles, ten to get the gas and ten to get back to the car. I was hoping my math was more relevant than hers.

As we coasted downhill along the shoreline(to conserve precious fuel) Traci watched the surface of the water closely. We had switched positions so I could drive and assume all responsibility for the catastrophe surely awaiting us. She shouted "there they are!" and I nearly wrecked. I couldn't see anything in the water, the road was narrow and busy so we pulled off and climbed out of the car.

"Pshht", the orca broke water and we were all excited. We spent the next forty minutes with our eyes glued to the ocean and waited for the next black spot to arc across the surface. The sound of them breathing drew our attention to their location. I think there were at least ten orcas gently swimming near the shore. Boats lined up around the orcas. People were stopping in cars. We climbed down the rocks to the water to see the creatures closer.

After the orca show we headed back to Friday Harbor with the nagging light to remind us each mile was a mile closer to fueling up the car and two fewer miles I would have to walk to get gas. We pulled in to the gas station and my negligence was costly. I didn't have to walk across the island but I was forced to pay 75 cents a gallon more on the island than I would have paid in Anacortes.

We ate some ice cream and bought sandwich meat, bread and chips for the ferry ride back. The day had been everything Traci had been hoping for a beautiful ferry ride, a visit with orcas and a nice time on a quaint island. Traci made plans to buy a business on the island so we could move there. If only we could afford an apartment.