“All it does around here is rain. Rain, rain, rain.” — A local Starbucks patron overheard in Crescent City, CA.
“Rain.” — National Park Service Ranger at the Redwoods National Park Information Center in Crescent City, when asked about the forecast. He was clearly on autopilot, knowing the answer would be right sooner rather than later. It rained that night.
I thought about retiring to the Pacific Northwest after I drove through Bellingham, WA, in late September 2003. The weather was perfect, the evergreens gorgeous, the town charming. I browsed through Realtor.com and saw beautiful homes surrounded by lush, green landscape, like a fantasyland of plants and trees.
It’s changed in 12 years. Bellingham’s 2000 census was 166,814; the latest figure, for 2014, is 208,800. The town is now the city, with traffic to match. Still, Forbes ranked Bellingham last year as one of America’s 25 best places to retire.
But Boise, Idaho, also made the list, and my tolerance for rain has waned in the last 12 years. Especially on a trip where photography is the priority, and being spoiled now by free solar power for my camper’s (“home”) batteries, I seek sunlight these days, more than coastal Washington and Oregon can provide. However, I did take a lot of pictures on this trip, given the number of days I was rained out. (I apologize for the size of this blog, but it’s a big region and I didn’t have much time or wi-fi to edit it). And at least one blessing here hasn’t changed: No bugs (at least no gnats or mosquitos).
Oct. 8, 2015: Driving from Glacier National Park to Vancouver, BC, my first stop was Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Washington. Aside from ducks and squirrels (no shortage of them!), this dragonfly that landed on the exhibit plaque was the only wildlife I saw or heard, even after three hours on the “wildlife viewing loop.” It was disappointing, but it was worth the lunch stop just to smell the evergreens, a powerful, sweet scent that permeated the whole forest.
Then I drove to North Cascades National Park, reminding me of the road to Mordor in the Lord of the Rings:
The east side of the park was dramatic, but the west side was too wet for my taste: It rained for 36 hours in a downpour, testing the watertightness of my camper and the longevity of my batteries, which had no solar or engine charge for that whole time. It was a strong reminder that I had arrived in rainforest territory where my solar panel would not be a reliable energy source. Fortunately, the camper didn’t leak and the batteries kept running the fridge and lights, and they took a recovery charge well, so no harm done. But my boondocking in the Pacific Northwest will be limited to three nights at a time before having to plug into “shore power” or to run the engine.
I was glad to leave the rainy North Cascades (supposedly named for the abundant waterfalls, but it’s really the rain they were thinking of), and the skies cleared up as soon as I arrived in Bellingham. I went through Blaine, passing Birch Bay State Park along the way:
And a Blaine sight I would not have seen in 2003:
I arrived at the house of perfect hosts Chris and Andrea… (photo by Chris) in Vancouver at about 4 PM and stayed six nights. I got very comfortable there (Chris and I became friends in junior high school in Cairo, Egypt). Driving and walking around Vancouver, I saw Shannon Falls near Squamish…
… and a fabulous garden at the home of a professional gardener, also in the neighborhood… I was struck with the fact that every house in the extensive neighborhood was unique, not a ticky-tacky abode to be found anywhere. It’s where I’d want to live if Vancouver were my home. Here are increasingly wider (and hazier) views of Vancouver:
Taking the shortest route to Olympic National Park, I left Vancouver on Tuesday morning (Oct. 20) and arrived at the Port Townsend ferry without a reservation, but was lucky to be the last to board, just squeezing onto the back of the ferry, and thereby continuing to feed the solar panel…
I noticed a couple of rowers near the back of the ferry, out in the open water of Puget Sound, with an industrial backdrop, an unexpected sight:
I was able two make it to Elwha (or “Altair”) Campground in Olympic National Park before sundown. The next morning I shot Madison Falls…
… to Obstruction Point Road, a dirt road (“RVs And Trailers Not Recommended”). The drop-off was a hair-raiser (that’s my truck you see there)…
I made it to Sol Duc (formerly Sole Duck) Campgound by sundown, and hiked the next morning to Sol Duc Falls (2 miles round-trip):
After that I doubled back about 10 miles to Marymere Falls, but I took no photos there, as the skimpy falls were a letdown after Sol Duc. I drove to Rialto Beach and camped in the nearby Mora Campground, a coastal area of Olympic National Park that I’d never been to before. I didn’t even know it existed until this trip. The next morning I took a 3-mile hike up the Rialto Beach wilderness, going north along the beach; if not for low tide, it would have been impossible (the north-south “Pacific Northwest Trail” noted on Google Maps at Rialto Beach is not a trail but simply the beach). As it was, the surf did catch me up to my ankles, so now I have slightly more radioactive boots, which is apropos since I just finished reading “A Tale for the Time Being.” But my favorite Danner Goretex boots didn’t leak, and got me through some impressive debris in prime tsunami country.
So, I shot some sea foam…
My second bald eagle (the first being at Glacier) was directly above me:
Well, not directly above me, as I even saw the eagle poop after it landed on the tree, but it missed me. I almost took the poop shot, but I hesitated with the sudden feeling that such a photo would be too undignified for our national bird… Now I regret not capturing the moment for posterity, or just for the record, just as I regret not shooting the bear I faced on the lake shore at Glacier before seeking higher ground.
And coming back south to the parking lot, this life form seemed to be posing for me with a Mona Lisa smile…
A horde of geology students from BYU in Rexburg, Idaho, arrived on a field trip. I had to contend with their invasion of the beach as I was shooting this shot, waiting for sunset:
A sunset through driftwood…
A traveler packing from Boise on a motorcycle, whom I encountered on the walk, commented on my camper when I returned, so I showed it to him. He said he wanted one, that he was tired of riding through wind hazards. (Agree, Chris?)
I stayed another night, hoping for a clear sunrise, but it was overcast and cold, so I headed south to Ruby Beach, another (popular!) Olympic National Park coastal area. The beach was crawling with visitors, and I waited a long time for everyone to walk out of my field of view, which lasted only seconds; one couple ended up enhancing the shot, I think:
I stayed at the park’s Kalaloch Campground, about 7 miles south, and shot this mushroom…
… then returned to Ruby Beach the next morning for sunrise:
From Kalaloch Campground, I headed south again along Rte. 101, and got to Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area by dusk, so I camped in the large campground there. Okay, you know what dunes attract, right? (Wait for it…)
Right! ATVs! I saw two ATVs parked next to a huge trailer, so I parked as far away as possible. But aside from the camp host, we were the only other campers present. The place was deserted. For $10 I had a bathroom with hot running water, a hot shower, and a quiet camp. I never heard an ATV motor there.
I thought of staying another night, but the dunes were boring, so I got a wild hair and headed out the next morning for a long, mostly uphill drive to Crater Lake, arriving at the volcano’s rim road in late afternoon, where it was cold and windy…
To my dismay, all campgrounds were closed for the season, so I had to drive about 40 miles back down the volcano, camp in the parking lot of a roadside attraction, and then drive all the way up again for sunrise, only to find it too cloudy for good sunrise shots. Oh well, I shot some more scenes anyway…
Then I drove to Crescent City, CA, near Redwoods National and State Parks, got advice from the ranger (the one who accurately predicted rain) at the park information center, and camped at the northernmost campground (Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park Campground), where it rained that night. The next morning I drove back to town and worked on my blog at Starbucks, then started exploring the areas recommended by the ranger, where I caught a sea lion yawn, and elk grazing in the distance, both shot with the 600mm zoom lens:
… and ended up at Gold Bluffs Campground, right on the sunny beach within the Redwoods National Park. (The angler shown here tried fishing for 15 minutes and then gave up and walked back to camp.)
I paid $17 (half off) for a sunny spot near the restroom, but the shower didn’t have hot water. The solar hot water heater on the roof apparently didn’t work.
Ah, but what a nice spot to relax and read (I moved on from “A People’s History of the United States,” which I feel duty-bound to finish one day, but Zinn was getting tedious and depressing.) By the way, that crashing surf is great to hear in the daytime, but I had to wear earplugs at night, with the occasional really loud crash waking me up, otherwise.
I ran into this Swiss couple who shipped their VW camper from Hamburg to Baltimore seven months ago. They’ve been camping all over the U.S., including a month or two in Alaska, where the wheel bearings had to be replaced. It’s not the sort of vehicle I’d take to the Alaskan outback, but I’m impressed with the endurance of the travelers.
I decided to stay another night. I could get used to this California weather, which is quite an improvement from last night’s Redwoods near the Oregon border only 50 miles to the north. The Pacific Grove Redwoods here in the south of the park may still be considered part of the Pacific Northwest, but it’s definitely more of a balmy, California-like area.
My route south on the Redwoods Highway took me through some very recognizable names like Eureka (love that name!) and the Humboldt Redwoods, where I finally shot the obligatory tall trees picture (my camera can’t do justice to the Redwoods, so I don’t even try)…
… and through other nostalgic names, like Mendocino, and Ukiah, where I stopped for an ATM and gas. Nice town, as the song claims. And I’ve never seen so many hippies and hitchhikers as in towns along the Redwoods Highway, all of them sporting dreadlocks and tattoos, quite a change since the Haight-Ashbury days I remember, with peasant dresses and flowers.
I arrived in Point Reyes National Seashore at about 3:30 PM and stopped at the ranger station, where I found, to my dismay, that all the campsites here are backcountry, not drive-up. So, I stayed in a commercial campground with a hot shower, as I was too tired to drive any further.
The next morning a woman stopped by and said she had seen my camper in Gold Bluffs Campground in the Redwoods the previous day, and I remembered seeing her Tacoma and Four Wheel Camper arrive there… We chatted awhile and exchanged email and blog information. Marina Richie is a freelance writer based in Missoula, Montana, who bought her fully-equipped camper last year. She has her own WordPress blog and is here in Point Reyes for a writers conference. She’s following the same route I am, although on a different schedule, and she has friends in Boise, including photographers. We had a great chat, it was a nice ending to this section of my trip. On Nov. 1st I head inland by way of San Francisco and Pacific Grove, where I’m visiting my cousins.
So, my Pacific Northwest route covered in today’s post started in West Glacier and peaked north in Squamish, British Columbia; and then headed south from Vancouver to end in Pt. Reyes National Seashore, where I ended this blog for my next one that will head back to the interior of the country.
You may notice that I included the panhandle of northern Idaho in this Pacific Northwest blog. Technically, that panhandle is still part of the Rocky Mountains, but it’s also where you cross into the Pacific Time Zone. Not only for that reason does Idaho considers itself part of the Pacific Northwest: Its football fans in Boise, so I’m told, root for the Seattle Seahawks, not the Denver Broncos, even though Boise shares the Mountain Time Zone with Denver. And Boise, the third largest city in the region after Seattle and Portland, is increasingly known as a foodie destination, following Portland’s lead. So, you might say that I did actually retire in the Pacific Northwest, after all. Sort of. I’m glad to be living in the sunny and dry part of it.