August 14 Mount Baker

Today we had another day of exploring, heading east up as far as we could go onto Mount Baker, a huge, dormant volcano east of our current lodging in Blaine. Mount Baker is the crowning jewel of Mount Baker National Park. The mountain is clearly visible, on clear days, from the entire northwest corner of Washington because it sticks up about 5,000 feet higher than the surrounding Cascade Range.

We left Birch Bay TT in Blaine and headed east on Birch Bay Lynden Road until we got to Lynden where we turned south, following the route we took a few days back getting to Ken Thompson’s house and vegetable stand. We took this route for a few reasons – to buy more of his fabulous sweet corn on the cob, to hobnob with Ken and to see Ken’s gorgeous German Shepherd, Kaiser. Kaiser greeted us at the driveway but, once he deemed us as okay, he went to find some toys to maul. We snagged another dozen ears of Ken’s succulent corn, chatted with Ken and played with Kaiser before continuing on to Deming. Once there, we turned east on WA-542 for the curvy, beautiful drive through Maple Falls and Glacier and up the long, serpentine drive on the northeastern flank of Mount Baker. Most of the drive offers magnificent views of Mt. Shuksan, a huge peak east of Mount Baker. The best view of Mt. Baker was to come later.

The geology of the area is quite varied but dominant features are huge beds of tightly compressed ash layers and extensive areas of columnar basalt laid down through many eruptions of the volcano. Huge crevasses in rock and snow have been cut by water erosion, leaving magical terrain. Glaciers have left huge, smooth domes and U-shaped ravines. There are many roadside small waterfalls, As we gained elevation, we noted the trees are more height-challenged with strange configurations, testaments to the brutal wintertime conditions. Eventually, we arrived at the visitor center on the mountain but Mount Baker was still not visible, blocked by massive ridges of basalt. There we found a few turquoise lakes in depressions in the convoluted terrain created by successive lava and molten rock flows, ash deposits and their subsequent erosion by glacial snowmelt flows. It must have been a bizarre hell during it’s creation.

A few miles above the visitor center, we finally arrived at the end of the road at over 5,000 feet and only then was the massive, glacier-covered cone of Mount Baker visible. And we were still more than 6,000 feet lower than the volcano’s summit. It dwarfs everything around it. It is gorgeous. The very top of the mountain was shrouded in clouds and, despite Peggy producing a very nice lunch that we ate while lingering at the observation area, we did not get a glimpse of the very top of the giant today. Alpine flowers surrounded the parking lot at the end of the road and they were definitely open for business.

Around 4:30 or 5:00 PM, we headed back along the long, narrow downgrade back to Glacier, the foothills and eventually the lush agricultural flat lands crossed by the glacial sediment-carrying Nooksack River. The river water is gray and cloudy from eroding the huge layers of ash and rock from the mountain. It will probably stay that way for a while because there is a lot of mountain left.

We took a few pictures of the places we went today. To see ’em, click the link.

August 13 New Westminster

We are currently camped a short distance from the Canadian border so today we emptied out the weapons from the car (particularly handguns), grabbed our passports and headed north into the land of “eh?” Peggy’s mom spent her youth in a section of Vancouver, B.C., so our intent was to see if we could find her childhood home. Just about two minutes after getting on I-5, we passed by the Peace Arch, which is more like a hollow cube and not very arch-like. The taillights started right about there and we were in 20-minute line to clear immigration into Canada. The border entry facility going into Canada is a fantastic structure with curved windows and many open gates.

Vancouver is a few miles north of the border and is a city built on a series of massive urban islands. The bridges between these islands, at least the bridges we crossed, are magnificent architectural masterpieces and very appealing. All of them were concrete and steel suspension structures, no two alike. Surprisingly, we ended up driving directly into New Westminster, the ‘hood where Peg’s mom grew up. Signage and roads were clearly marked, the roads were relatively uncrowded and folks there paid close attention to lane discipline. No phone-distracted clods in the fast lane and no speeders in the slow lane. The only thing that was challenging for me was rapidly converting metric overhead clearances into archaic standard heights.

Peg’s mom grew up in a neighborhood of architecturally stunning houses and we were able to find not only Peg’s mom’s house but quite a few of other members of the Vasey clan’s houses. Strangely, architectural styles of the apartment buildings we saw were extremely limited and the buildings look like they are transplanted Soviet block housing. Weird. Things are a bit different in Canada – New Westminster did not seem to have ghettos or slums where ugliness could reign. Perhaps the slums are in other neighborhoods. The population here was quite diverse – we spotted many Sikhs although mostly regular old pasty-white Caucasians. We also noted widely spread signs that indicated that panhandling is illegal so there were no roadside disabled diabetic crippled homeless alleged war veterans with little cardboard signs describing their imaginary woes in an attempt to get suckers to fork over their dollars, which are only worth 80 cents, American. As a matter of fact, we only saw one guy stretched out on a bench, sleeping, but he had a very nice backpack so perhaps he was merely a person taking an alfresco lunchtime siesta. After some aimless wandering to check out the ‘hood, we drove into an urban jewel called Queen’s Park, not far from Peg’s mom’s and other relatives’ former residences.

Queen’s Park is unlike any municipal park I have ever seen in the States. The grass was lush and neatly trimmed. There was a petting zoo for the kids. There are sculptures and flower gardens distributed throughout the facility. Game fields and ball courts were being extensively utilized by the locals. There are huge grass meadows with folks picnicing and socializing in the sun and under the well-developed shade trees.They have a water pad with a creek running from it with a big crowd of kids cooling off in the sun. The buildings were scrupulously maintained and painted. There was absolutely no graffiti. It was gorgeous and quite different than well-marked Balboa Park in San Diego or Golden Gate Park in San Fransicko.

After the visit to the park, we headed east on Canada 1 in an attempt to re-enter the U.S. somewhere other than the busy crossing at the Peace Arch back in Blaine. That was not a particularly good idea because when we got to the crossing at Sumas, WA, there was a long line of cars backed up onto the single-lane road running back to Abbotsford in Canada. Seventy minutes and 750 yards later, we finally pulled up to one of the three open lanes crossing through the border back into the U.S. I truly hate going out of the U.S. because the absolutely idiotic goons working for CBP are incapable of seeing that their awkward questioning and slow passport processing stalls traffic for hours, clogs all roads adjacent to the border and pisses everyone off. It is remarkable that, given a similar number of vehicles, the wait going into Canada is brief but the wait coming back into the U.S. is always a short distance, highly frustrating, long duration odyssey. The Department of Homeland Security has collected all the inept $10 an hour bozos that could be found and assigned them to borders. We are not any more secure than we were before the Bush Administration saddled us with this mega-boondoggle but we certainly are more inconvenienced. What could they have that is legal in Canada that is illegal in the U.S., other than poutine?

Got a few pictures from the land of Canucks. Click the link.

August 12 Doing nothing

We were slugs today. Peggy made some great chicken pot pie and I dumped the tanks. It was not thrilling.

The corn on the cob we bought from Ken over by Everson yesterday turned out to be extraordinary; sweet, bright yellow and tender, even raw right off the cob. We may have to go visit Ken and Kaiser again.

August 11 To Deming

Today is our 40th Wedding Anniversary. I am appalled that Peggy has not killed me yet. She has shown remarkable restraint because she certainly has had ample reason and opportunity.

We’re pretty old and have done this before, so we resorted to type and decided to take a spin in our mostly-dependable pickup. Deming was our destination. It is a small community partway up to the Cascades east of us. Our trip started at Birch Bay TT in Blaine and, after exiting the park, we turned toward the mountains. We crossed I-5 and kept going on Birch Bay Lynden Road which, naturally, runs from Birch Bay on the coast over to Lynden, not on the coast. Turning south in Lynden, we crossed the Nooksack River but then started zigzagging down rural roads until we got to almost-town of Everson. Near there, we spotted a produce stand on the right and pulled into a gravel driveway. There, comfortably seated in his garage door opening, was Ken Thompson and his gorgeous German Shepherd, Kaiser.

We chatted with Ken for some time while Kaiser was busy showing us how happy he was that we were there. His primary source of entertainment was doghandling a huge rubber boat bumper that was bigger than him. Despite having the size advantage, the bumper got its ass kicked. Once he had vanquished the bumper, he became interested in a large piece of rope dangling from a block running on a dog run line across the yard. Kaiser played so vigorously with this assembly that he had both pulled out the yard deadman and yanked the anchor out of the house in the past. Ken quickly fixed him up and Kaiser was again enjoying his trapeze work and bumper mauling.

Ken also had gorgeous produce for sale so we bought more than we can reasonably devour before it rots, but we’ll try anyway. We left Ken and Kaiser behind and continued south and east on skinny rural roads until we finally arrived in Deming, which is hardly there at all. We did spot some county paramedics huddled around a guy laying down in a pickup truck parked in front of a convenience store / gas station combo but by the time we did the ambulance chaser’s loop in the truck, the paramedics were on the way out of town and no prone bodies were seen.

Our wanderings were pretty random on the way to Deming so we followed the same strict, aimless policy on the way home, turning at right angles around massive property holdings. Eventually we ended up in Ferndale after crossing back over the Nooksack River. It is a cute little town even though the main intersection in Historic Downtown Ferndale is anchored by the famous Baker Septic Tank Pumping. There are some gorgeous wood residences here, anyway.

From Ferndale we continued our zigzagging but now north and west back toward our current digs at Birch Bay TT. It’s gorgeous country around here.

Click the link to see some of the pictures we snapped today. Kaiser’s in there.

August 10 Blaine to Blaine

Moving from place to place with our trailer is always the source of a bit of anxiety. We always try to be alert and thorough in our departure tasks in order to make sure all our stuff goes with us and has not been pulled in two. There is a drive portion that always puts up some challenges and frightening occurrances. Navigation errors with a lengthy RV can be extremely expensive, particularly if towing is involved. Once at our destination, we generally skulk about in our 51-foot piece of heavy equipment to, hopefully, find an RV space that has full hookups, good WiFi and good satellite reception. This last part is not always successful. Then we pull into our new spot and hook up some or all of the utilities.

Not that any of the stuff is strenuous or tedious, it’s just that small errors can result in big problems. There is a pressure regulator of mine in Advance, N.C., because I was not paying attention. There have been a couple of disgusting issues with dumping the waste tanks in the distant past, occurrances I believe will never be repeated through tight adherence to fundamentals, the primary one being don’t be stupid. Traveling down roads with no turnaround at the end might mean a miles-long back-up session, blocking traffic both ways. Equipment failures, like trailer tire blowouts, can be terrifying. Fueling is even an issue in some locales.

Today’s travel, however, was easier than any, to date, because the drive portion of the move was slightly less than four miles. The antifreeze in the radiator never got a chance to get to operating temperature. We traveled all the way from the Lighthouse Bay RV Park in Blaine all the way to the Thousand Trails Birch Bay RV Park, also in Blaine. We had to stop twice at stop signs but otherwise driving was completely uneventful. No angry adolescents in Japanese cars veered into our lane and there were no curves, hills or heated discussions. We may have lucked out this time – we set up in a spot with full hookups, good satellite reception and the WiFi access point is installed atop a pipe right next to our RV space. Sometimes things work out perfectly but that doesn’t mean I should not remain paranoid.

Right after we finished our setup, the rhubarb pie Peggy concocted yesterday amazingly disappeared. I know where it went but I ain’t spilling.

We took a couple pix from the Blaine waterfront. Click the link.

August 9 Strange food

Rhubarb is a type of produce which doesn’t normally flood my consciousness. Absent hints, it seems unlikely I would ever remember it as possible food. It even has a funny spelling. Nevertheless, Peggy had me stop in at a local androgynous person’s residence and garden where she bought some rhubarb. It looked like a bundle of sticks.

However, today she took that same bundle of sticks and chopped it into kindling, added a whole bunch of ingredients, whipped out a superb pie crust and threw the whole assembly into the oven. An hour later, a gorgeous basin of nifty odors came out of the stove and tantalized me while cooling on the counter in our kitchen/dining/living room. After exercising what I consider to be an admirable amount of restraint, Peggy served me a portion of the result and, abracadabra, I am now a big rhubarb aficionado. Rhubarb is very tasty and my spouse is a keeper because, in addition to several other admirable attributes, she can really cook.

The weather was sort of crummy today so we mostly hung around the trailer. Again, considerable restraint was demonstrated because some of the rhubarb pie was still visible when we went to bed. Maybe I can have it for breakfast tomorrow.

One of our neighbors pulled up next to our trailer this evening. He was driving some form of hybrid vehicle. It looked like a Range Rover / Jeep / Hummer / Jungle Jim combo with a four cylinder engine. To see this vehicle, click the link.

August 8 Lynden & Blaine

This retirement stuff can be quite pleasant. This morning started cloudy and we thought that going exploring into the mountains was, therefore, right out. We settled in for some leisurely showering and our morning spine straighteners of coffee and Irish Cream. However, we soon became bored. Peggy started researching rhubarb pie prep and and I was wiggling around so we decided to take a nice drive due east to the town of Lynden, where there is a fancy Safeway grocery store.

Our intent was to acquire some corn starch and white death flour for the crust but Peggy foolishly allowed me to actually go into the store with her. The result was we ended up with two shopping bags full of stuff, plus a half case of Deschutes Black Butte Porter. Plainly, Peggy doing any shopping is more efficient and less costly when she is not burdened with my feckless assistance.

Leaving the super Safeway and passing by some weird Russian ORVs called Sherps (see pix), we headed due north for a few miles and soon found ourselves trapped in the striped lanes approaching the Canadian border. We turned around, an event surely recorded by many DHS CCTV cameras, because it was not our intent to enter Canada, at least not today. Instead, we turned west on a skinny road called H Street. H Street runs parallel to the border and the view out our right side was Canada. On our left we only spotted one Border Patrolman, dozing in his big Ford SUV.

After a few miles of dead-straight border frontage road, we drove into the gorgeous town of Blaine. It is located right up in the NW corner of Washington. Any further north and you are in Canada and any further west and you’re in the Pacific. We kept driving until we hit the bay which, for some reason, they call Drayton Harbor. Right close to the end of the road we came across a small food trailer called Alaska Wild Fish & Chips Co. We put in our orders for F&C and found some seats at a wood picnic table already occupied by a guy named Ray Cadman.

We asked Ray if he lived around Blaine and he said, “Only for the last 83 years.” He went on to explain that he moved to Blaine when he was three and had been there since except when he was in the Navy during the Korean War. We quizzed him on the food we were waiting for and he indicated he had driven a long way to get fish at this place. He had it right – our fish and chips soon arrived and it was excellent. The food was great but the conversation we had with Ray was extremely interesting. He told us several great stories about hanging out in the border area. One personal tidbit involved him accidentally hauling a trailer containing a small amount of cow manure residue into Canada when he went there to buy gas during the gas rationing in the U.S. during the 70’s. On the way back, he was stopped by Customs for attempting to smuggle Canadian cow shit into the U.S. and was harangued for about 30 minutes before being allowed to enter without having to sacrifice his plainly valuable and dangerous load.

Our dining ended up taking about an hour and a half but it was great getting to hobnob with a savvy local about this area. He warned us not to be fooled by the current, balmy weather. He remembers some winters with snow drifts as high as the streetlights and below-zero temperatures. I think we’ll keep on living in the southern half of the country in winter and up north in the summer. We’re too old and clever for that snow stuff.

On our five mile drive toward our current RV park, we cruised along the edge of Semiahmoo Bay. We could plainly see Surrey, B.C., on the other side. It looked very busy and crowded.

You can see the weird overpriced Russki ORV if you click the link.

August 7 Another laundry day

Today we did the laundry right here in the Lighthouse RV Park’s great facility. They have high-efficiency modern washers that sound like a turbocharger winding up when they do the spin cycle. The room was air-conditioned and they have a 55 inch UHDTV in there along with cable offering 175 channels. There are recliners to make your TV watching experience wonderful. I might spend the whole stay hanging out in the facility laundromat.

About the only other thing we did was to make a short foray to a local guy who sold us some rhubarb. We have bought from him before and he/she looked pretty old then. He looks extremely frail now, taking steps that are only about 7” long but the rhubarb looks good.

August 6 Into Bellingham again

Today our task was to pick up some metal plates to cover a repair we are going to make to our trailer. It seems there was a sneaky leak up near the roof/front cap joint that was allowing rainfall drainage to take a shortcut through a crawlspace. It found its way to the plastic cap around the kingpin assembly and eventually formed a white hematoma about the size of a racketball which finally cracked and put out some former particleboard remains. We think we fixed the roof leak a couple weeks ago in La Conner but soon I must excise the popped zit in the plastic cap. The cap plastic itself cannot be patched with similar plastic so today I picked up some shiny aluminum diamond plate to scab over the zit hole.

I called a place called Carlson Steel in Bellingham and the voice at the other end said they probably didn’t have what I wanted (two 6.5” square plates) but they did have a huge remnant selection and they would be happy to make some $15 cuts for me if I selected the material. Peg and I hopped in the truck and headed down I-5 into town. There was a girl behind the counter that looked like she may have been an ironworker or jail matron who directed me into the shop to speak with the foreman. Soon I was rummaging through a great selection of various types of sheet metal. A relatively new employee took my selection, set his really nice shear and chopped out my stock to the dimensions desired. I took my two plates to the shop foreman, while he was standing under a sign indicating cuts cost $10 a pass. I expected to pay for two cuts and the cost of the metal itself but he asked if $10 for everything sounded fair. I immediately coughed up the cash and left thanking them liberally as I backed out the door. Our chore agenda for the day was complete at that time, so we made a short stop at the Bellingham Trader Joe’s and cruised through some neighborhoods with gorgeous houses before heading over to the coast to eat the lunch Peg had bought.

We ate the salads overlooking the sea, then turned north and west to follow the coastline through the lush Lummi Reservation. The Lummi are apparently doing well because they have nice modern-looking buildings and full service facilities for tribe members, including a college. I think they must have a casino. Their land encompasses some hilly terrain with conifer forests mixed in with ample bottom land bordering the Nooksack River. Everything was quite green except the river.

We then wandered into the dinky seaside town of Birch Bay which I read in the local paper had as many as 8000 residents although it doesn’t look like most of them live in town. They must be talking about the zip code. We left Birch Bay and I was surprised that I had closed today’s driving loop about a half mile after leaving the coast when we turned back into the Lighthouse RV Park. The weather here and the scenery in this part of WA is terrific. Looming just east of us is Mount Baker and its glacier-covered cone. I’m glad it isn’t erupting because we would be screwed with the ocean as our only retreat.

We got a few great wood house pictures you can see if you click the link.

August 5 La Conner to Blaine

Today we reluctantly departed from the La Conner Marina RV Park and headed out on our last northerly segment of travel. We initially took WA-20 to I-5 North. For about 35 miles we passed over small forested ridges and through pastures between them, passing right through the local big town of Bellingham. Very close to the Canadian border, we pulled off at the town of Blaine and wandered around until we found the Lighthouse RV Park.

It’s a pretty nice park. They have adequately-sized spaces, full hookups, cable TV, WiFi and the usual campground amenities like a laundry and a rec room. If we could get clear of the trees, we would be able to look across Semiahmoo (no kidding! – I checked the spelling) Bay into White Rock which is in British Columbia. Peggy has issued a fatwa indicating I’ll soon be accompanying her into B.C. to see the city of Vancouver, the location of her mom’s childhood home and to hear the folks say “aboot” when they mean about.