Today we did absolutely nothing other than watch the news to see what was happening out in the real world and catch up on our reading. Nobody would be interested so I’ll cut it off here.
Today we did not have a stifling schedule so we started the day slowly with much lounging around and some breakfast. Eventually, however, we decided to do something and started by driving to get diesel for Charlotte. We checked Gas Buddy for the lowest prices and were informed that the lowest price in the area was in a small village nearby called Onalaska. As it turned out, Onalaska was not really nearby and they did not have the lowest prices. Somebody lied to Gas Buddy about the price of diesel. By the time we got there, our dashboard info panel indicated we had 35 miles worth of fuel in the tank and it was just too far to go to a real town to get cheaper fuel, if any.
From Onalaska, we went west to I-5 and turned north to the city of Centralia where Peggy desired some time in the Centralia Antiques Mall In Historic Downtown Centralia. After leaving the freeway at Exit 79, we zigzagged through ordinary residential areas and finally arrived in Historic Downtown Centralia. Centralia is sort of run down and the only historic aspect we noted was that the buildings were old. Very little urban renewal here.
We did note that the building which used to house downtown’s old Fox theater had a faded painted sign on one wall that said the place was where you needed to go to see the latest in talking pictures entertainment. We stopped not far away and wandered into the Centralia Antiques Mall which appeared to be an old downtown hotel repurposed into the basement antiques store and an upstairs breakfast and lunch restaurant called Berry Fields Cafe. The antiques mall was not a mall in the usual sense. It was a large subterranean basement with steep stairs descending from the street. Upon entering, we encountered a Hobbit-sized owner/operator that looked a lot like Renfield in the movie, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He urged us to look around.
I’m not a big fan of antiques stores but Peggy is delighted to browse in such places. I always envisioned antiques stores as being mostly filled with antique furniture and appliances but this one was a bit different. It had all the stuff that folks have collected over their lives that they hope will gain value instead of being discarded. The store had lots of glass items, a few old crummy lamps, a small collection of functioning and broken illuminated tavern signs, a bit of china, many old grease and oil containers, broken watches and pocketknives and many old campaign buttons from mostly Republican candidates.
Peggy checked out quite a bit of the stuff but I was done pretty quickly because I was unable to find anything that interested me other than a pencil drawing and some stick art from Malaya. The treasures (according to Peggy) or junk (according to me) was pretty pricey so I lost interest quickly. The owner was selling old Zippo lighters for $65.
After a while, Peggy took pity on me and allowed us to depart. We did a bit of food shopping on the way home. We also stopped at a restaurant called Kit Carson. I ordered the chicken fried steak in accordance with my nationwide quest to locate the country’s best. It is not available here.
In Centralia, we shot a picture of a thing. We do not know what it is. You can see the thing if you click here
Today was a travel day. We gathered up our folding chairs, cleaned up the interior of the Barbarian Invader, disconnected from the shore utilities and departed Tall Chief RV in Fall City, WA. Our destination for today was Chehalis Thousand Trails near the town with the same name.
We had originally gone to Tall Chief in order to skirt the Seattle metropolitan area and its horrible traffic. Today we left Fall City, got on I-90 for a bit before turning south on I-5. Our efforts to avoid the hellish traffic were not entirely successful.
Seattle metro is unique in the number of absolute nightmares encountered by motorists passing over their highways. Many of the drivers have considerable difficulty keeping their cars in their twisting, narrow lanes. Lanes on the freeway just disappear with little or no notification to unsuspecting idiots, like us, and the resulting scramble created by the sudden loss of a third of the lanes is nearly catastrophic. Entry and exit ramps are installed on both the right and left side of the freeways although many of them are blocked or were never completed. Speed limits change more often than a fashion model changes snazzy clothes. The road surfaces were created by apparently dropping hot asphalt from passing aircraft followed by another aircraft dropping high explosive bombs. Signage is either confusing, incorrect or non-existent. Road construction barricades and delineators are everywhere but no construction appears to be in progress. WADOT vehicles with flashing amber lights clog the few, screwy lanes in their aimless search for imaginary work in progress. It is a mystifying and treacherous funhouse of potential death.
After much terror and confusion, we finally passed through Olympia on our way south and right away the number of lanes were reduced, making the already chaotic traffic squeeze down into two lanes and the speed of many motorists to be reduced to a mere crawl, perhaps due to perceived ring tones from their cell phone or hallucinations. Some folks just drive along on the freeway, 40 miles per hour slower than all the adjacent traffic while making obscene gestures at their fellow risk-takers who have sounded their horns in an attempt to encourage them to accelerate. Sometimes, a motorist in one of the two lanes would abruptly slow or stop creating a flurry of swerving, bright brake lights and much lane changing without the benefit of turn signals. On this stretch of highway, the speed limit for cars is 70 and for trucks it is 60 but the trucks around us were all going about 70 as they dodged from lane to lane in their attempts to avoid slow or stopped passenger vehicles. The cars we doing around 62, 25 or 6.
We finally made it to Chehalis and turned off the freeway for a nice 15 minute drive east on abandoned roads to the Chehalis RV entrance. It was wonderful to be off the metro highways. We found a nice spot in the campground, set up our stuff and climbed into the Barbarian Invader for some liquor.
We were slugs today. We did not go anywhere but that doesn’t mean we had a bad time. We were visited by relatives.
John, my oldest brother’s oldest child, and his delightful long-time companion, Maria, came to visit us from their residence in nearby Auburn, WA. They also brought along their enormous Tibetan Mastiff, Bruno. Bruno has a very nice disposition which is fortunate because he is as big as a Yeti and has teeth about the size you would find in a leopard.
John and Maria left their other Tibetan Mastiff, Bodie, at home because he has a surly disposition and cutting him loose near other mammals would mean certain death for any creatures unfortunate enough to be noticed by him. We saw Bodie in April and he tried to eat us. He seems to love his folks but hates everybody else.
Other than taking Bruno for a stroll around the campground at Tall Chief RV Resort, we did not go anywhere today. We can easily be boring and we got in some practice today.
We only had one tiny agenda item today so we looked forward to a good day of exploring. Our task for today was to acquire some more device charging cords because the phones and Kindles do not like some of our existing gear and were about to stage a walkout.
We drove what couldn’t have been more than 15 miles into what we think was Redmond to find a Radio Shack. The first 10 miles weren’t too bad but once we reached the outskirts of town, the conditions darkened considerably. Many traffic lights and local drivers performing bizarre maneuvers to access businesses slowed the abundance of cars to a near standstill. The road intersections are so skewed and frequent that you can see your destination but are seemingly prevented from driving there. We stopped at the Shack, got our stuff and then re-entered the fray for the trip back toward our RV park. After quite a bit longer than we anticipated, we were clearing the lights outside town and were on our way to Mount Ranier National Park.
We drove over many lumpy back roads through Cascade Range foothills before entering the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on the north side of the park before entering Mount Rainier National Park’s northeast corner. Once in the park, the roadside timber changes to old growth forest and the terrain gets very dramatic with massive rock-faced hillsides surrounded by huge stands of Douglas Fir and cedar. Flowers are abundant. Soon, through the trees there are glimpses of Mount Rainier, a 14,400 foot high giant volcano covered with massive glaciers. It is surrounded by scores of adjacent jagged peaks. The terrain is mostly vertical. Waterfalls cascade down ravines that intersect the road and they are beautiful.
We continued our clockwise path around the east and south sides of the volcano and eventually pulled into the Paradise Valley, a heavily touristed and congested area with a ranger station, a visitor center and what should have been dramatic views of the mountain. While Peggy was circling the parking lot and I was busy getting the postcards we wanted from the visitor center, the mountain was obscured by clouds forming around the top. As we descended from Paradise and its huge transient population, we pulled over for an extended period of time when the clouds were periodically dissipated and the crest was plainly visible. Mount Rainier is a monster. The view from the south allows dazzled viewers to see the mountain without distracting ridges in the foreground. About the upper 6,000 feet of mountain are visible from this angle and it fills up the horizon.
We ultimately emerged from the park in the southwest corner. We did not realize we had traveled so far while gawking at this magnificent volcano and its surroundings. The Garmin indicated we only had 100 miles to travel before getting back to Tall Chief RV Park near Fall City. The scenery along the road around the south and east sides of this gorgeous peak is absolutely stunning and should qualify for anyone’s Bucket List.
Tips for any future travelers on this route:
1. Many Washington drivers have poor lane discipline and frequently approach on your side of the double yellow line. Make sure your horn works before departure.
2. The roads are not really suitable for larger RVs because they are narrow, pass through a few low tunnels, have many tight turns and are quite lumpy. Your silverware could end up on the floor.
We shot a few pictures along the way and you can see them if you click here
We had a travel day today. Grandy Creek RV Park has full hookups so we were able to get going without too much delay. We did note a low tire on the trailer at departure so we drove east on WA-20 to a Shell station where we were required to donate $1.50 to an air compressor with a sign on the front that stated the a fraction (and probably a small one) of the money going in the slot would be given to an obscure charity. We filled the trailer tire to the specified pressure and headed back west on 20.
We soon came to Sedro-Woolley where we accessed I-5 south for the beginning of our trip toward San Diego. After only about 55 terrifying minutes on I-5, we turned east on WA-2 where the traffic became even scarier. After only a few years being frightened off our lives, we arrived in Monroe where we turned south on WA-203. We sort of took the long way to Fall City because it keeps us from going through the Seattle metropolitan area, a funhouse of signalless lane changes, circuitous exits, abrupt lane disappearances and the ever-popular variable speed limits, all installed on the sides of steep hills. For cowardly outsiders, like us, it is a treacherous path through a hailstorm of surprises and hard braking.
Eventually, we pulled up at Tall Chief RV Park where we have discounts both through Thousand Trails and RPI. The RPI discount is better; we paid $10 per night, plus tax. We were here in 2014. North Bend, Snoqualmie Falls and lots of great scenery can be found traveling in any direction from this park.
We continued our exploring in the Concrete area by driving north in an attempt to make a loop near Baker Lake. We could see Baker Lake from our perch on Mount Baker about a week ago but it was a just a small pond in the distance. Today we found that it actually quite a bit larger.
We started the day in a bakery called 5b which is located in nearby Concrete. Their pigs in a blanket was only $7.50 and was quite good but served without hash browns. From there, we took another spin through Concrete which took about 4 minutes before heading west down Highway 20 and then north on Baker Lake Road. It is a very nice drive through big groves of maple and hemlock trees and soon we were alongside Lake Shannon that, before today, we did not know existed. Between Lake Shannon and the slightly more distant Baker Lake, there is a tall dam operated by Puget Energy or something that holds back Baker which ended up being huge. We continued around Baker Lake’s northwest edge enjoying the wonderful scenery until the road sort of crapped out. We turned around and headed back south but we pulled out to check out the numerous campgrounds along the shore of the lake. At one of them, we noted tiny creatures migrating across one of the gravel roads. Investigating further, we determined the critters were tiny toads on a lemming-like exodus from one side of the road to the other. Several of the tiny pilgrims were noted that had been martyred by being crushed by automobile tires. It was unfortunate because the half-inch runts were actually kind of cute.
We kept on going south but turned out to investigate the dam. Our Gazetteer showed that there was a shortcut road that would take us back to Concrete but we needed to pass over the dam to access it. We followed the gravel road we encountered after passing over the very skinny top of the dam and followed it for some distance before meeting an oncoming vehicle on the skinny road. Since we had to pass very carefully, we had ample time to speak with the nice folks in the other vehicle and found out that the road we were following would not lead us to Concrete. After a short distance, we found a spot in the road wide enough to turn our F-250 around and headed back down toward the dam. Right near the dam, we encountered some dam workers who told us the only other road we could use as a shortcut back to Concrete was a good road except the portion where the bridge was washed out.
Back over the dam we went and then headed back toward our RV park by backtracking down the same road we came up. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful drive and was quite pleasant even though there is only one way in and out.
We still had plenty of daylight left when we made it back to Highway 20. Fortunately, we had noted during our cruise through Concrete yesterday that there is an aircraft museum across the street from Concrete High School. We decided to give it a try. We had a bit of trouble finding anybody home when we wandered onto the grass airfield but were soon directed by an aviator hiding in the back of his hanger toward another non-descript person near another hanger. The second guy was a sort of guide but really he just pointed out the buildings where the vintage planes were stored and then sat down.
We wandered through a half dozen buildings and saw many vintage aircraft, most of them from the 1930s and early 1940s.. They are very well restored and quite beautiful. About time we had seen all the planes, the alleged guide received a flurry of phone calls from friends telling him their plans for watching tonight’s Seahawks game were changing and from his wife informing him that he needed to take care of the kids. He looked pretty desperate so we let him go, dropped $10 in the donation box and headed home.
Concrete seems like an unlikely place to find a vintage aircraft museum, especially one located at the end of a dead end across the street from the high school. Maybe they have pilot training at Concrete High. Lord knows they have ample aircraft.
There is a picture of one of the roads through the hardwoods available if you click here
Two years ago, when we passed through this part of the world, we drove up Highway 20 from Concrete into the North Cascades. Back then it was raining and cloudy but the scenery was magnificent. We repeated our drive into the North Cascades National Park again today but the weather was absolutely gorgeous and the scenery was still spectacular.
We started our drive with a circuit through the town of Concrete which took about 5 minutes because Concrete is pretty small. The census indicates only 790 people claim this town as their home. The Baker and Skagit Rivers have a confluence here. Above Concrete, Highway 20 runs adjacent to the Skagit River as it passes through the narrow bottom lands between steep gorge walls until the road starts climbing slowly northeast of Marblemount. We tried to stop in Marblemount at a place famous for their cinnamon rolls but, of course, they had sold out by the time we rolled into their lot at just before noon. We were forced to drive on upriver without the tasty heart plugs sold at the bakery.
Soon, some small hydroelectric projects run by Skagit City Light (Is there a Skagit City?)can be spotted along the road and they back up both Diablo and Ross Lakes which are filled with amazingly colored turquoise water. I understand the water has this color due to the nature of its source – glacial runoff and tiny rock particles suspended in the water.
We continued up WA-20 past Ross Lake about 10 or 15 miles until we decided to turn around and head back toward Concrete. The drive coming back down offers fabulous vistas of snow-covered Cascade peaks, massive rock bluffs, forested lower mountains, turquoise lakes and rivers and great hardwood groves sprinkled alongside the road.
Although we really did not cover more than about 60 miles today, it took about 6 hours because we pulled out just about everywhere possible to gaze at the glorious surroundings. We did make a short stop in Concrete to replenish our food stocks. Peggy spotted a woman here that was particularly striking due to her complete lack of teeth.
We could happily drive into the Park once a week until it becomes boring which I doubt would ever happen. I am challenged to come up with adequate superlatives to describe the scenery along this beautiful drive.
Some of the scenery was captured by our lens today and you can see a sampling if you click here
It was a travel day today so we put all our inside stuff away, disconnected all our outside stuff and hooked the Barbarian Invader to Charlotte before pulling away from our spot in the Mount Vernon Thousand Trails Preserve. Since this preserve does not have full hookups, we got to stop by the dump station on the way out to empty our waste tanks. Soon we were on our way. We drove about a quarter mile to I-5, turned south and headed for the Thousand Trails Preserve entitled Grandy Creek which is near the rustic town of Concrete.
Concrete probably should have been called “Cement” because it came into being due to the building of the Washington Portland Cement Company here. It is located at the junction of the Baker and Skagit Rivers in Skagit County. The earliest settlement (1890) here was called Minnehaha for some reason but after a post office was built, they changed the name to Baker. Then, in 1905, the cement plant was built across the river from Baker and it was called Cement City. In 1908, Cement City and Baker merged and became Concrete. I don’t know if they make any concrete here but the cement silos of Portland Superior Cement still stand with the words “Welcome to Concrete” in faded paint on the side.
As you leave Highway 20 and drive into town, you will drive under the Concrete High School which is built above a big box culvert spanning over the road. There is also the Henry Thompson Bridge here, named after a Scottish immigrant, settler and county commissioner who promoted its construction. According to Wikipedia, the single arch bridge was the longest single-span reinforced concrete bridge in the world but maybe only in Washington. Facts become a bit hazy here. The bridge did not get named until after Henry was squashed by a logging train in 1918. There are about 790 souls living in Concrete although it looks like it may have had a much larger population when they manufactured cement here in the past.
Despite the tiny town, the area scenery is splendid with enormous stands of cedar trees. It is also the the beginning of a magnificent road which is known as the North Cascades Highway and we will be traveling up this road alongside the beautiful Skagit River tomorrow. It goes past both Baker and Ross Lakes into the North Cascades National Park. We drove part of this road two years ago when we stayed in the same campground and noted the water, due to coming from beneath glaciers, is turquoise.
We noted an interesting issue here. Not long after we pulled into Grandy Creek Preserve and set up our trailer, a group of other campers pulled into a spot not far from ours. At first, they seemed perfectly normal. After a while, however, I noted there was something making a sound that we were not familiar with. Initially, it reminded me of something but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. When I asked Peggy to listen for the sound, she heard it and almost immediately identified it as the sound the Martians make in the movie Mars Attacks. Careful listening by me made me realize that was it. Initially, it sounded like single “Akk!” noises. Soon, we could hear “akk…akk…akk…AKK! AKK! AKK!…akk.” It continued periodically through the afternoon. I think it is one of our neighbors. I hope his head doesn’t explode when I play some Slim Whitman music.
We were extremely lazy today. We can proudly state that we did nothing productive. We did drive the truck to the family center at the campground to load up blog entries and photos but there were some children there pursuing a strategy of making the maximum possible amount of noise. They had new, irritating cartoons on the big screen TV that they didn’t watch but they did have the volume up at disco levels. I suppose they had to have the volume high so they could hear the TV while they attempted to play ping pong but mostly failed. They spent quite a bit of time retrieving the ball from under nearby furniture while yelling. After finishing our computer tasks, we split in order to get away from the obnoxious racket.