The Lower Skagit River Valley was our target for today. Although WA-20 runs along the north bank of the Skagit River from Anacortes on Puget Sound to Okanagan in north-central Washington, we decided to scout both sides of the River from Concrete to Sedro Woolley without using 20. As it turns out, there are alternate and very scenic roads that meander along both shorelines.
The north side of the river holds gigantic pastures divided up by stands of massive, mature hardwoods. Many of the residences along the road are architecturally stunning and lots of folks have brilliant flower gardens and great landscaping. Between the residences are sections of road with green canopies of trees that put the road in endless shade.
The south shore doesn’t seem to be as heavily populated as the north side and the road runs right along the edge of the River with rock cliffs on the other side of the pavement. Where cuts are close to the road, small waterfalls are spread along the route. Moss covers almost everything in the shady grottoes of trees. The loop around the Lower Skagit River is gorgeous.
When we closed the loop at Concrete, we decided we needed a reward for fooling around all day and stopped for the second time at Annie’s Pizza. We got a pizza with Canadian Bacon, chicken, bacon, Gorgonzola cheese sauce along with the usual mozzarella on a perfectly-cooked crust. Our brains failed us on selecting a size and we ended up with almost half going home in a box. Oh, goody! I doubt the remainder will survive past 9:00 PM.
We made another foray into the National Forest north of Concrete, driving up a skinny, gravel, serpentine, single-lane road to the Shannon Lake boat ramp. We don’t have much to do with boats but the view of Mt. Shuksan, Mt. Baker, the surrounding forested mountains and the lake in the foreground is magnificent. Don’t let the crappy road frighten you – folks we met were driving carefully and were very nice about pulling out where it was easy for everyone.
It is difficult to imagine a region more suited to our needs. Here, in June, in or near our campground a few miles from Concrete we can enjoy nearby good food, a beautiful campground (although wifi would be nice), an adjacent turquoise-colored river, an air museum, extraordinary mountain scenery, volcanoes, engineering projects like dams and powerhouses, glaciers, massive lakes and substantial waterfalls. The locals have been nice, too.
There’s some pix of stuff we passed by today. To see ’em, click here
It started as another sunny day but the temperatures were a lot lower than the last couple days. Unfortunately, that meant that we were going to perform some quick maintenance around the trailer. It commenced with a waste tank dump but then transformed into a downspout and caulking installation task that was anything but quick.
According to the instructions on the plastic downspout replacement box, the only things needed to effect the quick repair were a screwdriver and a box cutter. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Maybe because the way our trailer was assembled at the factory, some customization of the new plastic downspout itself was required to make it fit. Considerable caulk scraping, cutting, cursing and pry bar work was performed before the previously installed broken downspout could be removed. Before we completed the job, we only needed a ladder, a drill motor, a paint scraper, a box cutter, a couple razor blades, straight and square-bit screwdrivers, two hours of properly adhered old caulk removal, multiple applications of Goo-B-Gone, a tube of silicone caulk and a caulking gun, all of which we surprisingly had. We believe we were successful but will know more when we get back into some rainy weather.
We rewarded ourselves with barbecued veggies and meat but only a little liquor. I can say that if we have to do any further trailer maintenance (and it seems evident we will), then I hope we get to do it in a place like Concrete. It is beautiful here.
Exploration was the plan for today so we headed east up the Skagit River into the North Cascades National Park. The road, WA-20, runs right close to our campground in Concrete so we left the park, turned left but almost immediately found the Concrete Sauk Valley Road that runs up the other side of the river from 20. It is a very scenic drive with almost no traffic so Peggy and I could putt along enjoying the terrific roadside forest and pasture at about 25 mph without trapping faster drivers behind us because there weren’t any. About an hour later, we emerged on WA-530 which took us back across the Skagit into the tiny burg of Rockport.
In Rockport we turned east again and headed into the more mountainous part of the road. We passed through places with names like Corkindale, Marblemount and Newhalem where we entered the park. The road continues climbing toward Diablo and Ross Lakes, passing through some of the most beautiful country on the planet. Massive trees, waterfalls, the turquoise Skagit and magnificent volcanic geology are the highlights. There are some small dams that can be visited, a great park visitor center and stunning overlooks liberally dotted along the roadside. Peggy and I have passed this way before on previous visits but today was the first time when the weather was sunny and the views were extraordinary.
Above Ross Lake we turned back toward home, backtracking down the exact route we used going up. The scenery was just as fantastic going the other way.
We took some pictures along the way and you can see some of them if you click here
Today the weather, which has been quite nice since the rain quit earlier this week, went to sunny with a vengeance. It was about 90 so we spent the day enjoying the benefits of air conditioning inside the Barbarian Invader. A portable hard drive packed with movies, good books and clear satellite reception helped us endure. We were slugs.
The kids chose to sleep on an air bed in Dana’s Subaru last night and they learned what Peggy and I have decided is a universal truth – airbeds invariably leak. Being kids, however, they still didn’t climb out of their bedroom until around 10. We rustled them up some breakfast here inside the Barbarian Invader and augmented it with some fortified coffee and Mimosas with beer later.
After everybody got all their morning showers and other duties completed, we took the kids on a spin to some of the local sights. Peggy and I purchased a Washington State Parks pass a few days ago so the first destination was now-free Rasar State Park, not five miles from our camping spot. This park is snuggled up along a gorgeous section of the Skagit River. The camping sites are large, they can accommodate RVs, the camping spots are nestled in a very shady grove of massive conifers and hardwoods and there are bathrooms and showers that look clean and modern. This would be a great place to be during those few days each year when Pacific Northwest is hot.
From the state park we headed north onto federal lands up to Baker Lake. Driving up the road from Concrete there are superb views of Mt. Shuksan and Mount Baker, which is really a massive volcano that occasionally vents a bit of steam to worry the locals. Baker Lake is filled by glacial runoff from the mountains and it is not only azure blue, but freezing cold. Along the roads are ample foxglove and little yellow flowers. The forest the road passes through is about as close to a jungle as one might find in the temperate zones; the massive forest trees and thick tangled brush make walking away from the highway impossible without a chainsaw. It is gorgeous.
Baker Dam is the plug that holds back Baker Lake. It is one of the few dams in the U.S. that Homeland Security has not surrounded with fencing and concertina wire and motorists can actually drive across the top of the dam. Driving over the dam there is water right up next to the truck on one side and a precipitous drop on the other. Motorists are advised that the top of the dam is only one lane wide so check to see it is clear before proceeding or you may end up backing down a very narrow passage for a very long way.
After admiring the beautiful North Cascades National Park sights for a few hours, we returned to our RV park the kids to their car for their return trip south. They departed around 6:00 and so did we; Dana and Devon going to south to Mukilteo and Peggy and me going over to Bow to watch the sprint cars race at Skagit Raceway. Many roaring engines were heard and some very expensive sprint cars were damaged or destroyed but no drivers were hurt. It was pretty good fun although Peg and I have decided we like the old beater racing we have seen at smaller tracks better than sprints.
There are some pictures. Click here
There was a whirlwind of activity around the Grandy Creek TT spot for our trailer today. Peggy was mostly responsible, me to a much lesser extent. Our daughter, Dana, and her man, Devon, were scheduled to visit us after making the drive here from Mukilteo (no kidding) late in the day. Peggy was furiously pursuing little housekeeping chores so the trailer would look better than it normally does. I went outside and did the very Jed-type task of dumping the waste tanks.
We went to the local market in Concrete (the Red Apple) and we purchased beer to augment our already substantial stockpile, produce and cheese. We failed on the cheese due to a poor selection. The prices are high but not terrifying. The road to the market passes a big pasture with a roadside turnout where elk can be spotted grazing on some nice Skagit Trust grass.
Our shopping trip ultimately ended up being for nought because after Devon and Dana arrived, we went out to eat at Annie’s Pizza in Concrete. Annie’s serves up some very unique flavors of pizza with selections like Cordon Bleu, garlic chicken Caesar, teriyaki and pizza fajita. We got a calzone and a Cordon Bleu pizza and they were amazingly scrumptious. It is fortunate that we do not live here because I would eat there all the time, swelling to the size of a zeppelin. Prices were reasonable with four of us getting away for around $50. Ordering is done at a counter but, once the food finally gets prepared, the workers deliver it to the table. Patrons get a glass for drinks and the soda machine is over there.
After dinner we returned to our campsite and broke out our portable fire. We have a little metal apparatus that hooks up to a propane tank so, once the user lights it without blowing himself up, there remains a small, sparkless fire raised above the ground that looks a bit like a burning pile of small sticks. We can use it in places where ground fires are prohibited much to the chagrin of other campers who don’t have one. Hahahaha.
The weather is finally beginning to cooperate. Yesterday in the late afternoon, the rain quit. This morning there were clouds for a bit but they burned off by late morning and we we able to begin work on the onerous maintenance tasks we had on backorder.
Our first tasks were to replace out trailer’s vent/skylight covers that had been holed by conifer cones dropping from great heights onto or, more realistically, through our trailer’s existing cheesy plastic vent covers.
Nothing in RVs is very substantial or well-engineered so we started up the procedure with grim outlooks. We soon found that the vents have to be totally disassembled from both the inside and the outside (the roof) completely exposing the terrible workmanship used to assemble the normally concealed RV components like roof structures and walls in order to facilitate the replacement operations. Much sweating, stretching, cursing and disgust ensued but we finally had two new operable vent covers installed and you can hardly see any of the damage.
Then I went to work on our electrical umbilical. Two days ago we spent most of a day finding the replacement parts. Today, after only a a couple hours, I had replaced the umbilical’s end connector and installed a 90 degree adapter such that our electrical supply cordset is almost the way we really wanted it. When we plugged it in and energized the system, nothing blew up or caught fire so we must be okay. If I could still get one, I would have gotten a stiffy.
We celebrated our achievements with some wine and whiskey and felt quite satisfied with ourselves once our chores were complete. The weather has finally decided to cooperate and by late afternoon we had sunny skies and great views of the surroundings. It is very beautiful here, when you can see it.
We would have spent some time performing all kinds of admirable and necessary maintenance duties around the trailer if the weather would have been nice but it wasn’t. We instead hung around the Invader all morning watching western movies. The plots were quite predictable and the outcomes sweet.
After lunchtime we decided to go exploring anyway despite the rain sometimes giving way to drizzle. We started out by driving west or down the Skagit River to Hamilton. Hamilton is more a collection of houses than a town although they do have a city hall which doubles as the Hamilton Historical Museum. There is also a small restaurant, a tavern, several very nice houses but also many residences that appear to be moldy trailer houses surrounded by rusty and decaying junk.
Not far from Hamilton, we ran across a big pasture with a herd of about 30 healthy-looking and quite tubby bison grazing on the lush grass. From the bison, we headed back up the Skagit River, not by taking WA-20 but instead by following N. Skagit River Road that runs right along the north bank of the river passing many handsome estates along the way. We finally ran out of river road and had to revert to WA-20 eastbound. We had only traveled about 5 miles when we came across a small gravel parking lot built right next to a massive open field with a nifty sign indicating this was a place to observe wildlife. We initially saw nothing but we lingered for a bit and pretty soon an elk moseyed out into the pasture from the bordering woods. Another elk followed after a few minutes and by the time we had spent a quarter hour in the parking lot, we could see not less than six big elk cows and a few calves. The grass is so tall in the field that the elk almost appeared to be laying down but their movements informed us they were merely wading in a deep sea of grass. The animals we saw today were Rocky Mountain Elk moved here from a herd in Colorado. The rest of the elk in Washington are the local, indigenous Roosevelt Elk which can be spotted all over the Pacific Northwest. We have no idea what this imported species is doing here. The range of the imported herd is from the Skagit River Valley all the way to Mount Baker, closer to the Canadian border.
Reluctantly, we left the elk and continued up to the town of Concrete. We were almost at the turnoff to Concrete when we came across a wreck on WA-20 that had demolished some poor bozo’s travel trailer and flipped his not-very-late model Ford Blazer onto its side. No other vehicles were involved so we were at a loss to explain how a motorist had managed to wreck his trailer and his truck while driving down an arrow-straight section of road. There were some very Nazi-looking Washington State Patrol officers there grilling the locals so we skated on by and headed into Concrete for a once-through.
Concrete has a theater, a few restaurants, a bakery, a hardware store, a place for music lessons, a post office and a liquor store but very few other businesses. There are some nice tidy houses here and several churches. Across WA-20 is a high school built in such a way that the road runs beneath the second floor and there is a small airport and a nifty little air museum with a good collection of old biplanes and early single-wing airplanes when you come out the other side. Concrete used to have a big cement processing facility but it is defunct now. The railroad tracks that used to go to it have been pulled up and recycled. An enormous but unused group of cement silos separate Concrete from the highway although, technically, the place should have been called Cement. The surroundings are very beautiful with mountains on all sides and a gorgeous river valley filling up the middle.
There’s a couple of photos from around the area that you can see if you click here
Yesterday, when we were hooking up our trailer to site utilities, I noticed that some metal parts had become energized, offering exciting creative dance possibilities when touching almost any exterior surface. I guess I was grounded because everything was wet and I had been strolling around in the mud and goo. I fooled around with the service panel connection and the in-line surge protector and the electrical umbilical connection at the trailer and finally was rewarded with trailer contact without busting a move.
I did note that the cordset plug at the trailer end had some unsettling tension relief and contact issues and decided to replace the whole thing, hopefully with a right angle adapter. I have seen right angle cordset ends but I’m not sure I’ve seen them in replacement ends. The search for the right angle replacement end plug was long, tedious and, ultimately, futile. We visited an electrical supply house, an RV parts seller in Burlington, a RV supply house in Mount Vernon and Camping World twice before we eventually settled on a replacement plug and right angle adapter that is very nearly sort of what we wanted. It cost less than $200, if you don’t count fuel. I will start working on the electrical system, including replacing or installing the new components, once the weather starts to cooperate. I hate being shocked.
The mountains around us are magnificent, even if the weather makes it tough to see them. If you want to see them, click here
Today was a travel day so we went through our departure procedures and lists and departed from Tall Chief RV. The weather is still lousy with drizzle most of the time and rain the rest. We were trying to go north in Washington but, due to the interesting but confusing road configurations, we immediately turned south and passed through the town of Fall River. There we skirted a roundabout and reversed direction on WA-203 toward Monroe. It is a very scenic and relatively safe two-lane road but there are no turnouts or passing lanes so massive queues result, some of them behind us today.
In Monroe, we turned west on US-2. East of Monroe, the road leads to Stevens Pass over the Cascades. We followed 2 west until we got to the busy and exciting I-5 northbound. Traffic was pretty heavy but only wrecks and a couple changing a diaper at the roadside were sufficient to provide any panicked braking.
North of Mount Vernon we turned east at Burlington on WA-20 headed up the Skagit River toward our destination near Concrete. With the skies in full drizzle, we pulled into the Grandy Creek Thousand Trails/KOA. Timing must be everything and we had great timing today because we were able to immediately pull into a still-warm front row spot that is one of about five TT spots in the campground that offer the clear shot south necessary to fully utilize our satellite dish. The park is beautiful with big conifers sprinkled between the RV sites. There are 50 amp full hookups, a laundry, wifi at the clubhouse, pools, lush grass everywhere and complete silence at night unless some retiree goes bonkers and unleashes his almost uncorked Dodge or uncorked Harley. Grandy Creek runs along the west side of the campground before flowing into the Skagit.
About a quarter mile from the campground, WA-20, part of the magnificent 400-mile long North Cascades Loop runs by and the Skagit River borders the road, at least for a while. We will be taking the drive into the North Cascades during our 11-day stay here at Grandy Creek.
I’m glad we are here but I hope the weather quits being shitty.