June 23 Fall City to Concrete

We were back on the road today in our quest northward. We did all the required tank dumping and pulled out of Tall Chief RV in a steady drizzle. We backtracked a bit on WA-202 into Fall City where we whirled around a roundabout and magically ended up on WA-203 northbound toward Monroe. It is a pleasant drive through nice forest and pasture lands with a few small towns sprinkled along the way. We almost flattened some pedestrians when a schmuck, who moments before cut us off, elected to slam on the brakes for some J-walkers. It is the first time I have heard my trailer tires skidding although the pavement was quite wet.

In Monroe, we turned west on WA-2 for about a dozen miles before merging onto I-5 north just outside Everett. Forty five miles north in Mount Vernon, the rain quit and we turned west on WA-12 through a town called Sedro Woolley (no kidding) where we know they sell the by far best hamburgers known at a place called Skagit Valley Burger. It is located in an old caboose alongside the road. They also make a bad-ass milkshake and have very tasty garlic fries that can keep folks turning away from your breath for some time. We had the trailer attached so we didn’t stop but we will be going back there in the next day or two.

We continued on WA-12, also called the North Cascades Scenic Highway, until we made it to Concrete. We turned off the road at the Grandy Creek Thousand Trails / KOA campground which is my favorite of all the Thousand Trails facilities. There is the Scenic Highway, North Cascades National Park, stunning views of Mount Baker (another volcano) just around the corner at Baker Lake, great food, a brewery, miles of roads on both sides of the magnificent Skagit River and beautiful camp sites in a mature grove of Douglas firs and red cedars. There is WiFi, a pool, a laundry, full hookups, a playground with a big bounce pillow for the younger folks and even a little store. We won’t be moving from here for more than a week and I would have stayed longer but I couldn’t get a reservation for the days around the 4th of July because I may be an idiot with insufficient foresight to reserve early in gorgeous areas.

Strangely, fuel is cheaper here than anywhere else we have been this year. We spotted diesel selling for less than $3 a gallon, only $1.25 less than we were paying in California a couple weeks ago.

June 22 A visit from the reddatives

Today the weather was a bit on the dreary side but we were saved by a visit from my nephew (J.R.) and his marvelous companion (Maria). They live in Auburn, about an hour from where we are currently camped and were very nice about doing the driving to get to us. J.R. brought his dog, Bruno, who is a Tibetan mastiff and no larger than a normal industrial air compressor. It is fortunate Bruno is good-natured because he could eat almost anything he wanted with his victim being incapable of escaping a horrible death.

We hobnobbed with the relatives for a few pleasant hours when J.R.’s phone rang. It was his neighbor letting him know that his distant house had fire alarm noises coming out of it. The neighbor peered in J.R.’s window and the place was not filled with smoke. There were many theories about why the fire alarm was being obnoxious but none of them turned out to be true.

The actual reason for the worrying alarm turned out to be simpler than any of our theories. It turns out that J.R. has another rhinoceros-sized Tibetan mastiff that was left at the house because he has a slightly more abrasive personality than Bruno. The other dog, Bodie, was naughty at the house. His behavioral tidbit for today was to attempt to clean off the pan used to make breakfast at J.R.’s house this morning and in his man-hating clumsiness he had turned on the electric burner which ultimately vaporized the pan but left the house standing. The dog was unharmed and can continue his affection for his housemates and total, unwavering hate of male strangers and visitors. He would have loved to eat me the last time I visited J.R. and Maria but a sturdy muzzle kept him from biting off my arthritic hands or other projecting parts.

June 20 North Bend, WA

The area around Fall City, where we are currently staying, is gorgeous and we ventured out to ogle some of it today. Before we even got our of our campsite, we noted some spotted towhees had been seduced by our bird feeder and have become regular visitors. There are also western tanagers, big Steller’s blue jays and a variety of little songbirds too quick for us to accurately identify. Unfortunately, a squirrel has also noted our bird feeder and he spends quite a bit of time jumping from adjacent vegetation onto the feeder in an attempt to get some of the goodies. He can’t hold on but his impacts with the feeder drain out a rain of seeds that he subsequently browses after hitting the ground.

We headed up some two-lane roads parallel to I-90 passing by Snoqualmie Falls and into the pretty town of Snoqualmie. There is an abundance of very spiffy architecture here and we stalked the back streets admiring the pretty buildings. The old train station is gorgeous and the flower pots attached to all the downtown streetlights are quite appealing. After a bit, we continued going east and soon came to North Bend, another pretty community that has really been built to serve their local folks. There are parks and bike trails, green spaces and a gorgeous library building. The town is built at the foot of Mount Si, a giant cliff rising more than 3,000 feet abruptly from the flat valley floor. I could be quite happy loafing here and enjoying the dramatic scenery.

Peggy and I used to eat at a pedestrian fast food Mexican restaurant called Taco Time in Coos Bay, OR, back when we were young. That Taco Time is now gone but there is one in North Bend so we headed over for some highly whiteyized Mexican cuisine. We noted that the drive-through lane menu had an item listed as “Crustos.” We didn’t have the necessary intestinal fortitude to sample these things, particularly with that name.

After Taco Time and the mystery food, we headed a bit further east on I-90 until we turned off at a place called the Watershed Education Center. Our initial reason for going there was to find a restroom. I was not optimistic about a place with that name but, as usual, I was delighted when we got there. Seattle’s water comes from this watershed and the water authority has built a beautiful museum/research facility/garden here and attending is free. They also have very nice restrooms.

As we walked into the facility from the parking lot, we noted a barely-audible drumming sound coming from somewhere. As we approached the interactive center, we came across a yard filled with lush plants, grasses and drums. They have arranged the drums beneath concealed tiny rubber tubes that squirt water in little short bursts that fall down and land on the drum heads. It sounds like the drums I used to hear in old western movies when the absolutely white good guy would blunder into the Indian village during a big powwow. We sat down and enjoyed several different drum sequences that change every couple minutes. The views from this garden of the surrounding area are magical.

This garden is right next to the interpretive museum where there are unique displays about the watershed. As the story of the area plays on two wide-screens and and the speakers, a topographic representation lights up to show how the mountains, rivers, lakes and valleys are affected and controlled to provide the best public use. They stated three-fourths of the water released from their system is to keep the salmon breeding here while about one-quarter goes to thirsty Seattleites.

This place closes at 5:00 PM so we were gently evicted at closing time and headed back to Tall Chief. We give the Watershed Education Center five stars on our scale of nifty spots. Five is the highest we can award according to the complete lack of rules and protocols we have.

There’s a few pictures. Click the link. https://photos.app.goo.gl/RKfMNMcAjevwxKab9

June 19 Paradise to Fall City

We were on the road again today. We reluctantly left Paradise RV in Silver Creek, WA, and headed about 15 miles west to pick up I-5. There, we headed north on the venerable freeway toward Seattle. The traffic was great until we got the Olympia, the state capital, where it started getting pretty crowded. There were many spots where construction was allegedly taking place although we didn’t detect any workers or snarling equipment. However, the barricades, lane closures and detours did affect the traffic from Tacoma north and progress slowed to a fast crawl. We bailed out of almost stopped traffic on I-5, instead cleverly slipping into almost stopped traffic on I-405. After considerable testing of brakes and acceleration, we turned east on I-90 and into a faster subgroup of of crazed Washington drivers. They seem strangely unable to merge, signal or refrain from tailgating.

The faster speed was fleeting, however. We soon turned off I-90 onto the Preston-Fall City Road for four miles until we popped out at OR-202, right near Tall Chief RV.

We have been to Tall Chief a couple times in the past. The park is located in a big stand of cedars, maples and alders so thick that neighboring RVers are not visible from our rented space. We got in through the RPI membership program we subscribe to so the cost at the gate was $11.11 per day instead of the $40 or $50 charged to the unprepared. There is WiFi at the lodge and the campground has a summertime pool. There are no sewer hookups at the individual spaces so upon departure we have to go through the inconvenience of visiting the dump station to leave our shit behind. It’s not a big deal. I am just complaining because I’m whiney. Shopping is nearby, the surrounding area is pretty and just up I-90 is fabulous scenery which we may check out tomorrow.

We were lucky with our selection of travel time today. About an hour after we got all set up and happy in our RV, it started to rain quite copiously. I’m sure glad we don’t camp in a tent.

June 18 Rainier Loop

The destination for today’s trip was a little vague when we departed from our fifth wheel and headed east on US-12 up the Cowlitz River. We zipped through Mossyrock, Morton, Glenoma and Randle before pulling into Packwood. The drive here from I-5 is very pretty and there’s plenty of turnouts available where we could get out of the truck and gaze slack-jawed at the sensational scenery. There used to be a sawmill in Packwood that was a robust employer but the mill’s gone now so the town looks like it is shriveling up.

Just up the road from Packwood, we left US-12, turning north on OR-123 and up the flanks of Mount Rainier. Like an idiot, I suggested that we go up to Rainier without consulting the weatherman first. There were clouds obscuring anything taller than about 10,000 feet so we didn’t get to see the elusive volcano which tops out at 14,411 feet. That’s okay; this part of the world is still spectacular even if you can’t see the top third. There are waterfalls right next to the road. The volcanic terrain is jagged, unforgiving and absolutely beautiful to look at. Walking around and climbing here is miserable for those not used to abrupt cliffs, dense vegetation, rocks shaped like stabbing weapons and constantly distracting surroundings. Don’t step over the edge here.

Conditions were terrific for flowers today. Amazing arrays of wildflowers were in bloom all across pastures and right up to the fog line at the road’s edge. We spotted a type of flower called a Colt’s Foot which is shaped like a foot-long teardrop or comet. Peggy found weird plants she thinks are Hostas.

We soon turned off OR-123 and onto Stevens Canyon Road which started us going back west. Stevens Canyon Road eventually does indeed go west from 123 but it does a lot of north, south and east before going any closer to the coast. Along this section we spotted a marmot that had a nice perch overlooking the road. He was a big, chubby guy about the size of a beaver but without the silly tail.

We soon crossed the top end of the Nisqually River which at that point looks like a gritty, fast-moving creek but it is on top of and enormous river of gravel and boulders that have washed down from the mountains. The rock & gravel pile, and the ever-wider river extend for dozens of miles along the bottom of a massive glacial ravine. The water gets clearer the further it goes downstream. The rock and gravel must filter out all the ground up rock brought down by the meltwater from the glaciers above. We soon pulled into the little town of Longmire and continued west through Ashford and Park Junction, following the Nisqually down into the flatlands. At Elbe, we turned south and OR-7 which took us back to Morton over in the Cowlitz River Valley. From there we headed back west on US-12 to our digs at Paradise RV in Silver Creek. Just over our left shoulder during this segment we could check out St. Helens looming just to the southeast.

Check out the pix we got today by clicking the link. https://photos.app.goo.gl/inap9aSk4pQvahV36

June 17 Peggy does the laundry

Today Peggy did the laundry in the park laundromat, leaving me at the trailer to catch up on this erstwhile journal and to watch crummy movies. We had not used up all our clothes but Peggy figured she could get ahead because we will definitely see good stuff in the days ahead and laundry chores are a pain in the ass when there is good stuff to see and fun things to do.

June 16 Into Chehalis

Another day without pesky chores. We went on another exploratory mission today, this time to Chehalis, a town about 35 miles northwest of our current digs at Paradise Campground in Silver Creek. To start out, we almost immediately went south – the wrong way. We moseyed by a local ranch that has llamas grazing and sleeping in a big pasture that offers absolutely stunning views of Mt. St. Helens. The llamas are strange-looking creatures. They have bodies about the size of a big deer or small elk but heads that are almost microscopic. The shape of their bodies most closely resembles a camel. They understand they spit. We kept our distance.

Next in our aimless wanderings we found our way down to the Cowlitz Trout Hatchery where we didn’t go see the tanks of trout but did drop down right to the river’s edge. When we were here a few years ago, we spotted a bald eagle there that liked to perch in a big alder tree right across the river from the hatchery. Eagle-eyed Peggy spotted him in just about the same place she found him in 2016. The news was good – he now has a nice mate, just a bit smaller but no less magnificent. They sat together, making eagle noises and preening each other while we got sunburned and ogled them from a distance. My butt was getting sore from sitting on the tailgate so we finally departed the trout hatchery area (not to be confused with the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery area a few miles distant) and headed north.

We took the back roads even though the route on I-5 was much shorter. I felt this was the prudent thing to do because I had eaten some nice chocolate I had picked up at the dispensary a bit earlier and hectic driving seemed uninteresting at that point. Our first destination was a DXL store in Chehalis where Peggy went inside in an effort to make me look like I don’t live in a dumpster and shop at the Salivation Army. After about 15 minutes of breaking even on Solitaire played on my phone, Peggy re-emerged with some new clothes for me. I hope they look good and fit, for her sake.

My chocolate snack earlier in the day was making me grin idiotically and whirl happily so I turned the driving chores over to Peggy for the remainder of the trip. That is some gooood chocolate. Our next stop was a Tractor Supply where I wanted to shuffle in and pick up some bird seed for the feeder we put out for my friends. As soon as we passed through the doors, Peggy immediately stopped in the clothes section so I told her I would return there to find her later. I was on a mission to find a restroom. It turned out to be quite a test. There was only one sign on the store floor to indicate where the restroom might be and it took me quite a while to find that. I headed in the direction indicated by the sign and soon came to a long, shiny white corridor that had two doors leading off of it. Neither was a restroom. I continued to the end of the long hall and found at the far end it turned into another long, shiny corridor with no doors leading from it. I was getting suspicious. At the far end of that corridor was another turn, this time entering another shiny corridor where, finally, I found doors leading to the appropriate gender’s crapper. They must not want customers to go weewee or cocky-doody here because if they did, they wouldn’t have put the restroom in another town. To top it off, after I got my hands all nice and clean, I found there were no paper towels in the dispenser so I did the man thing; I wiped them on my pants. After my long tour of corridors in the store, I returned to Peggy who was just finishing up in the clothes section. We wandered over and picked up some bird seed and made our escape.

Peggy drove us back to Silver Creek. This time I got to admire the scenery without having to pay attention to the road. It was glorious.

We got some pix. Click the link.


June 15 Around Silver Creek

A total lack of stuff we had on our schedule allowed us to feel free about taking a leisurely drive on the back roads around Silver Creek. This is a gorgeous area and we figured some random wandering without the benefit of the GPS was in order.

Before we had even left the Thousand Trails Paradise Campground property, we arrived on a ridge with a spectacular view of the Cowlitz River Valley. No matter where one goes in this valley, anyplace with a view to the east includes the now much shorter Mount St. Helens, a stratovolcano that provided everyone with a noisy surprise back in 1980 when it erupted. About 1300 feet of the top of the mountain abruptly vanished and pyroclastic flows filled lakes and re-routed rivers 50 miles from the big formerly pointy mountain. A few dozen diehards that remained in the vicinity of the mountain after being warned to leave were also vaporized or buried under hundreds of feet of ash. St. Helens looks peaceful today although it still periodically spits and sputters, the last time in 2008.

After checking out the wonderful view to the east, we moseyed down into the valley with our first stop being the Mayfield Dam, which holds back Mayfield Lake. It is one of many dams of the Cowlitz River Project, which provides electrical energy to Tacoma. These dams also provide drinking water to cities to the north and irrigation water to Cowlitz River Valley agricultural interests. The agricultural interests mostly seem to be cows and Xmas trees although we did pass a pasture where the rancher has a flock of llamas. I don’t know what interest a rancher could have with these spitting malcontents. Maybe they are alpacas. Then I suppose the agricultural product would be sweaters.

This would be a nice place to have a house because the scenery from the front yard would be great. There is no looking at the neighbor’s car parked across the street nor any junk piles decorating his yard. You can’t even see anybody else’s yard here. The houses folks have built for themselves here are very nice without being obnoxious, like Bill Gates’s indoor acre over in Seattle. We passed by a great place called the Long-Bell Mill Pond which is home to a household clothing business called Bodacious. We are not bodacious types so we didn’t go in. We continued up past a lagoon called Swofford Pond which is above Riffe Lake, the next Tacoma Power reservoir to the east. Swofford is located maybe 50 feet above Riffe Lake and a short creek connects the two.

We returned to Paradise Campground through Mossyrock where we found a former drive-in called the Viking Inn is now closed. No milkshakes for us today. We did find a stand run by a little Mexican guy that sold strawberries and cherries. Peggy was unable to resist and that is fortunate because she alleges the strawberries she bought were the best she has ever eaten. The jury is still out on the cherries.

There’s a few pix. Click the link. https://photos.app.goo.gl/hQdwZK4xvvCcP4mG7

June 14 Ft. Stevens to Silver Creek, WA

We left Fort Stevens this morning so we could continue our northward trek. Fort Stevens is an amazingly beautiful campground in a gorgeous area and we were sort of sorry to leave. We hooked up and drove a few miles toward Astoria to get back on US-101 but once in town, we turned east on OR-30 for a run along the south shore of the Columbia River. It is a squirrelly road for the first 30 miles or so but it eventually straightened out and we got the truck and trailer up to 55 for some short runs.

We crossed a bridge over the Columbia and soon we arrived in Kelso, WA. From there, we took I-5 for 40 or 50 miles before turning east along the north shore of the Cowlitz River. Maybe 15 miles later, we arrived in Silver Creek, home to a U.S. Post Office and not too much more. We pulled into the Thousand Trails Paradise Campground and, remarkably, found an RV site with full hookups and satellite TV reception. In this campground, there are very few sites with satellite reception because it is situated beneath a full canopy of large Douglas fir trees that are very pretty but rough on signal reception. The campground is also built on the side of a hill and the spaces can be scary to pull into. Mysteriously, we pulled into our RV space with a single pass, surprising not only us but also our neighbors. It was nearly a miracle and I would love to take credit for highly talented driving but I think actually I was just lucky.

We probably did not drive over 100 miles today but it took three hours on the road. This part of the world offers truly magnificent scenery but areas of that ilk frequently have serpentine and hilly highways to get around the stunning terrain. We are not in a hurry so slow transit just does not matter to us.