August 29 Hanging around home

We did some minor maintenance and travel prep today. I cleaned our barbecue. It was messy but necessary. It is our last full day here in Concrete and we both are reluctant to leave. We have had good weather most of the time, puppy dogs galore during our 13 day stay, great scenery and superb, reasonably-priced food at Skagit Burger, Annie’s Pizza Station and the Birdsview Diner. It is hard to be disappointed here.

We went over for a bit to hang out with Don and Mary, our neighbors. They are a lovely couple from Stanwood, WA, and, as a bonus, have a beautiful 9-week old Bernese puppy named Bunsen that is already bigger than a breadbox. They may want to set up a foundation now to pay for his food later because he is going to be a monster. On the other side of us is a guy with a 12-week old Doberman pup who has no difficulty entertaining himself with a bath towel he can maul. It is puppy heaven for us, particularly because our dog is elsewhere.

If I did it right, there is a picture of Bunsen, the neighbor puppy. Click the link.

August 28 Into Burlington

Today we drove into Burlington, maybe 25 miles down the Skagit River. We took the slow road right next to the river instead of WA-20 which is a bit further from the water. It passes through Hamilton and Lyman, two communities that, because of their proximity to the river and the vagaries of weather, have been flooded many times in the past. Some folks have figured it out and built their homes up on pile foundations which will possibly save their possessions in a flood but they will also leave the owners in a massive lake with only the top part of their home sticking out of the water and escape being impossible. Maybe the Coast Guard will pick them off the roof with a helicopter.

There is a great burger joint called Skagit Valley Burgers between the downriver towns of Sedro Woolley and Burlington. It is located in an old caboose right along WA-20 and we both know we shouldn’t eat there because the food, while being very tasty, is probably bad for out hearts. So we went on by to the Safeway in Burlington to pick up some vittles for our soon-to-be departure from this part of WA.

On the way back home with our scant shopping loot, we pulled right into Skagit Valley Burgers and got Skagit Western and Blue Cheese burgers along with some waffle seasoned fries and luscious milkshakes. I know it is bad for me but I have scant remorse. I’m weak. Their burgers are sensational.

August 27 Skagit, Sauk and Cascade Rivers

Exploration was on the agenda today. We crossed to the south side of the Skagit River and drove the shoreline road up to the Sauk River, a tributary of the Skagit. We then drove up the Sauk until we got to a bridge where we crossed and then drove back down to near the confluence in Rockport. Just before pulling into town, we diverted onto the Rockport Cascade Road, again going east up the south shore of the Skagit to Marblemount, a town with few businesses and a very low speed limit.

In Marblemount, we turned away from the Skagit up another tributary, this one called the Cascade River. Peggy and I went part way up this road when we were camped nearby in June.

The Cascade River runs in an extremely narrow gorge with nearly vertical banks. The flow is mostly snowmelt running through massive prehistoric highly compressed ash deposits which gullies easily and volcanic basalt which doesn’t gully at all. There are many small waterfalls right along the first 8 or 10 miles of road. Near the end of the paving, we pulled into a state park called Marble Creek and were able to follow the challenging skinny gravel road down to the river’s edge. The small campground has some wonderful sites and pit toilets but I am surely too big of a coward to pull our 34 foot monster in there. However, the terrain is majestic, the river is gorgeous and it looks like a spectacular camping spot for the tent crowd.

Not far from here is one of our favorite picnic spots. There is a pullout next to the road where you can take your food out, sit on the National Forest barricade and see exceptional views of the Cascades Range on the horizon, impossibly steep forested mountains all around and the Cascade River hundreds of feet below at the bottom of the gorge. It is pretty nifty.

A few miles above the campground, the road continued but the paving didn’t. We tried it for a mile or two but the washboard road surface became so miserable that keeping the back end of the truck behind the front end became quite challenging, so we chickened out and turned around instead of having a senior moment and plunging to certain death.

There’s a few pictures. Click the link.

August 26 Trailer repair

Today was my designated day to do a repair on the outside of our Barbarian Invader. At some time in the past, there was a leak somewhere in the top front of our trailer. A month ago, Peggy got up on the ladder and sealed the leaky spot. The treacherous leaked water had run down through some inaccessible crawl space to the cheesy wood and plastic sheet that covers the underside of the gooseneck. Once there, it was trapped so it puddled on the formerly planar surface and slowly reconfigured a section so it looked like a big white hematoma about the size of a racketball. Eventually, the flimsy plastic burst like a big zit, emptying out the water but leaving a hideous open wound.

Today we used our oscillating tool, cheaply made in China and purchased at the Mount Vernon Harbor Freight store, to excise the subject ugliness. It actually worked quite well, cutting right through the fragile plastic and crummy veneer behind it and revealing the interesting, normally never-seen components inside. Many other tools eventually came into play but all were wielded amateurishly. After breaking and dulling many razor blades and repeated applications of Goo-Gone, I finished cleaning off many applications of caulk, crud and road grime all around the surgery. A thin piece of aluminum diamond plate acquired in Bellingham was stuck over the hole with butyl rubber sealant, screwed down tight with sheet metal fasteners and then caulked at the edges with a fancy Sika caulk/sealant we purchased on the internet. It even looks like I knew what I was doing although we all know better.

The whole time I was being puzzled and getting sticky stuff on me outside, Peggy performed a whirlwind of tidiness inside, cleaning up our well-used toilet room (including all the walls), doing the same to our shower, making the carpets look like I have always stayed outside and vacuuming out the heater duct work concealed below our floor. The place looks great inside. We had cocktails later.

August 24 Skagit South Shore

I have been a slug not making daily blog entries for the last few days but that is primarily due to the mundane nature of our activities.

One day we did the laundry in the Grandy Creek TT laundry facility. The last time we were here, there was a huge commercial clothes dryer in the laundry that, through some delightful malfunction, would dry a couple regular loads of clothes for a quarter. Unfortunately, management eventually noted this money-making anomaly and now we are required to pay $1.25 for the same service.

One of the days we drove into Burlington / Mount Vernon and went food shopping. Costco and Fred Mayer didn’t get all our money but they tried. I can happily state that we now have a prodigious liquor cabinet. After the last dozen days up in Blaine, we were surprised that we have been unable, to date, to find any sweet con-on-the-cob here. The fields look about the same both places.

A couple days were rain-outs and we were obliged to be boring right around our own home. The rain last Wednesday was not the drizzly, summer version rainstorm. It rained hard, sufficient to entirely soak an old person while he took a quick lap around our 34 foot trailer.

But today was different. The weather was still crummy with intermittent rain but we went for a cruise up the south bank of the lower Skagit River anyway. We started out by driving west along the north shore on WA-20 down to Bow, where we stopped in at the cheap tobacco stand next to the Skagit Casino. The Native Americans that operate those stands do not feel compelled to collect sin, luxury, sales, pork barrel, stamp or other pesky taxes on tobacco so the prices are splendid – about 55% of what one would pay off reservation lands across the street.

We then headed south, through Sedro Woolley on WA-9 until we crossed the Skagit. There we left the main highway and headed east up the south shore. It is a magical drive with the mesmerizing turquoise waters of the Skagit on the left, striking pasture lands and forest on the right and drizzle from above. There are many stretches of highway running under the canopy of the roadside trees making it seem like we were passing through a long green tunnel, albeit a leaky one.

We continued until we got to the west shore of the Sauk River, a Skagit tributary, and headed up the Sauk for about a half dozen miles where we crossed on a one-lane steel bridge to get to the east shore. Back north on the opposite bank, we soon pulled into Rockport. Peggy and I were once going to stop at the local bar in Rockport but they had a sign posted out front that stated that “Hippies enter by the back door.” Unaware if we were hippies or not, we chose to just get back in the vehicle and head to another town where self-characterization was unnecessary before ordering a porter. In Rockport, we picked up WA-20 again for a leisurely drive back west to Grandy Creek. We have stopped numerous times in the last week to check out if there are elk browsing in the Skagit Trust’s Hurd Field, where we have spotted the North Cascade herd many times on previous visits. The elk must be dining elsewhere because they sure ain’t here this week.

We took a few pictures along the way. Click the link.

August 19 North Cascades Scenic Hwy.

WA-20, the road 300 yards from our current RV setup in Grandy Creek Thousand Trails, is part of a larger, 400 mile loop that runs through the northern end of the Cascade mountain range. The whole loop is called the North Cascades Scenic Highway and it runs through North Cascades National Park, Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National Forest, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and the Okanagen – Wenatchee National Forest.

We did not drive the whole route today. We limited our drive to the section which starts at our campground near Concrete, WA, and extends up to Washington Pass which divides the coastal side from the flat side of the mountains. The elevation in Concrete is about 50 feet above sea level and the pass lies at about 5,500 feet.

The drive was beautiful from the outset. The road took us through the Skagit riverside communities of Concrete, Rockport, Marblemount and Newhalem before changing into a steady uphill pull. The road still follows the Skagit, skirting the Gorge powerhouse, Diablo Dam and Lake and Ross Dam and Lake until it diverts away from the river and heads up into a volcanic wonderland of waterfalls, jagged mountain peaks, crystal-clear streams, dense fir and cedar forests. Approaching the pass, trees are much scarcer and basalt and tremendous sedimentary ash deposits become the view.

Right at Washington Pass, we pulled into a parking area and took a stroll to the spectacular viewpoint. The ridges of almost-vertical mountain abruptly descending into forest-filled valleys surround the viewpoint. The downgrade into eastern Washington can be seen switchbacking around and down the valley. It is almost straight down to the much lower highway as it swings by beneath the viewpoint. You could almost spit on the vehicles below but they were so far away one would never know if the gob hit the windshield.

Our fuel economy, as shown on our truck’s info panel, certainly went up as we returned. The speed limit almost all the way back averaged around 40 mph and the grade was set up, at least for our vehicle, perfectly. I put it in Drive, turned on the towing feature and the truck’s speed stayed almost right on the limit for the 70 mile descent back to Concrete.

The North Cascades Scenic Highway is a superb drive. The scenery is fantastic, the road is good, abundant forest groves line the road almost all the way and the mountains near the pass are stunning. Glaciers, volcanoes, turquoise rivers and lakes, waterfalls, deep green flora – what more could one want?

We took a few pictures and they can be seen by clicking the link.

August 17 Blaine back to Concrete

My favorite Thousand Trails campground is Grandy Creek in Concrete, WA, despite having been to almost every one of their facilities in the nation. Fortunately for me, today was a travel day and we left Blaine and took the hour and a half drive south to Concrete where we are scheduled to spend the next thirteen days. Other folks must enjoy this facility as well because to get a lengthy reservation here, we had to book our stay about a month or more ago.

The drive south on I-5 was pretty, uneventful and short. We got off the interstate west of Sedro Woolley and took a back road into town and then we picked up WA-20 for about a 15 mile drive up the magnificently beautiful Skagit River. Cleverly, we arrived right at the earliest time we could check in. Once inside, it looked like we were going to have to initially select a site without a sewer hookup but my sharp-eyed spouse noted that one of the campers in one of the prime locations was scheduled to leave today. Peggy walked over, tagged the site and we sat down to wait an hour until the former tenant dribbled around and checked out late. He had not gone 50 feet from his site when we pulled into it. Our site isn’t one of the very few with satellite TV reception but it has good WiFi and full hookups with 50 amp power. We don’t really require 50 amps (normally 30 is ample) but here we can run our ice machine, air conditioner, microwave, 110 volt refrigerator, stereo, TV and all our lighting simultaneously without popping the breaker. We were all set up by 1:00 PM. There is a great big pooch named Charlie next door. He is gorgeous.

August 16 Another day of loafing

This retirement stuff is okay. No schedule, no pesky kids, not much money but plenty to do can be a delightful fate. We have been able to do a lot of reading without interruption, unlimited exploring, have tried many dining options and had to do no productive work. Today I dumped the tanks and put away our water and sewer umbilicals. Peggy got carried away cleaning up unseen spots inside the trailer.

We didn’t want to travel with any more waste water in the tanks than necessary so we convinced ourselves to treat ourselves to dinner out and avoid having to do the dishes. We intended to go to Alaska Wild Fish in Blaine but we had some time to waste before dinner so we cruised into Birch Bay to scope out what we expected to be nothing but nice views. As soon as we arrived, we found that the downtown area was embroiled in a big celebration (of the Seahawks football team?) with chain saw carvers, tchotchke vendors and many pedestrians walking in the street because Birch Bay sidewalks are scarce. There may have been food trailers but we couldn’t see them from the main (only) drag. We passed both ways through the wandering crowds and decided to head for Blaine to eat. It was a wonderful drive along the coast from Birch Bay to Blaine with many gorgeous views out to sea from the road under the trees.

Unfortunately, when we finally made it to Blaine, Alaska Wild Fish’s kitchen trailer was not at the waterfront where we had eaten twice in the last 10 days. They had closed up and towed their trailer down to the hubbub in Birch Bay to feed the hordes ambling about in the streets. We were now challenged with finding an alternate trough to eat out of so we parked at the marina and got the smartass phone out to check out the options available. We ended up settling on a place called Bob’s Burgers and Brew which is located not far from where we started our excursion today.

Before leaving Birch Bay, Peggy had me stop at Edaleen’s Dairy Store where she purchased some of their butter and some half-and-half for cooking at home. We bought a load of corn-on-the-cob from Ken Thompson over by Everson a couple days ago and intend to make it into corn chowder in the next couple days so the half-and-half and butter will come in very handy.

After a fuel stop (diesel is quite cheap in WA compared to CA – maybe $1.10 per gallon less here) we drove the last few miles to Bob’s and pulled right in. Their burgers were pretty good but their clam chowder was great. They also had a wide tap beer selection so we had a couple of Irish Deaths which were dark and smooth and tasty. The joint ain’t cheap but the food is pretty good – almost worth the $46 it took us to get out of there. It was remarkably good when one considers Bob’s is a chain and we try to avoid chain restaurants because their food is normally substandard. Nominal is the descriptor that comes to mind.