A Travellerspoint blog

August 2009

Widbey Island

The islands in Puget Sound range from the isolated, yet still remarkably touristy smaller islands only accessible by ferries, to the larger islands that due to well connected interstates have basically become part of the mainland. I think the thing I liked about Widbey Island was that it was easily accessible from the north, but all you had to do was keep driving south if you preferred a more sparsely populated and isolated atmosphere.

Near the north end of the island, I drive to the tallest peak and take in the expanse of rolling hills in the distance.

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The main attraction on the island is the scenery, and the best place to find it is at Deception Pass, where tourists stop their cars and walk out on bridges to take pictures of the cliffs below, myself included.

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I spend the night at Fort Ebey State Park, which turns out to have a wonderful bluff trail. Stepping out from the woodsy campsite into a bright clearing that turns out to be a vast cliff on the edge of the Pacific, was really quite shocking. The wind sweeps up from the cliff and pushes me back a little as I venture out to peek below. After weeks of being comforted by the rocks and islands that added dimension to the vast expanse of ocean, I am again taken aback by the hugeness of the Pacific.

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Posted by Velora 10:32 Comments (1)

Seattle

I enter Seattle in the morning with a singular kind of purpose. I was here maybe ten years ago and saw the Space Needle and Aquarium, watched the fish being tossed at Pike’s Place, took a ferry and perused the bookstores. This time, the one thing I wanted to do that I missed out on, was the underground tour. And I’m sure locals or anyone who knows better would be disappointed in me, but hey, I did what I set out to do and I’m content with it.

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I actually learned quite a lot of history. When Seattle was first settled they had a horrible sewer system with pipes made out of wood that would overflow every time the tide came in. Their streets had huge potholes bigger than bathtubs that they would fill with sawdust which became quicksand-like when the tide came in. So, when there was a huge devastating fire the City decided to build a story up so that they could first install a sewer system and raise the streets so they wouldn’t flood. But this was going to take almost a decade so the shopkeepers re-built their businesses from the ground up expecting to have their main entrances on the second floor eventually, but realizing that they would need the first floor accessible right away. Thus the underground was created.

Today it’s pretty stinky and even a little boring if not for the colorful narrative added by the tour guides. Mostly it seems like a basement, but it’s interesting to imagine what it was like when the ceiling wasn’t built and the streets were on the second story. Customers had to use ladders to get from the streets down to the store’s entrance, until later on when they built foot bridges from the streets to the buildings, which they later filled in completely, walling off the underground.

The best part was near the end of the tour, under what used to be a bank where they say a ghost guards the vault. It’s really the only part of the tour where there is some idea of how the space was once used. You can see the vault door and the structure of the building. At most of the other places it looks like they’ve piled really dusty miscellaneous rubble in the corners, but here it looks like some abandoned mine, like this rubble really is the original rubble. And for some reason that authenticity makes all the difference.

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Posted by Velora 16:53 Comments (1)

La Push and Hoh Rainforest

The drive along the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula continues to be beautiful around every turn. Particularly the drive around Crescent Lake, which reminds me of an American version of Lake Como with deep cool waters and trees dipping near the water’s edge.

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True to its reputation, the moment I reach the western part of the peninsula, it starts to rain. In La Push I hike down to Second Beach. The hike alone would be reason enough in itself, as the dense green woodsy forest is almost magical, but the real reward is the unique and beautiful secluded beach waiting at the end of the trail. Everything is veiled in a lovely cloud of fog.

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I spend the night in the Hoh Rainforest. The otherworldly amount of rainfall here leads to some odd looking forests. The aptly named Hall of Mosses trail showcases trees that look as though they are covered in Muppet fur. The colors of the scraggly moss range from rusty oranges to muted greens and hang for feet from the branches. The small streams running through the forest are teaming with vibrant green kelp-like plants that wave with the flow of the water. And every now and then there are large crops of brightly colored mushrooms. It’s a strange place, but strange in a whimsical, magical kind of way. And then … it starts to rain.

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Posted by Velora 10:35 Comments (0)

Olympic Peninsula: Eastern Harbors

I start in Gig Harbor, just north of Tacoma, and spend the night at Kopachuck State Park. From my campsite, I walk down to the rocky secluded beach cove on Puget Sound. Everything is covered in barnacles, which makes walking in flip-flops difficult, but the water is so calm and soothing that I feel compelled to take a look around. Although sand would be nicer to walk on, there’s something very Zen about the gentle lapping of the water on the dark grey rocks. So much so that I start taking pictures in black and white.

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The next day, I start my drive winding through the byways that skirt the edges of the many peninsulas around the Sound. It appears to be mandatory for the houses to be as close to the water as possible, with docks stretching out even farther. From the road, sometimes all you can see are the (also seemingly mandatory) cute wooden signs announcing the sur-name of the people whose house is obscured by trees below. I start imagining what it must be like to kayak every morning in the Sound, the sun rising over the dim hills in the distance and scraping barnacles off of the dock with sheer joy.

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I end up at the northernmost tip of the Eastern Peninsula: Port Townsend. It is lovely. Many of the buildings and Victorian houses date back to the 1800’s. The downtown is a vibrant corridor of brick buildings, many with seemingly authentic faded paintings on their side walls advertising shaving cream and soap with names I’ve never heard of. Hanging baskets of colorful flowers drape from the old-fashioned street lamps. Port Townsend attracts artists, but also has a healthy dose of burly old fishermen types. I like that.

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While it is plain to see that most of the people in the downtown area are tourists, the town still manages to hold its own. It’s incredibly beautiful, but still feels lived in: as though the beauty is kept up solely for the residents, instead of as a draw for tourists. I could live here. I imagine the weekdays in the winter, when the streets are quiet and the bearded fishermen have breakfast at the local diner, and women garden in their backyards.

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Posted by Velora 10:45 Comments (2)

Mt. Rainier

Once the urban sprawl emanating from Portland dissipates, Southern Washington becomes rolling pastoral hills and small logging towns on the edge of the river. It really is gorgeous and smooth to drive through, even though I’m not particularly tempted to stop at any of the towns, as there doesn’t appear to be much to do. I’m on my way to Mt. Rainier National Park. I’m not really sure what to expect as I haven’t heard too much about it and only know that it’s famous and it’s a tall mountain.

I learn that Mt. Rainier is an active volcano, draped with a glacier and oozing warm sulfuric steam from the vents near the peak. Those who hike the summit tend to warm themselves in the sporadic steam vents as they make their way to the top. Neat! And while such a trudging chilly assent (steam vents or no) doesn’t really appeal to me, I am tempted to hike the Wonderland trail, which travels all around the base of the mountain, but without a daypack or water, I decide it isn’t a good idea. Maybe I’ll be back again.

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The area around the visitor’s center is alpine meadow and overflowing with wildflowers this time of year. It makes me want to run on the hills and sing The Sound of Music while spinning around idyllically. But there are too many witnesses. Instead I make my way down the peak and hike a couple of the shorter trails in the lush forests around the mountain.

Posted by Velora 10:42 Comments (1)

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