Published: August 11th 2011August 1st 2011 "... Where the sun don't ever shine,
Farm in Washington
I shiver'd the whole night through."
Being able to tell a tetradonta from a miniata or even a black wattle from an elephant ear is not much use to you in this part of the world. This part of the North American continent is full of what we have been happily calling 'pine' trees. We were wrong of course but that hasn't diminished the enjoyment of travelling through some magnificent forests. The placement of these trees on spectacular mountains in beautiful valleys along rippling creeks and rivers full of water and running strong in the middle of summer doesn't hurt. Neither does putting a road through them with plenty of 'pull outs' so that you can stop for photos.
It would really have been good to be able to make time to stop in Seattle and have a look around. The city seemed to have a lot of promise with an interesting history and some great museums, galleries and places to sit around and listen to music. We didn't see a lot though through the windscreen as we floated along the interstate. Decision made. We couldn't afford the time to spend time
in Seattle and still get to spend some good time in some of the places that we have marked in the must see list. I suppose it will just have to go on to the Comeback List.
The Washington State Government produces some very good booklets on scenic drives through the State. There was a lot of detailed material available at the National Park office near Sedro Woolley but, surprisingly for us, only for Washington. After passing through Concrete - where I would have liked to stop - we camped near a little town called Newhalem in the North Cascades National Park. There are 3 or perhaps 4 other campgrounds within a mile or two (we are slowly retreating to our childhood ways and starting to talk in miles and such). The Goodell Creek Campground had plenty of spare room. This was a 'primitive' campground. These have 'vault' toilets – long drops in Australian – plenty of taps with potable water – and, if you run short, there is a large, swift flowing river coming from snowfields higher up – nice large and level campsites with campfire areas complete with grates. 'Primitive' brought up a different scene for us.
One small issue for us was the bears. Our previous time in this part of the world was spent in a nice big vehicle with tin sides. In the tent you feel just that little less secure but, as far as we can tell, with no real reason. As one of just 3 occupied sites in the campground, we paid a lot of attention to the rules. We weren't completely convinced that it was all necessary but assiduously stored all of our food, put away our cooking materials and kept all perfumed material inside the tin box (car) that carried us. It did seem just that little illogical to remove access for hungry omnivores to all possible food items but then sleep in a very soft sided tent, but we survived.
Our explorations of the area around the camp and along the Skagit River demonstrated quickly that we had no real idea what we were walking through. Arguments about the difference between a spruce, aspen, Douglas fir, western red cedar, lodgepole pine and whatever else were on-going until we spotted a trail on the map, just a little one that we had ignored earlier, called Know Your Trees.
After an hour or so we had a better idea of what we were looking at. It didn't stop the discussions about what this one or that one might be but we were able to remove a goodly number from the equation. After walking 12 miles through the forests during the day we were rather pleased with our ability to identify most of the trees that had been labelled for us in the morning. By the end of the day we were doing all right.
Just for the record, the forests here are dominated by massive Douglas Firs with Western Red Cedar and Hemlock – which can tolerate shade – in a secondary position. There are also plenty of spruce, birch, maple vines and big leaf maples. Aspens were also about.
They have a system of Camp Hosts here. While I am not completely sure of their duties, they seem to be able to camp without fees, and possibly with some small remuneration. In return they help people out, keep an eye on the place and, perhaps, keep the conveniences clean. It works well. They all seem to be friendly and helpful people. Nice to have someone around
Glacier National Park. Caused a good traffic jam.
to ask. We have also met a few of the rangers. I suspect that Park Rangers all over the world are pretty good people. Rarely do you find one who is less than useful. Our only difficulty with the ranger who seemed to be looking after Goodell Creek and the other campgrounds in our vicinity was that we left an hour later than we had intended. We left with a lot more information and advice though.
We travelled on along Highway 20 through Diablo and a massive dam up through a couple of passes, including the Washington Pass which, I suspect, is one of the highest in the Cascades. Plenty of ice around on the mountains and good sightings of glaciers. Very beautiful and big country. Spectacular stuff. Down the other side and eventually in to Winthrop. The city fathers here decided in the 70s or 80s to turn this place back into a 1900 Western town. They have done a good job. It may look a little twee to some but the shops were all operating as proper shops and people live in the houses. All very normal. Winthrop was also notable because it was our first sign
Good morning to you too
Bighorn sheep by the river
of real sun since we left the coast so we both marked the occasion by buying a hat each. Mine is pretty good and will look just right in Queensland, but perhaps the more western areas.
Onward to the Grand Coulee Dam, the subject of one of Woody Guthrie's great songs about the Roosevelt years when the USA was coming out of another major financial crisis. The signs tell us that it was the largest concrete structure in the world when it was built and that it still is. Hard to believe but who would lie to a tourist? ( I probably will check when we get connected up again.) A massive structure holding back the very considerable, even this far up, Columbia River and creating a lake that seems to have transformed the countryside while providing much power for Seattle.
We didn't stop in Spokane – which seems pretty much a military town from the look of it. A bloke in an earlier camp had spoken highly of Coeur d' Alene across the border in Idaho so we decided to stop around there. At least has a pretty name. A nice enough town but we couldn't find
a place to pitch a tent. Finally, a very helpful lady at the Riverside RV Park said 'No. You wont find an RV park that will take tents closer than Wolf Creek Lodge.' She promptly picked up the phone, dialled a number, confirmed they had a site that would suit us and told them she was sending us straight out. Sort of service you dream of from someone who could have smiled sweetly and said 'Sorry'. It was a reasonable camp but right next to the freeway. Not ideal in a tent but better than driving on.
Glacier National Park in Montana was our next major destination. The country continued to be beautiful and spectacular for most of the day even though we were on the I-95 and then US 2 we wove through some high passes and deep valleys . Montana is BIG country - Big Sky they call it here - relatively sparsely populated in the areas through the Flathead lands that we travelled through but it filled up when we arrived at Flathead Lake. Full on there. Tourists and military seem to dominate. Very big crowds around the visitor's center for the Park. By the time
we made it to the park entrance most of the campgrounds had the 'Full' sign up but we were able to get information, find a place nearby and make plans.
This time of the year in Glacier NP is early bird territory. You get to your proposed camp site early or you miss out. We decided to go for our preferred site – the Rising Sun – which was about 50 miles along the Going to the Sun Road. Sounded easy enough. Great road. First, through the woods, along a lake then the road climbed a very good mountain with views of glaciers that were still there and glacial landscapes left by the ones that have gone. Major road works held us up which gave us, and everyone else, the chance to pig out on the magnificent views. They also meant that the pressure to find a camp was building, but then most of our competitors were in the queue as well. Meanwhile, we travelled through country that we are prepared to place up there with the most spectacular in the world, or at least the bits we have seen to date.
Up over Logan's Pass – snow
on the ground, mountain goats wandering around, wonderful views – and down towards the Rising Sun Campground. We had picked this one because it is a little more remote and because it is where the prairies meet the mountains. Glacier National Park is a the source of three rivers that run into three oceans. The Columbia heads for the Pacific, the Mississippi ends up in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic and the Saskatchewan River in Hudson's Bay in the Arctic Ocean. You could see the peak where all this happens from our campground but we didn't climb it and test our the information with our water bottles.
Luckily, we found a spot at Rising Sun. Nothing terribly flash but nicely organised. There were just a few sites available and the 'Full' sign went up half an hour after we arrived at a little after 11.00am. A major debate developed about our length of stay. We decided on a couple more nights but it could just as easily have been a couple more weeks. Walks through the bush, a boat trip on St Mary's Lake, spotting a grizzly bear – not miles from where we had just been
More than the obvious
The town here is called Concrete, named after what used to be its main livelihood
walking – a black wolf, numerous elk, chipmunks, ground squirrels, eagles. Deer regularly wandered through our camp and a very substantial bull moose caused us a moment's pause as we prepared our breakfast and he consumed some of his not more than 10 yards away.
The rangers do an excellent job here in informing people about dangers, the Park and its inhabitants. We were lucky to be there on a night when there was a major Star Party at Logan's Pass. It was a dark night right on the new moon. They had organised 20 assorted large telescopes with the Big Sky Astronomers Club. It all started at 9.30pm and kicked on till after 12.30. Had a very interesting time looking at the Northern sky which is not something very familiar to us. Learnt to locate the key stars and constellations and had the chance to see galaxies that are 14 billion light years away. The enthusiasm of the rangers and club members was matched by their skills and knowledge. Bigger is better here with 18 inch scopes providing amazing images. Apparently, such activities often happen but rarely with the number and size of the telescopes available that night.
Crossing the Skagit River
North Cascades National Park
With the incredible pressure on this park at this time of the year it is surprising that the management is such that it doesn't normally feel overcrowded – unless you are on the road a lot, although they do have free shuttle buses. The trails are busy but not as bad as we had expected. We were told that the average stay in the park was 6 hours. Our 3 nights and 2 days wasn't long enough. Well worth a week if we had the time and more if we were to have a proper look around. We don't have time now without dropping more of our selected key places than we already have.
It was interesting to us that the park was established largely through the good offices of one of the railroad companies. Their intention was to try to get people to buy round trip rather than one way tickets to the west. The same strategy had worked for another railroad company at Yellowstone. Glacier Natioanal Park was established in 1910 and has been managed as a park ever since, providing a valuable resource to scientists and wandering tourists.
The Asolo tent has been going
well but has suffered its first break as a result of a design fault. Not a major problem but a trip to the store is in order.
On now towards Yellowstone.
There are more photos below