This post is supposed to be all about the great State of Washington, however, some Rootless and Roaming life was lived in between our brief trip to Canada and our time in Washington that we feel is noteworthy. Here comes the back story. I tried to go Canada but they said no, no, no. Since Canada gave me the Amy Winehouse and told me to turn my happy ass around and go back to America we were in need of a new plan. While we knew that it was being ravished by wild fires, Glacier National Park in northern Montana was only a four-hour drive away so we decided to go give it a look-see anyway. Probably not our best idea. You see massive forest fires tend to create a lot of smoke which in turn makes visibility restricted and breathing challenging. We drove a short stretch of road through Glacier before concluding that it was not worth venturing any farther. We bailed. Disappointing to not see what many believe to be America’s most scenic National Park, but hey, now we have a reason to visit Montana again. We cut our losses and spent the night in the Lewis and Clark National Forest camped alongside the Continental Divide Trail before heading further west to visit the panhandle of Idaho.
Believe me when I say that there is more to Idaho than just potatoes. I’ll be moving on to discuss Washington in just a second but I would be doing the travel community an injustice if I did not mention Lake Pend Oreille near Hope, Idaho. An absolute treasure we stumbled upon by chance. Once part of a huge glacier dam that ran from Montana to Oregon, Lake Pend Oreille is now a lake just as its name suggests. The fifth deepest lake in all the US in fact. The US Navy used to test their submarines in Lake Pend Oreille during WWII because of its impressive depths. Shifting glaciers do a great job of carving deep channels into the Earth which make for some pretty spectacular lakes once they melt – Lake Pend Oreille is a fine example. We stayed two days and nights right on the water enjoying the scenery and watching migratory birds fly overhead. Happy times.
Washington is one amazing place (told you I’d get there). From a nature standpoint it really is second to none. We were blown away. The natural surroundings that fill its borders made us rethink everything we thought we knew about the world. Two hundred and fifty foot tall trees, 14,000-foot-tall mountains, limitless glaciers, innumerable waterfalls, and grizzly bears! So much for everything being bigger in Texas. If you’re down for some outdoor adventure across raw lands – Washington has you covered.
The 14,410-foot active volcano by the name of Mount Rainier was our first foray in the State; and what a foray it was. After a full day of driving across Idaho and Washington, we arrived after dark and set up camp in Wenatchee National Forest just outside of Mount Rainier National Park. The darkness hid the surprise that waited for us in the morning. Like kids on Christmas day, we rolled out of bed at 5am to pack up and drive into the National Park to see the sunrise bring Rainier into light. In low gear we fueled up the mountain road one switchback turn at a time. After ascending several thousand feet in elevation, we maneuvered around a sharp curve in the road and without warning we were face to face with the remarkable Rainier – and it was honest to God glowing. In that moment I forgot that I was driving and slowed to a dead stop in the road, jaw dropped in amazement. A gleaming moon was the cause of the stunning display. The moon’s light reflected off the mountain’s lustrous white glaciers to make it look as if it were under the beam of a thousand spotlights. A pretty damn cool way to see Mount Rainier for the first time if you ask us.
Colossal. That’s the only word that comes to mind when thinking about Mount Rainier. We’re East Coast people. The Appalachian Mountains are what we’re used to. Mount Rainier is more than two times the size of Mount Mitchell, the largest mountain in the Appalachians. You can understand why the colossal mountain left such an impression on us. Not to mention, we caught Rainier on a clear day, which we were very grateful for after dealing with so much smoke for the past few weeks. Colossal. You know what else this word perfectly describes? The redwoods, douglas-firs and western hemlocks that call the surrounding forests of Mount Rainier home. As with our mountains compared to Rainier, there is nothing back East that can compare to the size of these saplings. Reaching heights well over 200-feet tall is no problem for these giants. It is a humbling experience to walk beneath the canopy of such impressive organisms. Wrapping my arms around a 260-foot, thousand-year-old tree really put into perspective just how brief our time on Earth is. It’s nothing to a redwood.
One National Park in Washington down, two to go. From Mountain Rainer we pointed our compass northwest and proceeded on to North Cascades National Park. The Cascades are nothing less than astounding. Every one of its peaks is unique and stunning. Like the gothic towers of a cathedral, the pointed mountains formed of lava rise to the sky in a fashion that can be overwhelming to experience at first sight. A feeling that many others before us have experienced upon looking out at the Cascade’s horizon. Famous 1950’s beat writer, Jack Kerouac, who spent a summer in the North Cascades manning a fire watchtower (probably high on copious amounts of drugs the whole time) was one of those admirers. Hozomeen Mountain of the Cascades in specific was a place of great fondness and a symbol of inner tranquility for Kerouac. In regards to Hozomeen Mountain, Kerouac wrote some profound words in his book Desolation Angels that left an impression on me. Maybe it will do the same for you: “…look at Hozomeen, is he worried or tearful? Does he bend before storms or snarl when the sun shines or sigh in the late day drowse? Does he smile? Was he not born of madbrained turmoils and upheavals of raining fire and now’s Hozomeen and nothing else? Why should I choose to be bitter or sweet, he does neither? Why can’t I be more like Hozomeen and… ‘take life as it comes’…”.
Only 20,000 people a year on average visit North Cascades National Park. This makes it the perfect National Park for the park goer that likes to truly get away. Solitude is everywhere. Which also makes it the perfect park for the hiking enthusiast that is willing to venture into the back country. Four hundred miles are available, so have your pick. We’re going to tell you which trail to pick any way though – Lookout Mountain Trail. Although it is not technically located within North Cascades National Park as the trailhead starts in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (which is a stone’s throw from the National Park), it is still an absolute must. Four point seven very vertical miles of trail twists and turns skyward before eventually leading to the summit of Lookout Mountain where a fire watchtower awaits (similar to the one that Jack Kerouac spent his time in). Once the apex of Lookout Mountain is touched the only thing left to do is lookout. Some of the best panoramas in the world await. 360 degrees of pure beauty. Perched at an elevation of 5,699-feet, the tower’s wrap-around porch makes for the perfect viewing area. The greatest part is that the tower is open to the public to stay the night in for free. After making the strenuous climb this may be a blessing for those not eager to turn around to start the descent right away. We did not know ahead of time of the great thing that awaited us at the top, so unfortunately we were not prepared to stay in the tower overnight. Mad at ourselves for missing out on such a unique experience, we’ve already started devising plans to come back and do the hike again so we can stay the night in the tower.
Last stop, Olympic National Park. A ferry ride to Port Townsend later we arrived. Olympic was amazing for us for two reasons. For starters, reaching Olympic meant that we reached the Pacific Ocean. From to sea to shining to sea, baby. All the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Coast to coast. Shore to shore. You get it. Secondly, Olympic is just downright awesome. It’s an untapped, mountainous wonderland with 73 miles of untamed Pacific coastline. It holds the only temperate rainforest in the entire United States. It is watched over by the 7,890-foot Mount Olympus (named by Captain John Meares who deemed the mountain a worthy home for the Greek Gods). Plus it has a bionetwork that is fascinating and unique to its own.
So what to do when visiting Olympic. First thing first, is to drive the 17-mile Hurricane Ridge Road. Once you reach the top of the ridge you will quickly realize the reason for its name. The winds blow strong and shift rapidly. A clear day can turn into a storm quite abruptly so be prepared with some extra layers. Being tossed around by the wind is well worth it though, because the best views of Mount Olympus and the Olympic Mountain Range are found here. After that, hit the coast. The scenic Highway 101 runs right along the Pacific through sections of the National Park. Mountain overlooks from the road provide excellent viewpoints of the inaccessible Olympic coast line. From towering ridgelines and steep cliffs, the scene below is staggering as the shores are relentlessly pounded by the sea, which to witness firsthand is menacing yet peaceful at the same time. We stopped at Ruby Beach, where amongst a graveyard of driftwood, Apollo swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. A big day for our pup. Lastly, spend the night in the Hoh Rainforest. Located on the west side of the Olympics this stretch of land is spellbinding. 140-170 inches of annual precipitation makes for some uncanny growth. Neon green lichen clings to the rocks and trees, hanging moss in great excess drapes from every corner of every living being, and fog like the breath of the forest hangs thick in the air as western hemlocks and giant Sitka spruces reach unremittingly past it to touch the Sun. The rhythmic tap, tap, tap of raindrops as they pierce through the canopy and land on the fauna below will leave you in a blissful trance. It was a soggy night staying in the Hoh but a terrific one.
The wilderness of Washington was a great experience. Next we’ll see how the metropolitan of Washington treats us. To Seattle we go.