2001: Washington




After eight weeks on the road, we finally made it to our endpoint! And not a moment too soon.....while traveling can be a lot of fun, its main advantage is to take us away from the humdrum of daily life. When it BECOMES the humdrum....well, let's just say home is starting to sound better and better, especially to The Grump Who Shall Remain Nameless.

We had reservations at an RV park in a suburb twenty miles east of Seattle. When we arrived, we discovered that the park was (a) underneath a freeway overpass, (b) next to a rock quarry, and (c) surrounded by bulldozers in the throes of serious road de-construction. My impulse was to turn and flee, credit card deposit or no; but Mike talked to the lady in the office, explaining that we were a bit "overwhelmed" by the urban surroundings, and she very kindly told us of another spot further away with a more rural setting. Turns out she already had someone in our reserved spot anyway!

After settling in to a somewhat scruffy but quiet and wooded RV park, we returned to the land of freeways and off-ramps to explore the metropolis. Seattle is a gorgeous city sprinkled around miles of waterways -- bays, sounds, inlets, and lakes. Our first day in the area was glorious and sunshiny, so we took advantage of the weather on a one-hour harbor cruise. We had a pleasant moment of nostalgia walking the waterfront, as we passed the building where we boarded our Alaska cruise ship almost exactly one year ago.

Another obligatory stop was, of course, the Space Needle. I was surprised at its history; I didn't realize how long the Needle has been with us, built in 1962 for the Seattle World's Fair. Remember the World's Fairs? Whatever happened to them? Anyway, after a fifteen-minute wait in line, an elevator traveling at a pokey 10 mph lifted us 600 feet to the top. We were rewarded with some fabulous views of the city, and Mike felt obligated to test his cell phone reception.

We also explored the Seattle Aquarium, where the most interesting critter was a type of seahorse called a Leafy Seadragon -- endangered, naturally. Check the photo: can you separate the animals from the vegetables?

Returning from the city, we visited Snoqualmie Falls, a 260-foot waterfall only a few miles from our camp, and enjoyed a sunset view of the nearby Cascade Mountains. That was the end of the sunshine; for the next three days, Washington cast a gray and drizzly eye upon us. Now we know why they call it Mount Rain-ier. The trailer roof sounded like a windshield hitting a locust storm for 36 hours straight. One of these dreary days was brightened by a visit with our friend "Scooper", a former HP colleague moved north. She sends her best to all in Silicon Valley.

We spent another waterlogged day, appropriately, viewing the exhibit of Titanic artifacts at the Pacific Science Museum near the Space Needle. While at first I wasn't very impressed with the exhibit, it got better as we went deeper, culminating in a 15-by-25 foot piece of the ship's hull hung from the ceiling. Dim lighting limited ultraviolet exposure on the treasures and also cast spooky shadows around the tarnished brass fittings, chipped china, and weathered personal effects retrieved from 12,000 feet under the chilly Atlantic. To me, the most haunting item was a cracked and green-encrusted clarinet, possibly the instrument of one of the ill-fated band members who played to the last. Surfacing from the final exhibit corridor we gazed, speechless and subdued, upon a set of fifty china soup toureens embossed with the White Star emblem, arranged as three toppled towers in a bed of sand -- exactly as they were discovered on the ocean bottom.

We started out on a drive to see Mount Ranier National Park, but the clouds were heavy and the roads were curvy. We never caught even a glimpse of Ranier, and before we knew it, we had driven within striking distance of Mount St. Helens, so we decided to trade one volcano for another. It must have been destiny; when we stopped at the first viewpoint, Mike the Tinker was available to help two stranded young ladies break into their keys-locked-inside car.

At 8,365 feet, Mount St. Helens is fairly low on the food chain of giants of the Cascades; probably no one would ever have heard of this particular peak but for the May 1980 eruption. The northern approach takes you through an incredible path of destruction. About fifteen miles from the mountain itself, green trees suddenly turn into burnt, bare snags standing like sentinels on guard.

Drive a few miles closer and you see thousands of acres of felled logs, lying helter-skelter as if a clumsy giant slid down the beanstalk and spilled great boxes of toothpicks across the landscape.

The northern road ends at Spirit Lake, a lovely blue-green body choked with a logjam of dead wood. From this point on, the hillsides are brown bare ash and lava for miles around. St. Helens herself can be seen from here on a clear day, but she chose to hide under a cloud cape on the day we visited, so we contented ourselves with a view of the blackened foothills.

Our drive took us in a 300-mile circle around Mount Rainier. By afternoon, the big mountain was still playing peekaboo so I caught the best cloud-obscured photo I could.

As we drove toward Seattle for a final time, the skies were clear and we finally saw Mount Ranier in all its glory, sprouting in the distance like a giant white mushroom. Ranier is gigantic not only in height but in girth, a sumo-wrestler mountain squatting on the horizon and dominating the landscape for hundreds of square miles.

We spent our last day in Washington touring the Museum of Flight at the Boeing airfield near Seattle. The most interesting exhibit there is a Boeing 707 that saw presidential duty under the designation 'SAM970' between 1959 to 1972. President Eisenhower became the first president to fly in a jet in 1959, taking SAM970 to Europe. This plane was also used to fly Soviet Premier Khruschev on his 1959 U.S. tour. JFK used it for trips to Vienna and Key West in 1961, and it flew Lyndon Johnson to Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. SAM970 ferried Henry Kissinger to Paris for thirteen secret meetings with North Vietnamese officials in 1970-71, and finished its distinguished career by flying Nixon to China in 1972. Interesting features of the plane: a bathroom remodeled to Jackie Kennedy's specifications, including a special cosmetics cabinet; and a doggie-door installed for LBJ's beagles.

Mike was excited by the cockpit of the Lockheed Blackbird SR-71, a high-flying reconnaissance plane first flown in the 1960's and still the owner of all altitude and speed records. It flies more than fifteen miles above the planet and can travel coast-to-coast in just over an hour. While in the Air Force, Mike was trained to install and remove SR-71 instrumentation, but this display is the closest he ever got to a real one!

I preferred the Aero-Car, a 1950's-designed automobile chassis with detachable wings and a tail; fly to your favorite city, stow the extra parts, and drive around town! The museum also had a simulated flight control tower with a wrap-around view of the runways, tons of information on all aspects of air traffic control, and piped-in live chatter from the SeaTac tower.

Returning to camp after our tour, we stopped to pick wild blackberries on the banks of the Snoqualmie River, where I miscalculated a foothold and took a slow-motion topple into a thorny thicket. My piercing -- and pierced! -- squeal of terror brought a panicked Mike galloping, twisting an ankle in his haste. He hoisted me out of the briarpatch and we limped back to the trailer, where we consoled ourselves with big helpings of warm cherry pie covered in blackberries and whipped cream. All injuries healed quickly, although for several days my punctured posterior looked like a pincushion and sported a palm-sized bruise which resembled, appropriately, a big squashed blackberry.