27 April – It’s official folks – after some coercion from friends and great consideration on our part, our great white elephant of a van now has a name – Wanda, the Wanderer!! Overnight we got buffeted quite a few times by some windy, rainy squalls which have been another good test for the leak repairs and thankfully we are still dry. Set out early from Tillamook and with a stop overlooking a nice beach for our morning tea, proceeded straight through to Astoria. The scenery was at first very West Coast and the last 30 miles were all built up, with a succession of small beach settlements.
Astoria is the border town with Washington State and sits on the mighty Columbia River. We headed straight for the Columbia River Maritime Museum – the best place to be when the weather is so inclement. What a neat place – housed in a very spacious, modern building were displays associated with river life around Astoria and the Columbia River. The bar across which all boats enter from the Pacific Ocean into the Columbia River is one of the most dangerous on the planet and has seen the demise of hundreds of ships with huge loss of life over the years. In winter the seas can be up to 40 ft high and it is the job of the ‘bar pilots’ to get ocean going vessels over the treacherous bar and into the safety of the river so that they can then progress upstream to their ultimate destination several hundred miles inland – nowadays via numerous locks and dams.
This lovely boat was moored at the Museum – you can cruise on her up the Columbia River
Astoria was another of those towns that flourished during the days of salmon canning (before the salmon were fished to almost extinction). There were up to 60 factories in the area and people flocked from all over the world to work in them.
We spent several hours at the museum before it was time to leave Oregon and cross over the wide Columbia River on an incredible bridge and into the state of Washington. We had meant to go only a short distance in search of their ‘Welcome Centre’ where we hoped to stop for the night, but this turned out to be a small display in a rest area and not at all what we were expecting. Drove on for about an hour before coming to a small estuary at Bay Center, where we managed to find a nice secluded pull-off beside the estuary which looked good for boondocking.
28 April – a very quiet night with the most noise coming from the frogs on the mud flats. Headed off into Raymond to pick up some guff from the tourist office. Raymond is very much a timber town with a bit of fishing and oyster dredging thrown in. We took a walk down to the river dock with the hope of visiting their neat looking carriage museum, but sadly they were still on winter hours and not open Mondays & Tuesdays. The local historic museum was open though and we were treated to a personal tour of it’s artifacts, from both the logging and maritime periods. It had a plethora of different stuff and our guide was very informative.
After our bit of culture we headed up through about 30 miles of forest to Aberdeen – not a very appealing town – I haven’t seen so many derelict, abandoned and sub standard houses in a town since New Mexico.
With nothing to entice us to stay, we continued up 101 through Humptulips (don’t you love the name?) and on to Lake Quinault in the southern part of the Olympic National Forest. A large lake, up to 1,000ft at its deepest with forest covered hills all around, and in the distance we can see the snow capped peaks of Mt Olympus. We are in the heart of the only protected temperate rain forest in America with rainfalls akin to the NZ West Coast; it feels very cool and damp. Not much opportunity to boondock around here so settled for the park camp – its got flush toilets but nothing else apart from nice views of the lake and a good supply of ‘mossies.
29 April – Couldn’t work out what the round yellow thing in the sky was – it has been hidden away for quite a while. Made the most of it and went on one of the rainforest trails – very much like being back home except the trees are different and somewhat larger. There were several interpretive boards on the trail explaining the nature of the forest. Throughout the trail were fallen giants, some of which were 400-500 years old and once on the ground can take up to 200 years to return to the soil; during this time seedlings take root on the fallen tree and it looks a bit odd seeing these trees growing as if on stilts once the nurse tree has rotted away.
Left the lake and headed back on to the 101 and made a stop to get propane (we have been having the furnace on a lot so ran it down a little more quickly than normal), then did a dump of waste and filled up with fresh water and a little further down the road stopped at Forks and a car wash to give Wanda a lick and promise, and joy of joys, a laundromat was across the road so got the washing done as well.
Back on the road for another 30 minutes or so and managed to come across a primitive DNR camp with about 20 sites and found a level enough site. There was no way to pay for this camp – normally there is an iron ranger (honesty box) where you can pay, but all it said was that you need a Discovery Pass – we figured our multi-agency National Pass should suffice for now as we don’t have one of them.
With coming north so quickly we have gone back to early spring, the leaves are that lovely fresh green on the deciduous trees and plenty of spring blossom. The contrast of the new spring growth in among the dark evergreens is spectacular. There are a lot of trees in Washington State – all the way up this coast both sides of the road are trees – mainly managed forests, and a huge number of logging trucks on the roads. Good roads though don’t make this a challenge, and for the most part they seem to be going south.
30 April- What a lovely drive today, for the first 30 miles it was through forest and then we ran alongside Lake Crescent for another 30 miles. What a gorgeous lake, a very deep turquoise, lovely and clear and the road hugged the shoreline all the way around. Stopped halfway along and had lunch at a large meadow which ran down to the lake shore.
On again towards Port Angeles, with glimpses of the Olympic Mountains on our right and we descended a long hill, the view was amazing – it was like a corridor of trees and at the bottom the window view was across Puget Sound to Mt Baker – a huge 10,800ft snow clad mountain in the north of Washington State. It was a beautiful clear day – all the islands in the Juan de Fuca Strait were visible, including Vancouver Island in Canada and the sea was so calm. Our final destination was Dungeness and the wildlife refuge area. Dungeness has a huge 5 mile long spit and perched near the end of it is a lighthouse. You can walk all the way out there, but you have to contend with tides and all the shingle and rocks on the beach – the tide was almost fully in, so we settled for a stroll down to and along the start of the spit. The spit is strewn with huge driftwood logs and is a natural refuge for huge numbers of birds and seals at different times of the year. You are only allowed to walk on the ocean side of the spit at this time of year, to avoid any interference with nesting birds.
Had an interesting chat with the two docents manning the desk – they lived locally and as well as being volunteers for the wildlife refuge, they also volunteer for the lighthouse as well – they don’t run the actual lighthouse which is automatic, but do run tours for the folks who do the walk out along the spit. Stayed in the county campground right beside the refuge.
01 May – Into another month already. Had a great drive today through Sequim to Kingston, stopping at Port Gamble to have a look around. What a neat little settlement – just like a chocolate box picture – quaint, tidy houses with perfect gardens. The area was a mill town and the owner built it just like his home town back in Maine. The area between Port Gamble and Kingston was so green, lush paddocks and very neat and tidy. Spring blooms still in evidence so that made it extra special.
On to the ferry at Kingston for the hop across the harbour to Edmonds on the north side of Seattle, and to Everett. The crossing was only about 40 minutes and with a lovely clear day again – the views of the Cascade Ranges at the back of Seattle made a nice backdrop. $50 for us and Wanda to cross over on the ferry which seemed reasonable as it would have cost us more than that in fuel to go the long way around. We saw a Dreamlifter taking off as we drove towards the Boeing complex – this is one of four purpose built planes, each constructed from parts of two 747’s, which ferry in all the parts of the 787 that are made in different locations around the States and around the world, and are brought here for assembly. It looks like a beluga whale with a very odd shaped front end. Found the Boeing Factory but were too late for the last tour, so after getting information from the docents, headed back into Everett for the AAA office to pick up some maps and road information and then to Walmart to park for the night.
02 May – Walmart’s hospitality worked out well yet again – traffic noise died down around 11pm and then it was relatively quiet for the rest of the night. Headed back out to Boeing and took ‘The Tour’ – 90 minutes around the inside of the building (biggest in the world by volume) where they build their jets in six enormous bays. Currently 747,767,777 and now the 787 are all being built here with military like precision. Our guide was like a walking encyclopedia running off all sorts of facts and figures about the building and the aircraft. He also told us that the first of the Air New Zealand 787’s had been painted and was undergoing flight testing. A plane is put together in as little as 3 days, some types on a moving conveyor line with others at movable work stations – but it did surprise me that they still paint them by hand. Seeing the building from the inside is awe inspiring – 42,000 people work there and it is like a mini city, with restaurant chains, coffee shops and even a dry cleaner.
To our surprise, the Boeing tour was not all that was available to the aeronautical enthusiast at Paine Field. Of course Bob wanted to see the collection at the Historic Flight Centre nearby that he was told about, who in turn put him onto the Warbirds Heritage Collection of Paul Allen (one of the Microsoft founders) and there he found out about the Restoration Centre nearby who have their main collection on display at the Museum of Flight complex at Boeing Field to the south of Seattle city. Well, I think we should rename this van ‘Patience’ but at least the plans for the next few days were easily formed! Each location has it’s quite knowledgeable docents who just love to explain all the ins and outs, facts and anecdotes of the collections to an interested visitor, which all takes time.
The Historic Flight has about a dozen mainly WWII machines all airworthy and lovingly restored, some of them of little known types that were never called upon during that conflict – the Grumman Bearcat and Tigercat were due to go into service at war’s end, but were never finally produced in great numbers so are rare indeed today whilst the almost obligatory Spitfire and Mustang were genuine surviving combatants. ‘Grumpy’ the flight’s Mitchell B25 medium bomber was opened up so Bob could do the boy thing inside; piloting, gunnery and bomb aiming all got a work-out in the confined spaces more suited to the slimmer version of fifty years ago. And for a mere $450 you too could do something similar up in the sky!
Paul Allen’s Warbirds are also almost exclusively WWII veterans housed in well lit clean and tidy surroundings, again in pristine and airworthy condition. The most iconic, principally fighter machines of the Japanese, German, Russian, British and American forces are all represented together with very detailed supporting information – even examples of the V1 flying bomb and V2 rocket bomb which terrorized Southern England towards the end of the conflict have a place there amongst the twenty or so aircraft. Probably the best chance around to see all the competing military aircraft of the period together at one location. At the end of that long day, Walmart again provided a safe haven.
03 May – Next day, the Restoration Centre was on the agenda for a short visit – initially all went to plan as the machines undergoing work were inspected, including a polar flight Antonov, a Chance-Vought Cutlass navy fighter, Boeing 247 airliner and a very complicated version of the Link trainer. That was, until they found out that Bob had once flown in a de Havilland DH106 Comet airliner similar to the one they currently have under restoration. After endless questions, out came the video recorder for an interview session of memory stretching proportions. Everything he could dredge up from the depths was eagerly taken note of and resulted in more requests for details on tape, he being the first person they had ever met that had been a passenger in one of this type. After more common ground was discovered in vintage cars and bikes and the offer of a job had been politely turned down, all too soon the day was nearly done and we headed down to Auburn south of Seattle in torrential rain and horrendous traffic to find another accommodating 24 hour Walmart store carpark for the night. There is not much in the way of other low cost camping options in this city!
04 May – This day motorbikes were first on the agenda at Hinshaws Motorcycle Store in Auburn. Rather surprisingly they are the local agents for all of the principal Japanese brands, as well as the new Indian and Norton revivals. But the main reason for going was their collection of vintage machines, principally Honda but also including some fine British marques from the 1950’s which Bob was allowed to inspect and photograph at leisure – then they too offered him a job!
Further south, at Tacoma, the newly opened ‘LeMay – America’s Car Museum’ had been recommended to us as just about the largest in the country. The modern four storey building houses a magnificent collection of American automobiles in the very finest conditions imaginable, with plenty of supporting information on each exhibit available on individual flat screen displays – no more scrappy bits of paper here! A substantial number of the 350 cars on display are from the personal collection of Harold and Nancy LeMay, which is reputed to have reached 3,500 in number. Harold was an eclectic sort of collector – if he liked the look of something, he would buy it regardless of it’s make or provenance. The project to establish the museum and entertainment complex, which opened less than two years ago, required some US$65million to be found. There was in addition, the story of American motoring in displays and murals, and several interactive corners for children including slot car racing and video challenges – the place was well patronized on a Sunday afternoon.
A return north towards Seattle and the Boeing Field brought us to the Museum of Flight where Bob again got himself immersed in airborne history – the Wright Brothers, early Boeing machines, Amelia Earhart, World Wars I and II fighter heroes, bi-planes and spy planes, the moon landings and space exploration. Nobody with an interest in things aeronautical could come out of this place in less than a day, so the two hours we allowed means we will be back again tomorrow after yet another Walmart stop-over.
05 May – Walmart kindly had a host of trucks parking near us last night – but despite the noise from them, the trains and the freeway we still managed a restful night. Had to wait for the rush hour traffic to clear before setting off back up freeways to the Boeing Field so that Bob could indulge himself for a few more hours. Amongst the exhibits in the great hall is a replica of the first two aircraft built by Boeing and sold to the Walsh Flying School then operating at Mission Bay in Auckland. The remains of these are reputed to be stored in natural tunnels under the harbour in Auckland! Peeks inside a Concorde, Air Force One, the first 727, 737 and 747 as well as the last Lockheed Super Constellation were in addition to all the detailed displays housed in the first proper Boeing aircraft factory. To get out of Seattle and on to our eastward journey we still had to be subjected to a few more miles of freeways – they are really stressful to drive on, we drive in the ‘slow’ right hand lane, but keep finding that it goes into an ‘exit only’ lane so have to try and get out into the faster moving lanes, and off ramps can be quite confusing when you are travelling at high speeds. Finally got off the busy Seattle roads and made it over to Monroe where we found a County Park at the local fairgrounds and Speedway track. With just one other rig parked up it was a nice quiet spot (after the local boys doing slide practice on the speedway track finally went home).
06 May – Highway 2 today was one of the prettiest roads that we have driven on to date. We left Monroe around 11ish and climbed up over the Stevens Pass at 4,000ft on a lovely road (nice and wide with actual shoulders on the side of the road). The rain and clouds came in at the pass, but we stopped up there amid the snow covered mountains for a spot of lunch chez Wanda. The drive up the pass had lovely views of the high dome shaped mountains – still covered in a lot of snow and the sides of the road still had unmelted snow piled up about 5ft. Down the other side of the pass was just magical – we followed the Wenatchee river all the way down (the road still so easy to drive on – this has to be a first – mountain pass with no switchbacks or scary looking drop-offs. The river was so pretty, in places it went through narrow canyons with frothy rapids and opened out in other places to look quite calm.
We finally came down into an open valley at Leavenworth – this town completely ‘remade’ itself, after the logging declined. into a Bavarian town with buildings reminiscent of a Swiss Alpine town complete with Bavarian music playing in the town square. As we came down from the pass we came back into early spring again – trees just coming into leaf and tulips still in the gardens. From Leavenworth (after partaking of Danish Pastries – not quite sure what they were doing in a Bavarian town!) we descended a bit more and into a much wider valley full of apple/pear orchards until we reached Wenatchee and the Confluence State Park – this would have to be the most beautifully manicured campground we have stayed at – the grass is thick and lushly green, tents have to park on sand areas (not on the grass) and it has masses of trees. Wenatachee is at the confluence of the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers and seems to be the Apple Capital of the region. After the lush green of the apple valleys, the hills around us here look very dry and barren with all the greenery closer to the river.