Why, O Wyoming? The Car Trouble and Bad Weather Edition

Monday afternoon we arrived at Yellowstone and immediately noticed that this, like the Grand Canyon, was a national park in a whole different league as a tourist attraction. Mammoth Springs, the point where we entered, is a bona fide town, with streets and many buildings. But there are definitely some hints you’re in a park, like the huge elk just sitting outside the post office.

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While in Mammoth Springs, we decided to check out the Terraces, this neat place where the magma beneath the earth is very close to the surface. It heats the water that seeps down and sends it bubbling up with dissolved calcium carbonate from the limestone, creating ever-new deposits! So the surface of the terraces is always changing, and they’re colored by these thermophile bacteria of different shades who like different water temperatures. We walked around on the boardwalks above the lower terraces, then decided to drive the loop around the upper terraces. Shortly after turning onto the loop, we found ourselves sitting in a many-car backup. We were criticizing the people who stop to take pictures without pulling over out of the way when we rounded the corner and saw a bear! A grizzly bear! It was up on the hill a little ways away, and lots of people had stopped to take pictures. We had heard enough about dumb tourists who get too close to wildlife to be wary, but we figured that if we stood at a safe distance, the bear would get to other people first. As we watched, it came loping down the hill, posing above a car (see picture) and scattering the onlookers. But it wasn’t incensed…just went on eating and eventually we moved on. As we finished the loop, we hit a big pothole and heard a shattering sound, so we pulled into the nearby parking lot.

The terraces:

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The bear!

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On the highway driving to the park, a piece of something hard and clear had hit our windshield. Bill had wondered aloud if it was a piece of ice and Erin had pointed out that it seemed unlikely that a piece of ice would just fall from the blue sky. It turned out that a rock had hit our front driver-side headlight casing, sending a piece of the clear plastic flying. Now the impact from the pothole had widened the hole. But the headlight casing was a special Volvo part and the nearest dealership for 3 states was in Billings, MT, so there wasn’t much we could do except clean out some of the glass. We continued on towards our campsite, passing something Erin thought was another bear (would have been the biggest bear ever, but turned out to be a log), taking some photos of a wolf, and checking out the Porcelain Geyser Basin along the way.

Porcelain Geyser Basin:

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As we set up the tent and began making dinner preparations, thunder and lightening crackled overhead. When the rain started, we packed all our dinner things back into the car and sat there and hoped the tent — fully set up with the fly, but not yet tested by rain — would hold up. The lightening got pretty close, and then at one point it started to hail. When the hail and the thunder stopped and the rain lightened, we went back to cooking. We’d cooked the vegetables and were working on getting the pasta water boiling when the thunder and rain started back up and we simultaneously ran out of propane. So we got back into the car and ate vegetables and tofu as we waited out the storm again. We wound up going to bed quite late, but the tent had stayed reasonably dry!

On our way out in the morning, we passes a buffalo on the road. They look so cool! We stopped at the “Artist’s Paintpots”, another place with lots of colorful, bubbling ground. Driving south by a river canyon, we were planning to get to a trailhead and do a 5 mile hike to Fairy Falls, but the sky darkened and it started to rain again. So we decided to take another driving loop by a bunch of cool geysers. As we parked the car and got out to see Firehole Lake, Erin and Bill heard a hissing sound and watched our front driver-side tire slowly deflate. All things being equal, getting a flat when you’re safely parked and out of the car is probably the best possible situation. Bill pulled the spare and the jack out of the trunk, but the last shop to have the car had tightened the bolts so much that when he went tried to exert enough force to loosen them, he pulled the car off the jack.

Buffalo!

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Artist’s Paintpots:

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Bubbling!

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Another geyser:

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I have AAA, but of course there was no phone service. So we flagged down a few other cars until we found one heading towards Old Faithful, where we knew there was a park-operated auto shop. I caught a ride while Bill & Erin stayed with the car. The folks driving me were a school teacher from Las Vegas and a man from Australia. They’re really cute — they struck up a friendship when he visited her friend in college, and somehow figured out that they enjoy traveling together. So they’re not a couple, but every year or so they meet up somewhere – Europe, the US, elsewhere – and go on a trip. They dropped me off at the car shop, where I met Mike the Mechanic (alliterative, like Bob the Builder). We hopped in Mike’s truck and headed back up the road, chatting all the way. Mike has a pretty great set-up for half the year, when he manages the shop at Yellowstone. He lives in the park and goes hiking out into the wilderness in his free time – away from the crowds! – to fish. The employees have a little area at Old Faithful that’s fenced off, with their own pub (with cheaper beer) and a campfire they sit around most nights. Plus he gets to meet people from all over the world through his job, and the scenery is gorgeous. Unfortunately the job is seasonal, but it sounds like he’s a good enough mechanic that he finds work the other half the year wherever he wants to be. He’s gone home to Buffalo, NY the past few years, but this winter he’s thinking about Florida.

Mike got our spare on and we followed him back to the shop. Unfortunately the tire showed a really weird wear pattern, totally threadbare on the inside and fine on the outside, so it wasn’t a puncture we could just patch. And it turned out that Mike’s shop didn’t have our tire size. To make matters worse, as Bill closed the car door, the driver-side side mirror glass fell to the ground and broke into two pieces. At this point we just started laughing — our car was falling apart all at once! And all in the same corner! Mike offered to glue the mirror, but said it wouldn’t set for a while, since the rain was still pouring down (apparently this amount of rain is very unusual this time of year). So we decided to wait until later. Mike called over to a shop 35 miles away, just outside the park, where they said they had our tires, so we headed to West Yellowstone.

Broken headlight, spare tire, pieces of mirror on the ground:

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Once we made it there, however, it turned out that there had been a miscommunication and the shop didn’t have our size after all. They tried to sell us tires the next size down, but we eschewed that option and called over to yet another place, on the other side of the park, where they had plenty. We determined we could make it there in the morning on our spare.

Before leaving town, we swung by the hardware store. While our headlight hadn’t originally been broken, it had burned out after being exposed to all the moisture. And we weren’t getting a new casing anytime soon. So we bought some packing tape — after consulting with the man in the hardware store, who waved us off the expensive fiberglass duct tape — and made a cover for the headlight, then replaced the bulb. As we were working, about 5 different Montanan men walked through the parking lot and offered widely varying advice. One suggested supergluing the remaining glass pieces together. Another said he thought the tape would hold, while another shook his head and said the bulb would burn right through it. Another suggested we get the shop to cut us a piece of plexiglass and tape that in. Another, after giving us his advice, pointed to his own busted headlights to prove his expertise. They were nearly all wearing big boots and broad hats, and the whole experience was pretty funny, though we wished we’d gotten the same advice twice. We finished the taping and bought a $1.88 piece of plexiglass as insurance, in case we had to do it again. Then we drove back into the park.

Given how much we were driving on our spare, we should probably have headed for camp. But while the car and the rain had robbed us of our hike, we weren’t going to leave Yellowstone without seeing Old Faithful blow. So we drove back that way, walked the loop of geysers nearby, then sat with about a billion other people waiting for Old Faithful’s predicted spouting. When it finally did go off, it was pretty neat! Lived up to the hype. After seeing that, we drove back to camp and made a rice curry dinner, then tried to go to bed quickly. We planned to be up very early and headed to the tire shop, which opened at 7am 100 miles away.

Heart geyser. See it?

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Old Faithful:

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It turns out that the advantage of getting up at 4:30 and being on the long road out of Yellowstone at 5:30am is that a) no one else is on the road and b) all the animals are up and about. On our early morning drive, we passed grazing buffalo, osprey and storks, elk, several types of deer, and a number of other creatures. Plus, the sun rising over the misty Yellowstone Lake made for some fantastic views. So we didn’t find ourselves regretting the early wake-up. We listened to Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel on the ride — loud enough to keep Bill awake driving, soft enough to let Erin sleep in the back — and made it to Rimrock Tires in Cody, WY at about 7:30. They had our tires. The right front one, though not flat, had the same weird wear pattern, so we replaced both front tires. The guys at Rimrock, like Mike, thought it looked like we had a front-end alignment problem, but they couldn’t fit us into their alignment schedule until 2pm. And we couldn’t hang out in Cody, WY until then and still make it to South Dakota by nightfall. So I stared at a map, hopped on Google — thanks, Dad, for the loan of the 3G-enabled iPad! — and called 12 different auto shops across Wyoming. Learned a lot about the layout of Wyoming in the process. Some of the shops didn’t do alignments and some were full all day. But eventually I found one 150 miles away that could see us at 2pm near the Wyoming-South Dakota border. So we drove east on our new tires. We stopped at an auto store to pick up a few more headlight bulbs, though the one we’d put behind the tape was still going strong. In the shop, they sold replacement side mirrors (ours was still gone). They didn’t have one for our model, but we saw that the replacements were just attached with cushion tape, so we bought some of that and taped the two pieces of the broken mirror back to the plate. A thousand miles later, it’s still working. The wonders of modern tape!

Taping the mirror:

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The unexpected highlight of the day was definitely driving over the Bighorn Mountains through the Bighorn National Forest. The road took us up to nearly 10,000 feet, where we had amazing views down onto the plain below. And despite being so high up, it was incredibly green! We also learned from a sign that we were near the Medicine Wheel, a giant set of ancient cairns used by Native Americans. It forms a 28-spoke wheel when viewed from above and lines up with the solstice etc. Basically the American Stonehenge, except much less well known and made from smaller rocks. We went up to see it, but a park ranger informed us that several big snow drifts blocked the 1.5 mile walk to the wheel. We didn’t have our boots out, and our 2pm appointment loomed, so we decided the wheel would have to wait until our next time in Wyoming. But the ride down continued to be beautiful, and we drove by some mountain rock dating to the Devonian age.

Plain stretches out below:

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Ranger station at the Medicine Wheel:

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So green, 10,000 feet up:


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We made it to Sheridan, WY early, had lunch, then got our alignment fixed. It took nearly 2 hours, but they told us exactly what we wanted to hear: our front end alignment was totally out of whack. We’d much rather have that be the explanation for the tire problem than ‘oh, some obscure and very expensive part is broken.’ Cheerful that we had solved all our problems (or at least temporarily fixed them with tape) and kept to our schedule, we drove across the border into South Dakota and headed for our campsite in the Black Hills.

Sheridan, WY:

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Big Sky Country

We started off early from Seattle on the 9th after our wonderful stay there with the Nickels’s. We headed east, ultimately aiming for Glacier National Park in Montana. We had been told that eastern Washington was very different from western, and indeed it was. We passed mostly farms for much of our drive through Washington. We really enjoyed a 14 mile section of the highway along which the crops we passed were labeled. There was alfalfa, corn, hay, potatoes, and more.

We had a fun stop in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho at the Sacred Heart Mission. It has been restored several times, but the building is the oldest standing building in Idaho. Set up by missionaries for the Coeur d’Alene native Americans, the building was originally made of mud and straw, and some of that construction can still be seen. We got there shortly before it closed, so we saw the church quickly and continued on. We stopped for dinner at a small town in Montana where Kenzie ordered a burger from a drive-through that was like a non-chain version of McDonalds. It took about 20 minutes to serve two cars. We had a very pretty drive as we approached Glacier National Park. It stayed light extremely late, and we passed green hills, blue lakes, and black and white mountains. It was a long drive, so we got in late, set up our tent in the Fish Creek campground, and went to bed.

Inside the Mission:


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The outside:

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The kind of views we got on the road thru Montana:

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We woke up with ambitious plans to drive all of Going-to-the-Sun road, stop at many lookouts and short walks, and do two moderate hikes. Our first stop along Going-to-the-Sun road was McDonald falls. Due to the large snowfall this past winter, and the timing of our visit (still in snowmelt season), all the rivers and waterfalls were quite full. We did a short walk down a muddy path and through some spray from the falls to the best viewpoint. The falls were not remarkably tall, but were quite beautiful.

The falls:

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From McDonald falls we continued on to the Avalanche Creek area where we were to begin our first hike. However, upon our arrival there, we discovered that the rest of Going-to-the-Sun road was closed. We could still do our first hike, but wouldn’t be able to get to our second one, or much of the other stuff we had been hoping to see.

Nonetheless, we eagerly began the Avalanche Lake hike. We walked for two miles through a lovely stretch of forest, although there we many trees down in some sections. We had a nice river beside us for much of the walk. Eventually we emerged out onto Avalanche Lake, which was a beautiful shade of blue, and was surrounded by large rock walls on the far side, down which three narrow but very tall waterfalls tumbled. It was a beautiful scene, so we wandered around the muddy edge of the lake for a while admiring the view and skipping stones before heading back along the trail.

Avalanche Lake:

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Teaching Erin to skip stones:

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Our return trip was relatively uneventful until we ended up behind a junior ranger who had spotted a deer. Junior rangers are kids who do a few required activities to get a badge from the park rangers. The junior ranger in front of us was a boy around seven who was eagerly following and photographing the deer, while urging everyone behind him, especially his parents and younger sister, to stay back and keep quiet. We had seen several deer already on our trip, so to us, the boy was more adorable than the deer. Also on our way back, we swung by Avalanche Gorge, a neat stone section of the riverbed that had been carved into smooth patterns by the fast-flowing water.

Junior Ranger and the deer:

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Avalanche Gorge:

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We pulled out our standard picnic lunch (pb&j sandwiches and some fruit) by the side of Avalanche Creek while we planned the rest of our day. The park was running shuttle buses a few miles farther up the road than where we were allowed to drive to. We found a very nice man at the shuttle stop who said there were great views and some cool hikes where the shuttle dropped people off, so we took his advice and headed up.

We waited about 20 minutes for the shuttle, and then it took about 30 minutes to travel a few miles, mostly because of a long delay to pass a very short section of the road which was down to one lane due to construction vehicles. It seemed intentionally inefficient to us, but we didn’t mind too much. We did indeed have beautiful views from The Loop, where the shuttle deposited us. We could see out over the green valley to another ridge of snow-capped mountains.

The view:


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As we began our hike up towards Granite Park Chalet, we wandered through a very large stand of dead pine trees, killed a few years ago by a forest fire. These are frequent occurrences in the northwest, and although dangerous to humans, are often considered beneficial for forest ecosystems. As our hike took us upwards, we started to get above the trees, and also started to see more and more lovely wildflowers. There were whole fields of yellow, blue, purple, and white flowers. We also had some fun little streams of melted snow cascading down over our trail. All the while, we could see beautiful mountains in several directions. It was a really neat hike.

Little waterfalls along the way:

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Trees stripped by fire:

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We turned around at 4 to be sure to catch what we had been told would be the last shuttle at 5pm. However, when we came down, there were at least 100 people waiting ahead of us at the shuttle stop. The shuttles being run carried 12-15 people each. Many shuttles and an hour later, we were on our way back down, stopping again for a long time at the inefficient one-lane section of road. After finally making it down, we hopped back into our car and enjoyed the pretty drive back to our campsite. We got back pretty early, and our tent was already set up from the night before, so we were able to enjoy a peaceful dinner, write a few postcards in the tent, and still get to sleep at a reasonable time.

We left the next morning headed for Yellowstone National Park. The drive was again quite pretty (it seems everything in the northwest is!), but the highlight for us was our lunch stop in Bozeman, MT. We stopped at the food co-op there, which had mostly organic food, plenty of vegan options, a delicious cafe and coffee bar, a neat membership program, and donated lots of food to local food banks. Kenzie had some delicious focaccia bread with cheese. Erin had a slaw salad and focaccia bread, and I had focaccia bread and a delicious buffet salad with ginger-miso dressing. It may have been my favorite salad ever to date. We also all had berry smoothies. We picked up some fruit and vegetables for the road, Kenzie got an iced tea, and Erin and I got vegan chocolate cupcakes. We all liked Bozeman, and vowed that if we lived there, we would certainly all be members and frequent patrons of the co-op.

Views from the road:

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The co-op, mountains in the background:

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Quick Update!

Sorry about the delay in posting! Since Seattle, we’ve spent two nights each in Glacier and Yellowstone national parks and are now en route to the Black Hills in South Dakota. We’ll have notes about all that up as soon as we get the chance…lots of beautiful pictures! In the last 48 hours we’ve had a bit of car trouble, so we’ve been focused on that rather than the blog, but we’re still having a great time! And for those of you keeping track, we crossed 9000 miles today.

Glacier:


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Yellowstone:

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“Bluest skies you’ve ever seen…”

The drive from Portland to Seattle is pretty short, but we decided to extend it by stopping at Mt. Rainier National Park along the way, lengthening the ride from 3 hours to 5. On the way, we thought a police car was pulling us over, but he turned out to be ticketing the car in front of us for passing us in a no-passing zone when we were driving the speed limit. Recovering from the suspense of thinking we were in trouble, we drove past Gifford Pinchot National Forest, named for the first head of the forest service and one of the heroes (along with Teddy Roosevelt) of The Big Burn, the environmental history audiobook we’ve been listening to about the creation of the forest system. Timothy Egan has a good writing style and the book’s very well-researched, so definitely worth reading if you’re interested! Thanks to my sister Abby for the recommendation.

Mt. Rainier is a huge (14,500 ft!) dormant volcano with glaciers on its snowy peak. But the lower area of the park is filled with gorgeous forests and waterfalls. We drove into the park (past a black-tailed deer, our first of several) and started up the trail to a 320 foot waterfall, taking a picture of the sign that called for ice axes (which we assumed applied to winter). About half a mile up the trail, however, we ran into someone coming down who said that further up the trail it got icy and you needed proper equipment. We decided to keep going until that point, so we continued the ascent, up past red cedars and hemlock trees. The trees were identified by Bill, who is fresh off his senior spring “Trees” class and thus a font of arboreal knowledge. After some great views of the mountains across the valley, we hit the snow and turned around.

Rushing water everywhere:

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The sign — not a joke!

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Mountains across the valley:

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We continued driving down the park’s main road towards Paradise, the name of the high point where a bunch of park service buildings are clustered. On the way, we stopped at a viewpoint and waited for a few minutes while the clouds shrouding the mountaintop blew aside, affording a fleeting opportunity for pictures. We stopped again for a huge, rushing waterfall. Then we made it to Paradise. Normally, this time of year, you could take some nice hikes from Paradise. But Mt. Rainier, like Tahoe, saw record snow this year, so we were not getting up any further without snowshoes. I laughed to think that we’d originally told our hosts in Seattle that we might ‘climb Mt. Rainier on the way.’ Greg Nickels had answered my email with the mild comment that that activity was usually reserved for mountaineers and ‘might require some rest afterwards.’ Standing at the highest point the car could reach, at 4500 feet, and gazing up 10,000 snowy feet to the peak, I realized how much I’d betrayed my East Coast, Mount-Washington-is-the-highest-thing-around-and-you-can-drive-up-it mentality.

A rare glimpse of the peak!

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A huge waterfall:

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View from Paradise:

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From Mount Rainier, we drove straight to Seattle, arriving just before 7. Our hosts were Sharon Nickels and her husband Mayor Greg Nickels, the former mayor of Seattle, whom I’d had the pleasure of getting to know during his fellowship at Harvard’s Institute of Politics. As mayor, besides all his Seattle-specific projects, he headed up an effort to get cities and towns across the country (and maybe internationally as well?) to pledge themselves to the Kyoto Protocol on a local level. Now he’s President Obama’s delegate to the United Nations. But the UN is not currently in session, so he’s back in Seattle. Sharon works for the EPA, specifically in the division that focuses on emergency environmental disaster response (oil spills etc) in the Northwest region. So they both do really interesting, important work. When we arrived, they walked us down a couple blocks to a point of West Seattle (their neighborhood) from which you can see the downtown skyline and look out across Puget Sound. It’s really neat to be introduced to a city by a former mayor (and lifelong resident!), since he truly knows everything about the place. After getting a tutorial in the layout of Seattle, we walked to an Italian restaurant in their neighborhood and got dinner. Mayor Nickels runs into people he knows literally every block, so it was a slow walk, but fun! I enjoy being with people who are very embedded in their community.

View of Seattle from the point:

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I got to try two Washington red wines, one at dinner and another later, while watching the baseball highlights for the day. I’ve felt terribly out-of-touch with the Sox, so it was great to see coverage of the game where they hit a billion home runs (against the Orioles, I believe, on the 7th). Back at the house, we continued to hang out with their two very friendly dogs (large, friendly dogs have been a theme of this leg of the trip, from Flagstaff to Claremont to Portland to Seattle) and plan the following day. The Nickels’ suggested that we take the car ferry out to the Olympic peninsula, rather than driving all the way there, and looked up the schedule before we went to bed.

The next morning, we were on the 7:55am ferry out of Seattle, headed for Bainbridge Island. No sooner had we reached the upper deck than someone said my name and I turned to see Cooper, a friend I grew up going to church with. She was on the ferry with a bunch of Stanford friends — including Kevin, who gave me a bicycle tour of Stanford when I visited as a high school senior — all on their way to a wedding on the peninsula. As my dad says, “Small world!”

Once the ferry docked, we drove towards the peninsula, using two bridges to pass through two islands on the way. Then we followed US 101, the same road we took most of the way up the Pacific Coast, along the edge of the peninsula to Port Angeles. We were planning to take the Hurricane Ridge road up into the park from there, but since the sky was cloudy and the road’s big draw is its views, we decided to save that for the drive back.

This is the point at which we made a critical error. And by ‘we’ I really mean me, since I was the one looking at the map. Further on, along the edge of the peninsula, was the road to the Hoh rainforest. The woods in Olympic National Park make up the largest temperate rainforest in the world, and our guidebook said it was really cool, so it seemed like a good idea to head that way. What I didn’t realize was that, as Mayor Nickels said later, the Olympic peninsula is about the size of the state of Connecticut. Glancing at the map, I figured the rainforest was at most an hour from Port Angeles. But a combination of longer distance and slower, winding roads made it over two hours one way. We didn’t realize this until it felt too late to turn back. But by the time we made it to the rainforest, we’d driven nearly four hours since disembarking from the ferry, making for an extremely excessive amount of driving for a non-travel day. Nonetheless, we accepted this reality and resolved to enjoy the rainforest. We ate a picnic lunch, then walked slowly down the aptly named “Hall of Mosses” trail. Pictures below!

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The road to the rainforest and back took us through Forks, WA, an extremely out-of-the-way town on the edge of the forest that has been catapulted to fame due to its prominent place in the Twilight books and movie. The main street of town is now filled with restaurants and shops named after Twilight, and it’s amusing to think how unexpected this piece of economic good fortune must have been to the residents. I do have to admit that the consistently-clouded landscape does seem like a decent spot for vampires.

Forks:


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At least the drive was beautiful:


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When we made it back to Port Angeles, the sky was as cloudy as before, but we decided to go up Hurricane Ridge Road anyways. As we climbed, we drove into the clouds, and the viewpoint pullouts were obscured by fog. For some reason — perhaps because we’re somewhat stubborn about sticking to a plan once we’ve made it — we continued upwards. This turned out to be fortuitous, since we were rewarded at the very top by a mysterious gap in the fog, a gap which allowed us to see the previously hidden Olympic Mountains in all their glory.

Miraculous view of the mountains:

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The rest of the drive was foggy, but we saw a deer!

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(Sidenote: the title of this post comes from the opening line of a 1969 Bobby Sherman song called “Seattle”. It’s wildly misleading regarding the Seattle weather…while we didn’t have rain, our stay was very cloudy! Not much blue sky.)

Back down from Hurricane Ridge, we were racing the clock to reach the ferry dock before the 6:30 ferry left. Kudos to Bill for driving safely yet very efficiently. We made it right at 6:30…fortunately the ferry was a few minutes late, so we got aboard. The view from the ferry as we approached Seattle was absolutely splendid.

Seattle from the ferry:

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Out over Puget Sound:

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Fortunately, it wouldn’t get dark that evening until quite late, so we still had some time to do a few of the things we’d planned to do in the actual city of Seattle. First, we parked and headed for the Space Needle. Like many of the cool-but-random structures we’ve seen on this trip (Birmingham’s Vulcan statue, Nashville’s Parthenon, etc), it was built for a World’s Fair. The top had incredible views. Back down on the ground, we headed for the Olympic sculpture garden, where we passed a bunch of strange people dressed like pastries for no discernible reason and read a number of entertaining plaques about the sculptures. I defended the value of conceptual art against Bill’s skepticism, though I’m honestly not a big fan. After wandering amongst the sculptures, we set off to find Thai food. The first place we looked was closed, and the second one had few vegan or vegetarian options, but we finally ended up at a third place with a very friendly bartender/waitress, who took our orders just before the kitchen closed at 9:30. Next door to the restaurant was Seattle’s new, very modern central library building, so we admired that from the outside before returning to the Nickels house and heading to sleep.

The Space Needle:


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Mount Rainier and downtown Seattle from the Space Needle:

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The flagship sculpture, with silly costumed people in the background:

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Erin & a giant eraser:

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Another sculpture:

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That night and the following morning, we had the chance to chat a bit more with Mayor Nickels. From hearing him talk about his time leading Seattle, my takeaway was that the direct, problem-solving, constantly-interfacing-with-the-public nature of mayoral work makes big-city mayor one of the most interesting jobs around. After saying farewell, we drove back into downtown Seattle, where we dropped off the car for an oil change (7500 miles into the trip, so it was time!) and then wandered down to Pike’s Place Market, the permanent farmers’ market/shopping arcade that anchors the downtown waterfront. The knickknack stores weren’t open yet, but the part we really wanted to see, the fruit stands and flower sellers and fishmongers, was already going strong. We bought lots of fruit for the trip, then picked up the car and hit the road again, finally heading back East!

Fruit at the market:


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Flowers!

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City of Roses

After waking up beneath the redwoods on Wednesday morning, we set out for Portland. We were on the road early enough to make it all the way to the city for lunch. Our first stop was Washington Park, one of Portland’s many green spaces. The park is huge, but we managed to find our way to its famous International Rose Test Garden. After a picnic lunch, we strolled round the garden and saw hundreds of beautiful roses of all different colors and sizes. We stopped in the gift shop to buy a few postcards, and learned that we were really lucky to see the garden in full bloom so late in the summer. Portland had a cold spring this year, and most of the flowers came in later than usual. After the rose garden, we walked up to the Japanese garden, but this one charged admission, so we just peered over the wall and headed back to the car.

An arch of roses:


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Next we drove into downtown Portland to find Powell’s, a giant independent bookstore that carries both new and used books. We had the very frustrating experience of not being able to take a left turn anywhere off the main street, but eventually found the store and parked in the steepest parking garage I’ve ever seen. Powell’s was amazing, though overwhelmingly large for the half hour we allowed ourselves to look around. Kenzie found four books that she absolutely had to have, and all were discounted. I bought two books, including one about the Civil War that Bill insists that I have to read before becoming a history teacher.

The directory inside Powell’s:

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After Powell’s, we walked around the downtown and waterfront area. There was a statue of Lincoln on a boulevard, and we learned that Oregon loves Lincoln because he supported the Homestead Act and land-grant colleges. Down by the river, we found a free community bike repair shop, and lots of kids playing in a fountain. We were tempted to join them–we had expected a 65 degree day in Portland, and it turned out to be very sunny and 80. On the way to Portland, we had read that one of the city’s parks was only 24 inches in diameter. We found this tiny park in the middle of an intersection–it even had a baby tree growing in it! Once we discovered this novelty, we headed back to the car to the home of the Mallirises, whose daughter Christina was Bill’s sister’s roommate this year.

The tempting fountain:

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Portland’s smallest park:

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The Mallirises live outside of Portland on a Christmas tree farm. After greeting them and their two very friendly dogs, we got in the car to drive to a neighboring town for dinner. On the way, we got a lovely tour of the area. The nearby farms used to be more diverse, but now wineries dominate the region. The Mallirises pointed out farms that used to grow hazelnuts or hay, but are now planted with grapes. The restaurant we ate at is owned by a pair of brothers who have been buying up old, run-down buildings in the area, and converting them into restaurants or, in the case of a former elementary school, condos. All five of us chose a delicious pasta dinner, and then we drove back. It was after nine, but still light outside, and the sky behind the darkening mountains was a beautiful golden-orange.

Shortly after arriving back at the Malliris house, Christina arrived home from work, so we got to chat with her before turning in for the night. The next morning, we woke up to some amazing oatmeal with brown sugar and dried fruit, and raspberries fresh from the backyard. We said goodbye to our wonderful hosts, and set out for Mt. Rainier and Seattle.

Us with Mr. Malliris, farmland and vineyards stretching behind us:

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Fireworks and Redwoods

After arriving back in Berkeley, on the evening ofJuly 4th, we headed down to the Marina to find Emma, Amelia, and Kassie, friends of mine who are doing a road trip similar to ours, and spending a month in Berkeley in the middle of it. We met them on the grass at the Marina and had a wonderful time catching up, hearing about their trip, playing set, and more. We watched the Berkeley fireworks, which were fun. Many of us love fireworks. We then joined a huge crowd of people in walking about a mile across the bridge from the Marina, and headed to bed once we got home.

On June 5th, we drove north from Berkeley along Redwood Highway. Along the drive we got to see some neat views of the Pacific Ocean, Erin’s first, and we drove through some redwood state parks on the Avenue of the Giants road. It was a long drive, but eventually we made it to the beautiful Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. After checking in at the campground, which was filled with beautiful redwoods, we drove a few miles to Stout Memorial Grove. This land was donated to the Save the Redwoods Foundation by a widow in honor of her timber-baron husband, which we found a bit ironic. That said, we were very glad it had been preserved. It was a cathedral-like stand of trees up to 300 feet tall. We wandered around in awe of the great trees. Erin commented about how it felt inappropriate to speak in more than whispers in the forest, a feeling shared by Kenzie and I and almost everyone else we passed on our walk. I really liked admiring some of the healthiest young redwoods growing up into a sunlit hole in the forest canopy. They seemed to hold so much potential, and it was crazy to think that even if I came back to see them late in my life, these trees would still be very young compared to the other redwoods. We tried to estimate the circumference of a very large redwood by linking our hands and wrapping our arms around it. We came up with an estimate of about 50 feet.

The biggest tree:

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Another large one:

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The huge roots from underneath!

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The view upwards:

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Sun setting through the woods:

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Following our walk, we headed back to our campsite, set up, made kous-kous for dinner, and headed to bed.

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Tahoe ho!

We started the 3rd rather slowly, having decided the night before that we would try to catch up on some sleep. But by 11am we were on the road headed on an excursion to Lake Tahoe. The trip took a little longer than we’d anticipated, due in part to an impromptu stop for a delicious Indian lunch buffet. But as the car climbed up towards 6000 feet, the views of the mountains (still snow-crested in July!) tall trees, and gushing waterfalls proclaimed our arrival in the Tahoe region. At least, Erin and I noticed…the combination of Indian food and the previous day’s sunburn had Bill snoozing in the backseat.

Having discovered online that all the national forest campsites were booked for the holiday weekend, we wasted sometime trying to locate the open state land where you can camp without a permit. After finding some less-marshy spots where we figured we could pitch a tent if absolutely necessary, we continued through the town “South Lake Tahoe” towards (surprise) the southern part of the lake. As we passed a beach, the road was filled with cars and traffic slowed to a crawl. We definitely started to worry that we’d made a mistake coming to a place with so many vacationers. But we still stopped at the official campsite we’d originally hoped to stay at, drove past the ‘campground full’ sign, and asked if any tent spots had become available. The woman ranger looked at my hopeful face, sighed, and said there was a spot, where the manager parks her truck, that they don’t usually rent out, but we could have it. Lesson learned from this and the Grand Canyon campsite: ignore all signs and ask anyways. Sometimes it works out!

Although at this point it was pretty late in the day, we drove to the lake’s Emerald Bay to try the Rubicon trail there. Erin bravely drove over a gorgeous but harrowing section of highway where not one but both sides of the road drop away like cliffs, leaving you on a sort of narrow elevated natural bridge with an unimpeded view of the bay far, far below. Sorry I don’t have a picture!

Once we walked down to it, the Rubicon trail was a very nice, pretty flat path that runs through the forest on the edge of the lake. Lots of pretty trees, flowers, rocks, & birds, not to mention the beautiful expanse of water — the lake is huge, and we could only see a portion! After the Grand Canyon’s steep elevation changes, however, Bill wasn’t feeling the flat-groomed-path style of hiking, so we resolved to try something more rugged the next morning. But the walk was lovely, and nice after so much driving!

Emerald Bay:

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For dinner we drove to Sprout, a great vegetarian restaurant. I think Bill was a little shocked when my meal (cous-cous, hummus, & vegetable wrap, plus chips & guacamole and a fruit smoothie) happened to be vegan. My vegan eating this trip has been through the roof, comparatively, because of all our peanut butter sandwich lunches and the camp food, but I guess this was the first time in a restaurant. Pretty rare event, I’ll admit. Bill had a tostada, Erin got a tempeh burger, and my friend Sam got tomato herb soup.

Sam is a high school friend of mine who just graduated from Stanford and is working at Stanford’s family camp for the summer. She’s a hiking trip leader and certified climbing instructor…she and Taylor are definitely the two super-outdoorsy people in my life, so I was sad Taylor wasn’t along for this leg of the trip to meet her. But I was really glad to see Sam, especially when I learned that, rather than come back to Boston in September as planned, she’s going to Cambodia to work as a human rights court monitor. Sam’s research is all about compliance with international human rights law, so it’s a fantastic opportunity!

Sam’s job at her camp is partly to recommend hiking trails, so she suggested a bunch of options with a bit more elevation change for us to try the following day. Then Erin and Bill went back to the campsite to go to sleep, while Sam and I went back to see her camp (which she and the other staff all seem to love) by night. She and her friend Alex gave me an impromptu lesson in the constellations, and we were up late chatting. My campsite was just across Fallen Leaf Lake from Sam’s camp, so at 1am I swum across. Haha, kidding, Mom & Dad! Sam kindly drove me back along the bumpy, winding one-way road, and I slipped into the tent in the wee hours.

Fallen Leaf Lake was beautiful in the morning as the three of us drove back along that road to a trailhead. In the daylight, I could more fully appreciate Sam’s masterful driving — the road is really very narrow and bumpy! At least at night there wasn’t traffic in both directions, since that entails one car pulling to the side of the road and waiting for the other to pass. We drove up to Lily Lake and started our trail.

Fallen Leaf Lake from the road:

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The Tahoe area apparently had an immense amount of snow this season, including a storm as late as June 6! So there’s still a bit of snow left, and tons of water everywhere. We had to skirt the trail at a number of points because of flooding, and one brook had so completely broken through the trail that we had to creatively ford it (read: leap from a decaying log to the opposite bank). But we appreciated the challenge! Then we got to a place where a much larger river had washed across the trail. Rather then attempt a balancing beam act with the precarious log across the water, we looked at our topographical map and decided to make our own way along the river to the lake we were aiming for. That walk was a bit of an upward scramble in places, but we were rewarded by actually getting to touch (read: play in) the snow. Which is pretty weird when it’s 85 degrees out! And we did indeed make it to a corner of Grass Lake, where Erin waded thigh-deep into the snowmelt-cold water.

Washed out paths:

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Our way across the brook:

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Gushing water, 90 degree heat, and snow in the background!

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The log bridge we opted not to take…farther above the water than it looks!

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Charting a Plan B:

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Grass Lake at last!

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Erin in the water:

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Bill in the snow:

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We’d run into only two people on the way out but hit many hikers on the way back, making us glad we’d gotten off to an early start. It was an excellent hike, and we arrived back at the car hungry for our sandwich lunch. Then we hopped back on the road towards Berkeley, to see Henry Hecht again and find somewhere to watch the fireworks. We tried to set the mood by playing all the songs we had about freedom and America/the USA on the way back. Can’t say our iPods are stuffed with patriotic music (definitely dwarfed by the protest & social criticism songs), but this trip has definitely been bringing home how awed I feel about this country and its people. Happy 4th of July!

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