Monday, September 26, 2016

Orcas Island, WA

From the Columbia River area we take I-5 northward in a beeline for Anacortes to catch a Washington State Ferry for Orcas Island. This route takes us by downtown Seattle, aka the Emerald City because of it's surrounding greenery. Seattle was inhabited by Native Americans for over 4000 years before the advent of the white man. Its first major industry was timber, then as a gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush, and more recently for aeronautics and high tech.  A lively jazz scene helped develop the careers of Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, and rock star Jimi Hendrix. It's a great city to visit and we would like to see the EMP Museum started by Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, but we are on a mission to see the San Juan Islands.

We arrive at the Anacortes Ferry Terminal about an hour before the noon departure to Orcas Island. Although we don't have prior reservations, it is mid day during the week, so we pay our fare and line up before boarding. Since it's a gorgeous day and bald eagles are flying, we don't mind waiting, besides it's a good time to take photos.
Seattle - the Emerald City

Ferry staff direct traffic lanes

Anacortes Ferry Terminal

Out on Puget Sound with Mount Baker in distance

Lopez Island Ferry stop

We stop briefly at Shaw Island, which is the smallest San Juan Island and the least populated with only 420 year round residents.  It looks like a beautiful island and worth exploring another time.
Blind Bay on Shaw Island

Private home and dock on Shaw Island

Before long, we are disembarking on Orcas Island with a year round population of just over 5000 and home to Moran State Park. Surprisingly the San Juan Islands enjoy a nicer climate than nearby Seattle. The rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains keeps the annual rainfall down to around 30 inches, about the same as Corralitos.

Orcas has long been a quiet island with small farms.  During the 1960's it was popular with the Back to the Land Movement with an influx of new residents buying up old family farms. We chose to stay at the West Beach Resort because it's in a less populated area and has sunset views to the west. Unfortunately, we are only able to secure two nights as they are booked up for the weekend.  With it's close proximity to the Seattle metro area, the San Juan Islands are popular for weekend get-a-ways.  Next time we will be booking ahead.
Small sheep farm supplying wool for local weavers

Disembarking ferry

Entrance to West Beach Resort

Campsite @ West Beach

Peter enjoying a beer at the camp store

Kayakers prepare for an paddle

Boating pier

The next morning we set out to explore the island. Our first stop is Buck Bay Shellfish Farms which is locally famous for its fresh oysters and clams.  Unfortunately, it's closed today {sigh}; however, we very much enjoy the drive around the coastline.
Aw shucks - it's closed

Hippies use side door

Orcas Island coastline

Our next stop is the remote Doe Bay Resort, which still retains its "hippie" vibe complete with yurts, domes, and inexpensive campsites.
Store at Doe Bay

Right on cue - the doe's arrive

Great yurt and tent campsite location

Shoreline by Doe Bay

We then drive back to Eastsound, the largest population area on Orcas Island.  It's a quaint touristy town and we only stay long enough to have lunch and stock up on supplies.  We are surprised by the large inventory of wines and spirits available at the Island Market. It's then we realize how many well heeled tourists regularly visit Orcas Island. We have an excellent, although not cheap, lunch at the Madrona Bar & Grill with beautiful waterfront views. After lunch, we drive to the southern trail head at Turtleback Mountain Preserve and hike off our lunches up to the summit and back.
Church in Eastsound

Peter waiting for lunch @ Madrona Bar & Grill

On the trail at Turtleback Mountain

Expansive view from Turtleback Mountain

The next morning comes all too soon as we would have liked to stay longer on Orcas. Oh well, that means we just have to come back. We pack up and drive to the line up at the Ferry Terminal. The good thing about returning to Anacortes is the return ferry fee is included in our initial fare, so there's nothing to pay.
The iconic Orcas Hotel

The whales will have to wait until next time

Waiting in line to board the ferry

Town of Orcas from the ferry deck

Ferry staff directing traffic

We're off!

Seasoned ferry passengers

Too much fun last night?

Disembarking in Anacortes

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Columbia River, OR

Our first stop on today's agenda is the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria OR. Astoria is the first permanent US settlement on the Pacific Coast (other older settlements, like Monterey and San Francisco were established by the Spanish). The town was founded in 1811 as Fort Astoria  built by  John Jacob Astor's (the first multi-millionaire in the US) American Fur Company.

Long before Astor's Fur Company, the Columbia River has been central to the cultures of the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years furnishing both transportation and food.  Salmon and other fish were the mainstay diet of the local populations. Today it continues to be an important shipping channel and as well as providing the region with power from hydroelectric dams.
Plaza in front of Columbia River Museum

After finding a parking spot, we explore the large waterfront plaza adjacent to the museum. We are particularly fascinated by the large screw propeller which is prominently displayed. It's enormous standing taller than either of us. It must have come from a BIG ship.

Exploring the plaza

Large screw propeller

We then enter the main museum and are greeted by a large map illustrating why the area around the mouth of the Columbia River is called the Graveyard of the Pacific. Since 1792 it's estimated 2000 ships have met their demise around the Columbia Bar, a system of shifting sand bars and shoals at the mouth of the Columbia. It's little wonder the US Coast Guard is featured in the initial exhibits. 
Columbia River Maritime Museum

Map showing locations of shipwrecks

US Coast Guard boat

The most dramatic exhibit is of a life sized Coast Guard boat performing a rough water rescue.

The video below shows what rough water training is like.  This is not a job for anyone prone to seasickness.  During my university years in the Vietnam war era, many guys with low draft numbers were signing up for the Coast Guard to avoid fighting in the steaming jungles of Southeast Asia.  After watching the video below, it makes me wonder how they fared in the Coast Guard as it certainly doesn't qualify as a cake walk.  They pull off amazing rescues under incredibly difficult conditions.  We walk away with a new appreciation of our Coast Guard and the work they do.

 The next set of exhibit focus on "running the Bar", that is, getting in and out of the mouth of the Columbia River in one piece.
Not so lucky ship

Map of "the Bar"

Nasty actual footage

We especially like the interactive exhibit in which you get to steer a ship through the "bar".
Peter is steady as she goes through massive swells

I don't think I'm cut out for this kind of work

Another set of exhibits are focused on the WWII era.  At that time, it was feared the Japanese would try to capture the Columbia River waterways to give them control over important shipping lanes and also provide invasion access to the US mainland.  Fortunately, these fears never came to fruition (except for a Japanese sub firing on Fort Stevens on one occasion). Several Good Luck Flags are on display.  These were gifts to Japanese solders being deployed by the Empire of Japan to fight during WWII. The flags are usually made of silk and inscribed with the well wishes of the soldier's friends and family. They were often carried for good luck in battle and became a favorite war trophy of US soldiers who found them on fallen Japanese troops.  Today the non-profit Obon Society works to return these flags to surviving Japanese families to foster goodwill between the US and Japan.
A Good Luck Flag with departing soldier and his family

Japanese Good Luck Flags

I try out a ship's gunnery

Today the main products of the Pacific Northwest are still being shipped via the Columbia River. In an odd twist of fate, much of these products especially timber, is being shipped to Japan.
Labels of fish canneries

Canned fish display

Timber on it's way to the shipping yards

Back on the road we continue eastward on Hwy 30, the Oregon side of the Columbia River. We cross over into Washington at Longview on the Lewis and Clark Bridge. As we start over the bridge we notice a large timber yard with it's own shipping dock below.

Once over the bridge, we continue eastward along the Columbia River to Woodland WA and then on to Amboy WA.  Here Peter meets with the owner of a small audio equipment manufacturer about a tube pre-amp.  It's a beautiful area of Washington and I can see why people would want to live here.
Crossing Lews & Clark Bridge

On our way to Amboy

Woodland's a pretty small town and Amboy's even smaller

After Amboy, we head northwest to Rainbow Falls State Park on the Chehalis River. It's a lovely state park located in a grove of old growth trees off the beaten path, plus there's hardly any other people camped there = our kind of place.
On the way to Rainbow Falls State Park


Fall colors are starting to show

Large grassy picnic area

Rainbow Falls State Park also has several 1930's WPA sturdily built cabins, still in excellent shape and very much in use.

On the recommendation of our campground host, we take the trail along the banks of the Chehalis River.  Since the rainy season hasn't yet started, the water flow is low making the river look more like a creek. There's a cross nailed to a tree by a small waterfall.  According to a park ranger, Lindsey was a local girl around 13 yo when she fell into the river during a devastating flood and drown. She was well loved by the community and is still missed.

The peaceful side of the Chehalis River
It's hard to believe anyone could drown in this river, but a video of the Chehalis in flood shows a totally different side of this river.

The next morning we are off to Alaskan Camper in Winlock WA. Peter is considering trading our Sprinter van in for a 4x4 truck with a camper so we can explore more remote places.  I joke that we would then have the capacity to get lost even better than we do now. The most attractive feature of this camper is it telescopes up and down to provide a more aerodynamic profile when the truck is in motion. When telescoped up, it provides a livable hard sided camper which is useful in bear country.
Road to Winlock WA

Sturdy construction

Nice factory

Bryan shows us a finished camper

Boat-like interior

Peter loves the telescoping feature

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Retired and enjoying life.