thebiggertrip

The National Park tour

Seattle

Today we decided to travel into the city and look at some of the attractions. It is a pleasant city situated on the water, with a number of lakes in the hinterland. We had seen the King Tut exhibition advertised at the Pacific Science Center and as Graham had not seen it and I was very happy to see it a second time headed there first thing. The Science Center is similar to Questacon, except it also has a natural history section which includes insect displays, a tropical butterfly house and a colony of naked mole rats.

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Leaving the exhibition we discovered a music festival was beginning, it was relatively quiet but was very busy by the end of the day. We observed and accessory that every festival goer needs.

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A ready made back rest and friend.

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Next stop was Chihuly Garden & Glass, a new gallery and garden displaying the glass work of Dale Chihuly. What an amazing exhibition. Huge installations arranged by theme and displayed inside and in a garden. It was amazing to think they were all created in glass.

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There were a lot of mounted police in the area, all riding very large horses that appeared to have some draught or shire in them and riding in western saddles.

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Then it was on to the EMP Museum which covers popular culture, music and scifi. At present they have exhibitions on Nirvana, AC/DC and horror movies, as well as a dalek and items from Star Wars and Men in Black. However the highlight would have to be the Jimi Hendrix display (another Seattle boy) which included the guitar he used at Woodstock when he played “Star Spangled Banner”.

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Mount Rainier National Park

After the weather at Mt St Helens it was with a level of doubt that we set off for Mt Ranier, the forecast was good but the hills were shrouded in low cloud. As we travelled closer the clouds began to rise and we were in sunshine, however the mountain itself remained hidden to us. Entering the national park we were immediately impressed by the size of the forest and the variety of trees present.

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Stopping to view some wildflowers we discovered some golden raspberries, previously we had only seen the red variety.

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The trip involved numerous stops to look at the many waterfalls and wonderful scenery.

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The viewpoint at Nisqually River gave us our first glimpse of Mount Ranier. It is home to many glaciers which radiate out from the summit like the sun’s rays. This was a distant view of Nisqually Glacier.

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Further along the road we stopped at Narada Falls. These were impressive in their flow but also had a beautiful rainbow at their base.

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After a few miles, but several hours we reached Paradise. It was obvious that the name suited with lovely forest, great views in every direction and many wildflowers. Unfortunately it seemed that half the population of Seattle thought so too as the crowd was huge.

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Leaving Paradise we came to another spot offering a glimpse of the mountain.

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And then on to Reflection Lakes which were unfortunately not calm enough to live up to their name.

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We travelled as far as Box Canyon before deciding to return by the same route as the mountain was clear and it would be in view for much of the way out of the park.

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Mount St Helens

After looking at the weather forecast we decided to head towards Mt St Helens. It was overcast, but that has been a regular occurrence of a morning since we arrived in the Seattle area. In hindsight it was not the best decision. The weather was not too bad when we arrived at the beginning of the entrance road and we stopped at the Visitor Centre where there was this amazing shrub which may be called an Oregon Grape.

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As we travelled up the valley towards the mountain the clouds lowered, leading to a very atmospheric scene.

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A little further on we had our first glimpse of the blast area of the mountain. The clouds were moving so fast that we could see it fully from the car, but by the time we got out and to the edge of the lookout it was partly obscured.

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Travelling towards the scene of the event the impact on the environment was still evident and very striking.

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Even in these stark areas the wildflowers were striking.

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Reaching the Observation Area the cloud was surrounding us with no chance of seeing the mountain.

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We spent an hour waiting for it to clear but without luck. It is just as well it was an excellent visitor centre and had many informative displays and a great presentation by a ranger. Part of the display was this tree which had one side splintered by the blast but still had bark on the sheltered side.

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There was a small break in the cloud that allowed a view of Spirit Lake which is several hundred feet higher since the blast.

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Although an open view would have been great it was an interesting day.

 

 

 

Olympic National Park

Crossing Puget Sound to reach the Olympic Peninsular we discovered that our navigator worked on water!

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The ferry across Puget Sound takes you to a series of islands and the peninsular, providing the option of many scenic drives. Along the way we stopped at Port Gamble, an old village that is immaculately maintained.

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Our aim was to visit Hurricane Ridge at Olympic National Park and we discovered that as soon as you reach the road the views and forest are spectacular.

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One of the trails had peculiar warnings about pets, guns and mountain goats. We discovered that someone was killed by a goat in the park.

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As we gained altitude the wildflowers were amazing. So many of the varieties growing wild are types that we try to grow in our gardens, including lilies, lupins, penstemons, columbine and a type of sweet pea.

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Quite some time was spent looking at banks of flowers and when I went back to the car I discovered this deer keeping an eye on us.

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It was eating these lilies that were growing in sweeping banks on the side of the mountains.

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Reaching the ridge the views were amazing. It is another place where you just have to sit and take it all in as there is no way you can replicate what it is like in a photograph.

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Into Seattle

Yesterday was a short hop to our destination, heading to Leavenworth for the night. As we left Moses Lake we passed along part of the Coulee Corridor, an unusual landscape shaped by past volcanic action.

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At Coulee City we turned west and were again in farmland. It has surprised us how much of Washington is used for growing corn and wheat, in some areas it is similar to travelling through the Western Australian wheat belt.

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As we went further west this changed to orchards and vineyards, with delicious new seasons apricots and peaches for sale direct from the orchards. Around lunch we reached Leavenworth, a town that rejuvenated itself by adopting a Bavarian persona and now a popular tourist destination.

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Even MacDonalds is expected to fit the mould.

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It is also one of the states top birding spots in spring, but unfortunately we did not have a lot of luck.

This morning it was time to head into Everett (just north of Seattle) and swap the camper for a car. It feels very strange being so low to the road again!

After checking into an hotel (another strange feeling) we headed off to Boeing for a tour. It was a great couple of hours. Groups we bused from their visitor centre to the actual ‘big shed’ where the planes are produced. This is actually the largest building by volume in the world and it is hard to comprehend the size until you are on the viewing platform and see 747’s being built in front of you and then you are bused to then next section and there are 4 737’s in a row being built and then on to the next to see a line of Dreamliners = all under one roof.

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Once they are built they are taken to an area next door to be painted. To do so they have to pass over a freeway so this is done in the early hours of the morning. Prior to painting they are covered with green film to protect the metal.

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While the 737’s and 747’s (as well as a fighter jet that was being produced) are built at the factory, the Dreamliner is basically put together from components flown in from around the world. To do this Boeing has converted four 747’s into Dream Lifters.

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The Visitor Centre contained many interesting displays and components, giving a good idea of the scale of these planes as shown by Graham standing next to a 747 tail fin.

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West Glacier to Moses Lake

It was an overcast morning in Glacier again, but as we left the mountains and began travelling down the Flathead Valley the weather began to clear. Heading east we found ourselves in undulating farming country. Along the way were many dilapidated farm buildings, this is the first one we noticed.

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A little further on Graham spotted some cattle with huge horns lazing in a paddock.

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Throughout this region the rivers are magnificent. Very broad and fast flowing, often they have fir trees to the edge of their banks. Today we followed the Lewis Fork River for quite a distance.

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It was one of those days where you continually decide to go just a little further, in all we covered 600 km. Spokane was reached in the early afternoon, it is a large city and home to Paradise Fibers. We called in for a visit and I was very restrained, only buying  three skeins of yarn (but lots of touching and looking).

As we did not want to stay in a city we kept moving on, eventually staying at Moses Lake. On the way we stopped at Ritzville for fuel and noticed directions to its ‘historic centre’. We decided to have a look and although small I was intrigued that is would have a combined quilt and liquor store. Perhaps it is for the times when the stitching just won’t work!

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West Glacier National Park

After having clear weather on the East side of the park we struck low cloud, rain and thunderstorms during our days on the west side. On Saturday we were booked on a red bus tour to travel over the Going to the Sun Road as our camper was over the size limits. We had low cloud and early rain, but were able to have the roof open most of the day. These buses were built in the 1930’s and apart from a short break for safety upgrades in the ’90’s have been in continuous service.

The view over Lake McDonald as we began the tour was very moody.

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The cloud continued in layers as we travelled up the mountains.

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It was very apparent why there were size restrictions on vehicles traveling on the road.

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When we reached the highest point at Logan Pass there was deep snow rifts and the Glacier Lillies were in bloom.

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As we passed into the eastern section of the park we had to put the roof back in place as the rain began again, however by the time we had reached the Many Glacier Lodge for lunch it was clearing. This is a magical setting and our table was by the window with this view. Those who took their own lunch saw a moose swim across the lake, but this view makes up for missing that.

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The lodge itself is very large and even though it is on the lakefront it seems to belong in this setting. This is the red bus parked out the front.

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Returning to the west side the cloud began to clear a little and we could see up St Mary Lake to the surrounding mountains. However, it looked very different to the day we took the boat trip and hike.

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The Going to the Sun Road has numerous waterfalls along its length, some very high and others very close to the road. On the western side there is a Weeping Wall which appears innocent from a distance but becomes much more interesting when you are passing under it on an open top bus.

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The following day was also very wet with low cloud and thunderstorms. Towards mid afternoon it began to lift a little giving us an opportunity to visit some areas around Lake McDonald.

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On this side of the park the vegetation is very lush and rainforest like (if one ignores all the fir trees).

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In the more open areas, such as near the road, small maples grow. This one appeared to have a type of rust on the leaves.

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East Glacier

We are very glad that we made an effort to get to the east side of this park, instead of just taking a tour over as we had originally planned. Yesterday we organised a boat trip and hike, a wonderful way to spend a few hours in the park. The boat travelled up St Mary Lake and dropped us off to walk to Baring and then St Mary Falls. The lake was very calm for the first part of the trip, apparently it is unusual to see these types of reflections.

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The boat was a small historic wooden vessel that had been used on the lake since early last century. There are a number of these boats on the different lakes in the park. 

It was a short walk into Baring Falls, where a dipper was working the base.

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There was then an optional almost 5km walk into St Mary Falls accompanied by a ranger. This was a great walk and the NPS ranger was very knowledgable, making the walk much more interesting than doing it by yourself.

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Along the trail a mule deer was enjoying the spring growth.

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During our return down the lake the sun was shining on the mountains highlighting the different colours in the rocks.

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This morning we woke to an overcast day with the mountains near our camp shrouded in low cloud. 

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We had intended to photograph some wildflowers, but given the low level of light decided to start heading towards West Glacier. On the way we passed through Browning where the national finals of the Indian Rodeo were being held. The rodeo ground and adjoining areas were packed with horses and campers. It looked strange to see all the teepees among the caravans and tents.

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As the weather was clearing we called into Two Medicine, another stunning area of the park. Our first stop was a nature walk on the way into Running Eagle Falls. It surprises us how lush the undergrowth can be in the fir forests.

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Running Eagle Falls are also called Trick Falls as the water actually passes down a hole behind the lip and gushes out half way down. Because of the good water flow at present there was water pouring from both areas.Image

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We reached the lake in time to go on another boat cruise, again with spectacular scenery. The boats are very cute.

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Back on the highway we came across a horse who appeared to think he was a dog! He had his head consistently out of the float and had no qualms about large trucks or vehicles passing by. His float mate also had his head out but not as far. The truck and float were travelling at highway speed, which is not slow!

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Along the highway is an area rich in minerals and often visited by mountain goats which use the area as a lick. We were lucky enough to see several, including kids, near the road. This is the first time we have seen them as anything other than a distant speck high up on a mountain.

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Helena to Glacier

The night was peaceful at our site in the Walmart carpark. It was also convenient, with clean restrooms and the ability to pop in for milk, biscuits or other necessities of life. However, it may not have been as scenic as some of our camps.

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Todays breakfast was at Lake Hogan. This was a detour, but a lovely place. It is a lake created by damming the Missouri River and is a very popular recreation area.

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The Missouri itself was full of people fishing, many of them in small, unusually curved, dinghies.

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During the journey we travelled through the foothills of the Rockies. Most of it was farming country and very dry as they are experiencing very dry spells here as well as record temperatures.

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Reaching Glacier it was great to see the green forests and numerous lakes. It is a very scenic location, almost a postcard scene at every head turn.

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Yellowstone to Helena

We left Canyon via the road to Norris so we could look at the parts of the park we did not see yesterday. Our campground had been at Yellowstone Canyon and although it is very large the sites were private and tree lined.

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Our first stop was Roaring Mountain. In many ways it sums up one aspect of Yellowstone with the steaming fumaroles all over the sides.

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We were heading for Wraith Falls as we had never walked in to this spot. On the way there we checked the dipper nest and it appeared to have been attacked and damaged, not a good sign. Next to the track was this tree showing signs of a bison having a scratch, these marks are very common in the park.

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The falls themselves were very unusual, more of a vertical cascade.

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Leaving this are we saw the first of five bears. One young black bear did an almost full lap of our van.

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It was then time for breakfast at one of our favourite places, Floating Island Lake.

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It was then on to another favourite spot, the pullouts at Tower Canyon where we saw the Peregrine chicks and Bighorn Sheep (including lambs).

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On the return to Mammoth we came across another bear jam, this one with the unbelievable sight of all the occupants abandoning their car in the middle of the road! They did this for several minutes and then hopped back in but didn’t move, holding up all the traffic behind them.

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A little further along a very large bison was finishing his dustbath next to the road.

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Leaving the park we passed through Gardiner to discover that the elk had moved into town.

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Arriving in Helena we decided to free camp at Walmart. This is a common practice and accepted by most stores. There was quite a community of campers, including a gentlemen playing his guitar to a small audience. Doing some shopping in Walmart we found these cookies. I am glad that Graham gets the bunny mention.

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After dinner we went for a drive around Helena, which is the capital of Montana. It is a nice city with lots of trees and very interesting old buildings. One that intrigued us was the Helena Civic Center which we initially thought was a mosque. It is very islamic in style, including matching arches and mosaics on the adjoining fire station.

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