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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Exploring the Fraser River Canyon

Hi Blog!

Saturday, April 30, 2016, was our first full day in British Columbia, Canada. We are currently camped in Hope, B.C. on the banks of the Fraser River. After we arrived on Friday, we stopped at the Visitors Center in downtown Hope. Brian, the manager at the center, gave us heaps of good ideas on places to go and things to do in the area. Our first order of business - exploring the Fraser River Canyon.

As it turns out, this weekend is the opening weekend for the Hell's Gate Airtram. You can ride a gondola over the most treacherous section of the Fraser River, known as Hells Gate. Hells Gate is an abrupt narrowing of the Fraser River in the southern Fraser Canyon. The towering rock walls of the Fraser River plunge toward each other forcing the waters through a passage only 115 feet wide. Here we are ready for our ride.

We are almost 1,000 feet above the river when we begin our decent into Hells Gate.

The name Hells Gate was derived from the journal of explorer Simon Fraser, who in 1808 described this narrow passage as "a place where no human should venture, for surely these are the gates of Hell."

The rapids were so loud, we almost missed the Canadian National train passing though a tunnel in the side of the cliff.

We walked back and forth across the pedestrian bridge to get a closer look at the rapids. All this adventuring builds up a powerful hunger. We couldn't resist the salmon chowder being served in the restaurant.

Before riding the tram back up to the parking lot, we enjoyed a few short documentaries, including one called, "Run, Sockeye, Run." It was cute, campy and full of lots of information about the Fraser River and the life and times of sockeye salmon.

Our next stop in our exploration of Fraser Canyon was at Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park. This small (only 136 acre) park is centered on the site of the original Cariboo Wagon Road bridge over the Fraser River. The road was built to reach the gold fields in the Cariboo region. Here's our first look at the old bridge.

As we walked out on the bridge, we could see the snow covered peaks of the Coast Mountains.

The Fraser River separates the Cascades from the Coast Mountains. Here is Kathy standing between two mountain ranges.

The original Alexandra Bridge of the Cariboo Road was built in 1863, but was destroyed by the rising waters of the Fraser Flood of 1894. After World War I, the dawn of the automotive era saw a reinvestment in roads in British Columbia, including the re-opening of the Fraser Canyon to road traffic in the form of the new Cariboo Highway in the 1920s, and a new suspension bridge was built upon the footings of the original in 1926 (with a deck level ten feet higher than the previous design). This second Alexandra Suspension Bridge ceased to be used for automobile traffic in 1964. It now stands as a historic reminder of a by-gone era.

Dave couldn't resist a chance to scamper down to the river's edge.

After Kathy filled her pockets with shiny rocks, we took one last photo of the bridge over the river Fraser.

Our last stop, was the historic town of Yale. The town was founded in 1848 by the Hudson's Bay Company as Fort Yale. In its heyday, at the peak of the gold rush, it was reputed to be the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. It also earned epithets such as "the wickedest little settlement in British Columbia" and "a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah" of vice, violence and lawlessness. Sounds like our kind of place! Unfortunately, one of the few remaining buildings is the church.

In addition to an interesting museum with a fascinating documentary about cultural conflicts between Gold Rush miners and First Nations peoples, the Yale Historic Site also recreates a ‘Tent City’ replicating the early days of the 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush. You can even pan for gold. Here Kathy shows off her nuggets!

The drive up and down the Fraser River canyon is very dramatic. We'll get a chance to explore the Fraser River further upstream, as well as its confluence with the Thompson River, when we move to Cache Creek. Until then, we have lots more exploring to do! Stay tuned.

Eddie & George Wake Up in Hope, B.C.!

The boys are so excited!  This is their first stop in Canada on the way to Alaska.  And a beautiful stop it is.  The Fraser River runs nearby and we're camped between two large ridges of peaks.  The boys thought it was so beautiful that they had to bring out the Canadian flag to express their appreciation:

...And, we got a great bonus!  Here is proof that there are thimbleberries in our future!

The thimbleberries bring back memories of competing with the grizzlies for acres of thimbleberries on our backpack to Arrow Lake in Glacier National Park.  Oh, those luscious thimbleberries!

Friday, April 29, 2016

North Cascades National Park

Finally, after nearly two weeks in northwestern Washington, we had a chance to visit the North Cascades National Park!  Featuring rugged peaks and dramatic glacial and volcanic features, the park protects important regions of the northern Cascades mountain range.  It was established as a national park in 1968.

There is no doubt that the entrance sign to this park is the best entrance sign we seen in any national park:

The park stretches along Washington State Highway 20, the drive along which is itself as dramatic as any we've taken in the Rocky Mountains:

This national park is not well known, but, with approximately 312 glaciers, it has the most glaciers of any U.S. park outside Alaska and a third of all the glaciers in the lower 48 states are located in North Cascades National Park.

The Skagit River forms the spine of the park.  It is a major salmon fishery, and stretches 150 miles from its source in British Columbia to Puget Sound.

Along the Skagit are three hydroelectric dams that form large alpine lakes, including Ross Lake, where we hiked.  But the park also includes Lake Chelan, a well known recreational area in Washington.

We decided to hike around Ross Lake.  Ross Lake is formed by Ross Dam and is approximately 24 miles long, winding south through Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Within the lake, the Skagit River receives Beaver Creek from the west and Ruby Creek from the east. Spilling out of the dam the river enters Diablo Lake, formed by Diablo Dam, and receives Thunder and Colonial creeks before it enters the third and final reservoir, Gorge Lake, formed by Gorge Dam. All three dams are part of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.

Here is a view of Ross Lake from Highway 20, looking upstream:

The trails in the national park are well maintained and well signed.  Here, Kathy examines the trailhead board for our trail:

The weather was breezy and cool, so David decided to model the latest fashions in fleece and hat:

Our trail took us down a steep cliffside to the dam.  Looking downstream, to the south, we could see the Skagit River flowing toward Snowfield Peak and Paul Bunyan Stump:

No sooner did we take in the scene above, than we turned a corner in the trail and got a much clearer view of the peaks:

Down on the dam, we crossed the bottom of Ross Lake and were treated to a panoramic view of Jack Mountain, with the floating Ross Lake Resort on the lake in the foreground:

The Resort is situated in a line of twelve individual cabins and three bunkhouses built on log floats.   It is accessible only in two ways:  by hiking along the west shore of Ross Lake (as we were doing), or by ferry from the east side of the lake, from a ferry dock that is accessible by car from Highway 20.

Here, Kathy is working her way up the trail, which rises and falls as it winds around the lake:

The trail along the shore of Ross Lake extends more than 30 miles into the wilderness protected by the national park, so we had to select a turnaround point, retracing our way back to Highway 20.

As we hiked back up the cliff to the trailhead, we passed again a roaring waterfall that we had heard on our hike down but had not seen.  We had crossed a bridge above the falls -

- but we couldn't see the falls from above.  On the return up the trail, however, David bushwhacked down a steep slope into the creek drainage and caught this photo of the falls -

- as well as this video of the hidden waterfall.

Returning to the truck, we had an hour-and-a-half drive back to our campground, longer than we would have liked, but filled with lush, grand view of the Skagit River and northern Cascades.  We resolved to return and camp in the park so that we can explore other corners of it more deeply.

Cousins, Cousins and More Cousins!

One of the big reasons we camped with the RV in the Seattle area was to catch up with numerous friends and family in the area as we pass through into Canada on our way to Alaska.


Our first stop was a visit to the home of Michael, Amee, Sam and Juliana Sherer.  Michael is the older brother of David's sister-in-law Risa.  We've gotten to know them over the years while visiting Laird and Risa in Albany - especially for family occasions such as weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and family Passover Seders.  Michael is an especially favorite outlaw because he has a gentle but quick sense of humor.  He's easy to be around.

We had a chance to see Michael and Amee's house in northeast Seattle.  After a great chat with them and their son Sam, we took off on a madcap tour of Seattle with Michael and Sam, who showed us all the sights on our way down to Seattle Mariners Stadium to enjoy the Seattle High School Baseball Classic.  The team from Sam's high school was competing and Sam knows most of the team members.  It was extraordinary to visit the stadium and have all of the normal stadium functions operating for high school baseball teams.

We caught this photo of Michael and Sam walking down to our seats behind home plate:

We could even order popcorn and beer, and we partook in both.  David tried his hand at a group selfie:


A few days later, we embarked on a trek to Bainbridge Island to visit with David's cousin Carol Olsen.  We decided to try the train down into Seattle, where we arrived at King Street Station:

It was a short walk over to Pike Place Market, giving us a chance to browse the foods, crafts and tourist chachkas:

We boarded a ferry to cross Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island, and were rewarded with an impressive view of the Seattle skyline:

A short half hour later, and we were approaching the harbor, with the majestic Olympic Mountains in the background:

We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch with Carol, and then returned to her house to look at her latest artistic creations.  Here, Carol and Kathy are looking over one of Carol's recent felt applique projects:


The next weekend, we drove out to Snohomish in our truck to visit John and Kathy Olsen and their kids:

John is the nephew of David's uncle, Howard Olsen.  We got to know each other at a memorial service for Howard held near Carol Olsen's home on Bainbridge Island in 2014.

John and Kathy own and run a winery known as ALIA Wines, which produces red and white wines from locally sourced grapes:

We really enjoyed our visit with John and Kathy.  Before we knew it, nearly 6 hours had passed. We'd tasted several of their wines and we came home to the RV with a case of all sorts of goodies.  Now, if we can just figure out how to convince the Canadian customs officers to let us bring those bottles into Canada without paying the astronomical Canadian taxes and duties.  Oh, well, it will be well worth it in any event!

This Tuesday was our last visit with cousins.  We caught up with David's cousin Sandy Stroble and her husband Ray.  Again, we trained down to Seattle and hopped a ferry for the passage to Bremerton.  As we steamed across Puget Sound, Kathy caught this view of Seattle under a fantasy of puffy clouds:

We enjoyed a sociable lunch catching up on events and family, and then returned to Ray and Sandy's home.  They have a beautiful split level ranch house overlooking Dyes Inlet in Silverdale, north of Bremerton.  With huge picture windows providing an expansive view of a beautiful beach, their house is very cozy and welcoming.  We wandered out to the deck and took this group selfie to memorialize the visit:

Sandy has two very special rememberances of David's dad:  a brown, tan and cream colored table with a tiled top that David's dad crafted himself; and a striking, blue oil painting of a sailing ship that David hadn't seen for years!  Both brought back lots of memories for David, and Sandy had a few more stories to flavor the occasion.

As we left, Sandy gave us parting gifts which are very precious:  two cross-stitch bookmarks we're using to hold our place in our tour books for this Alaska trip, and a 1942 photo of David's mother, on vacation with Sandy and another aunt and uncle:

In these modern times, family are so often separated by great distances.  One of the benefits of travelling in an RV is that we have the opportunity to catch up with family and friends where they live.  The Pacific Northwest - and Northwestern Washington in particular - are breathtakingly beautiful.  We've had a chance to discover why our relatives enjoy their lives here, and we envy them the beautiful scenery that surrounds them.

But all good things must end, and so tomorrow we head north across the border into British Columbia.  As we look forward to that, we're glad we have these new memories of wonderful family in this gorgeous corner of our country.

Lime Kiln Trail and Visit with Maura

Hi Blog!

We needed to have our RV serviced before we take off into Canada and beyond. We located an authorized DRV service center in Everett, Washington. On Monday, April 18, 2016, we packed up the rig, dropped it off and moved into a nearby hotel. It would take a couple days to finish the repair work, so we needed to keep ourselves busy. Staying cooped up in the hotel room watching soap operas with Flip and Baxter was not an option. Lucky for us, Washington has a great trails association website. We were able to locate a really cool hiking trail only a few miles from Everett - Lime Kiln Trail at Robe Canyon Historic Park.

On Tuesday morning, we woke up and went in search of a latte. They are really easy to find in the Pacific Northwest. There are coffee kiosks on every corner. With all this competition, the coffee purveyors try to differentiate themselves. We just didn't know how far they would go to set themselves apart until we walked into a Foxy Lady Coffee kiosk. We now know what strippers do for their day job. They don't even have to change their pasties!

After getting fueled up, it was off to the trailhead. We had about a mile hike through the woods before coming to the entrance of the Robe Canyon Historic Park. Dave is keeping an eye out for all the historic stuff.

Robe Canyon was chosen as a part of the railway to transport gold and silver ore mined at Monte Cristo located in the Cascade Mountains to Everett. In 1892, the Everett & Monte Cristo Railroad was built. Although, the canyon section of the railway had six tunnels, since much of the route was constructed on wooden frameworks at the edge of the bubbling stream, the structures were often swept away in floods, requiring constant repair. As we hiked along the old rail bed, we soon came to the first of many missing wooden bridges. Hey Kathy, how did you get all the way over there without a bridge?

Further on, we encountered a downed tree whose spreading roots look just like a spooky, evil tree spirit with spreading fingers and legs!

Artifacts of various kinds appear near the trail. Some are easily identified, including remnants of a cast iron stove, broken pieces of rotary saw blades, old bricks, and a bent length of steel rail. Many of these items are quite photogenic. Say cheese!

Soon, an old lime kiln loomed up rather abruptly on the right. It's about 20 feet tall, with considerable moss and ferns adorning the sides. The overall form of the kiln and the shape of the arch on the side, combined with the very green mossy surroundings, invite comparisons to a Mayan jungle ruin.

The kiln was built in the 1890's and used until the early 1930's to convert local limestone into "lime," i.e. calcium oxide. The product was transported by the adjoining railroad, mostly for use as a "flux" to promote melting of ores in smelters in the Everett area. The limestone apparently was loaded into the open top of the kiln from carts that approached from the uphill side. Unfortunately, none of the loading structure remains. The kiln has stoking ports on three sides where fires would have been tended.  Gathering sufficient dry wood as fuel in this very moist area must have presented a challenge!

Beyond the kiln, the trail follows the railroad grade upstream where a sign directs hikers to the "Railroad Bridge Site and End of Trail." We soon reached the site of the former bridge that once crossed the Stillaguamish River. The End. 

We backtracked to reach a loop trail that took us down to the bank of the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River. With the warm sunny weather melting the snow higher up, the river was flowing swiftly. If you want to see for yourself, just click the following link to a video of the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River.

We found a comfy rock and settled in for lunch. While we took in all the beauty around us, we couldn't help but notice all the cool rocks on the beach. Here are the two that Kathy took home with her, surrounded by others that came close to making the cut:

In the Pacific Northwest, stuff just grows everywhere!

We are constantly amazed by all the shades of green.

We enjoyed a leisurely hike back to the trailhead. 

While staying in Everett, we learned that a friend of ours from our hiking days with the Appalachian Mountain Club is now living in Edmonds, just a short drive away. Maura and her husband were kind enough to invite us for dinner. We had a great time catching up and playing with their two adorable children. Thanks, guys, for a great night!

And so ends another day in the life of Dave and Kathy. Looking forward to more adventures.