Thursday, August 28, 2014

In The Middle of Nowhere, WA

 

Since we met Brian and Leigh (Aluminarium) last year at Lake Mead we’ve been interested in seeing their property in northeastern Washington, 24 miles from Tonasket. Owning a piece of land to park the RV on is something that appeals to us, and since they invited us to come see, being in the neighborhood and all, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

We were having our doubts as we climbed up the rough dirt road for over 4 miles, but once we saw the Airstreams on the hill we relaxed a bit.

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They leveled a nice spot with a great view and built a storage shed. Kerri, another working full time Airstreamer, is also visiting.

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We are loving the wide open spaces.

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Their neighbors Sam and Jan came by to invite us all on a hike. Jim decided to give it a try and managed the 3+ miles without making his recovering leg feel any worse. We walked a couple more miles yesterday, and it appears he is finally on the mend.

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Leigh fixed a fantastic meal of black bean and veggie tacos for Brian’s birthday, and even baked a vegan chocolate cake. Doesn’t get much better!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Winthrop, WA, Pine Near RV Park

 

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Three nights without a ray of sun on our solar panels was our limit, so on Sunday we left North Cascades National Park and headed east 70 miles to Winthrop. A friend told us about a Passport America park, Pine Near, just a couple blocks from downtown, so we decided to check it out. Besides, we liked the name.

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Full hookups, nice laundry, green grass, and deer everywhere. With tax we paid $18.67/night.

Winthrop Is a small western-themed town, which we figured would be another tacky tourist destination like Tombstone, AZ, but it surprised us by being tastefully done, and even having a brewery. And from the RV park it’s just a short walk to town, which is always a plus.

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Across from the RV park is the interesting Shafer Museum, full of buildings and relics of the old mining town.

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And then there’s the downtown itself, with its quaint wooden sidewalks.

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This is a popular area for outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and river rafting. In the winter there are over 120 miles of trails for cross country skiing. It surprised us to find three nice outdoor gear and clothing shops in town. We could see coming back here to spend more time.

And then there’s the Old Schoolhouse Brewery, where we ate (and drank) both nights. Suzanne and Debbie decided to stop here yesterday, so they joined us last night on the riverside deck. Good food and really good beer.

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We made another friend on the street, an 11 week old yellow lab. What a sweetie.

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Today we move on to Tonasket to hang out with friends and get through the Labor Day weekend. Then we have an appointment in Spokane Valley next Wednesday to get our braking system checked out, unless Jim can figure out the problem before then.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Almost Heaven

 

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Over the years we’ve been on several hikes where I say this was the best hike I’ve ever done. That very thing happened again on Saturday when Suzanne told me she was thinking of driving 38 miles to do the Maple Pass trail, a 7 mile loop with 2,100 feet of elevation gain. She didn’t actually invite me to come along, and I know she enjoys hiking alone, but I went back and googled Maple Pass Loop. The trail description had me from the first sentence: “The Maple Pass Loop is one of the jewels of the North Cascades.”

How could I pass this up? Jim gave me the go-ahead, so I hurried back to Suzanne’s and asked in a pleading voice if she would mind some company. So we packed a lunch, filled our water bladders, and hit the road.

The drive alone is worth taking, passing by emerald lakes, roadside waterfalls, and climbing from 500’ to nearly 5,000’ by the time we reached the trailhead.

We started with a gradual climb through the forest, then what seemed like a short time later began to see wildflowers and mountain views that nearly took our breath away. Well, that may have been more due to the elevation, having been near sea level for months, but we kept stopping for photos and I knew it was going to take us awhile to complete the entire seven miles.

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A fellow hiker stopped and asked if this was our first time on the trail, to which we responded yes. He told us it would get even better as we continued on up, but we couldn’t help stopping to take more photos every few steps. At the turn off for Lake Ann, we continued up the main trail, opting to see it from on high.

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In fact we followed the entire ridge around the lake, eventually looking down at it from 1,000 feet above.

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Suzanne taking a rest break.

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And taking more pictures with her new camera.

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It was a tough hike up to Maple Pass, but then beyond that was an even steeper climb for another 3/4 mile. We were both seeing stars at times, probably not a good thing, but we made it to the payoff.

The trail is much steeper than it looks, trust me.

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Made it to snow level.

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Another alpine lake.

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Suzanne at the edge of the world. It really did feel that way.

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It was all downhill from there. We were glad we did the trail counterclockwise as it would have been even harder coming up this way.

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The final mile and a half descent through the forest had us imagining bigfoot, bears, owls, and getting scared half to death by a chipmunk, as it was starting to get a little dark in those woods. Best hike I’ve ever done, for sure! So glad Suzanne was there to share it with me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Newhalem Campground, North Cascades National Park, WA

 

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Thursday was another short driving day, 58 miles along Hwy 20 eastbound. Kim arrived at Newhalem Campground the previous day and told us there were plenty of long, level sites to choose from and that there was no elevation gain along the route. And she was getting a 4G Verizon signal.

We decided to hook up the car but leave the auxiliary brake power switch off. I closely monitored our tire temperatures, which were fine, and Jim didn’t feel anything odd in the transmission, so we concluded it had to be a problem with the braking system. Once we got settled in our site Jim called SMI and spoke with a tech who gave him some ideas for things to clean and check. He did the things he could but the rest will have to wait until we are in a better place to work on it next week. We’ve decided to hook up the car and turn on the brake when we leave here, but if the temps begin to climb on the front tires we’ll know it’s still not working properly and will disconnect.

Now back to Newhalem Campground in the North Cascades National Park Complex. Reservations can be made for loop C, but loops A and B are first come, first served, and on Thursday we had no problem getting a site but by Friday evening they were all full. $6/night with the senior pass, no hookups but a nice dump station with RV water fill. Suzanne arrived that evening, and Friday Karen pulled in, so our little group is back together for the last time this summer. Looks like we will all be going our separate ways soon.

Debbie, Kim and I went for a walk to the visitor center to get some information about hikes, then took the loop trail along the Skagit River and followed some other trails that took us past a powerhouse to the small community of Newhalem.

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Newhalem is a company town owned by Seattle City Light and populated entirely by employees of the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project, or in local county, state or federal agencies. Interestingly the town is not open to permanent residents who do not work for these agencies.

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Not much to it except the General Store and some homes.

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That night at dusk Jim and I took a drive to the Gorge Creek Falls behind the powerhouse, where there is a trail along a creek lit with colored lights. We didn’t make it all the way to the falls because the trail is quite steep and Jim is trying to give his leg a rest, but what we saw was beautiful.

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On Friday our ladies hiking group went for a 3.8 mile trek on the Thunder Knob trail about 10 miles east at Devil’s Lake. The sky was looking like rain but it never came. The ranger told Suzanne the trail had lake views along the way but we didn’t actually see the lake until we came to the end of the trail. Hard to complain when you’re surrounded by mountains and glaciers.

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Kim, Debbie and Suzanne taking a little break since the trail did a fair amount of climbing despite its easy rating.

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It was hard to get good photos in the late afternoon light.

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Cat ears?

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The water looked so inviting. The turquoise color comes from finely ground rock particles, called “glacial flour” carried by the streams that originate high in the glaciated mountains.

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Diablo Lake from a highway overlook.

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Pickett Range from a short trail behind the visitor center.

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So glad we came here. Among the designated national parks, only Michigan's Isle Royale National Park gets fewer visitors.