The Deadliest Avalanche in US History

As we drove across Stevens Pass here in Washington State, my husband told me the story of the 1910 Wellington Avalanche, the deadliest avalanche in US history to date. This was sobering, because it was May, and there was still snow on the pass, and here I was wearing shorts because we had come from, and were heading to, much lower, warmer elevations.

Back in 1910, weather forecasting was even less exact than it is today, so the passengers and crew aboard the Great Northern Railroad, along with a mail train that was following them, really had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They just thought they were taking a train from Spokane to Seattle, no muss, no fuss. (People really believed in engineering, and man’s ability to tame nature, back then.)

And it’s true, the railroad had employed snowplows to keep the tracks clear, and that had always done the trick until now. But now the two trains were stuck in Wellington, just west of the Cascade Tunnel. They couldn’t go forward. They couldn’t go back.

The snow kept falling, sometimes a foot an hour, for 9 whole days. One day saw an 11 foot accumulation. The drifts got up to 20 feet high, and avalanches were occurring to the east and west of them. The trains and their passengers sat there for what must have been a very scary 9 days.

Some of the passengers, in utter desperation, walked out of there in their street clothes, sliding down the hills on their behinds. All of those that chose to do so survived. But there were families with children aboard. There is no way that children could slog through those drifts. So they waited. They waited as the coal that heated the train and the food ran out.

And then early in the morning of March 1, 1910, the snow turned to rain and warm wind, and thunder began to rock the mountain, which was already not very forested due to a fire. Suddenly lightning struck, and a slab of snow, 10 feet high, a half a mile long, and a quarter of a mile wide, swept into Wellington and knocked both trains into the Tye River valley below.

A rescue effort began, and indeed 23 people survived, but all efforts had to be abandoned due to the weather. In the end, 96 people were killed, including 61 railroad employees and 35 passengers. Some of the bodies weren’t recovered until late July.

For some really interesting accounts from the survivors, read this Seattle Times article.

Later that year, the railroad renamed the town Tye, and built concrete snow sheds to protect the tracks from snow. In 1929, they built a longer tunnel at a much lower elevation, and the town was abandoned.

The old track is now called the Iron Goat Trail, and you can hike it and still see the snow sheds and remnants of the track. Some of the railroad employees are buried in the Everett Cemetery, their stones facing toward Stevens Pass, almost as if they can never quite be free.

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A Taste of Their Medicine

A few nights ago, I was driving home from work at 11 pm. I was mildly irritated to discover that a long section of the interstate was closed for some unknown reason. I would have to spend a good portion of my 25 mile commute on surface streets. Ah well, there was nothing for it but to settle in and endure a great deal of zigging and zagging through Seattle. Thank heavens for Google Maps.

I was wending my way through downtown when I turned a corner into the intersection of Bellevue and Olive, and suddenly found myself right in the middle of a protest march. About 200 people swelled into the intersection and surrounded my car. I couldn’t move forward. I couldn’t move back. I was trapped.

It was a peaceful enough protest. They weren’t doing any damage, but they did look angry. They were carrying signs, mostly related to defunding the police, and they were shouting, “No Trump! No KKK! No racist USA!”

I believe wholeheartedly in every one of those statements. I genuinely do. But these protesters didn’t know that. What they saw was some random white woman. It would be easy to think I’m part of the problem. And in essence, I am, since I’ve unwittingly propped up the status quo for my entire life.

So there I was, trapped in my car, desperately hoping that this crowd wouldn’t see me as the enemy. If they did, there’s nothing I could have done about it. Every movie I’ve ever seen where a car is surrounded by a mob flashed through my mind. They could have easily trashed my car or rolled it over. I was completely at their mercy.

I did the only thing I could think of to do. I called my husband. As if he could save me, 25 miles away. But it was good to hear his voice. At least he’d know why I didn’t come home if the worst happened.

The traffic light cycled at least 5 times, but I was going nowhere. My heart was pounding. I felt like I was going to throw up.

And then I had an even worse thought. If the cops showed up right now, this would probably turn into a riot, and there’d be teargas and rubber bullets. And I would be trapped in the thick of it, with nowhere to go. Oh, God, please don’t let the cops come right now.

Yeah. Let that sink in for a bit. I was terrified that the cops were going to show up.

At one point, the crowd started marching down the street, away from my car, which, in fact, no one had touched. I heaved a huge, shaky sigh of relief and prepared to move forward, out of the traffic snarl. But then, inexplicably, they all rushed back into the intersection and engulfed my car again. I felt like crying. I just wanted to go home.

That crowd felt like one big, organic, unpredictable entity to me. I didn’t know what was going to happen. And then finally, just like the parting of the red sea, the crowd separated and let traffic flow again. The incident probably only lasted 10 minutes, but to me it felt like an eternity.

I headed home, feeling nauseous from the adrenaline dump. I fought back tears as I merged onto the interstate south of town. I felt like I had survived something that I never expected to encounter.

And then I realized that this is what it must feel like to be black a lot of the time. At the mercy of the majority. Trapped. Afraid that you’ll be seen as the enemy. Terrified that the cops will come. Surrounded by the unpredictable. Misunderstood.

That night, the universe forced me to take a big old draught of the medicine that is poured down the throats of black people every single day, and I didn’t like it. Not even a little bit. In fact, it made me feel sick.

But in terms of enlightenment, it probably did me good.

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Seattle’s Volunteer Park

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Seattle’s Volunteer Park for the first time. I don’t know how I missed this gem after living in this county for nearly 6 years. This is definitely a place I’ll be bringing visitors from out of town to from now on.

Volunteer Park was designed by the Olmstead Brothers, the same guys who brought us Central Park in New York City. That had to be the coolest job ever. They got to travel around and design huge city parks that are still appreciated today.

In this era, it’s too late for that. Everything has already been built up. You’re as likely to see a new city park as you are to see a new major airport. I’m glad cities had the foresight to carve out natural spaces while they still could, or no city would be livable today. (But nothing in life is that simple. More about the eminent domain atrocities in Central Park in an upcoming post.)

The City of Seattle bought the land for Volunteer Park in 1876 for $2,000. That land is priceless today. Consider this: This mansion, right across the street from the park, is for sale. You can buy it for a cool 6.3 million dollars. (If you want it, here are the details. My realtor husband can hook you up.)

Mansion

To design the park, they had to move a cemetery, and I sure feel sorry for those bodies and the people who had to dig them up, because they had been relocated once before. They started in what is now Denny Park, moved to what is now Volunteer Park, and were then shunted right next door to Lake View Cemetery. May they finally rest in peace. (Bruce and Brandon Lee are also buried here.)

Volunteer Park was once called Lake View Park, but folks were confusing it with the cemetery. J. Willis Sayre, who fought in the Spanish-American War, convinced the city to rename it for the volunteers who fought in that war. And it has been so called ever since.

The park is 48.4 acres, and includes lawns and wooded areas, and has a wide variety of trees and flowers. It’s about 1/20th the size of Central Park, but still seemed massive to me. There is a gorgeous conservatory, currently closed due to the pandemic, which was built from a kit purchased from the Hitchings Company of New York. A lovely carriage drive winds through the park, and it is easy to imagine the horse drawn carriages that must have once used it.

The park also has a concert grove with a small stage, and a water tower which I’m told has spectacular views of the city… when it’s not closed due to the pandemic. There’s also an intriguing Seattle Asian Art Museum in a cool Art Deco building, which is, yeah, yeah, closed. There is also a very large and placid reservoir in front of the museum which greatly enhances the view.

Between the museum and the reservoir is a piece of art called Black Sun which I was told inspired the song Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. If you line your camera up just right (which I did not, exactly), you get a great view of the space needle through this sculpture. (A few years ago, I also visited Seattle’s Sound Garden, which inspired the band’s name. Alas, the wind wasn’t blowing at the time, so the sound garden remained mute.)

Apparently there are also some tennis courts on the grounds of Volunteer Park, but I didn’t see those. In season, there are also dahlia gardens, koi ponds, and a wading pool.

I look forward to visiting this lovely park again and again. Here are some photos that we took during our visit.

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Visiting the Capitol Hill Organized Protest in Seattle

Recently, I blogged about the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), a protest society that has sprung up in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, which makes me love this city even more. I don’t know how long this little enclave will last, but I was intrigued by the concept. I wanted to bear witness.

I was glad to see that it was still there, even though it has undergone a name change. CHAZ is now CHOP: Capital Hill Organized Protest, because it can’t be considered autonomous in the strictest sense of the word. It doesn’t have its own utilities. It does not maintain its own streets or provide its own bureaucracy. It has not enacted its own constitution. It’s more like a barnacle on the shell that is Seattle, which in turn is a barnacle on the shell of the Duwamish tribal lands. But if CHOP is a barnacle, it’s a beautiful one.

CHOP has three demands: 1) Defund the police. 2) Invest that money in the community. 3) Release all protestors.

Trump would have you believe that a part of the city has been taken over by domestic terrorists, and that if he has it his way, he’ll send in the troops. There’s also this huge rumor that people are toting guns up in there. In essence, that it’s a war zone, all hell has broken loose, and the inmates are running the asylum. I wanted to find out for myself.

The weirdest part about CHOP, as far as I’m concerned, is that there were thousands of people there. Many were lookie-loos like me. Most were masked. But it was the largest crowd that I have been around in months, thanks to the quarantine, and I have to say that it felt exceedingly strange. Such are the times in which we live.

The biggest danger in CHOP, in my opinion, is COVID-19. I didn’t see a single gun the entire time I was there. I saw no violence. The only destruction I saw was the graffiti, which for the most part is really beautiful and well thought out. I felt completely safe.

I was able to listen to several protesters speak. One emphasized that this was a peaceful community. They didn’t destroy. They didn’t burn. And it was obviously true. I also saw a makeshift salon on the street, a circle of couches and chairs, where people were talking about race in the forthright way that you’d never see at a gathering at your average coffee shop. There are several teach-ins going on at any given time at CHOP.

I visited the No Cop Co-op. Free everything. They don’t even accept money in the form of donations. And everyone is welcome to help themselves. I did not do so because I’m sure there are people out there who are more in need than I am.

Cal Anderson Park was full of tents and gatherings. There’s even a vegetable garden starting out there. People were talking quietly. There was no buying or selling going on, and it was refreshing. This wasn’t some festival. These people are seriously wanting to make a change.

If anything, they were earnest to the point of exhaustion. Everyone seemed to be right on point. I did not get the impression that this was a bunch of freeloaders taking advantage of a hassle-free space.

I honestly felt kind of out of place. I was a lot older than the demographic, and a few times I felt like I was being viewed with suspicion. Was I a police or city plant? But everyone treated me, and everyone else, with respect.

I wanted to contribute to the place, so I brought some books to donate from my little free library. One was an anthology of working class literature. But the rest were just, you know, books to read. Because you can’t be on message all the time, can you? Sometimes you just need to read a good book. That was my thinking.

But when I turned them in, the guy at the co-op got a hopeful look in his eye, and asked if it was anarchist literature. Then I felt kind of silly, and was glad that the blush was hidden behind my mask. He was gracious and took the books anyway. I wonder what he did with them.

Hey, you know? You have to at least try. Even if your good intentions miss the mark.

I’m really rooting for CHOP. I walked away feeling like I had witnessed something historic, something important. I certainly know I wasn’t witnessing domestic terrorism.

Here are some pictures that we took in CHOP. I’ll do my best, out of respect for the protesters, to not include any where the unmasked faces are identifiable.

 

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The Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone

Thanks to all the current demonstrations that have been happening because Black Lives Matter, a new protest society has sprung up in Seattle, Washington. It’s in a 6 block area of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, which has been ground zero for the most violent of the police responses to the protesters. For many nights, the streets were a fog of tear gas and flash bangs rang in the resident’s ears. Police cruisers were set alight, and looters were destroying area businesses.

Finally, the police boarded up and abandoned their East Precinct building, and closed the area off to traffic, with the exception of first responders. The building’s sign has since been altered. It now reads, “Seattle People Department East Precinct”.

Currently, volunteers are giving out free food, and there are first aid stations set up on many of the corners. People are camping out in tents. It is a free speech and police free zone. They even showed the movie “13th” on a bed sheet in an intersection, and 200 people peacefully attended. Children have decorated the streets with chalk. The area is now covered in protest graffiti and shrines to people who have died too young, for no justifiable reason.

There are rumors of people open carrying guns, and that’s rather worrisome to me. There is also rumors of extortion of local businesses, which is outrageous. And one of their demands is that the police department be defunded.

I’m not sure I agree with that. But I DO think police funds should be reallocated away from militarization and toward de-escalation training. I also think that for every cop, their ought to be a social worker. And there should be more citizen oversight and a heck of a lot more accountability. So if anything, these departments need more money, but differently handled. That’s just my opinion.

But it will be interesting to see how the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, a.k.a CHAZ, develops over the next weeks, even months. There’s no specific leadership there. Maybe that’s the point. But I don’t see how that’s sustainable. We’ll see.

I’m rather proud of Seattle for trying for a new society. Of course, Trump takes great exception to any situation that allows we, the people, to speak for ourselves. He tweeted, “Domestic Terrorists have taken over Seattle.” He blathered on, “Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan responded, “Make us all safe. Go back to your bunker.”

That makes me like her a little more, even though people are calling for her to resign.

I’d like to go check out CHAZ. As of this writing, I’ve only experienced a virtual walk through, on line. If I do go, I’ll blog about it again. But my main takeaway at the moment is that, clearly, change needs to happen for our citizenry. #BlackLivesMatter

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Personal Responsibility

I am really proud to live in the State of Washington. I’m impressed at how we’re responding to the pandemic. I listen to Governor Inslee’s press conferences every chance I get, and he’s doing a terrific job keeping us up to date. We are not rushing to open things back up. We’re prioritizing lives over profit. I know that that is causing people to suffer, but in the end, staying alive is more important. This is a time when we all need to make sacrifices, even to the point that it hurts, in order to protect our fellow citizens.

I understand why some states are opening back up too soon. To do otherwise is probably political suicide. People are sick to death of being locked down. People are desperate to get back to work. Those things are tangible. The air is thick with impatience and frustration. Whereas this virus is invisible. You don’t actually see it until someone you love dies.

So I admire Governor Inslee for taking the moral high ground. He’s putting the people first. That’s not something you see many politicians doing these days.

The irritating thing about his press conferences on Facebook is the comments that stream past as he speaks. “You can’t make me wear a mask.” “Who are you to decide whether I open my massage parlor back up?” “Contact tracing is unconstitutional!”

In kindergarten, along with the concept of sharing your toys, it seems that we need to teach children about personal responsibility. While it comes naturally to many of us, it appears to be something that needs to be taught to others. In short: The world does not revolve around you.

You’re absolutely right. No one can make you wear a mask. And no one should have to tell you when to open your business. And while I’m pretty sure you may have to reread the constitution, I’ll admit that contact tracing is a bit of an invasion of privacy.

But you are part of a civilized society. And if you are going to take advantage of the benefits thereof, there are certain sacrifices that you need to make. That’s the contract you’ve entered into. You don’t have to like it.

Just as you shouldn’t shout fire in a crowded theater just because you think it would be funny, and you shouldn’t kneel on someone’s neck for nearly nine minutes simply because you have superior firepower, you also should not do anything else that increases the risk that people around you might die.

You’d think that would go without saying, but apparently not. Every single day that I’m at work, I sit in my bridge tower and watch the pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists go by. Fewer and fewer of them are wearing masks. More and more of them are out and about. There seems to be a general feeling of, “It can’t happen to me, and I don’t particularly care if it happens to you.”

What these people seem to overlook is that their actions don’t only affect them. If they engage in risky behavior, they also risk bringing the virus home to their loved ones, or to their coworkers, or to the innocent schmuck who happens to pass too close to them on the sidewalk, or to the health care workers who have to risk their lives to care for us. Those are the people I worry about.

If you want to act stupid, that’s your prerogative. But you’re also making bad choices for everyone you come into contact with, and that’s unconscionable.

How American it is to think that just because we’re tired of this virus, we can ignore it and move on. Boo hoo. It’s not fun. It’s a hassle. We want to think about something else. But this virus only has legs if we give it legs. In cases like this, moving on isn’t an option.

Every day, at the beginning of my shift, I sanitize everything in my work space that I think could have been touched by coworkers. I do this for me, and for my husband, and for anyone else I might encounter. And at the end of the shift, I sanitize again. I don’t do this for me. I do this for my coworker who is about to occupy this same space. I think about his son and his wife as I clean. I think about the fact that a 10 year old boy needs both his parents to be healthy to take care of him.

No one can make me do the right thing. No one can make me do anything, technically. I do these things because I know I’m personally responsible for holding up my end of the contract of civilization. I do it because I’m an adult. I do it because I care about my fellow human beings.

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Doin’ the Cascade Loop (Sort Of) Part Two

Having woken up, surrounded by the linoleum, wood paneling, and extremely dated but comfortable furniture in the Idle A While Motel in the charming little town of Twisp, Washington, we looked forward to exploring that little berg and then continuing the Cascade Loop adventure that we had started the day before (and that I blogged about two days ago.)

It doesn’t take much time to explore Twisp, but I have to say that I felt quite at home there. If it didn’t get entirely snowed in every winter, it would be an excellent retirement option. The town is full of very cool public art, including a mural on the wall of the community pool building that shows, in a colorful way, every business that contributed to having it built. The Methow Valley is an art hub, and Twisp seems to be its epicenter. And it is also home to one of the coolest Little Free Libraries that I’ve yet to see. That, and I’ll say it again: I love saying Twisp. Twissssspuh.

After that, we looped on, often driving through swaths of devastation from the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire, which was a reminder of how vengeful nature can be. Entire mountainsides where the trees are now dead sticks. It was heartbreaking.

If you ever drive through this area, be careful. There are so many deer that an appalling number are run down on the highway each year. They actually keep a tally on a road sign so people will take it seriously.

From here, we took a little detour, via Okanogan, to Omak, to visit a friend from a safe distance. I have to say that my overall, limited, and brief impression of the area was that it is pretty industrial, and it’s much more desert than forest, but the distant mountain views were quite stunning.

I learned that I’ve been mispronouncing Okanogan my entire life. It’s not Awk-a-noggin. It’s Oak-a-noggin. Go figure. I’m officially sending this town an extra “a” for clarity. Next, you’ll be telling me that octopus should be pronounced oak-tapuss.

But I’ll forgive Okanogan it’s pronunciation, because it’s near Omak, home to some of the best and most unique-looking pizza I’ve ever eaten. If you are ever in the area, you simply have to check out Hometown Pizza. It was so good, I was totally fine with eating pizza two days in a row.

Next, we followed the Wenatchee and Columbia Rivers through their identically named valleys. This is the apple capitol of the world. Orchard after orchard can be found in every nook and cranny here. I’ve never seen so many apple crates stacked up in my life. I hope this pandemic isn’t negatively impacting their crops, because moving to Washington has made me fall in love with apples once again.

While in the town of East Wenatchee, I got so see some of the places where my husband used to live. It was fascinating. He’s come a long way, baby.

From there, we passed through another town whose name I love to say: Cashmere. I’d love to say I lived in Cashmere. It just sounds so soft and luxurious and comforting. Cashmere is also home to candy called Aplets & Cotlets, which sound like they’re a lot like Turkish Delight to me, and since I didn’t find Turkish Delight very delightful while in Turkey, I gave these treats a pass as well. My husband says Aplets & Cotlets are known as old lady candies.

Then we rolled into the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth. I’ve been there a couple of times and I’ve blogged about it before. It was weird to have the whole town to ourselves. Usually it’s teeming with tourists. It kind of made me sad.

To cheer ourselves up, we then stopped at Flo’s 59er Diner for some takeout milkshakes. They have 20 different flavors on offer from blueberry to peanut butter to root beer to coconut. I feel like vacation calories don’t count, and if I’m feeling really guilty, I can always jog beside the car (although I never have.) This restaurant also has an extensive food menu, but we were still full of pizza, so no.

The next stretch of road took us over a still snowy Stevens Pass, elevation 4,061 feet, and through towns with cool names like Skykomish, Index, Gold Bar, Startup and Sultan, and then on to Monroe, which isn’t that far from home, so I hope I get to check it out in more detail at a later date. From there, the loop was close enough to home to where I was familiar with its ramblings, so we took a southerly turn in Monroe to remotely visit some more friends in the lovely town of Carnation, Washington, which I’ve also blogged about before. From there went straight home.

Our Roamin’ Holiday may not have been Italy, but it was still wonderful, after all.

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Doin’ the Cascade Loop (Sort Of) Part One

During the last bit of our Roamin’ Holiday, we decided to drive the Cascade Loop here in Washington State. No day trip, this. It would require an overnight stay somewhere. I had mixed emotions about that in this era of pandemic, but I was also itching to go somewhere, anywhere, and do something, anything. So off we went.

This road trip is something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. I’ve done bits and pieces of it, but never the whole thing, and I can now say that it’s highly recommended. It was a refreshing getaway that increased my love for this state.

The first thing to do is check out this awesome website that’s dedicated to everything related to the Cascade Loop. It breaks down the loop into 9 regions, and is full of amazing photographs, recommendations as to where to stay and what to eat and what to do, and it also goes into great detail about the history of each region. They even offer a free guidebook, which I dearly wish I’d had.

Map

One of the first things they recommend is that you drive the loop counterclockwise, as you get to see more spectacular views that way. Oops. We didn’t do that. That’s what I get for not doing my homework. Maybe next time. We also skipped the first region, Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, because we had just explored that area a few days before.

Since we were choosing to skip that leg of the journey, we decided, instead, to take a brief detour to explore Camano Island, the next island to the east of Whidbey. It’s a lot smaller than Whidbey, and has fewer amenities. It seems like a quiet, rural community. It did have a few intriguing shops, galleries, restaurants, a grocery store here and there, and some wineries. All but the grocery stores were closed due to the pandemic. We felt bad about not financially supporting this community, but in these viral times, we decided it was more socially responsible to remain socially distant. But Camano also has several parks, beaches, and fabulous views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, so it was still well worth the drive.

We picked up the Cascade Loop again in Skagit Valley. This is farm country. I love this area particularly in April, when the tulips are blooming and there are vast swaths of color in the fields. It makes me feel like I’m back in Holland again. I love looking at the farm houses and the barns, and imagining what life would be like out here. Quiet, but hard work.

I love the little town of La Conner, with its quaint little waterfront shops, and the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, housed in an amazing Victorian mansion. But again, those things are for healthier times.

Hamilton is probably full of tourists in normal times. We had the whole small town to ourselves. Sedro-Woolley is a loggers paradise. Apparently they host an annual Loggerrodeo. That sounds intriguing.

In fact, there are a plethora of festivals at different times of the year, all along the loop. It is a good idea to plan accordingly. But keep in mind that the North Cascades section is shut down in the winter, due to snow. We took our trip in May a few days after the road opened. A lot of places close down in the winter.

The North Cascades section is probably my favorite part of the loop. With its mountains and valleys and waterfalls and lush greenery, it reminded me a lot of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Well, sort of. Here, the mountains are taller and more jagged, the valleys are deeper, and the predominant trees are evergreen, not deciduous. But you get the idea. There are also 300 glaciers along the route. Hard to imagine that I’d never seen a glacier 6 years ago. The lakes and rivers are spectacular as well. There are a lot of camping and hiking and fishing opportunities here.

We passed through the town of Concrete in about 5 seconds. As you can probably guess, it used to be a cement production center. I just love that there’s a town called Concrete somewhere on earth.

Coming down from the mountains and entering the Methow Valley, we were feeling kind of peckish, and decided to stop in for some takeout pizza. One thing I’ve learned is that you can always count on pizza, even in a pandemic. We ate a lot of pizza in our travels. This time it was East 20 Pizza in Winthrop.

I hope to visit Winthrop more extensively in better times. It feels like you’ve been transported back to the wild, wild west. You can walk along its wooden sidewalks and explore tons of cute little shops. It’s also known for its fine dining. But alas, every single thing was closed while we were there, except the pizza place. I half expected to see tumbleweeds piling up in the corners. What a sad state of affairs to find ourselves in.

Then we continued on to the town of Twisp, where we spent the night. Can I start off by saying that I adore the name Twisp? I’d move there simply to be able to say Twisp multiple times a day. It sounds like a cross between the sound a potato chip makes and a squirt of honey in your mouth on a hot day.

We stayed at the Idle A While Motel. What a blast from the past. These buildings were built in the early 1900’s for the forest service. And now they have been converted into individual motel cabins along with a two story strip of rooms that looks like your typical 1950’s cheap motel. You could kind of tell that about half the place was occupied by seasonal residential types, but it was clean and felt safe, and they allowed pets, so I was happy. That, and we were able to do our check in over the phone, and I sanitized the place obsessively before and after.

Internet was sketchy and it was a bit chilly out, so we hung out and watched cable TV that evening. We watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which was filmed in 1963, and it now seems quaint, like the hotel, rather than scary, as it seemed to me as a child. (Given our setting, I’m kind of glad they weren’t showing Psycho.) After that, we drifted off to sleep.

Here are some photos from our travels. More about day two in a day or two!

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Mount St. Helens

If forced to choose a favorite day of our Roamin’ Holiday, I’d have to say our day trip to Mount St. Helens has that distinction. I love any opportunity to look nature in the eye and say, “Yeah, you win. It wouldn’t even be a fair fight.”

When this volcano famously erupted on May 18, 1980, I was 15 years old and 3000 miles away, on the other side of the continent. I was fascinated by the event, and read everything I could about it, but somehow it didn’t seem real to me. It was something that was happening “over there”, in a place that was practically a foreign country, and one I was certain I’d never visit. I knew no one who had witnessed the event, and it didn’t impact me directly in any way.

Little did I know I’d be gazing upon this very volcano two days prior to the 40th anniversary of its eruption. And what a stunning sight it was. I don’t know what it is about Western vistas, but the horizon seems 10 times farther away out here, and this mountain is so… mountainous… that it makes me feel even smaller. I love that feeling. It makes me realize how insignificant my problems actually are, in the overall scheme of things. A short respite from my cares and worries is always welcome.

Thanks to the pandemic, I didn’t get to see the state park visitor center at Silver Lake. There was, however, a little shack that had been converted from a snack bar to a gift shop, so I was able to remotely point at and purchase a magnet for my fridge and a postcard or two. The Forest Learning Center, operated by Weyerhaeuser, was also closed, as was the Science and Learning Center operated by the Mount St. Helens Institute, and the Johnson Ridge Observatory operated by the U.S. Forest service. I also couldn’t get my coveted National Parks Passport Stamp at the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

All of this was a disappointment, as I do love visitor centers. They teach me a great deal, and therefore enrich the travel experience, but hey, there’s still the internet, and the interpretive signs at the various overlooks along the route were still there. I just had to wait, patiently, and properly bemasked, at a distance, if anyone had arrived there before me. And for the most part, we had the park to ourselves. The Pandemic certainly has changed the travel experience.

But the star of the show, the volcano, was certainly there, and we were lucky enough to be there on a day when it wasn’t obscured by clouds. Some of the photographs that we took at the time appear below. As good as I think they are, they don’t really do it justice.

What really impressed me was how much the area has recovered in the last 4 decades, given the scope of the destruction. I’ll let Wikipedia describe what happened.

Mount St. Helens is most notorious for its major eruption on May 18, 1980, the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in US history. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles (24 km) of railways, and 185 miles (298 km) of highway were destroyed. A massive debris avalanche, triggered by an earthquake of magnitude 5.1, caused a lateral eruption that reduced the elevation of the mountain’s summit from 9,677 ft (2,950 m) to 8,363 ft (2,549 m), leaving a 1 mile (1.6 km) wide horseshoe-shaped crater. The debris avalanche was up to 0.7 cubic miles (2.9 km3) in volume.

An eruption column rose 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states and significant ash in two Canadian provinces. At the same time, snow, ice and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming a series of large lahars (volcanic mudslides) that reached as far as the Columbia River, nearly 50 miles (80 km) to the southwest. Less severe outbursts continued into the next day, only to be followed by other large, but not as destructive, eruptions later that year. Thermal energy released during the eruption was equal to 26 megatons of TNT.

Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, causing over $1 billion in damage (equivalent to $3.4 billion in 2019), thousands of animals were killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side.

So, yeah, I’d say that this destruction was rather a big deal. And you can still see evidence of it everywhere. The mountain used to be a relatively uniform cone shape. Very picturesque. But the eruption reduced it’s height by 1314 feet. To put that into perspective, the shorter of the two twin towers, prior to 911, was 1362 feet. So that was a heck of a lot of mountain to be there one minute and gone the next. And now there’s this giant lopsided crater marring the previous symmetry. And you can see where the slide went in many of the photographs below.

It’s also quite obvious when you enter the blast zone. That area has been reforested, for the most part, but there’s a very abrupt change between old growth forest, and, for example, the acres of trees planted by Weyerhaeuser, which are so identical in height and shape that it makes your eyes do a blurry double take. You can also see a lot of dead and flattened trees still floating in the area waterways.

But life will out. The trees are, indeed, growing. Wildlife abounds. The waterways flow again. It would be easy to forget if we had no video of the disaster, and no written history. To the untrained eye, there would only be hints here and there. For example, the A Frame house pictured below still stands, and the upper floor can still be seen. The mud flood that came through there, just two days after that house was built, was 5 feet deep and 100 degrees. It was the consistency of wet cement and was traveling at about 35 miles per hour. Now that whole area is at a higher elevation, and people, ignoring history and wanting to profit from tourism, have rebuilt all around it.

If I could sum up what I learned from this trip in one sentence, it would be, “Time marches on.” And when it’s nature that’s doing the marching, you’d best get the hell out of the way.

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A Scenic Drive along the Hood Canal

The first thing that you need to know about the Hood Canal, which is a body of water that lies between the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas here in Washington State, is that it isn’t a canal in the strict sense of the word. It’s not an artificial waterway. Far from it. It’s actually a fjord that was created 13,000 years ago by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet.

Locmap-hoodcanal-ss

The hood Canal is part of Puget Sound as well as being part of the Salish Sea. Recently I had the pleasure of riding along its westernmost shoreline for about 50 miles. It was idyllically rural, following the natural coastline with forested hills on one side and the waterway on the other, though the occasional one intersection town. If I had all the money in the world to play with, I’d love to retire to one of the waterfront homes there and watch the orcas swim by.

We started off on the north end of the canal, crossing the Hood Canal Bridge. We stopped in the community of Quilcene to pay a socially distant visit to a friend who recently bought a retirement home out there. This little community has a population of about 600, mostly nestled deep in the woods, with gorgeous views of Quilcene Bay. On a good day, you can see Mt. Rainier off in the distance. I left, wishing this friend would adopt me.

The booming metropolis boasts a brewery that apparently makes phenomenal wood fired pizza, but thanks to the pandemic, it’s only open for a few days a week for takeout, and we weren’t there on one of those lucky days. So on we went, to explore the canal.

The Hood Canal is 177 feet deep, and has an average width of one and a half miles. Its surface area is nearly 150 square miles. The natural beauty there is beyond words. Unfortunately, due to humans, the canal has suffered from a number of algae blooms due to lack of oxygen in the water. Much of this is the fault of septic tank run off and global warming. But on the day we were there, the water was crystal clear.

Many of the rivers that flow into the canal have typical Pacific Northwest names. Skokomish. Hamma Hamma. Duckabush. Dosewallips. Tahuya. Dewatto. Just traversing this area makes one feel poetic.

It was a glorious drive on a glorious day. I’m so happy to live in such an intensely varied and beautiful state! Here are some pictures we took during our ramble. Enjoy!

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