Atlantic to Pacific -- spectacular Washington

 ... the motorhome wandering continues through Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula

by Don Norris

Chapter seven begins in Wenatchee, about 150 miles east of Seattle. Hauling our Honda Civic behind us, the big Ford motorhome climbs the Cascades and descends into the wet world of our west coast. The photo is near Admiralty Inlet, near the mouth of Puget Sound. It is a spectacular place, this state of Washington, ranging from semi-tropical rain forests to ancient glaciers.

If you're going west out of Wenatchee, Washington, you gotta go Up.

Wenatchee, Washington is a lesson in itself. To the west are the huge granite mountains of the Cascade range. To the north, east and south are former dessert lands that have been reclaimed and made productive by irrigation.

So Wenatchee is a central farm community. It has attracted lots of Latinos, who provide the semi-skilled labor for the world of farms in central Washington -- folks who perform essential work, particularly at harvesting time. They are stand-offish, and it appears to me that they've had a rough reception in their new life.

I noticed two separate and distinct social strata there. The original settlers, now relatively prosperous farmers and (on the other hand) the migrant, not-quite-attached labor force, most of whom speak Spanish by choice, and broken English to survive.

I suspect, given the passage of enough time, the two groups will merge. A hundred years down the road, there will still be both farmers and workers, but the Latinos of today will be full-fledged prosperous Americans, and the labor force will still be new to this place -- maybe Latinos, maybe Chinese, maybe Easterners, probably people looking for a new way of life and from a place called Less Prosperous.

Getting back to our travels, we spent several beautiful October days in central Washington, and finally hitched the Honda Civic to the back of the 27-foot Ford motorhome, and resumed our journey west. We were only 150 miles east of Seattle. Only the Cascade Mountains left to cross.

We hardly got started up the long climb over the absolutely spectacular Cascades  when we came to the town of Leavenworth. You know you're there, for the place looks more Alpine-Swiss than most Swiss villages. It is all for show, of course, and the people thrive on the tourists. Like, nobody can fail to stop and shop.

Sub-surface strobelights ...

As we climbed, we paralleled the Wenatchee River, tumbling ferociously down the eastern slope. And there, visible by the hundreds, were great, large fish, swimming up the mountain with us. Their silver bodies flashed in the early sunlight, like strobelights going off under water. We believe these were salmon; we saw no fishermen, but then it seems to me I could have caught them by hand.

The northwestern route of our year-long journey is spotted with red dots, indicated where we stopped for the night -- or nights, if we lingered. In chapter 7, we are a day's sail from Victoria, Canada, and almost to the most northwestern corner of our country, called Cape Flattery.

The names and pronunciation of towns around Boston are unusual -- like Gloucester, which has only two syllables, and Woburn, which one calls Woobun. And Medford, which is Meffa, locally. In Washington state, on this day, we drove through such exciting places as Stevens Pass, Scenic, Skykomish, Cle Elum, Snoqualmie (with FOUR syllables), Index, Gold Bar and Startup. All apt names with a history.

Not exactly raining ....

But once one crosses Stevens Pass at 4061 feet, the world changes. Suddenly we were on the wet side, passing from desert to rain forest, almost like a line was drawn, right here. The transition was dramatic. On this October morning, we went from crisp, dry air to overcast, heavy humidity, to fantastic dripping growth.

It wasn't exactly raining, but you needed windshield wipers.

And this is the way it was in western Washington. One didn't quite need an umbrella, but the mist is heavy and clings to woolen sweaters. You have to wipe your glasses frequently. In fact, our umbrellas pegged us as tourists.

Our campbook told us that there was a motorhome park in the town of Lynnwood, a little south of Everett, where they make Boeing airplanes. What we found in the sprawl of northern Seattle was a huge hottop on a gentle sloop, surrounded by suburbia. Our camping space was wide enough to open the doors, with little to spare.

But then, that's city camping. We found exactly the same in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. And space isn't cheap, relatively.

In the four days in the Seattle mist, we spent two days in town -- taking the bus, for traffic in Seattle is on a par with Boston: Terrible! We discovered the fruits of the Pacific Ocean, and began a scrumptious diet of seafood that lasted three months. Shrimp, dungeness crabs, king crab legs (from Alaska), salmon, oysters, and two dozen varieties of fish from the Pacific.

We got fat on our fish diet.

The Seattle Fish Market is a wonderful place to visit, a photographer's delight with a millions strange colors and forms, fine looking people, fish being thrown through the air, orders barked out loud, people in clammy, wet woolens. The people are erudite, stylish, and pleasant. But the place is unique in all America.

We spent one day driving over 200 miles in the Honda Civic to climb Mount Rainier, that 14,410-foot snowcapped peak south-south-east of Seattle. The ride there is rather tedious since we had to compete in morning traffic, but visiting the mountain is worth it. The road takes you to a marvelous lodge about 5000 feet below the summit, and if you're game and the weather is right, you can climb the glacier to the top -- on foot.

Trouble is, the weather seldom cooperates -- but it did for us, for after driving in the rain for hours, the sun broke out at 9,000 feet, 20 minutes after we arrived. It was another of those lucky phenomena that followed us for our whole year long trip. It was an odd feeling, for we looked down on top of the cloud blanket -- below us -- which was pierced here and there only by significant but smaller peaks.

It looked like a birthing place for mountains.

No free ride today ...

We stumbled on a fantastic tour of the Boeing plant in Everett, and from a balcony, we watched them build 767s and 747s. We were hoping for a free ride, but no soap. If you get to Seattle, call Boeing and ask if they still give tours -- especially if you like to fly.  

We didn't do the Seattle Space Needle because we couldn't see the top from the ground, and therefore that fine view of the city and the bay would have been limited to a few foggy feet. Had we gone up on a rare good day, however, we would have been treated to one of the most beautiful scenes the United States has to offer: the three mountains of Washington, Rainier to the south, Baker to the north, and Olympus to the west.

We did manage to drive up two of the three, although it was during two separate trips.

Anyway, put Seattle on your Must See list. Go there, see the city on foot, then rent a car for a few days -- for this place is the essence of magic. Thrive on delicious seafood, and be sure to check on fresh cherries -- sooo sweet, so good. Go north and east to Mount Baker and drive through those sky-high granite mountains called the Cascades; Run down to Rainier for a day's outing, and visit Tacoma on the way. And then go west, young man, go west.

There, you'll find Olympus, which will have snow on its peak and a rain forest at its feet. Washington is a wondrous place.

And be sure not to miss Anacortes and the ferry ride to the San Juan islands -- which is a daytrip in itself. On Whidbey, there is a great state park called Deception Pass State Park, not far from the Swinomish Indian reservation, where we stayed overnight. Just gorgeous scenery.

West of Seattle ...

This is the route we took on leaving Seattle, north to Mount Vernon, west out to the Whidbey Islands, where we got in line for the ferry to Port Townsend, on the Olympic Peninsula. During our sail across the Strait of  Juan de Fuca, there was a sudden clearing of skys, and there, around us, we could see Baker, Rainier and Olympus, all at once. It was a rare and beautiful happening.

Port Townsend is where Hollywood filmed "An Officer and a Gentleman". It was also the beginning of a voyage unlike any other in the States -- west along the Olympic Peninsula.

Again, a photographer's delight. Old fishing factories on close-up, colorful, misty bays, reflections everywhere, fog and sunshine vying for space, warm, rich colors, the sea, the mountains, a totally unique place.

We camped at Port Angeles for a couple of days, and took the ferry over to Victoria, that very British city that is alive with the color of a million flowers. Have high tea there, and walk around town. We are glad we went there; once was enough, although it would have been nice to drive north on the island. We were on foot.

But the Olympic Peninsula is home of the Dungeness crab. That is the meatiest, most wonderful tasting crab we've ever had. But don't tell anyone, for we suspect they will be added to the endangered species list.

As I said, we lived on seafood all the way down the coast to San Diego. Seafood, and local fresh produce. Ooow, so good!.

The thrill of Hurricane Ridge ...

There is a road that climbs to the summit of Hurricane Ridge, open seasonably and when it doesn't get snowbound. We hit it right, for while it was raining, I think we were the only car on the mountain. With the Civic, it was just a matter of keeping the accelerator floored, and taking the winding, twisting, steep road as fast as that little engine could go. Of course I didn't break any speed limits. No, not me. Oh, what fun.

What views! The clouds and mist would lift, and suddenly there was before us an artist's view of the Olympic range, with peaks and ridges and deep valleys, with soft muted purples, earthy reds and deep forest blue-greens. Light peeked in and out, and suddenly changed, giving a whole new perspective to the panorama. And the mist would descend like a curtain, preparing the stage for a new presentation.

I was forced to stop, and photograph, and shoot, and shoot, and shoot. It was that good.

Put this place on your list. It's always that good.

We took a dirt road to the east of the summit -- at 4000 feet -- and cautiously wound over ridges with bottomless valleys, sometime slipping in the wet, loose gravel. After several miles the road began a series of switchbacks with precipitous sides and no railings -- at which point, in spite of fabulous scenery, we turned back. Chicken.

I'm into the seventh chapter on our year-long trip, and it seems to us that, here, in Seattle, a whole new venture begins. Of course the trip across the country was one fun-filled adventure after another, but here, in Washington, is where the new world really begins.

So here's our advice: If you can replicate our trip, do it. Over and above living at home, it cost us less than $10,000, including buying the motorhome, and selling it when we got home. That included gas (about $2000), campgrounds, and food -- either eating out or dining in. It was, actually, much less than we had anticipated.

And it was a resounding success. Do it if you can.

Your comments will be appreciated.

Don Norris at or at

Atlantic to Pacific, Part 1
Atlantic to Pacific, Part 2
Atlantic to Pacific, Part 3
Atlantic to Pacific, Part 4
Atlantic to Pacific, Part 5
Atlantic to Pacific, Part 6

August 2, 2002

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