Olympic National Park covers a large area of the north west of the state and we drove around the western side of the park, once again enjoying the beautiful rainforest areas and massive trees of this region. As we have found elsewhere in the US National Parks, the roads through and around the parks are wonderfully maintained and a pleasure to drive on.
Traffic was light as we are coming to the end of the season and tourist numbers are waning considerably. Some of the campgrounds and sections of others are closed for the season as the temperature has dropped considerably and our diesel heater was getting a good workout every night. We continue south at a relaxed pace, popping out onto the coast at times where the beaches are still littered with logs but are bigger and wider than we have seen for some time.
Driving along Highway 101 you are still in the forests and crossing many water-ways as you get closer to the Columbia River which forms the border with Oregon.
Our travelling companions were heading into Oregon from the opposite direction so the opportunity to catch up for one last hurrah meant leaving the coast and heading east across the state to Hood River. This involved some Interstate driving, skirting the cities Salem and Portland and then a high altitude crossing at Mount Hood. It rained most of this day, clearing as we passed the snow capped peak of Mount Hood. Hood River provided some clear and sunny weather as we again caught up with Pete and Barb and Tom and Jen. We sampled some of the local beers, told stories of our latest escapades and enjoyed this touristy but very pleasant town surrounded by mountains, lakes and forest.
A day’s drive west along the Columbia River gave us the opportunity to photograph some big waterfalls on our way to the entrance of Mt St Helen’s National Monument. The snow-capped volcano of Mount St Helens, with an altitude of over 4,000m erupted with devastating results very recently, in 1980 in fact! The mountain had been very evident as we headed north towards it in the afternoon but we were aware that the forecast was not good – rain and clouds were coming! We hoped for continued sunshine until we’d visited the top, but awoke the next morning to thick grey clouds. Despite the cloud, we optimistically drove up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory. The Johnston Observatory looks directly into what they call the blast zone of the volcano. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot to see as we drove the 70km and got closer to the observatory. The fog got thicker the higher we went.
However, the information and displays at the Observatory were fantastic. We attended a very entertaining 30 minute Ranger talk that went for 90 minutes. The models, photographs and stories of that fateful day in May 1980 when the mountain erupted killing 57 people, made intriguing viewing. So, despite not seeing the blast zone, we were very glad that we went!
Next was north to Seattle where we were to spend a couple of days before again parting company with our fellow travellers to follow our individual plans to exit the country in the following couple of weeks. We spent a pleasant day in the city, visiting the Space Needle, the sensational Chiuhily Glass and Garden gallery and the Pikes Place Fish Market. “Somebody buy a fish!”. Pete and Barb cooked an excellent steak meal back at the campground for our ‘last supper’.
The good weather finally returned and we figured the best way to make the most of it would be to spend the day driving through Mt Rainier National Park, which lies to the south and west of Seattle. Blue sky, no clouds and the mountain looked a treat as we skirted the southern edge of the mountain (another active volcano) and headed up and around this beautiful peak, the highest in Washington State.
Recent snow had covered the upper reaches of the mountain and the roads near the top presented some interesting driving with quite a bit of snow and ice in the shadows of the trees. We spent a very cold night (Tom’s thermometer got down to -4C) well down the mountain, awaking to frozen puddles and a white frosty wonderland.
At this point it was essential to enjoy breakfast indoors, so we found a diner in a nearby town and enjoyed an enormous cooked breakfast, ensuring no lunch would be necessary. Then back onto the Interstate heading north to battle the traffic in Seattle on our way to the Boeing Factory. This was well worth the trip. A 90 minute tour, escorted by a former airline pilot, takes you up to elevated platforms that allow you to look down on the biggest factory in the world (apparently!) making planes that are household names around the world. They are still making the 747, albeit in its’ cargo configuration, and in this factory, the 767, the 777 and the 787 Dreamliner. It’s hard to get your head around the size of the factory and the enormity of the job of putting 6 million pieces together and coming up with a plane!
We again bid Tom and Jen goodbye as we headed for our last stop on this journey – Vancouver. We were about to prepare for shipping home. After a stint back in Aus, Tom, Jen, Pete and Barb have decided to continue travelling around the USA and possibly more of the world! We wish them well and may join them again one day but for now we are very happy to be returning to Australia.