Fort Vancouver NHS
Right across the Columbia river we visit the Fort Vancouver on its riverbanks. We expect a fort like the many forts we have already visited – mostly military outposts – but this fort tells the story of the Hudson’s Bay Company, a fur trading company in the 1800s. With volunteers manning the different buildings, the experience is really fun especially learning from the blacksmith and the fur store keeper about life at the fort . To stand between hundreds of real furs from all kinds of animals is a strange experience in today’s fur debate, but learning about the trade and history of it was really fun.
Outside of the building archeology students are doing live digs as part of their summer curriculum, and it is fun to see their progress and their efforts to find out more about the fort. After an interesting conversation about imperial versus metric system in the scientific work and the boys gathering their badge at the entrance of the fort, we have lunch in the RV and then visit the small Pearson Air Museum next door. The museum is much less entertaining (main feat of the airfield turns out to be that the first plane to cross the North Pole from Russia had to land here as it ran out of fuel and thus made history) so we scoot through it in less than an hour.
We have a 2,5 hour drive ahead of us to the national park we have seen from a distance several times last year; Mount Rainier. The volcano has a permanent snow cap and really pops up out of the landscape. As we arrive at the end of the day, we drive into the US forest before the park and find a spot to park for the night. Delicious dinner made by our chef and a homework sprint by Luc (that summer holiday is in sight!), and it is bed time again.
Mount Rainier NP
We drive into Mount Rainier NP and visit the Longmire museum first. With all the Junior Ranger work and badges we are happy to see that Mount Rainier has a ‘Citizen Ranger’ program for adults, so we find our first quest at the museum and complete it together with the boys. We take the scenic drive towards ‘Paradise’ and very quickly run into snow! There is something magic about snow in summer and the boys are getting really excited to get out and touch the real thing. At the visitor center in Paradise there is plenty of it still lying right there on the ground, but we have an unpleasant surprise; the through road is closed, which means we have to backtrack for 2 hours to get to the other side of the mountain!
Leaving early in the morning means we have time to do so, but it also means we have to cancel our short hike plans as we need to get there on time to secure a camping spot in the ‘first come, first serve’ campground along the White River. Before we go, we finish 2 more quests and have lunch on the go, after of course some more frolicking in the snow. Backtracking truly is the most frustrating thing to do when traveling, and we make a point of avoiding it as much as we can, so it feels a bit like a setback getting down the mountain again.
2 hours later we arrive at the Ohanapecosh visitor center where the boys hand in their Junior Ranger booklet and we try to get information on the campground we have in mind. We are told we can still make it on time if we leave straight away, so we make a dash for the campground and are really happy to see there is room left. There are plenty of spots, but many are uphill which is really impossible to do with our RV. We end up at a level site along the dead-end road which is fine, and enjoy the rest of the afternoon exploring the campground and baking a fresh batch of brownies!
With a full day ahead of us without moving the RV, it is time to explore the surroundings! Sven has his heart set on climbing the Sunrise summit by bike, while the rest of us are keen to get our feet wet and cold with some snow. So we divide and conquer and climb up to the Sunrise visitor center. The bike ride is a continuous climb up 700 meters over 18km, which turns out to be quite gruesome (a man gets picked up by an ambulance even) but Sven makes it in a little over one hour – and bears the brunt of that later :-).
Bo, Luc and mom hike up the same elevation but in a 6km path, through beautiful pine forest with waterfalls and close to the top still solid patches of snow! It is so much fun that we decide to add a loop on top of the mountain through snow where we really need GPS to make sure we take the proper path (very important if part of the hike is around a lake) before heading back down again. We have a joint lunch and finish another quest to receive our Citizen Ranger patch, and while it looks grey at times, the weather stays beautiful and our shorts and sneakers are enough to make it through the day.
20 miles of hiking / 40 miles of biking later we are all back at the RV for some R&R, where the boys find new friends on the campground to play with and mom and dad relax. The promise of smores was still lingering in the air, so after dinner we get the friends out and have another go at smore making around a campfire. All in all a fantastic time at this beautiful National Park… Snow never gets dull!
Seattle / Klondike Gold Rush Museum
The next morning it is an easy drive off the mountain and on to the interstate towards Seattle, our first US stop in our journey one year ago. Back then we had more work to do on the RV than really enjoy the city, so today we decide to take a swing at it Dutchy style; by bike that is. We park across from the city in West Seattle, and ride our bikes on the bike trail towards down town. Passing dozens of homeless people in tents has become a sight we are starting to get used to unfortunately in the urban areas of the US, but the numbers on this trail that leads through the harbor area are quite staggering. What a contrast to the pretty streets of the city center!
We first visit the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, a great NPS run museum that tells the story of those out to look for gold in the 1896 gold rush up in the Klondike. With a very interactive setup, you follow 5 different people in their journey from the decision to go, to where they ended up. It is a great preparation for our journey up towards the Klondike, and the stories are quite incredible to hear and see. Guess Lucky Luke was not far off the truth! We take our bikes a little down the road to a park for lunch, and then head on down to the shore to check out Pike market including the famous fish stand.
After a stroll through the market and in and out of the most quirky and tasty stores, we pick up our bikes again and ride towards the park with the needle in it. The first corner we round however turns out to be a steep climb one block up, which is so steep Bo and mom have to quickly get off and walk it. Luc however puts his back into it and starts to paddle up, and with that gets a lot of cheers from the people on the sidewalk! Of course this gives him such a jolt of adrenaline that he makes it all the way to the top traffic light. As we wait for it to go green quite a few of the people get to the light as well and congratulate him on this great achievement… and of course he beams with pride (and made me promise to put it in the website update ;-)).
Thankfully after that short climb the rest of the way is quite flat, and we make it to Seattle Center with its iconic Space Needle and ride through the surrounding park. We ride back down to the waterfront and then start to make our way back towards downtown, where we are perfectly in time to take the ferry back to our RV. One more stop to go: Our Airbnb address of last year, where we worked on our RV and had our first encounter with American hospitality and where the boys got over their fear of dogs! Of course the highlight here was that these two little dogs recently had 2 puppies, which were also there, so the boys had the time of their lives. Unfortunately all good things come to an end and we say our goodbyes for good this time…
With a quick stop at the IKEA and an overnight at a casino, we are ready to do a final dash land inwards before crossing the Canadian border to the North Cascades National Park. From the visitor center there is a nice hike loop towards the river, one that is overflowing and a bright blue because of the glacier runoff that fills it at this time of year. Further up we park at Diablo Lake, and pull out our much missed inflatable kayak for some paddling on the lake! The water is freezing cold, which should come as no surprise as it melts off a glacier nearby, so we are keen not to fall in, but then the weather is also very hot so we hit an ultimate dilemma.
We all get our feet wet in the end, but the only true trooper taking a dive; MOM! And my goodness is it cold, can totally understand how hyperthermia works, and how you really should not fall in the water in these parts of Washington. The resolution to the heat is thus a good outside shower that is very refreshing and cleans us all up a little bit. We pack everything up, refill our water tank at the visitor center and find a place to work through some free Wi-Fi and make dinner. There we meet a nice local that offers us to stay on his driveway and has a look at some tire issue we might be having, so we are again basking in the hospitality of a kind American!
Time to strike out towards the next country on the list: Canada! After having to cancel our plans to make it north last year we are finally on our way there, but before that we need to cover several shops to be fully ready for the border crossing. We felt some tremble at our wheels so we rolled into a Les Schwab early morning for them to take a look. Fantastic (free) service, checked our joints, pushed new grease through and concluded we should be good to go north, so that was a true relief! Then it was on to fill up on gas and propane, both are generally cheaper in the US as well, so time to fill up!
To make sure we don’t starve in the outback, we tackle several different supermarket change to stock up on mostly dry and frozen food. After traveling through the US for a while we have developed a knack for which products are cheaper where, so we run our list through all 4 big grocery stores we pass by; Fred Meyer, Walmart, Safeway and Grocery Outlet. With that we conclude all the chores nicely on time and make our way to the border. The crossing turns out to be much easier and faster than we expected, very different from the South American versions we have experienced! Within 20 minutes we are through, of which 18 were waiting in line, so we are not complaining!
One further stop on the plans today as we have done so well on time: Fort Langley. Not only is this our first national park in Canada, and thus the place where we buy our discovery pass for the rest of Canada, but it is also a familiar one as it is tied to Fort Vancouver which we visited a week ago. The boys get to do a scavenger hunt, and we learn more about the fur trade of the famous Hudson Bay Company and how the coming of the Can-US border in the end made this the main trading post for the British (versus Fort Vancouver which literally became cut off and on US soil). All set for the day we have a slow drive towards the river/sea banks on the other side of town – it has been a while since we were in a traffic jam! – to park our RV for the night right there with a stellar view of mountains, city, harbor with huge cargo ships… Hello Canada!!!
After a nice and quiet night we wake up to the Vancouver inhabitants starting their morning dog walks and bike rides along the water. We soon join them in this routine, and ride our bikes along the pathways towards down town along the seaside. First stop is the public market at Granville Island, complete with kids market for the boys to roam around at and get all greedy with all the toy stores around. Peeling them away from the kids market we ride on along the river side feeling like we are back in Europe/the Netherlands; water, gardens and a proper bike path! We then ride through downtown past Chinatown, the Steam clock and the cruise ship harbor where the ‘Zuiderdam’ of the Holland America line is anchored.
From there we do a tour around Stanley Island, with its totem poles and beautiful lily filled lakes. The ride back is another 10km which we push through but come back to the RV with very painful leg muscles. 35km in total, not bad at all, and ready for a big lunch! After lunch we drive south in the direction of the ferry we will be taking to Vancouver Island, but before we do so, we visit another National Park site; The Gulf of Georgia Cannery, a former salmon cannery and herring processing plant. Again the boys get a fun activity book – In Canada they collect ‘tags’ from these activities versus the badges/patches of the US – and we take part in a tour about the herring processing in the plant.
Fulfilled with again more knowledge about the area and its history, we get into the RV to drive towards our first ferry in a series of exploring the coastline going north. This first one is a short one (1,5 hours) from the outer tip of the Tsawwassen pier to Vancouver Island, and as the sun is setting a very beautiful one as we sail between the islands to the main island. We easily find a spot to park for the night and pack it in, though we quickly find out why there are hardly any other campers: We are in the landing zone of the airport :-p… No planes between 11pm and 6:30am, enough for a night sleep, and we’ll find something better tomorrow!
Vancouver Island – day one
As we are really starting to get the hang of the Explorer programs of Canada, we drive towards Victoria with its Fort Rodd Hill and the Fisgard Lighthouse. We spend the morning exploring the grounds, seeing the different batteries that are still there, and visiting the oldest lighthouse of the west coast, at a whopping 162 years old. Another fun activity at National Parks in Canada is finding the red deckchairs they have at every spot and taking pictures with them, which we have managed to do so far at every site. The boys score another colorful tag for this site and participate in a game of ‘guess the skull’.
In the afternoon we have a bit of driving to do which is an interesting experience as the main highway on the island has a steady stream of traffic lights taking the speed out of the whole highway concept. Our destination is the Morningstar Farm, a dairy farm where we were hoping to score some ice cream, but unfortunately they have just closed the café as we arrive! The farm and store are still open, so we roam the estate, doing a scavenger hunt with the boys and checking out all the animals. The dairy part with the milk cows is really cool as a lot of it is automated, but the most incredible part was that while we were standing there a cow gave birth to a little calf! How lucky are we!
Of course nothing can beat that highlight of the day, but as we drive land inward to cross the island we find ourselves a free hot shower at Sproat Lake, and with 14 days without one (a new record!!) we dare to debate what was more satisfying – the boys still think it should be the calf… :-). After dinner there is a quick hop further and a small bumpy ride 200m into the forest to a quiet gravel pit. No planes, no cars, just nature here… Doubt we will be woken up so we are ready for a good night sleep!
Next week: From Vancouver Island north towards Alaska