Washington State and Canada
What she thought
What an adventure! We covered about as much of the Pacific Northwest as you possibly can in 5 days and oh boy did we see some sights! Thanks so much to our amazing tour guides and chauffeur, my brother and his girlfriend, Ashlin and Sheri.
We started the trip off with a day in Seattle - lunch on the waterfront, views of the city from Gas Works park, an amazing local waterfall and sunset views from the top of the Space Needle.
The next day took us to the top (ok, not all the way to the top) of iconic Mt. Rainier. At 14,410 ft., Mt. Rainier is the highest point in the state. And remember, it's a volcano, one of 10 in the state! Every year more than 10,000 people attempt to reach it's summit but less then half succeed. I don't know.... we all stared at it for a while and thought we could probably make it..... later.... another day. Mt. Rainier national park is home to other wonders as well. We visited the Grove of the Patriarchs to see trees over a millennium old. We had dinner that night in the charming town of Leavenworth which was made prosperous by the railroad years ago. When the railroad headquarters relocated, Leavenworth found itself in need of a reformation. The town decided the area need some Bavarian flare apparently and reinvented itself in that style. It's a really cute town and worth a visit, especially if you want authentic Bavarian food and ein Bier!
Our next amazing adventure? Whale watching!! This was the part of the trip I had been looking forward to the most. Ashlin and I had done our research to make sure we picked the best tour to go on. I had been watching the "whale report" to see how many whales had been spotted in recent days. But, as it always is with nature, there are no guarantees. Our trip thus far, in Colorado and Washington, hadn't yielded the amount of wildlife we had wanted to see. I still had hope but it had been a couple of days since they had spotted orcas in the area so I was trying not to get my hopes up too much. The trip started off with beautiful scenery and some wildlife, a bald eagle and several seals, but no whales. But it wasn't too long before Capt Carl made the announcement that a pod had been spotted and we were headed their way. Soon a dorsal fin appeared, then another and 26 more!!! 28 orcas in all over the next few hours! Speechless. Amazing. I thought it would be difficult for anything else to measure up to that experience but Washington rose to the challenge.
But first, a little bit of Canada. We headed north through Vancouver and took the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler. I had been told it would be one of my favorite parts of the trip. There's no way I could pick one favorite thing but Whistler is my one regret. In order fit in everything we did we had to cut some things from the list. I had originally booked a room in Whistler overnight but we just couldn't get it to work with the schedule so I cancelled. Whistler was just the neatest place and if I could've added one more day to do something else, spending the night in Whistler would be my choice.
We spent that night in Vancouver and from there headed east through Canada and south to the route through the Cascade mountains. The trip east through Canada was the least remarkable of the trip but the Cascades surely made up for that. Cascades National Park is home to more than half the glaciers left in the Lower 48 states. Washington has more glaciers than any other state, with over 3,000! That night we crossed the famous Deception Pass bridge and loaded the car on an iconic Washington Stare Ferry (Washington boasts the largest ferry system in the world) and headed for the Olympic Peninsula for the last two days of our trip.
Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park are home to some amazing sights and diverse ecosystems. Olympic Nat'l Park is one of the countries largest national parks, covering almost 1 million acres. It's home to lakes, mountain meadows, hot springs, waterfalls, unbelievable coastline and 2 rainforests! These are the only temperate rainforests in the continental U.S. It's also home to one of my favorite places we saw, Cape Flattery. Cape Flattery is also the northwesternmost point in the contiguous United States. It's clear why, in 1976, the park was declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve and a World Heritage Site in 1981. Washington state is home to 157 miles of Pacific coastline and the beaches of the Olympic peninsula are fantastic! The rock formations rising majestically out of the ocean just past the shore, downed trees bleached white by the sun and salt lining the beaches, the sound of the waves crashing onto shore and then lazily rolling back out over the pebble covered beaches, the caves lining the coastline behind you and the wildlife thriving in the tidal pools make these beaches a place of wonder. It was quite a change from the hot, sandy beaches near me in Florida but I really enjoyed it. These beaches are more about exploring and building a fire and camping on the beach than working on your tan. I'm sure some will say that they like their beaches hot and sandy. My response would be - don't compare them. If you do, and choose not to go, you will miss one of the amazing beaches I've ever seen.
In conclusion, if you haven't been to Washington state, why?? You won't believe your eyes!!
What he thought
I've never really considered myself a city person. I visited Seattle -- and I still don't consider myself a city person. However, I will say, few towns I have been to in the US are so relaxed and friendly. The culture here is puzzling and paradoxical.
I saw a young pregnant, apparently homeless, 20 year-old looking through a garbage can for something. But somehow, she seemed very comfortable, if not happy about doing it. Contrastingly, from the top of the space needle, I saw the headquarters of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- an organization that is more effective than any in history at reducing hunger, disease and poverty throughout the world.
In the city, I also saw some policemen chasing off some publicly intoxicated people from a busy commercial area. The police were yelling, "you have a house -- go drink there!" Is acting like homeless people a thing here? What's going on?
It was very modern and if you're the kind of person who likes being in a city, I can't imagine a better place for you. Washington had more appealing spectacles for me though...
I've been to the Bavarian Alps. So -- I thought I had seen mountains. Even in Colorado, the mountains were colossal and technically, CO has several that are larger than mount Rainier. But there's something special about Rainier. It's not foreboding like a McKinley but it's a lot more serious about being a mountain than comparable summits.
Rainier is the one of the tallest peak in the mainland US. It's also a volcano. It's so tall -- weather permitting, it can be seen from 150 miles away. And, most importantly, it's one of the prettiest mountains to look at. So, whatever your criteria for judging a mountain, Rainier intends to impress.
When we arrived on the slopes of Rainier, we had three hiking paths from which to choose. Two were easy-going and one was very steep and had reports of a bear being seen within minutes of our arrival. For some reason, the choice was given to me. Of course I chose the bear path! Go big or go home.
In the absence of a bear, I searched every patch of snow for recent tracks -- to no avail. I couldn't find him but it was exhilarating to know we were sharing space and that there were bear prospects. Next time bear! It's me an you!
Besides Rainier, Washington most impressed me with forests. The BIG trees here are second in the world only to the great sequoias in California. These trees have seen things and occasionally try to tell you about them. A more logical person might say it's the wind causing the branches to creak as they rub together. But I hear their stories in the wind and they are stories in which we are featured as main characters whose end is being written by the trees. It would serve us well to list a little closer I think.
So many travel experiences broaden one's perspectives. Standing like a tiny baby ant next to a living thing that was around 2000 years before human history started is certainly one of those things. These forests are treasures and must be preserved for generations to experience!
I'm still a travel noob -- perhaps. So far most of my experiences have been about the destination. Sometimes the journey is the experience though and the drive to Whistler is my favorite of these so far!
The Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver British Colombia to Whistler is so packed with spectacular views, you'll never put your camera down. Every curve and tunnel presents another sight that will leave your jaw dropped and your eyes peeled. It's almost overwhelming trying to take it all in. Then -- you arrive at Whistler!
We visited several skiing villages on this trip and of them all, Whistler was by far the most of everything. I suppose when these places are planned, the investors know they have to make the place max-appealing as business is seasonal. You have to make the place so hot when the snow is good that sales will cover the off-season and then some.
Vail is charming. The slopes in Aspen are unparalleled. But the town of Whistler is just the coolest! The architecture is incredible. The shopping is great. Most importantly though, it feels like the surrounding mountains are in the village with you. I really must learn to ski so I can come back to experience more of the warmth and wonder of Whistler.
Two special restaurant mentions; in Leavenworth, Andreas Keller stayed open late for us and the food was amazing. You guys have fans for life! And big thanks to Yelp! for helping me find First Street Haven in Port Angeles Washington. Best breakfast I've had in a long time. I wanted to stay until I had tried everything on the menu! You guys are awesome.