Hiking Mount Rainer – August 2019

You can’t be in the Seattle/Tacoma area and not know about Mount Rainer. On a clear day it is visible from almost everywhere. In my opinion it is one of the best attractions in the area.

We were able to take the twins, Clarissa and Sierra, for a day trip to Mount Rainer. We had taken all three granddaughters with us three years ago and the twins had visited there with a group earlier, but all of those trips had been to the Paradise area at the southern end of the park. This year we decided to go to the northern end and visit the Sunrise Visitor Center and hike in that area.

It is about an hour and a half drive to Sunrise and we could see the clouds surrounding the mountain in the distance. The curving road afforded some great views (for those who were not driving!).

The history of these mountains goes back to the early Indian tribes. They have several stories that describe their origins. Visiting these mountains and bringing our kids continues to keep this history alive.

Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we got our Junior Ranger workbooks (yes, I did too). As I have said before, I hope whoever developed this got a raise, because this is a great way for visitors of all ages to learn about the park. I have a friend (my age) who has a Junior Ranger badge from every National Park they have visited. While we learned a lot in the Visitor Center, the display that impressed me the most was the plaque memorializing five employees who died in the line of duty. That’s something we never consider, the sacrifices that are made by the people that work in the parks.

We participated in a Ranger presentation on volcanoes (including an eruption with lava). After that we ate lunch at the picnic area where we planned our route and worked on our Junior Ranger workbooks. We laid out a hike of about four miles that would be fun and not too challenging.

It was an absolutely beautiful day for a hike; sunny, with mild temperatures so we weren’t too hot or too cold. The skies around the mountain cleared and we were treated to awesome views of the mountain and the glaciers on its slopes.

Our first stop overlooked some sub-alpine meadows that reminded me of those we had seen in Germany.

We continued our climb and looked back at the Visitor Center seeing how high we had climbed.

We climbed into the Alpine Zone above the tree line and couldn’t help but see the difference.

We had some company while we took a break near Frozen Lake.

The downhill side of the hike brought us into some meadows and a hike-in campground near Shadow Lake. On the last leg of the hike we had the best view of the Emmons Glacier.

Back at the Visitor Center we turned in our workbooks and all three of us were sworn in as Junior Rangers of Mount Rainer. The drive back was an anti-climax but an easy drive.

Posted in Fulltime RV, Michigan Traveler, National Parks, Washington | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Mount St. Helens – August 2019

For weeks U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey volcanologist David Johnston had been giving warnings that the volcano of Mount St. Helens was unstable and showing signs that it could erupt at any time. In his words, “The fuse has been lit. We just don’t know how long the fuse is.”

Nearby residents had been evacuated, but the mountain became quiet. Everyone thought the danger had passed. On May 17, 1980 a convoy of residents was escorted back to their homes by police to recover more belongings, and another convoy was planned for the next day.

On May 18th David Johnston was on duty monitoring the volcanic activity from an observation post on nearby Coldwater Ridge. A huge bulge had formed on the north face of the mountain as gases pushed up and became trapped by the surface crust. An earthquake, measuring 5.1 on the Richter scale occurred and the bulge started to slide. Johnston radioed his headquarters in Vancouver, WA “Vancouver, Vancouver, This is it!” That the last anyone heard from Johnston and his body was never recovered. He had been killed by the magma in St. Helens that burst in a large-scale pyroclastic flow that flattened vegetation and buildings over 230 square miles

Being from Michigan we had heard of the eruption, but it wasn’t a big impact on our lives. That wasn’t the case in Washington. It was the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. Fifty-seven people were killed; 250 homes, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways, and 185 miles of highway were destroyed.

The collapse of the bulge mixed with ice, snow, and water to create lahars (volcanic mudflows). The lahars flowed many miles down the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers, destroying bridges and lumber camps. A total of 3,900,000 cubic yards of material was transported 17 miles south into the Columbia River by the mudflows. So much mud flowed into the Columbia River that ocean going vessels that traveled the river were going aground and the Columbia River had to be blocked to such vessels until it could be dredged. For more than nine hours, a plume of ash erupted, eventually reaching 12 to 16 miles above sea level. The plume moved eastward at an average speed of 60 miles per hour with ash reaching Idaho by noon and blocking the sun, turning the day into night. We had ash fall in Michigan and weeks later some of the ash landed again on Mount St. Helens, having been carried by the winds completely around the world.

On August 10th and 11th, Scott and his family, Elisabeth, Pat and I all drove to spend the weekend touring Mount St. Helens. We started at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center. This center is operated by the State of Washington.

The most informative part of our visit was the Ranger Talk that described the series of events that led up to the 1980 eruption and the resulting damage to the area.

The girls were awarded their Junior Geologist badges after completing their workbooks.

We set up camp at the Kid Valley RV Park and then went to visit the North Fork Survivors Gift Shop and A-Frame House. The A-Frame House was within days of being completed when the 1980 eruption took place. The mud slide caused by the melting of the Mount St Helens glacier and landslide altered the landscape and destroyed many of the structures in the area. Today you can see how the entire first floor was completely filled with mud and debris. The focus of the North Fork Survivors was on Mount St Helens and on the Sasquatch or “Big Foot.” I must have expressed too much interest in the Sasquatch because the woman at the cash register asked me if I was a “believer.”

For dinner we hiked over to the Fire Mountain Grill for a good meal and even better view of the river. The place was packed with both visitors and locals.

On Sunday we drove to the Johnston Ridge Observatory (named after volcanologist David Johnston) where we watched a couple of videos and Ranger Talks about volcanoes and Mount St. Helens. I am always surprised, no matter how much you know about a subject, how much you can learn from these presentations. As we hiked around the ½ mile Eruption Trail we saw where trees were sheared off by the initial blast and boulders that were hurled miles by the force of the eruption. Wow! Talk about the power of nature.

Weyerhaeuser and other lumber companies have done much to renew the forested areas that were destroyed in 1980. The National Park Service has allowed the land under its control to renew itself without human intervention or assistance. It’s quite impressive to see how much the land has rebounded without assistance. It is an example of how resilient nature is and how it can renew itself.

There are a lot of things to do in the greater Seattle/Tacoma area, but make sure you include a trip to Mount St. Helens. It’s well worth your time.





Posted in Fulltime RV, Michigan Traveler, National Parks, Washington | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Whidbey Island, WA – July 2019

We arrived in Washington in early June, and most of the first month was spent helping our daughter rehab her new condominium. Wow, what a lot of work! We removed a floor to ceiling mirror that covered one of her living room walls, removed old florescent fixtures and replaced them with LED lights, replaced a bathroom sink, and painted almost every room. After all of that we were ready for a vacation!

On July 10th we headed up to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and their Cliffside RV Park. Cliffside is, in our opinion, the prettiest military RV park in the country. In 2012 they rebuilt the entire park from one circle of twenty sites to sixty sites in concentric arcs that are terraced so every site has an unobstructed view of Puget Sound. If that wasn’t enough Ken, the camp host and an avid gardener, has transplanted flowers from other locations to the campground. He keeps fresh flowers in the office and laundry rooms.

We walked or rode our bikes around the base every morning and generally kicked back and relaxed.  We shared the walking path with Whidbey Island rabbits that are everywhere.

We were here three years ago and did a lot of sightseeing then, so we didn’t feel we were missing out on too much by just relaxing. I did some geocaching in the local area and picked up a few more caches for my log. My favorite was at the local VFW and I took some time to admire their well-done veteran’s memorial.

Most of the time we did a lot of just kicking back and watching Puget Sound. Occasionally we were fortunate enough to see some grey whales right off shore from the campground.

Walking along the beach was amazing! Huge logs of driftwood are scattered along the shore. At various points kids had built shelters and forts. I couldn’t resist trying one of them out.

The weather was pleasant during most of our stay, but one day we had a heckofa blow and the surf showed it.

Our daughter, Elisabeth, joined us for a long weekend. We took the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. We had thought about taking Elisabeth’s car on the ferry, but all of the reservations for the morning were taken, so we opted for Plan B. Plan B was to walk on the ferry and take the hop on, hop off Trolley around the island. The only problem with this is that once you hop off it’s another hour before the next trolley come along to hop back on.

The ferry ride was interesting and, as always, I was fascinated by the loading and unloading of the vehicles. There was comfortable seating, a snack bar with ridiculous prices, and great views of the islands of the Strait of Juan DeFuca.

We got our tickets for the Trolley and checked out the local wine shop, appropriately named the Island Wine Company. We sampled the wine, and bought a souvenir wine glass. We wandered around the area a bit and then hopped on the Trolley. Our first stop was Roche Harbor where we toured the Sculpture Park and the downtown area. This was initially the main British port for the island, but eventually turned into a huge tourist resort.

After that we stopped at the English Camp. There was a major dispute over the ownership of San Juan Island. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 identified the 49th Parallel as the border between Canada and the United States, but the border in the Straits of Juan DeFuca was unclear. While the dispute was being settled by a neutral international arbitration commission the British and U.S. jointly occupied the island. The English Camp and American Camp were on opposite sides of the island. The British allocated large amounts of resources to make life comfortable for their soldiers, sadly the same could not be said for the Americans who made do with minimal support and went through 15 commanders in 12 years. In 1872 the three-man commission led by German emperor Wilhelm I decided in favor of the U.S. The British forces withdrew in November of 1872 and the U.S. Army withdrew in July, 1874.

Our last stop was the Lime Kiln Point State Park (AKA Whale Watch Park) where we listened to a Ranger Talk on whales. Unfortunately we didn’t see any, but we did check out the nearby lighthouse.

Back in Friday Harbor we had dinner at the Cask & Schooner Public House & Restaurant overlooking the harbor before we boarded the ferry for the trip back to Anacortes.

Later in the weekend our son, Scott, and his twin daughters came up and camped in the nearby Deception Pass State Park. We all hiked up to and across the bridge over Deception Pass. The bridge is a tourist destination. The traffic slows as people gaze down at Deception Pass as they drive onto the island. We enjoyed meals together, the twins swam in the Sound, and Scott and I did some kayaking on nearby Cranberry Lake. What a great weekend.

On Wednesday, we packed up and headed back to Lakewood and finishing up Elisabeth’s condo.

Posted in Michigan Traveler, Washington | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Westward Bound for Washington, May 2019

Many times family is the primary factor in our planning on where to travel. Our oldest son, Scott, and his family (which includes our three granddaughters) have been living in University Place, near Tacoma, WA for several years. Last year our daughter, Elisabeth, moved from North Carolina to join them and now lives in nearby Lakewood. With most of the rest of our family back in Michigan we are trying to split our summers between Washington and Michigan.

After leaving Brian and Leah’s wedding in Michigan, we dropped our trailer in Milwaukee and flew to Tampa, FL for the graduation of Robin’s (our niece) daughter, Destiny from high school. It was like a mini family reunion and everyone had a wonderful time.

We spend Memorial Day in Milwaukee and my sister-in-law, Mary Lee, told us the traveling Vietnam Memorial was in a nearby town. We visited it to honor those servicemen and women who died defending freedom around the world. 1LT Ralph Miller, a former member of a National Guard unit that I commanded, was Killed in Action in Vietnam and I always locate his name whenever I visit the wall in his memory.

We stopped in Box Elder, SD and stayed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in their FAMCAMP (Family Camp/RV Park). It’s a nice place to stay with full hookups and FREE laundry. We drove over to Americas Mailbox to pick up our mail, but generally just relaxed On our way to Ellsworth we took a detour to drive through the Badlands National Park. It’s amazing to me to look out over this huge basin and realize this was once a huge inland sea until the Rocky Mountains erupted and caused this sea to drain into the Pacific Ocean. They have found fossils of all sorts of aquatic life in the area, but today we saw bison.

Our drive across the northern states was essentially a sprint in that we didn’t stay long at any stop and our sightseeing was kept to a minimum. Several times we crossed the route that Lewis and Clark took as they explored the new territory acquired as a part of Louisiana Purchase. It’s always s special to see places where significant historical events took place. For anyone interested in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, I recommend the book, Undaunted Courage. It’s a great description of leadership and discipline in an extremely challenging situation.

As we drove into eastern Washington we noticed the huge irrigation booms irrigating the fields. Eastern Washington is normally dry as the Cascade Mountain Range forces rainfall in the west leaving no moisture left in the clouds for the east and is especially so this year. Western Washington is also having a very dry spring. This was in sharp contrast to the flooding we saw in so many areas between Florida and Washington. We saw streams and rivers flooding over their banks, ponds and lakes instead of puddles in farm fields, and wooded areas along shorelines inundated from flooding.

You know you’re getting close to the Pacific Northwest when you see mountain ranges appear in your windshield. We’ll be staying in the Seattle/Tacoma area for the rest of the summer.

Posted in Americas Mailbox, Holidays, Michigan Traveler, Military RV Parks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Friends, Family, Doctors, Awards, and Weddings – May 2019

Our first stop in Michigan was the Woodchip Campground. This is our “go to” campground for the Grand Rapids area. It’s like an outdoor oasis in the middle of a suburban area. Whenever we are in the area we try to meet up with two of Pat’s friends from high school. This time they introduced us to a new eatery. It’s always fun to meet up with Kay and Lynn whether it is in Florida or Michigan.

My sister, Susan, and I arranged to meet our Uncle Jack at his new place in Spring Lake. Ever since our father passed away in 2010 we have tried to stay in touch with his brothers. Jack recently moved into a retirement home and is dealing with the change in living arrangements. His daughter, Barb, joined us and we were able to have lunch together and walk around his new community.

After that Pat and I drove down to Holland to see my other uncle, Norm. He is in the process of moving to a retirement home near Cleveland where he can be close to one of his two daughters and they can help him when he needs it.

From Woodchip we made the short drive to Lansing to stay at our local favorite, Lansing Cottonwood Campground. Here we saw our dentist and I had my final checkup on my knee surgery from the summer (All was good there!). Some of our Lansing friends have gotten into ukulele playing and this weekend was Mighty Uke Day (MUD). Our friends were participating in a ukulele flash mob in downtown Lansing and we enjoyed watching their performance.

Even though we were only in town for a short time I was able to play at Open Mic Nights at Moriarity’s Pub and the Blue Owl Coffee.

Our daughter, Elisabeth, flew in from Tacoma, WA to be with us for a wedding later in our stay. She was able to do some shopping with Pat and see some of her friends. She and our son, Dave, treated Pat to dinner for Mother’s Day.

Last year Elisabeth had nominated me to be inducted into the Central Michigan University ROTC Hall of Fame. Around Christmas time we were informed that I was to be the 2019 Inductee. Pat, Elisabeth, my sister, and I drove to CMU on Tuesday, May 14th where I received my plaque from the Professor of Military Science. I was thrilled to be honored for my service to my nation and community in this way.

Later that week we drove to Saint Joseph, MI for the wedding of our nephew, Brian, to his fiancée, Leah. The wedding was in a pavilion on the beach at the local county park. Everyone was holding their breath about the weather and they couldn’t have been any luckier. The weather was cold and rainy until the day before this 3:00 PM ceremony. Then the skies cleared, the temperature rose, and it was a beautiful ceremony. The wedding couple was pushing their luck with the reception in an open air patio, but their luck continued through the reception.

On Sunday Dave drove Elisabeth to the airport on his way back to Lansing and the next morning we were on our way to Milwaukee.

Posted in Michigan, Michigan Traveler | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Mammoth Cave and Notre Dame – April, 2019

The United States is blessed with some of the most amazing natural wonders. One of these is Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Mammoth Cave is mammoth in that it is the longest cave in the world – a total of 412 miles of underground passageways. It was one of the first tourist attractions in the United States. Mammoth Cave was designated as a National Park on July 1, 1941 but the cave has been explored for some 4,000 years. Yes, there is evidence of exploration from that long ago. When the cave was designated as a National Park there were only 40 miles of surveyed passages. Today there are 396 miles of surveyed passages and the number is growing.

There are a number of Ranger-Led tours of the cave. Some are short and on paved pathways with handicapped accessibility. Some are unique, such as lantern tours where your only light source are candle lanterns like those used by the early explorers. There is even the Wild Cave Tour where you have to get down on your belly and slither through openings in the rock that are extremely tight (way too much for this claustrophobia sufferer!). We chose to take the Grand Avenue Tour, four miles in about four and a half hours. This tour began at the Carmichael Entrance and ended at the Frozen Niagara Entrance. This was a physically demanding tour with tough climbs and lots of geological variety. There was no flash photography allowed in the cave, so please excuse me if some pictures are slightly out of focus.

The Carmichael Entrance

An outlet from the Wild Cave Tour – pretty tight!

Some of the early explorers left their names and messages behind with the soot from the candle and carbide lamps.

At one point in the cave’s history there was an underground cafeteria where tourists could stop, relax, and have lunch.

The flowstone of the Frozen Niagara is aptly named

From Mammoth Cave we drove to Granger, IN to visit one of Pat’s high school classmates. We had a great visit, but, alas, I forgot to take any pictures 😦

We were very close to South Bend and we rode our bikes into the campus of Notre Dame. This is probably the prettiest college campus I have ever visited. As we rode through campus we saw students engaged in club activities or just relaxing on the lawns, enjoying a warm, sunny day.

The University of Notre Dame was founded in November 1842 by Rev. Edward F. Sorin, a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, a French missionary order. Notre Dame has grown from the vision of Father Sorin. Notre Dame has been a place where the Catholic Church could do its organizational thinking.

We walked into one building that we thought was a cathedral, only to discover it was the main administrative building, how appropriate for a private Catholic university. The view of the dome from inside the building was amazing. All of the buildings reflect this same European religious architecture.

We did find the chapel but there was a mass in progress and we could only view the outside of the building.

Of course you can’t visit Notre Dame without seeing the football stadium where the gates are named for some if its more famous coaches.

On April 29th we crossed into Michigan. It’s always good to come home!

Posted in Fulltime RV, Indiana, Michigan Traveler, National Parks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Huntsville, AL and the Redstone Arsenal – April, 2019

When people think about the United States Space Program most have images of Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center. A smaller number will think about the Houston Space Center in Texas. Only a few will think about the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL. At the end of World War II, Wernher von Braun and the team of scientists who headed up the German rocket program for the Third Reich surrendered to the U.S. Army in Peenemunde, Germany. These scientists and the captured V-1 and V-2 rockets were shipped to the White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico for testing and research. On June 1, 1949 the Army designated the Redstone Arsenal as the Ordnance Rocket Center. Von Braun and his team of over 130 scientists were transferred there to Redstone White Sands in 1950.

Today the Arsenal is still active in rocket engine development and tactical rocket systems. It is also the home to the Marshall Space Flight Center that developed the Saturn launch vehicles for the Apollo Moon Program.

Visitors can tour the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, the Visitor Center for both the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Marshall Space Flight Center. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is housed in two buildings, the Space and Rocket Center and the Davidson Center for Space Exploration, and display more than 1,500 artifacts of America’s achievements in space exploration. One of the first programs we viewed was about the International Space Station (ISS). We were able to see live videos being broadcast from the ISS and learned how to find out when it would fly over close to our location. You can also go online to view video of the earth from the ISS.

Walking through the main building exhibits we saw President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University announcing the Moon program. We also saw the wide variety of devices that were invented at the Space Center, many of which we use in our day to day lives. I’m sure a few of you remember this invention.

In the Davidson Center for Space Exploration we watched the 3D movie, “Space Next.” Space Next offers a glimpse into tomorrow, and the possibilities of what is to come through private space developments and national space programs. The central focus of the Davidson Center is the full size model of the Saturn V rocket. There we were able to trace the history of the Space Program from the German V-2 rocket to the present. A secondary focus is on the Apollo Program with models of the Lunar Rover, the actual Apollo 16 Capsule, a model of Skylab (the first space station), and the remains of Skylab that survived its fall from orbit. An interesting feature of the Davidson Center is the team of retired rocket scientists that volunteer as docents and guides.

The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is also the home to Space Camp, founded in 1982 as an educational camp program for children using the United States space program as the basis to promote math and science to children. The camp provides residential and educational programs for both children and adults.

The Huntsville Visitor and Tourist Bureau give walking tours every Saturday. The Saturday we were there we had a light drizzly rain, but we had a big crowd for it any way. Our guide led us to a variety of houses in the historic area. Some of the homes were owned by Northern sympathizers during the Civil War, some were rented to Wernher von Braun and his team, and some that were supposedly haunted. It was a very interesting way to learn about the history of the city.

Huntsville has an impressive Veterans Memorial Park. The statues on the main memorial were inspiring. The “Patriot Trail” gave a personal touch to history with stories of actual Huntsville area veterans from the Revolutionary War to the present. It was one of the best memorials I have seen around the country.

During this visit we stayed at the military RV park at the Redstone Arsenal. This is the newer of two campgrounds at Redstone. It has huge pull-through sites and is a short walk/bike ride to the Post Exchange and Commissary. The Arsenal is a quiet post in regards to traffic and easy to get around. I used the Hobby Shop to make some repairs to my guitar case and prepare our camp sign for refinishing. The volunteer staff was great and couldn’t have been more helpful.

On April 23rd, we hooked up and headed north to Mammoth Cave, KY.

Posted in Alabama, Fulltime RV, Michigan Traveler, Military RV Parks | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment