Day 71 – Port Townsend, Washington
After three weeks in the sunshine of southern California, I finally left on the next stage of my trip. Destination – Washington and Oregon.
I have always wanted to visit the area, particularly the green and mountainous side of both states. I flew into Seattle but am not staying in the city as I have been there before. I picked up my hire car and headed north, right up to the Canadian border, and stayed in a small town called Port Townsend. I love little towns like this, it’s real small-town America at its best. Lots of independent shops and places to eat, lovely old buildings, friendly people and great views. The town is based on a cliff, with lots of Victorian buildings overlooking the harbour.
Apparently for years the town was down on its luck, very run down and un-visited. However, now the place has lots of tourists and seems like it’s on the up. It even has a fab looking independent cinema in an old Victorian building. I found a fab looking veggie restaurant – closed Tuesdays. It was Tuesday. I resorted to pizza.
Day 72 – The Olympic Peninsula and Ocean Shores, Washington
I left Port Townsend and headed west, to the huge Olympic National Park. As with all National Parks you pay an entrance fee and then explore. The park has lots of easy trails to follow. summer is a great place to visit, as everything is out to greet you! Beautiful meadows full of colourful flowers, marmots dipping in and out of their burrows with their young and deer roaming the paths.
At 6,000ft the views are stunning across the snow-capped mountain ranges. The air seems so clean and crisp. It was quite a departure from semi-desert California. Leaving the park I headed to nearby Port Angeles. Similar to Port Townsend, it is a small harbour town, recently made famous by the ‘Twilight’ vampire books. It had a fabulous health food shop with great veggie options. I also stopped briefly in ‘Forks’, which is the town the books are actually set in. Lots of Twilight tours still on offer, many years after the books and films were released.
Today consisted of a LOT of driving! I think about five hours+. On the drive from Forks to Ocean Shores I stopped by the stunning Ruby Beach. Hundreds of logs have washed up on the beach, now bleached white by the sun. Quite a sight! The beach has a backdrop of the stunning rocky outcrops marooned in the ocean.
My resting place for the night is a casino hotel! It is a place called Ocean Shores. I have just visited the casino. Very good people-watching opportunities! As with all casinos it seems you can still smoke, so the pungent sting of tobacco smoke on my eyes drove me out pretty promptly, but not after I won $4.82!
Day 73 – The Oregon coast
Leaving Washington state behind me, I crossed over into northern Oregon. My first stop was the lovely town of Astoria. Sitting on the Columbia River, you enter the town crossing a cool bridge with great views all around. The border between the two states is actually halfway across the river. Like a lot of towns in these parts, Astoria was once down on its luck, but seems to be turning itself around.
The old wharves which previously served ships now are being renovated to serve tourists. Two big breweries have set up shop, with tasting rooms and restaurants. The town also has some great Victorian architecture and generally has a laid back vibe and friendly people. I then headed south to my next stop, which was Cannon Beach. The beaches here are very different to California. They seem to be very wide, very windy, very shallow too so not great for swimming. However they are very spectacular. I set up camp for an hour or two and chilled on the beach, after having drive en about 500 miles in three days! I also briefly stopped at Rockaway Beach, above.
My last stop and my bed for the night was in the small town of Garibaldi. No connection to the biscuit. I love little towns like this. No-one around. Great views across the harbour. Peaceful. I found an American diner and ordered the one veggie thing on the menu! The town was en-route for a series of steam trains full of tourists and it was fun watching them steam through the town all evening.
Day 74 and 75 – Portland, Oregon
Leaving the coast I headed inland to the largest city in the state, Portland. I had heard that the city was similar to my hometown of Brighton & Hove and indeed it is. Not geographically similar but definitely in terms of culture, liberalism and attitude. It has a large LGBT population and is known as a radical city of politics, left-wing thinking and environmentalism. It also seems to have a huge homeless population, a problem that is also shared with my hometown.
On the Friday I headed straight to the wonderful Portland Art Museum. I have craved some art for a while now and Portland did not let me down. The museum has a great variety in its permanent collection. I particularly enjoyed the Asian art collection, with some wonderful Chinese artefacts from the first, second and third centuries. There is also a European impressionist collection and they also had an exhibition entitled ‘Paris at play’, which highlighted artworks from early twentieth century Paris. Fabulous.
In the evening I went to the theatre, to see ‘Wicked – the musical’. I saw it in London a number of years ago, and this production was equally great! I entered a lottery system they have each day to secure last-minute tickets, and got myself a front-row seat. For a fraction of the seat price!
I started Saturday at the river front and spent a couple of hours wondering around the Saturday market. It’s a place for local artists and restauranteurs to sell their produce, pretty huge too, a great place to spend a morning. I also visited the Oregon Historical Society museum, and learnt all about the history of this huge state. The Oregon Territory was created in 1848 and it became the USA’s 33rd state in 1859. It had of course been settled for many years by the native population, and the museum explains how white settlers colonised the state, pushing the indigenous population aside.
The area was contested by both the US and Britain before the Oregon Treaty between the two countries was signed in 1846. It is a place of immense beauty, and tomorrow I head further inland, to explore both the area around the city of Bend and also the Colombia River Gorge, and Mount Hood, the highest mountain in the state.
Day 76 – Round the BenD, Oregon
A three hour drive east of Portland is the city of Bend. It is a lovely drive to get there, heading through the Deschutes National Forest and past sights such Mount Hood and Mount Washington. All around the area there were thousands of dead-looking trees, which was puzzling me, until I found what had caused it. Way back in the 1990s. two lightning strikes hit the area and burnt down the majority of the trees. Lots have grown again but lots still look like they were burnt yesterday. Interestingly the reason why the fire was so bad was due to modern forest management.
In years gone by fires would have broken our naturally, sporadically burning the trees and thinning them out, making way for stronger trees spread further apart. Because forests are now more managed, the growth of the trees had become more dense, leading to a great destruction of wildlife as there were no breaks in the tree-line to stop the fire spreading.
Another mountains range I saw on the way to bend were the Three Sisters (in my video I accidentally call them the Seven Sisters!). They had originally been called Faith, Hope and Charity, but the name The Three Sisters became more popular and stuck. The mountains are very famous round these parts and seem to have become a symbol for the area.
The first place I stopped at after reaching Bend was the city centre. There is a lovely place by the river that has been dammed to created ‘Mirror Lake’ that sits within Drake Park. After recovering from the drive, I headed slightly out the city to visit Lava Bute. It sits within the lava lands park and is the what’s left after a volcano erupted, leaving a huge mound of cinder, hence the conical shaped Bute. You can get a shuttle bus to the top and walk around, with great views across the lava fields and across to other dormant volcanoes.
In the evening, as it was still gloriously sunny, I bought myself a picnic dinner and headed back to Drake Park. It was lovely and quiet, and I had the riverbanks to myself to watch the sun set and think how lucky I am to be here.
Day 77 – Hood River and the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon
I drove north from Bend, up through some spectacular scenery. At times it felt as if I was in the Wild West. Amazing soaring rock formations and plains as far as you could see. I imagined what it must have been like when the first European settlers saw these sights! It must have been overwhelming, frightening and awe-inspiring. My first stop was Mount Hood Meadows.
This is a popular ski area in the winter but in the summer you can get a chair lift up the mountain (not all the way as it is extremely high!). There are lots of hikes you can do, admiring the beautiful summer flowers and the views across to Mount Hood. It was very quiet with very few visitors which I was not sure why as it is so beautiful but I appreciated it all the same.
I then arrived in Hood River (the town) at lunchtime. The town sits confusingly on the Columbia River, but is named after a tributary of the much largest river. The Columbia River has carved a huge gorge out of the mountains and created some amazing scenery. I drove down the river to the slightly depressed town of The Dalles which could not have been more different to Hood River. Lots of closed up shops and deserted streets, whilst Hood River is thriving and affluent. No idea why the two towns are so different!
The river divides the two states so I drove there on the Oregon side and drove back on the Washington side. The area is also insanely windy. Unbeknown to me this is apparently the windsurfing capital of the world! I sat by the river and watched a huge number of windsurfers and the others ones that do that thing with kites fly up and down the river, with no desire to join them!
Day 78 – Olympia, Washington
Olympia is the state capital of Washington, and was named after the nearby Olympic Mountains I visited last week, which were previously named after the same mountains in Greece. Get it? It is very small for a capital, the main parliamentary buildings dominate the skyline. I went on an hour guided tour to find out more, every capital I have visited in the US does these tours, and they always free and very interesting.
Washington was the 42nd state to be admitted into the union, in 1889. Olympia was one of four towns on the shortlist to become the capital. It was originally going to be called Smithsville but luckily for everyone they went with Olympia. The main domed building is very impressive and has the largest masonry dome in the western hemisphere, so we were told.
Olympia is a nice small town, with a lovely waterfront and lake area, which I strolled around to get my 10K steps! Like a lot of smaller towns up here however, there are many closed down businesses and homeless people, a sign that not every city has recovered from the economic downturn.
I partly chose Olympia to stay in tonight due to its proximity to Seattle airport. I head off to the east coast tomorrow. The north west part of the US has lived up to my expectations. Soaring mountains, deep blue lakes and pine trees for as far as the eye can see, nature dominates the landscape here, with some cool cities too. Hopefully one day I will return to explore further.