Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier through the clouds.When we left Port Angles behind we had nowhere to rush. We had a full day to get to our next destination — Mounthaven Resort located right on the edge of Mount Rainier National Park in a tiny town of Ashford. This time we were driving around the eastern side of Olympic National Park and the road seemed very rural even though we were not that far away from Seattle. In order to get the same feeling one would have to get a lot farther away from New York. The only planned stop for the day was in a city of Olympia — the capital of Washington state.

Olympia


Washington state capitol building.At some point in our travels years ago we decided that it would be cool to visit all state capitals and see what each capitol looks like. Olympia was a very small detour for us so we didn’t pass the chance up. Usually it’s very easy to find the capitol building itself as soon as you get into the city and Olympia was no exception. It was visible from afar. We parked our car and went for a short walk exploring the area.

Inside the capitol building.Luckily for us the capitol building itself was open and we got to walk inside. We also got lucky with a stamp — a lot of capitol buildings that we visited in the past have a standardized stamp and Washington turned out to be one of such states. The building itself was quite impressive too with a pretty high dome.

Capitol.Afterwards we walked around the area some more. Saw different state buildings such as courts, libraries and saw a governor’s mansion. Now that guy has a nice commute to work — just cross the street. Wonder if he somehow manages to get driven to his office. We took a bunch of pictures and were on our way.

In front of the capitol.Before leaving Olympia we decided to grab a nice lunch. We drove to a more busy street that we noticed when we were trying to get to the capitol and once we got there easily found parking near a restaurant that looked appealing. To my surprise Trip Adviser app declared that the restaurant was rated as #1 in Olympia. However it turned out that it is closed on weekends and even though it would be open because of the Father’s Day reservation was required. So we had to settle for some other cafe across the street that had a limited menu for lunch and the food was not all that great.

Elbe


Streets of Olympia.On our way to the park we made a couple of short stops at several scenic overlooks and a bit longer of a stop at a small town of Elbe. What made Elbe interesting was the fact that it appeared to have an operational train station with old steam locomotives. And indeed we saw one departing from the station with a lot of whistling and smoke.

Steam locomotive at Elbe station.A whole bunch of old train cars were converted into different restaurants. Arosha really wanted to get inside one of them, but for some reason they all had signs that declared that one had to be 21 or over to get inside. We also visited one ancient looking grocery and bought some water. Also this town had some historic church. It was closed on this day, but we managed to visit it on our way out — it didn’t have the right kind of stamp though.

Mounthaven Resort


When we were looking for a place to stay at Mount Rainier National Park we wanted something close, so we wouldn’t have to drive back and forth to and from the park. Since everything inside the park was either sold out or very expensive I started looking for places right on the edges of the park. And to my surprise I found a nice cabin rentals a mile from the entrance — Mounthaven Resort. And not only that, but we could get a cabin with two bedrooms and for a very reasonable price to top it off.

Our Pine cabin at Mounthaven Resort.When we arrived we found one of the owners on the property and got the keys to our cozy cabin named Pine. It was very much what I expected. It was very small and quite rustic (in a good sense of the word) inside. My parents were a bit surprised by its size and were wondering how we were going to fit in. However once they got over the initial “shock” they ended up enjoying it very much too. When we first entered it had a stale smell. I guess it wasn’t used for a while, because in several hours the smell was completely gone. The cabin had a small living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms.

Fire by our cabin.For Arosha we were given a thick mattress to put on a floor. At first we thought to put it down in the living room, but then we moved our double bed towards the wall and his mattress fit in the space right next to our bed. Needless to say Arosha was pretty happy about the fact.

Arosha on playground.Also I have to say that before, sleeping in the same room with Arosha was always problematic as he would wake up in the middle of the night and not fall asleep and so on. But now it was great. We would talk to each other, either discuss the day, or tell him some bed time story and we would all fall asleep and sleep easily past 8am, which is also quite unusual for Arosha.

Arosha by the fire.The territory of the resort itself was located right inside a forest of old huge pines. Each cabin also had a bunch of wooden chairs outside around a brick fire pit which we got to use for two nights. The firewood was given to us by the owners. There was also a nice playground for kids which Aroshka enjoyed very much. All in all this was a great place to stay at for our Rainier portion of the vacation.

For our first night we went for dinner to the closest place we could find which was less than a mile away from our cabin. The place was called Wildberry and was serving Nepal food including yak burgers and steaks. But since none of us were very hungry we got some soups and salads as far as I remember, but I’m sure that we didn’t eat any yaks.

Longmire and Paradise


This was our first full day in the park and this would be the time when we would see Mount Rainier itself for the first time. Even though our cabin was not all that far from it the fact that it was surrounded by 500 year old trees made it impossible to see. We caught our first glimpse of the mountain when we were approaching Longmire — the first stop with a visitor center.

Snow near Reflection Lake.This mountain that is an active stratovolcano was massive. It has an elevation of 14,411 feet at its summit and is covered by 26 major glaciers. Mount Rainier is 4ht most topographically prominent mountain peak in North America. In other words it was very impressive.

Mount Rainier from the bed of glacier formed river.When at Longmire we went into the visitor center, talked to a ranger and put together a plan of action for the next two days and got our National Park passports stamped. By now Arosha really enjoyed our passport stamping stops and kept stamping a piece of paper of his own at every opportunity.

Bridge.The plan for day one was to take a short hike along the bed of a river formed by one of the glaciers for unobstructed views of the mountain. After that we would drive up to Paradise — a valley at high elevation known for its views of the mountain and the subalpine flower covered meadows. Of course us being there in the middle of June meant that we were probably in for a lot of snow and zero flowers.

Mount Rainier.And so that’s what we did. We found the river trail and walked down into a boulder covered valley. There was a bridge constructed over the river out of an old fallen tree. Arosha enjoyed throwing stones into the river while I tried to take some shots of the mountain that would show itself from time to time from the clouds covering its top.

Of course as always it was really hard to capture the magnitude of this giant. In fact I think the best picture I took that conveys the size of Rainer was days later, when we were far gone from Mount Rainier National Park.

Christine Falls.Our next stop was a small overlook near Christine Falls. The falls themselves were quite small in size compared to some of the previous ones that we got to see, but they were nicely framed by a small canyon and an old stone bridge over that canyon. We took a couple of pictures and moved on.

Snow at Paradise. Rainier is behind me.When we got to Paradise we were greeted by tons and tons of snow, as we expected. Not only summer wasn’t here, spring was far away as well. There was a huge visitor center and a large lodge. The meadows in the front and the mountain in the back were covered by multiple feet of snow. We took a short hike up that snow covered hill. Arosha was again very much excited to play in the snow and we all took turns running away from his snowball attacks.

Visitor Center.After that we got our passports stamped at the visitor center, bought a couple of pins for our hats and decided to have an early lunch-o-dinner type of meal at the lodge. Food was not bad, but nothing special either.

Lunch at the lodge.On our way back we noticed another parking lot by Narada Falls. Now this one was indeed quite huge. We had to hike down a rather steep hill which was largely covered in ice. That vantage point gave a really nice view of the falls at about their middle point. I ended up not being able to take any decent pictures because of all the mist that was rising from the falling water that was instantly covering the lens. That was our last stop of the day.

Narada Falls.We came back to our cabin, left Arosha and my parents out and drove to a nearby grocery store with Alena. We bought some hot dogs, long metal forks and some other stuff. On our way we picked up a pile of firewood (we couldn’t find the owner of our resort at that point to ask him for some) and made a fire in our fire pit. We drank some nice beer, fried our hot dogs on open flames and had a nice evening snack. Arosha kept running around picking up all kinds of sticks from the forest and adding them into the fire, helping us to sustain it. It was great.

Day Two


Reflection Lake.On the second day we decided to venture further into the park and explore more of it. We were told by a ranger that our best chance of seeing some flowers was along the road beyond the valley of Paradise and that’s where we went without any real objectives. Our first stop of the day was Reflection Lake — a like named so simply because one could see a great reflection of Mount Rainier in it. Our problem was that there was not much of a like visible as it was covered by mountains of snow.

Arosha playing with snow.Arosha utilized an empty tin can from the nuts that we had as a shovel and had a blast playing with the snow. He was building mini-castles, throwing snowballs at everyone, but we didn’t really get any cool reflection pictures of the mountain.

Mushrooms on a trail.After a while we got into our car and drove further. Everyone was starting to get tired of sitting so we pulled over into the first parking area we saw and it had a couple of trails leading off from here. We decided to take a short hike. This one turned out to be going down a rather steep hill with a promise of a river at the end. The trail itself was quite interesting as we found a multitude of different mushroom growing on its sides, including colorful fly agarics which Arosha recognized from his books.

Down the trail.Eventually my dad was starting to get tired so he decided to return back up. I was starting to get worried that it’s going to be pretty hard for Arosha to get all the way up as well. However Alena and my mom wanted to reach the river since we already wend down so much. So I handed the camera to Alena and turned back as well with Arosha. He had no problems getting back up and kept talking about lightsabers (that was a pretty common theme with him through all our hikes on this vacation) and mushrooms and looking for them again.

Down by the river.When we got back up we discovered that my dad decided to go somewhere as he probably was bored sitting there, waiting for us. I started yelling out for him, but he didn’t show up. Arosha seeing that I’m getting no response decided to join in. Apparently his loud high pitch voice was much more audible as my dad soon appeared. He said he haven’t heard me calling him, but he heard Arosha very well.

We sat down on a bench near a picnic table that was placed at the start of the trail and tried to take the experience in. Us, Pacific Northwest, Washington state, Mount Rainier National Park, magnificent forest. I always try to slow down during our vacations once in a while and take in the moment of being there in. However I find it very hard to actually be able to do that well. Somehow the only place that I was really able to do this last was in Tokyo. To really really feel it.

By Narada Falls.Not long after that my mom and Alena came back up and told us that we were quite close to the river when we turned back. They showed us some pictures they took on their iPhones and our camera. After a short rest, we got back into our car and continued further along the road. The map indicated that there was a canyon of some kind nearby and we wanted to reach it.

Box Canyon.The map didn’t lye. Indeed there was a scenic overview pullover soon after — Box Canyon. The canyon itself wasn’t very wide, but it was impressively deep. I found it hard, again, to capture the real magnitude of it. I did send out my mom in her red jacket onto an overview on the trail that was visible from the road to give the picture some sense of scale. It still looks nothing like being there though.

Road near Box Canyon.We decided to take a short hike here as well. And here we were actually rewarded with a meadow covered by blue flowers and Mount Rainier decided to show itself through the clouds in the background. The picture of that didn’t come out too well either. Flower are out of focus and the mountain’s scale is not really visible because of the other much lower mountains near our position. But because they were much closer they looked as big as Rainier, even though they are nothing like it. Nevertheless I was happy with getting to see at least some flowers.

Flower and Rainier.On our way back to our cabin we stopped a couple of times along the road to take some pictures of flowers with valleys below. And we stopped near Reflection Lake again, since Arosha really wanted to play with the snow some more.

Meadows and valleys.Before returning to our cabin we decided to grab an early dinner. Trip Adviser’s top pick was a place called Copper Creek Restaurant and that’s where we went. My memory is really blurry at this point about the food that we actually ate, but I remember that I did have a fish — not sure what kind now — and a beer. And it was very delicious. The service was great too.

Grocery store at Elbe.We also stopped by a local grocery store again to get something for breakfast for the next day. Here poor Arosha had an accident. He told us that he need to go quickly and we thought he can hold it as he usually does. But soon he became very upset and told us that he needed new pants now. This kind of thing didn’t happen to Arosha in a long time, so we felt bad that we didn’t listen to him, especially considering that it turned out that this store did have a restroom.

By Narada Falls.After dinner we came back to our resort and built a fire again. That’s how we spent the rest of the evening. As a family, sitting in front of a warm fire on a chilly night, reminiscing and sharing our feelings about our experiences. It was great. In the morning we “puzzle-packed” our luggage into the trunk and were on our way to Seattle, speeding away from this beautiful park.

One of scenic overlooks.In conclusion I want to say that I don’t think I fully realized how huge Rainier was until days later when we were in Seattle. On our last day there we had a pretty clear day and Rainier became visible in the distance — towering over everything. It was enormous. So enormous in fact that when our plane took off and got above the clouds the peak of the mountain was still clearly visible rising even higher. That’s where I took my best picture of Mount Rainier on which you can really see its true magnitude.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Seattle

Seattle skyline from Kerry Park.Our drive from mount Rainier to Seattle was relatively short and pretty uneventful. Arosha was sad to say good-bye to the cabins, which he grew rather fond of, but then again, new adventures were ahead, and boy do all of us like exploring new places.

Arosha on playground by Kerry Park.We arrived to Seattle late in the afternoon. When we were looking to book a hotel, we were deciding between two options — regular Hilton, and more fancy Arctic Club hotel which was bought by DoubleTree not so long ago and was also available to us for Hilton points. We did not do a lot of research, except checking hotels location-wise, and just picked a more expensive one, which happened to be Arctic Club. The cost in points was the same.

Us at Kerry Park.Well, as it turned out, more money does not always mean more value. First of all, they did not have any interconnected rooms available, even though we specifically asked for them a good amount of time in advance. Also, they did not have a pool, or executive lounge, or self-parking. Breakfast was kind of included, but instead of great variety of Hilton buffet, we were given $12 worth of vouchers per breakfast per person (not including Arosha) which were valid at a restaurant downstairs. We always had to pay extra, since having a simple meal and a drink always exceeded the allotted amount.

Microsoft campus.Luckily for us, they had two rooms close to each other on the 6th floor. so at the end even though the hotel was not what we have expected, it all kind of worked out for us. By the way, valet parking and a crib were $40 and $10 extra respectively per day.

Microsoft visitor center.As for the area where the hotel was located, I expected it to be really nice, since it was pretty much in the center of the city. We were in for quite a shock when we discovered the amount of homeless people on the streets. There were literally two beggars per block, and walking around felt neither safe nor pleasant.

Rainy Seattle.When we were checking in, Danya tried to arrange a transfer to Hilton, but it was too late for that (they were completely booked). But oh well, as I said, it was not bad after all, especially considering that we paid for it with Hilton points.

Grandma Oksana, Arosha, Alena, Daniel on our way to aquarium.After checking in, we went to get National Parks stamps to the Klondike museum, which was located just a few blocks away from the hotel. The museum itself was not big, but it was interesting to go through it and to imagine what it was like to be one of the people who tried their fortune in times of Gold Rush. When I was growing up, I probably read all of Jack London’s books that I could find, so looking at some real artifacts of that era brought some distant memories of his stories. From the exhibits, I was particularly impressed with the list of suggested yearly Yukon provisions which could be bought in supply stores. I don’t remember the specifics, but they included something like 400 lbs of bacon, insane amount of flour, beans, etc, etc.

The Seattle Great Wheel.After the museum, we went to get some food at a small place owned by Russians right next door to our hotel. We got borscht and piroshki, and everything was delicious. The only thing that made the experience a bit less pleasant was that at the end, a beggar women came to our table and started asking us for money and food, which made us feel extremely uncomfortable.

Inside the cabin on the wheel.After dinner, we got our car and drove to Kerry Park. Danya wanted to take a nice picture of Seattle skyline, and he read that this was the place to go.

On the wheel.The “park” area is pretty much an overlook with a few benches, a “Changing Form” statue, and a few patches of grass, but the view is great indeed. There was a small playground nearby, and Arosha had a blast trying all kinds of rolling and twirling things which I think had some kind of space theme. We stayed there for a while, since Danya wanted to take a picture of the skyline after the Space Needle lights up for the night, but we left earlier than this happened on the account of tiredness, at around 9:30. The mount Rainier, which typically could be seen from that location, was not visible since it was pretty cloudy.

On the wheel.Our second day in Seattle was rainy. I guess, this was only natural, and we actually did not mind at all.

View from the top of the wheel.In the morning we drove to Redmond to visit Microsoft Museum. There is not much to say about it, except for the fact that I was very bored. And I think so was everyone.

Arosha on the wheel.After that we drove back to Seattle and after looking for parking for a good while parked near the piers by the Pike Market. It was not raining hard, but we still used umbrellas. I know it’s cliche, but the weather felt so right.

Seattle Aquarium.We took a ride on the Ferris Wheel. The cabins had transparent plastic walls, so it felt safe and was easier to take pictures; but there is something to be said about a different approach, where you can feel the breeze against your cheeks and have a more refreshing experience. This being sad, I felt slightly frightened in the first minute or two, and so was Danya’s mom. Our three men were not afraid throughout the ride. The view of the harbor and the city was nice.

Jellyfishes at Seattle Aquarium.After this we went inside some building which had a carousel (Arosha took a ride), and a whole bunch of small stores. We bought ice-cream, and proceeded to explore other indoor activities Seattle had to offer.

Pike Market.One thing that was different in Seattle is that people were often asking us what language we speak. When they heard it’s Russian, they often smiled, nodded their heads, said that it’s cool and so on. I am so used to being instantly identified in NYC area, that this was surprising. In many other places people don’t ask, or if they do, they don’t show any further interest. So Seattle in this sense was kind of refreshing. Made me feel good about being bilingual.

View from Pike Market.To our luck, there was a Seattle Aquarium nearby. Danya ran and re-parked our car, while we waited for him inside. I am very glad that we’ve decided to visit. It had a lot of sea creatures and fish, and I like how the aquariums were made. The jellyfish exhibit was particularly memorable — it is shaped as an arch, and jellyfish is in constant motion, and there are changing colored lights that illuminate it. And I also liked that there were pools where visitors can touch some marine life — sea stars, sea cucumbers and such. Arosha liked doing it. There was also a giant octopus in one of the aquariums — I don’t think I saw one before.

Pike Market.At the exit there was a machine, where you could make your own penny to remember the place by. You know, the one where you insert a penny and two quarters in, pick a design and then roll a handle which controls a penny-squishing mechanism? Arosha made one for himself, and was very excited about it for the next few days. He kept asking where his coin “на память” to remember is (it was in my purse), and kept playing with it and giving it back to me so as not to lose this treasure.

Dinner at Pike Market.Afterwards we went to the Pike Market to get dinner. First we wanted to go to the restaurant where some part of “Sleepless in Seattle” was filmed, but we did not like the looks of it, and picked the one next door. It was called Lowel’s and had decent rating on Trip Advisor. All of us ordered seafood — Danya and his mom a fried variety, me and his dad had grilled fish — and it was very tasty.

Pike Market.We did not really spend much time on the market itself since by the time we were done with the dinner, it was already closing.

Original Starbucks.Instead, we proceeded to 1912 Pike Street — the home of the first Starbucks. Despite the crowd, it was nice and cozy. All the sales people were very friendly, and I thoroughly enjoyed my decaf cappuccino with extra cinnamon on top. Mmmmm. I drink tea on a daily basis, but coffee is a very rare treat, so it’s nice to have a good quality one. Danya’s parents also got coffees, but Danya did not get anything since he is one of those rare people who finds a taste of both coffee and chocolate quite disgusting.

Museum of Glass.After that we went home and got a much needed rest before our last vacation day. I think Danya mentioned this before, but I can’t help repeating. Arosha painlessly adjusted his schedule so that all of us could enjoy this trip to the fullest — he did not nap, and slept for 12 hours each night in either crib, or just on a floor mattress. He also was fine following our eating schedule, and ate part of my portion (and sometimes of other’s) without any complaints. He was such a low maintenance, that I think it made the experience better for us.

Museum of Glass.The next morning after breakfast we went to the Seattle Center. The weather was very nice — warm and sunny. We walked around for a little while. Arosha got a kick from listening to some Native American band playing Ieva’s Polka, while Danya and his dad went to take pictures of some funky buildings. We then proceeded to the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. It was quite impressive. We’ve seen Chihuly’s works in Las Vegas and Toronto, but seeing so many creations by this artist and his crew in one place was fascinating. Of course, I had to tell Arosha not to touch anything like a hundred times, which was slightly stressful, but I am still very glad that we went there. I don’t even know what I liked more — the colorful globes of all sizes, the spiky and curvy chandeliers, the gigantic flowing flowers, or glass trees… I think if you’re in Seattle, this is a must see place.

Chihuly Garden and Glass.After the museum, we all thought it would be a good idea to go someplace where Arosha can run wild and free. Danya offered to go to the Discovery Park, which happened to be a largest area park of the city. We first stopped at the visitor center, where we got a parking permit for the West Point Lighthouse. Normally, people have to take a walk there, but on account of Arosha we were permitted to get close to it by car.

Arosha at Chihuly Garden and Glass.The lighthouse and the area around it are very pleasing to the eye. We walked around for a bit, and I let Arosha play in Puget Sound water for some time. We did not have any bathing gear with us, but whatever — I think that when you’re three years old, an underwear will do nicely, and we can always use some of extra clothing I bring along as towels.

West Point Lighthouse.After the lighthouse, we drove back to the visitor center and went to the park’s playground. There was this thing, which I know is called “тарзанка” in Russian, but I have no idea how to properly call it in English. It’s basically a rope tied between two trees, and then there is a swing hanging from it, and it can slide from one side of the rope to the other. Some children were sliding on it, and Arosha joined them. At first, Danya and I were running alongside and holding him a little bit to make sure he won’t fall, but after a few rides, he got a hold of it, and did not require any assistance from us. He had a lot of fun sliding on this thing, and did not want to leave when we were ready to.

Discovery Park.We were pretty hungry at that point, so we went to get dinner in one of the many restaurants Seattle has to offer. Danya just drove us to one of the streets which seemed to have more dining options, and then we consulted Trip Advisor to see which restaurant had good ratings. We ended up going to a Moroccan place. The food was really good and plentiful, and the design of the restaurant was very original. Instead of regular tables, there were this low round ones, and people were sitting around them on sofas and large cushions. There was a belly dancer girl, who I think was a little bit too skinny for the job (she was Japanese, not Arabic), but Arosha really liked her and tried to dance along a few times. It was a very original dinner, and if this restaurant was located in Brooklyn, I think we would be repeat customers.

Arosha at Discovery Park. Ringing the bell.After dinner we drove to Kerry Park for another take of the Seattle skyline pictures. Danya got more lucky this time around, since we stayed there longer and the Space Needle got lit up. The mountain was still not visible, but there was a full moon that night, which is also nice I guess.

Mount Rainier from the plane.Next morning it was time for us to leave the state of Washington. The drive to the airport and our flight home were pretty uneventful. Of course mount Rainer was visible on that day, but we did not have time to stop for pictures. Danya did manage to take a picture of it from the plane, and I think it came out really nice and kind of gives you some perspective of how high it is, when you see the peak above the clouds.

Seattle Center. Museum of Glass.Arosha was great on the flight back. He even managed to nap for a few hours, which gave me an opportunity to relax and watch a movie.

Seattle Center.All in all, it was a great vacation. Now, over two months later, he still loves to hear stories about this trip, and frequently asks us to go either to Seattle, or to some other place for a vacation. Last week I told him that tomorrow we’ll have to get up early. His face lit up and he started to pay extra attention to what I was saying. I told him that’s because I have an early appointment at the doctor, and he will come with us. He was disappointed, and replied, that he thought that we’ll be going on vacation. Last few times when we were going on vacation he was getting up early to go the airport, and I guess he has a pretty strong association between these two things now.

Seattle skyline at dusk.I don’t know when we’ll be able to travel next time in light of our upcoming family extension. I only know that all of us love traveling a lot, and each and every one of us longs for new frontiers to explore as soon as possible.

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Sunday, July 14, 2013

Olympic National Park

View from Hurricane Ridge.Our vacation to the great state of Washington had three distinct parts, so after thinking about the way to write down our memories for the past several weeks the approach to make three posts about each part separately in chronological order makes the most sense. Our arrival to Seattle and our four nights at Olympic National Park is where it all begins.

Our Flight


Road at Olympic.Luckily for us we’ve confirmed yet again that flights with Aroshka that take more than 5 hours are largely uneventful. He has no problem sitting in his chair and talking about something, looking out of the window, listening to books and a little bit of cartoon watching on iPad — cartoons on the flight there seemed to bore him, and the ones on TV are not in Russian. When he needed to go to the bathroom he would just ask, but that’s not really new for him.

Lake Crescent.The flight back was even better. He actually ended up watching a bunch of cartoons in English on the TV after which he declared that turns out that he actually does speak a little bit of English now — which he really doesn’t. In between the cartoons he also managed to take a nice nap — also something quite usual for him and after waking up watched some more cartoons on TV. The flight was a breeze. With either flight we couldn’t be happier. He gave us zero problems.

Renting a Car


Our rented car.Upon arrival we retrieved our luggage which consisted of two large suitcases, two very large suitcases, Arosha’s car seat and an umbrella stroller which we yet again had no use for. We proceed to car rental place to claim our reserved car. Of course I must’ve not been thinking straight when I did book that — so called full-size Chevy Malibu had no chance of fitting all five of us with our luggage in. I ended up having to upgrade it to a nice big Chrysler 300, the next generation after the one we have.

Lake Crescent.However after an initial futile attempt to load all our stuff into the trunk it was recommended to us to take Jeep Compass instead. They were the same price. And to me Jeep Compass is a really crappy car — I had to drive one for several days when my own 300 was in service several months ago. Not only is it crappy it happened to have even less space in the back. All the rear window view was obstructed, luggage was plainly visible to everyone — so we wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving it anywhere while on our way from place to place and we still couldn’t close the rear gate with it all in.

At Hoh Rainforest.So we tried 300 again. It probably took us an hour if not more overall, but we did solve this real-live puzzle. I really regret not taking a picture of our final trunk configuration. Every inch of it was used up. And by the end of our vacation we got so proficient at it that we packed it up in 5 minutes on our way to the airport for the flight back. And off we were in our nice luxurious sedan with all our stuff hidden from everyone’s view in a trunk and zero view obstruction.

Port Angles


Olympic Lodge. Our hotel at Port Angeles.We decided to stay in a small town of Port Angles on the northern tip of Olympic National Park for the four nights that we were going to spend here. Originally we looked at the lodges inside the park itself, but most of them were described as “very rustic” to us or were sold out. So instead we opted in for a nice clean and beautiful hotel called Olympic Lodge. The hotel was located 2 miles away from Olympic National Park visitor center and 7 files from one of the entrances into the park itself.

At Hoh Rainforest.We got a pair of interconnected rooms as we requested in our reservation. The hotel had a nice pool and a hot tub which we even ended up using in 60 degree weather with the help of Arosha’s strong persuasion skills. The breakfast was not included, but there was a restaurant, which we used a couple of times for the first meal of the day.

By Lake Crescent.On our first evening we were pretty tired from any early and long flight and our 120 mile drive from Seattle to Port Angles. We decided to have a nice dinner and call it a day. Even though we were given a recommendation for a restaurant I didn’t feel like it and picked a random place because I liked its name — Kokopelli Grill — it was just a familiar word that we encountered in our travels before. The food was great, the service was even better. It did turn out to be pretty highly rated on Trip Advisor, which I started using later on during our trip for references on restaurants.

Hoh Rainforest.Most restaurants in Port Angles actually specialized in steaks and seafood, and we decided to stick to those. When in Maine we ate a lot of lobsters even though we’re not big fans of it. So we figured seafood on Olympic Peninsula should not be any worse — well, maybe slightly worse because there are two big cities in the vicinity after all — so that’s what we ate.

Olympic National Park


Olympic National Park entrance.The national park itself is very big and we would have to do much more driving than we did to really cover all of it. But we did end up covering a nice portion of Olympic, and Port Angles was perfectly situated for such excursions. However we were really extremely tired by the the end of each but the last day when we decided to really take it easy. And even then we did see a couple of cool places.

Hoh Rain Forest.On the morning of our first full day the first order of business was to visit the closest to us Olympic National Park Visitor Center, get a good map of the place and talk to a ranger about our time in the park and the places that we should try to see (we also did get our passport stamps) — basically build out a nice plan of action.

On a trail at Hoh Rainforest.So after that it was decided that on this first day we will visit the farthest parts of the park that we were going to go to — namely Hoh Rainforest and Rialto Beach, both situated on the western side Olympic NP.

Hoh Rainforest


Hoh Rainforest.It took us a couple of hours to get to the Hoh Rainforest entrance. We made numerous stops along the way. Route 101 — the roads that runs around the park goes through a lot of beautiful mountain vistas, lakes, meadows and canyons.

Road to Hoh.There were a lot of different flowers on the side of the road and we couldn’t help but stop and try to take as much of it in as we could. The road took us through a tiny town of Forks — we ended up eating our lunch here after our hike at the park.

On a trail at Hoh Rainforest.We decided to take it easy as we had no idea how Arosha would handle the hikes. Everything was new to him and it actually made things more exciting for us as well — taking it all in through his eyes.

Hoh Rainforest. On the trail.We got our stamp at the visitor center and picked a 0.8 mile loop hike through the forest. Aroshka kept running around with a large stick that he would pick up, claiming that it is his lightsaber and attacking fallen down trees because “they had their names in red and needed to be defeated” — such are the rules of the game that I play on the computer that he likes to help me with.

On a trail. Tree arch.And even though we have been to rainforests before, this one was very unusual. There were tons of enormously tall pine trees all covered in moss. Pines on their own would’ve been impressive enough, but the moss transformed this forest into a fantasy world of a kind.

Giant pine.I took a large number of pictures — and I will repeat this many times — it is impossible to capture how it really felt being there.

Wild blueberry.Somewhere along the way Alena spotted bushes of wild blueberries and we all took part in eating them — Arosha ate the most since Alena was giving him all her pickings.

On a trail at Hoh.What was the most surprising and encouraging thing for us all was the fact that Arosha did the whole hike by himself, running back and forth and didn’t ask to be carried a single time. He also was perfectly fine with long drives and would look around, ask questions, come up with made up stories and so on. It all was great.

Rialto Beach


Rialto Beach. Olympic National Park.After eating our lunch at Forks, WA we drove to the portion of the park located on the west coast of the continent right on the open Pacific Ocean. We managed to take a wrong turn and as a result arrived to the ranger station after its closing — or so we thought. Later I found out that it was not open for the season to begin with anyhow, so no stamps for us at that location.

Giant trees on the beach.The beach itself was very unusual. It was covered by huge old gray downed trees. Tons and tons of them. Arosha had a blast playing with the water and throwing stones into the ocean. What made the beach beautiful was the fact that there were several huge rocks that were more like islands sitting in the water.

Rialto Beach. Small islands in the water.However the problem was that sun was hanging relatively low since it was towards the end of the day. And since we were on the west coast it was shining right into the lens creating a nasty haze. Bad haze — no good pictures. I actually tried to hike down to some other rocks, but I was unable to cover a big distance by walking on the sand and the tide was starting to rise. It was beginning to look like if I didn’t get back in time I wouldn’t be able to get back at all, so I turned around before reaching my destination.

Rialto Beach at Olympic National Park.All in all we spent several hours on the beach and all of us were fully spent — except for Arosha — by the time we got back into the car. A drive back took a bit of time, we reluctantly (since we were so tired) ate our dinner at Garden Cafe and called it a day.

Sol Duc


Lake Crescent.For our second day we had less ambitious plans — two locations to visit — Sol Duc and Hurricane Ridge. Both are much closer to Port Angeles than our destinations a day before. Sol Duc actually is one of the locations where we looked at the lodges to stay at.

Sol Duc trail.It has hot spring pools right on its premises and those are usually accompanied by an according smell of sulfuric acids. But the reason we didn’t stay there was two-fold — location was far from other destinations and we couldn’t find good rooms for decent prices.

Stamps at Lake Crescent Lodge.Another place that we looked at was a lodge at Lake Crescent, but it was all booked out. The road to Sol Duc from Port Angeles actually runs along the shore of Lake Crescent (same road that goes to Hoh) and we spent a little bit more time on the lake this time around. The lake was beautiful the sky was blue — it was a great day.

Sol Duc Falls.I need to note that all the weather predictors predicted rain for us every single day and luckily for us they were always wrong, except for one day — more on that day later.

Arosha on a trail at Sol Duc.We got to Sol Duc, got our stamps and this time took a much more ambitious hike — 0.8 hike each way to Sol Duc Falls — or 1.6 miles total. Arosha was as great as the day before. Did the whole route himself with no problems.

Waterfall on the way to Sol Duc Falls.Along the way we went past another waterfall — water gradually running down the side of the mountain. Later on we saw a river running deep inside a big canyon. As before — impossible to really capture on “film”.

Sol Duc Falls.As for the Sol Duc Falls themselves — wow! You are standing on a wooden bridge over this deep deep canyon in the front of the top of waterfalls themselves and only by actually being there you can appreciate the real power of water with all its speed and sound. I took many many pictures, but none of them really came out all that impressive.

Sol Duc Falls.After our hike we ate our lunch at Sol Duc Lodge deli and went onto our next destination.

Hurricane Ridge


Hurricane Ridge.The road to Hurricane Ridges starts right from Port Angeles itself. It keeps running up and up and up all the way to the top of the mountains that we were driving under all this time. Amazing vistas open up with views of Port Angeles below.

Road to Hurricane Ridge.By the time we got to the top we realized that there was a ton of snow all over the place. We couldn’t really do any hikes here, since the trails were also mostly covered by snow, but the views were magnificent in all directions. Arosha had a blast playing in the snow. So much fun to actually play snowballs in the middle of June. His clothing was all wet afterwards, but Alena had a spare set for him.

Arosha loved the snow.I, again, took a lot of pictures, but was yet again disappointed with my inability to capture all the depth of being that high up in the mountains. Only later in the day when looking at my photos on iPad I realized that I should’ve placed the visitor center itself into more of the pictures to give the viewer some perspective. I have a lot to learn still.

View from Hurricane Ridge.At the end of this day we actually stopped at a supermarket and got ourselves some instant noodle soups and some other food and that’s what we had for dinner. We were very very tired again.

Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge


Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.At this point we were done with all main objectives and still had a full day at Olympic. We looked at the map and decided to visit one of the closest destinations to us — Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge which is located on one of the world’s longest natural sand spits.

Bald Eagle.Before we got to the park itself we stopped on a small pullover that turned out to be a cliff overlooking the ocean. We were lucky to see a bald eagle seating on one of the cliffs below. I attached my 200mm lens to my camera, but he was still too far away for a nice close up shot. I did manage to catch another one in flight though right at the same spot.

Crab kingdom.Later we took a nice hike through the woods and ended up on a long sand spit — peninsula. At the end of it there was a light house, but it was too long of a hike. The beach itself looked very similar to Rialto Beach — it had a lot of old trees on it. My dad and I went for a short hike, found a tiny river full of little crabs and Alena let Arosha play in the water — he again had a blast.

Lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. Mt. Baker is 90 miles away.I could also see a huge mountain visible on the horizon, but I wasn’t able to get sure answer from anybody as to what mountain that was. Most probable version judging from replies I got and looking at the map is that it is Mt. Baker which is located more than 90 miles away.

Arosha at  Dungeness.Also visible was the coast of Canada. We thought about taking a ferry there originally, on this day, but it turned out way too long and expensive of a trip.

Strawberry picking.After spending some time at the park we drove back and stopped at a strawberry farm that we passed before. Arosha loves strawberries and we wanted him to see how it grows. The lady that was working there actually told us that he most definitely should collect those strawberries inside of himself — quite nice of her. Usually they are quite strict about people eating stuff — or at least pretend to be. The strawberries were delicious!

Evening


At Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.Then we proceeded to a restaurant that I spotted on the map that was given to us at the hotel on the first day. When we got there I checked it on TripAdvisor and happened to be ranked as a number one spot at the time — Woodfired Grill. I had a steak and everyone else had seafood risotto. It was probably the best meal of the whole trip for all of us. We even got some non-alcoholic beer for Alena.

Bald eagle at Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.And on this day we actually had some energy left at the end of it that Aroshka and I went for a swim in the pools — I preferred to sit in a hot tub, but Aroshka kept demanding to swim in the cold big one. It was too cold of a day for that for me, so we kept running back and forth. And that was our last night in Port Angeles.

At Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.In the morning we packed our luggage-puzzle, checked out from our hotel and set course towards Mount Rainier National Park through the city of Olympia — the capital of Washington state.
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