Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, Mount Vernon Street Fair, and Sites along Chuckanut Highway

Our look back on our 2014 Pacific Northwest trip continues with our arrival at the Burlington/Anacortes KOA on April 23.

Our campsite at Burlington KOA

It looks like we had the place to ourselves. We did at first. Then the rain came. And then other travelers came with their trucks and campers, fifth wheels, trailers, and motorhomes. Outside our dinette window, we watched as pets and their owners ventured out to take care of business, protected by hooded jackets and umbrellas.

We shook our heads when two large German shepherds jumped out of a camper followed by their humans and wondered how they all fit in such a small space. We could barely ward off claustrophobia in our 23’ trailer. Having to share with a dog or two was out of the question. Maybe we should have opted for the model with the slide.

Everyone gets into the tulip spirit in Skagit Valley. I found these in the gardens around the KOA park during a walk in between the drizzles.

Five tulips and a daffodil

The next day we hit the roads in search of the fields and fields of tulips. What we found were fields of wet earth newly turned under, fields of green plants with the blossoms lopped off, and fields that still bloomed bright under the dark skies.

Tulip farm
Tulip field

Tulip Town and RoozenGaarde are the main growers in Skagit County, planting the majority of the 450 acres of tulips in the valley. RoozenGaarde is open year round. At their 3-acre show garden, they plant three hundred thousand spring-flowering bulbs.

Tulip Town Windmill

Tulip Town is open from March 30 through May 1. They dedicate about 10-acres of farmland to tulips in a rainbow pattern. Hop on the trolley for a ride through the fields. An International Peace Garden is also on display as is a windmill. Inside is an indoor flower and garden show, which allows visitors to get their tulip fix even when rain falls from the sky. Wander around and enjoy the art and gift shop or buy a bulb or two or twenty to display in your yard.

Tulips, and tulips, and more tulips

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival runs the entire month of April with activities throughout the county. Don’t miss the Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair held on the third weekend in April.

Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair

If going, pick up a Skagit Valley Tulip Festival brochure at Knowing when and where the events occur will ensure arrival at the best time.

Music, music, everywhere at the street fair.

Vendors and artists of all kinds display their wares at the Street Fair. Jon bought his first Big Skinny wallet at the fair. I bought a beanie, and the Chinook salmon he is holding in the photo below swims around in one of our empty raised beds.

Do you Chinook, Chinook?

Jon stopped planting a vegetable garden when we started traveling so much. No sense doing all that work just to see it all go to waste when we leave.

Musical Band at Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair

We took a drive along the Chuckanut Scenic Highway (WA 11)  to Bellingham one day, which has great views of the sound and San Juan islands.

View across the sound from Chuckanut Highway
Bellingham street scene

While we were in Bellingham, we found the Whatcom Falls Park. Referred to as the Picnic Ground in the 1890s the park grew to its 241 acres by the 1930s through the generosity of local philanthropists, volunteers, donations, and federal grants.

Overlooking the Whatcom Creek Falls
Whatcom Creek Falls
Stone bridge built in 1939 of Chuckanut sandstone arches reclaimed from a burned-out building.
Moss and roots make for an interesting formation.

In Fairhaven Historic District, we came across the 1924 Zodiac Sailing Schooner. Top on my list of things to do during my next visit to Skagit Valley is a cruise throughout the San Juan Islands on the tall ship. Choose a sailing cruise ranging from a few hours to multiple days. Sign me up for the 3-day history or maybe the 4-day lighthouse tour.

1924 Zodiac Sailing Schooner

I can hear the flap of the sails and feel the spray on my face just thinking about the tall ship slicing through the waters.

At Marine Park, we couldn’t beat the view across Bellingham Bay toward Lummi and Portage islands. It was the perfect setting for our picnic lunch, especially when the train passed by.

Marine Park

Before we left Burlington, we made a trip to Camping World to pick up some kind of gizmo for the trailer. “Hey, let’s take a peek at their trailers,” I said.

So we did. The Cougar half-ton towables looked nice. “But, wait, what about the fifth wheels? We never did look at those when we bought the Aluma-Lite.”

As we drove back to the KOA Jon asked, “What do you think of the one with the kitchen in the rear?”

“It sure had a lot of counter space, plus a couch and a swivel recliner where we can sit, not just a dinette like we have now. And we wouldn’t have to get dressed in the living area.”

“We’d have to buy a new truck.”

And so the next day we headed to our stop in Port Angeles, with the Cougar brochure tucked safely in my backpack.

Safe Travels

Tri-Cities Wrap Up and On to Oregon

Sacajawea State Park

Our last visit in the Tri-Cities area was the Sacajawea Historical State Park and the Sacajawea Interpretive Center along the Columbia River.


Sacajawea Interpretive Center


The museum tells the story of Sacagawea, her husband, and the Lewis and Clark expedition near the site where the party made camp for two nights at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers while traveling to the Pacific Ocean. Other displays include the stories of the Native Americans who resided in the area.


Sacajawea Interpretive Center

Why the different spelling of the Shoshoni woman? Recent research and study of the original journals indicate the proper spelling and pronunciation with a hard ‘g’ not a ‘j.’ The name of the state park kept the original spelling.



Sacajawea State Park

Besides the Sacajawea Center, the 257-acre day-use park includes two boat ramps, fishing, swimming, boating, and 1.2 miles of hiking trails.



View of Rail Bridge from Sacajawea State Park

We made one more visit to the Ice Harbor before we left the area. This time we opted for the Clover Island Marina location, which is an upscale version that includes a more inviting building, more food selections, and the same great beer.



Ice Harbor Brewing Company at the Marina
Cable Bridge 

The American Empress came into view near the harbor so I managed to snap this photo between the trees. I wish I could have gotten the paddle wheel. The steamboat vessel cruises the Columbia and Snake Rivers along the Lewis and Clark trail.

Glimpse of American Empress 


After spending the past couple of weeks in noisy locations near or on major highways and freeways, we craved a quiet place. We made reservations at Crooked River Ranch RV Park near Redmond, Oregon and crossed our fingers that it would satisfy our craving.

On to Oregon

 On Sunday, July 23, 2017, we followed the Columbia River through golden cliffs, rivers the width of small lakes, windmills on top of cliffs, a few farms, of course, and Mount Rainier poking his snowcapped peak above the terrain. In Washington, the air had a smoke haze look to it, but cleared as we entered Oregon. At one point, we could see the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and the Three Sisters. What a sight.

When we arrived at Crooked River Ranch RV Park, we were pleased to find that for at least three nights we would be far from any major roads.


Sunset View of Cliffs from Crooked River Ranch


Newberry National Volcanic Memorial Park

The next day we visited the Newberry National Volcanic Memorial Park. We arrived just in time to hear a ranger talk on the geology of the park. Afterward, we took a hike with him partially up Lava Butte, a cinder cone, where he pointed out examples of what he had discussed on the patio.


Lava Butte Kind of Looks Like a Dinosaur Back



Path Around the Lava Flow

A shuttle bus took us to the top of Lava Butte where there were magnificent views of the valley below and peaks to the west. The lava flow reminded us of Craters of the Moon in Idaho.



Lava Butte
View From Atop Lava Butte


Lava Butte erupted 7,000 years ago creating a 9 square mile lava flow. Besides Lava Butte, visitors can see Lava River Cave, Big Obsidian Flow, and Paulina Falls and Paulina Peak, which rises 7,984 feet. Hikers, horse riders, and bicyclists can enjoy the many trails within the park that range from easy to difficult. Several tent campsites are available in the Newberry Caldera and East Lake has one RV campground with 45 sites, all of which are reservable, while the tent sites have some first-come-first-served sites.

Sisters Oregon

We also visited Sisters, Oregon, a small town of less than 2 square miles and a population of 2,038 as of the 2010 census. We found Sisters a quaint little town with plenty of stores to keep any shopper busy, restaurants to satisfy hunger, and places to rest at night.


Sisters Market
Baskets of Petunias Hang from Lightposts
Loved the Restored Buildings
For Cooking Equipment and Utensils, Stop in at The Cook’s Nook
It was Too Early in the Day to Grab a Cold One at Sisters Saloon


A small park with a couple picnic tables was the perfect place for us to eat our packed lunch before heading to the Whychus Creek Overlook Trail.


View from Whychus Creek Overlook Trail



Whychus Creek Overlook


Continuing down the road, we came across a burned out area giving way to views of the peaks.


Peaks Rise Above a Burned Out Area
Naked Trees Against Blue Skies and Clouds
Signs of Forest Rebirth

On our way back to Crooked Ranch, we drove by alpaca grazing in a field.



Alpaca Grazing in a Field

There are a total of four alpaca farms in the Bend, Oregon, area. We come across a lot of cows and cattle in our travels, but this was the first time we saw alpacas.


Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint

We stopped in at the Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint in Terrebonne, Oregon. The viewpoint includes views of basalt cliffs, river, and peaks along with the closed Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge. Several signs warn visitors to watch children at all times and leave pets in the car.

Keep Children and Dogs Safe



Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge U.S. Highway 97
Detail of Cliffs at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint
View From Top of Cliff Down to River
Crooked River High Bridge Built in 1926 Now Closed to Traffic
Trunk Railroad Bridge
Canyon Below Trunk Railroad Bridge

The night before leaving Crooked River Ranch, smoke drifted into the valley creating a spectacular sunset view of the hills and sky beyond the bridge.



Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge U.S. Highway 97



Next up we continue searching for out of way places and Jon redeems a Christmas gift.

Safe Travels


Tri-Cities Washington – Hanford B Reactor and the Manhattan Project

On July 19, 2017, we made our way to Pasco, Washington. We stopped in Easton at Turtle RV Town for breakfast. The only waitress provided great service for the customers. The food, on the other hand, was a bit mixed. Great pancakes, over-cooked ham, yucky eggs, and okay decaf coffee. After passing through mountainous areas, farms and vineyards, desert, and lava rock hills and canyons, disappointment set in when we arrived at the Pasco KOA. The campground sat right next to a freeway. And I thought the traffic in Poulsbo, Washington, was bad. At least semis didn’t drive by all hours of the night.

The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center was our first stop in the Tri-Cities.


Hanford Reach Interpretive Center


The museum includes exhibits on geology and formation of the Columbia River, flora and fauna, Native American artifacts, Manhattan Project and towns of Hanford and White Bluffs, atomic era and the secret weapons project, and the post-cold war activities.


Display at Interpretive Center
Display at Interpretive Center

Before houses were built, workers lived in trailers. Although they looked comfortable, I’m thankful my modern fifth wheel contains at least a bathroom. Twenty trailers in Hanford had to share the restroom facilities


Photo of Trailers Where Workers Lived
One of the Trailers Where Workers Lived
Galley and Bedroom Portion of the Trailer
Living Area of Trailer

Hanford, along with Los Alamos in New Mexico and Oak Ridge in Tennessee, was designated as part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park in November 2015. Hanford’s part of the project was the production of plutonium.

Energy Output of Uranium Pellets Compared to Other Sources

The next day, we headed out in search for the Manhattan National Historic Park. We drove around an area where a map indicated it was located only to find an abandoned building and then the Columbia Generating Station. Maybe we could get directions there.

We drove down the drive headed toward the guard shack, the road split into three lanes. I saw a sign directing all drivers without a badge to the far right lane. Jon missed the sign and headed straight toward the armed guard in military garb. The guard signaled to stop and gave us a threatening stare. He signaled us to pull forward and covered his sidearm with his right hand, as we approached. I prayed he wasn’t a shoot-first-ask-questions-later type of guy.

Jon rolled down his window with a chuckle and said, “Uh, obviously we’re lost.” The guard relaxed his tense posture and scolded us for not following the sign directions. He didn’t know about the park but thought we needed to take a tour. We made a U-turn; I’m sure to the relief of the guard. I pictured him telling his buddies about the crazy tourists who drove their GMC pickup on site with a generator and a 5-gallon gas container strapped to the front rack of their truck.

Next, we stumbled across LIGO Hanford Observatory. LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detectors. Their website says, “LIGO is a sophisticated physics experiment designed to detect gravitational waves from some of the most violent and energetic events in the Universe. By making gravitational-wave detections, LIGO will provide physicists with the means to answer key scientific questions.”

LIGO Hanford Observatory Sign
LIGO Visitor Center and Administration Building
Equipment Used to Measure Gravitational Waves

No one was on site to give us a tour and explain in layman’s terms what the displays meant, so we wandered around trying to make sense of the exhibits that far exceeded the level of our undergraduate physics courses. LIGO founders Barry C. Barrish and Kip S. Thorne from Caltech and Rainer Weiss from MIT were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. Visit LIGO if you’re interested in the measurement of gravitational waves and the benefits made to science.

On our way out, the woman who greeted us when we came in handed us directions to where we could arrange to take the tour. Finally, someone who knew what to do.

We headed back to town, made reservations for the next day to take the B Reactor tour, and stopped at the Ice Harbor for a beer. The building is not much to look at, but they have good food and beer.

Ice Harbor Brewing Company

The next day, we met the tour group at the National Park office, watched a short movie, and then climbed aboard the shuttle bus for the B Reactor. This is where the government produced plutonium for the first atomic bomb used during WWII and for bombs during the Cold War. The plant was decommissioned in February 1968.

National Park Service and Department of Energy Office

All that remains of the 30 buildings and 20 service facilities of B Reactor operations is the reactor building, main exhaust stack, and the river pump house, which is used for current site activities, which consist of a cleanup project.

Entrance to B Reactor
Back Side of Reactor Building

Inside the building, docents gave a presentation explaining the workings of the reactor. Then we had plenty of time to roam around and look at other areas and listen to more detailed presentations of the control room and the valve pit.


Workroom Showing Front Face of Charging Tubes in Pile


Close up of the Charging Tubes
Model of Reactor Core
A Portion of the Control Room through Enrico Fermi’s Office

Seven hydraulic accumulators served as an additional safety measure in the event of a power outage or other event that threatened the pile. The accumulators would pump oil to insert shim rods to shut down the reactor.


Accumulators Used as Safety Measure

Adjacent to the workroom room was the valve pit where the main connections and valves controlled the process water lines from the pump house to the pile.



Closeup of the Valve Pit
Valve Pit



Reactor Operation
B Reactor Cross-Section

A few more photos from the B Reactor Tour.

Supply Cabinet
Workers’ Locker Room

The safe housed classified papers.


The Safe Was Used Only for the Most Important Papers

We enjoyed learning about the B Reactor, but the tour guide and the docents threw out so many terms, facts, and information it was difficult to remember everything that was said. Fortunately, there is a virtual tour and plenty of other information available online to learn more about Hanford and the B Reactor. A Google search of Hanford, B Reactor, and Manhattan Project will give a student of any age plenty of meaty data, history, and other information to dig into.

We finish up our visit to the Tri-Cities in next week’s blog post.

Safe Travels



Wilbur, Washington – Grand Coulee Dam

Wilbur, Washington, was our first stop back in the states on July 16, 2017, where we checked in at Country Lane RV Park.

Our Site at Country Lane RV Park

Our main objective, besides getting forty winks, was to visit the Grand Coulee Dam. We dropped the trailer and drove the 23 miles to the visitor center in time to catch the last tour of the day.

The volcanic rock terrain reminded us of Craters of the Moon, only several thousand years later after the rock had broken down and soil had covered the surface allowing trees and bushes to grow. Farmers made use of the land by arranging their fields around the larger rock formations.

Grand Coulee Dam

The visitor center tells the story of the dam, and the guided tour gives an up-close view of the generators, the pumps, and top of the dam. The tour starts here, not at the visitor’s center, but they provide directions.


Location of Guided Grand Coulee Dam Tour. The Only Way to See the Dam Up Close


A concrete gravity dam, Grand Coulee Dam contains 421 billion cubic feet of concrete, enough concrete to build a highway across the United States. Operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, it is the largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States and the third largest hydroelectric facility in the world.


Grand Coulee Dam


The dam’s twenty-eight generators within four power plants can produce up to 6,809 megawatts annually and are the primary source of electricity to many Northwest states.

Power Plant Seen on Guided Tour of Grand Coulee Dam

In addition to the power plants, the dam also provides irrigation water through the Pump-Generator Plant located on the east bank of the Columbia River. Twelve pumps lift water up the hillside to a canal that flows into Banks Lake, the 27-mile-long reservoir for the Columbia Basin Project.


Water Pumped Uphill for Irrigation


Top of Grand Coulee Dam




Columbia River


I asked the guide a couple of questions that went unanswered, like what is the purpose of that Honeywell gizmo down there? The tour guide said he either could not tell me or did not know the answer due to security measures. However, he did not prevent me from taking a picture.


What Does This Gizmo Do?


We drove through the Town of Coulee Dam—The Green Oasis at the Foot of Grand Coulee Dam—which was populated with quaint cottages, plenty of trees, green grass, and flowers.


Town of Coulee Dam


I would love to see these trees ablaze with yellows, reds, and oranges during the fall.

The town, founded in 1933 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, served as headquarters for construction of the Grand Coulee Dam.  One part of the town, known as Mason City, housed the lead contractor. The other part was known as Engineers Town and owned by the government.  In 1948, Mason City was incorporated in Coulee Dam, and by 1959, the government had completed its process of selling the town to the public.

A Short Jaunt to Poulsbo, Washington

We left Wilbur, Washington, the next day for a six-night stay at Cedar Glen RV Park in Poulsbo, Washington to visit friends. As we decided on what to do in our spare time while near Seattle, miles and miles of wheat fields and other grains mesmerized us. We would crest a hill, and all we could see in a 360-degree radius were fields of wheat and other grains. No cities, no buildings, not even an out building in sight. Some of the fields had recently been cut, others newly plowed, while others still contained stalks standing tall. About every ten or fifteen miles, clumps of trees, shimmering silos, and barns, would appear in the distance. The acres of agribusiness was a side of the Washington State I had never seen before and was as amazing as its coastline and waterways.

About two hours before we arrived, the RV Park manager called. Oops! Our six-night stay was now only two nights, so much for seeing a couple of sights. At least we had a good visit with our friends in Silverdale.

It was probably a good thing we only had two nights. I didn’t think I could take the road noise another night. The large evergreen barrier that separated our space from the main road did little to muffle the roar of nonstop traffic to and from the naval base and ferry in Bremerton and other populated areas.

One more word about the State of Washington: The state grows the friendliest toll takers we have ever encountered. The woman who took our money smiled at us and wished us a good day. After fighting the traffic to get to the bridge, her attitude made the rest of our daily journey pleasant.

Next up: The Tri-Cities Area of the State of Washington along the Columbia River.

Safe Travels