Lake Roosevelt – Marcus Island

Nights: 6
Bikes: lots
Hikes: 0
Bug Bites: 7

Having seen the Grand Coulee Dam and heard about the vast lake formed behind it, we drove north along Lake Roosevelt’s eastern shore to see it for ourselves. The road moved quickly inland and the arid landscape near the dam gave way to vast fields of wheat illustrating the original reason for the dam—irrigation. As we turned back toward the water we moved into scattered pine forests then connected with Highway 25 as we passed Fort Spokane. I should have scoped out the drive ahead of time and we would have known to stop here at the Visitor’s Center but we kept going.

Soon glimpses of the lake let us know we were heading in the right direction as we wound our way through the small towns, farms, and forest. This is beautiful country and I enjoyed the drive although Chuck had to concentrate on the curvy road. After crossing Highway 395 a road sign proclaimed the Canadian border was just 40 miles away. We were close to our destination, Marcus Island, a small park right along the shore.

Marcus was the largest town they moved when the lake was formed and signs in the campground show how you can walk through the remnants of the town during the spring draw down of the lake. In the “new” townsite on the hill above the park, there are quite a few houses along streets with apple names like Delicious and what looks like an old cider press in the town park. This must have been a town of orchards once upon a time. We even found a few old apple trees along the park road. Too bad the apples were still too green to eat.

As we entered the park we found 24 sites spaced out in the pine trees along the island’s length. There were several already taken, but following Lesson #2 (drive the whole campground) we found the perfect spot right on the water. To the left large bushes blocked the site 50’ away and to the right was only forest. Once set up we were treated to lakefront views right outside our door and a bald eagle soaring past.

IMG_1342While we enjoyed bike rides twice a day through the campground and over to the boat dock, this place mostly made us lazy. We were in awe of the view and spent much of our time lounging in our chairs just staring out at the lake and forested hills beyond. The sky was constantly changing as clouds backed up against the hills, sometimes dark and sometimes fluffy white. In the afternoons the wind picked up and a few times we got sprinkled on, but often the ominous weather seemed to head north of us and blue sky prevailed.

We did explore a little nearby, driving to St. Pauls’ Mission, one of the oldest churches in Washington. As we were getting out of our truck, a ranger drove up. He asked if we were there for the tour. “Tour. What tour?” Turns out we were just in time for our own private, ranger-led tour along the short trail. He told us about the Indians in the area who fished the nearby falls for centuries until the dam was installed. This area has artifacts showing human use for nearly 9000 years. A cutting stone with deep grooves where spears and tools for fishing were sharpened was interesting. The mission was set up in the late 1800’s and was one of the first places to convert Indians. It enjoyed protection from nearby Fort Colville run by the Hudson’s Bay Company. While not much of the mission remains, there is a re-built log structure and some graves on the site. The ranger also told us about an old townsite in the nearby Kettle Falls campground. We drove over to walk among the remnants of foundations and sidewalks that were once shops lining main street. Signage shows you what was there before. We enjoyed meeting this young ranger and I was sad that we missed the free canoe trip he was set the lead earlier that morning. He said no one had shown up. Again, I’m surprised by the free activities the NPS delivers. I’m going to have to keep an eye out for more of those, although I’m not sure I could have pried myself away from the awesome views here to do much else.

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One day we watched a tug boat pass slowly pulling a log boom to the nearby mill, but most of the time we just stared at the scenery. Besides the eagles, we saw hawks, water fowl, flickers, and many other birds making me wish I had kept my bird guide (perhaps I will have to find an app). Chipmunks screeched at us on our daily bike rides. Oddly, we never saw a fish jump although we saw people fishing from the shore and out on the lake. We don’t often have campfires, but this site begged for one. How could we resist with the lakeside views! Plus, unlike any campsite we’ve ever been at, you can gather downed wood right here.

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On our final night we were treated to a fiery sunset. Overall it was a pretty relaxing week in a spectacular site and although it’s going to be hard to leave, Montana is calling us.

Grand Coulee Dam

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Grand Coulee Dam at night

I have wanted to see Grand Coulee Dam for 15 years but we’ve never made it so we planned a stop at the Spring Canyon campground knowing it wasn’t a great campground but it was close to the dam. This was important because the laser light show doesn’t start until 10pm and we didn’t want to drive far after dark. There are a lot of deer in the area. I seem to see them every time we drive somewhere, even during the middle of the day. In fact one walked in front of our shuttle bus on the tour. The campground turned out just like the reviews we read—noisy and little privacy. We did manage to find a spot to wedge our trailer in and even had a bit of a river view, but mostly we saw and heard our neighbors. There were many large groups camping here probably because of the nice day use area with a big swimming beach and boat launch. But the reason we were here was for proximity to the dam.

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Looks can be deceiving!
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Viewpoint above the dam

We started our visit with a stop at the viewpoint above the dam and then continued to the visitor’s center. It’s smaller than I imagined, but had a few cool things. I especially liked the pictures of the “princesses” from all 52 Washington counties pouring jugs of water from every state over the dam at it’s opening and the jugs on display. Chuck found a jackhammer that actually vibrated to give you a feel for how tough the work was for those building the dam.

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It’s hard work!

We drove to the opposite side of the dam to take the free tour. It turned out to be 15 minutes of security checks and then loading, riding and unloading a shuttle bus (3 times) to spend 5 minutes looking at the generating pumps and another 5 minutes in middle of the dam looking over the edge. Our tour guide said before 9/11 visitors could tour the dam on their own and that there are loads of displays inside, which we never got to see. Still she tried to keep us entertained with her “dam” humor.

Returning to our trailer I found a movie about the making of the dam on their website (http://www.usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee/history/construction/index.html) which was interesting and informative. My advice, skip the tour and watch the movie. I find the history surrounding the dam fascinating. It is called one of the manmade wonders of the world and whole towns were relocated to make way for the lake formed behind the dam.

We returned to the dam that night for the laser light show and we were glad we did. As the start of the show nears they turn off some of the lights on the dam. A few minutes later they start opening each section of the spillway one by one until a giant white curtain of rushing water covers the dam. We could feel the temperature dropping as each section started to flow. Onto this “screen” they project the laser light show. Titled “Many Voices, One River” it talks about the building of the dam and its benefits as well as its impact on the local tribes who lost their salmon fishing grounds. This was definitely our favorite part of visiting the dam and I’d recommend it if you ever make it this way.

Leaving Bobcat

Nights: 5
Hikes: 1
Bikes: 1
Bug Bites: 6

We thoroughly enjoyed our time spent near Winthrop. Our spot at Upper Bobcat turned out to be a perfect jumping off point for exploring the area. We made a visit to Winthrop (about 12 miles away) where I learned I’m not much for shopping anymore. With limited space in the trailer every purchase has to be weighed carefully and there really isn’t much we need.

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Twist 4th of July Parade

We also made it into Twisp to enjoy their small 4th of July parade followed by the firefighters demonstrating how they cut apart a car to extract the injured. And of course we took advantage of being close to a grocery store and laundromat to stock up and clean up.

 

Besides our bike ride (see earlier post) we found a short hike across the street to Falls Creek Falls. The first 1/4 mile is paved and ends at a viewpoint of the lower falls. We wore our Keen Sandals thinking this was an easy jaunt, but alas a dirt trail continued on and we couldn’t resist so we learned another lesson.

Lesson #3: Always wear your hiking boots.

The trail climbed steeply and at points became a bit of a scramble as the loose sandy soil threatened to send us sliding back down. We persevered and made it all the way up to see a total of 4 beautiful waterfalls. Well worth the effort!

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Chuck at Falls Creek Falls

Afterwards we enjoyed some yummy fish tacos. I didn’t really measure anything (why dirty an extra spoon that will need washed) but here’s an approximation of the recipe.

Fish Tacos – makes about 6 tacos

Mix in a ziplock bag:

juice of 1/2 lime
1-2 T. olive oil
salt – 1/8 tsp
dash of pepper
dried cilantro 1/4 tsp
cumin – 1/8 tsp

Marinate about 3/4 pound white fish (cod, rockfish, mahi, halibut) 20-30 minutes. Grill until fish flakes easily.

Salsa:

1/2 kiwi
1/2 nectarine
1/8 red pepper
juice of 1/4 lime
salt and pepper
1/4 tsp dried cilantro or fresh
chili flakes (if you like a kick)

Dice fruit and pepper. Mix everything in a bowl. Let sit while fish marinates and cooks.

For tacos:

In warm corn tortilla put some fish, top with salsa, sour cream and sliced cabbage or coleslaw mix. Squeeze a lime over the top and enjoy!

It’s hard to leave this beautiful spot. I’m not sure we’ll be able to find another one that is as good. For our first time boondocking I think we hit a home run!

Boondocking Lessons

Our first foray into boondocking turned out to be a huge success. Chuck researched sites near Winthrop and we left Newhalem Friday morning. Since it was 4th of July weekend we weren’t sure what to expect as we headed down a paved forest service road. At the point where the first site should have been we found a dirt pullout with a path down to the river. We parked and walked down to find a couple of campsites occupied already and definitely not suitable for the trailer. Our first lesson of boondocking was driven home.

Lesson #1: Always walk the road in to make sure it is passable.

We continued on to an area called Upper Bobcat. Seeing a rather rough turn in we again parked and walked in. There was one tent but the rest of the lower area’s primitive sites among the pine trees were wide open. We decided we could handle the bumpy road and in we went. Being excited about having found a spot and a bit hungry, we immediately parked in a small clearning, leveled the trailer, unhitched the truck, extended our awning, laid down a rug, put out chairs and sat down for lunch. Having reenergized ourselves we decided to walk to rest of the campground which is when the next lesson came to pass.

Lesson #2: Always check out the whole campground before setting up.

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First site – Not bad, but not great.

Alas the north part of the area was much more to our liking. There was a wide open meadow with views of the surrounding hills, a few pine trees here and there and paths to the river. Knowing we would be here for several days we decided to move. So we quickly stowed everything, hitched back up and moved and we were glad we did. We had a fabulous spot with views all around, no neighbors nearby and plenty of sunshine for our solar panels. It turned out for the whole holiday weekend there were only 7 or 8 groups camping here. (We heard that over Memorial Day there were over 100 RVs wedged in.)

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Spot #2
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Great views!

All of this beauty for free as long as you have a Discover Pass. With the solitude, views, proximity to amenities, biking, hiking, and river this spot has quickly soared to the top of our favorite places to camp. I imagine we’ll be back someday.

Note: this area has was no fresh water and only a pit toilet but we brought our own. 🙂 Sites are little more than packed earth with a circle of rocks for a fire ring. No tables, no markers. For Chuck’s full review visit Campendium.com.

National Park #1

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North Cascades National Park – Newhalem Campground
Number of Nights: 5
Hikes: 3
Bikes: 2
Bug Bites: 6

This was an easy first stop for us as it’s one of our favorite places to camp in the summer. Since a wildfire burned parts of the park last summer, one loop of the campground is closed and the remaining sites are all reservable. Now the chances of snagging a spot without a reservation are unlikely on a weekend. Luckily we made our reservation in advance, but could only get 5 nights before the park filled for the 4th of July weekend. Still we packed our time with activities.

On our first full day we took the short walk from the campground through the woods to the visitors center. It’s a worthwhile stop with a kid-friendly display on wildlife in the area, a movie, and a small gift shop. Since we’ve seen all this before our main purpose was to check out nearby hikes and find out about the yearly National Park pass. Before heading back, we walked out the back door and down the short boardwalk to the viewpoint. There we found a ranger with a viewing scope focused on the ice peeking out from the snow on the distant ridge. We took a quick photo before following the the trail back past the campground to a nice view of the rushing Skagit River. If it hadn’t been closed due to the fire damage we probably would have continued on to the Rock Creek Shelter trail.

IMG_1166There are plenty of hikes in the area if you’re willing to take a drive. We have enjoyed Sauk Mountain, Thunder Creek, Diablo Lake, Ladder Creek Falls and others in the past. This time we hiked up Thunder Knob (3.6 miles, 425’ elevation gain). The hike starts out cross a rushing river and then switchbacks through the woods, past a small pond, and up to a rocky outcropping. At the top we found stunning views of snowy peaks in every direction, as well a a view down to Diablo Lake. Another day we took the trail to Lake Ann (3.4 miles, 700’ elevation gain). About half way up we crossed a boulder field with incredible views of peaks all around and wildflowers trailside. We encountered a few areas where the trail was covered in snow or mud or water, but we found our way to this beautiful alpine lake and were rewarded with views of four different waterfalls from the snow melt making it’s was down to the lake. A fellow hiker carried some kind of fishing float on his back and was soon out on the lake paddling with flippers underwater as he fly fished his way across the lake. We could only imagine how cold the water must have felt!

We also got a chance to test out our new bikes with several rides around the campground. After cycling through the loops we followed the dirt road from the campground to the Pump House (interesting signage explains it’s function) and on through the gravel lined “Trail of the Cedars” to cross the bridge into Newhalem. There we rode over for a view of the dam before heading back. Feeling ambitious we biked on to Goodell Campground across the river. We had to follow a faint footpath through the brush and navigate some deep, loose gravel that made the pedaling tough but we made it to this shady “no frills” campground. On this sunny day it didn’t look as dreary as we remembered and we even found a few spots that would have fit our trailer. Given the varied terrain we covered I think our choice of bikes is going to be perfect for our adventures!

This was a nice first stop—comfortable for us and a way to ease into this adventure, but I’m looking forward to getting over the hurdle of finding our first boondocking spot. There is a bit of anxiety that comes with heading into the unknown, but as we conquer each new challenge I’m sure it will quickly fade. Already we feel our stress melting away.