Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Forts, Subs, and Islands

Fort Flagler GunHere on the shore of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, you can’t go far without running into some sort of military influence, either past or present.  We’re on one of the coast defense forts from a bygone era, and on a clear and sunny day decided to visit another fort in the “Triangle of Fire”, Fort Flagler, also a state park.  This fort forms the southern leg of the triangle, and while an island (Marrowstone), is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Fort Flagler Housing It’s much like Fort Worden, except the area is more spacious and it has large areas of green meadows.  It’s a pretty place, with beautiful views of Hood Canal and the Cascades in the distance.
While visiting the fort, we watched as one of the nuclear submarines from Bangor Naval Base passed by on the way home.  It’s an interesting sight – first comes a Coast Guard cutter far out in front, followed by two Navy gunboats also out front and flanking, then the submarine with two specially designed ships, one on each side.  The ships have cargo containers stacked on their decks, filled with something that in the Navy’s words is “projectile proof”. They maintain a position on either side and close in, while in the rear are two more gunboats and another cutter.  It’s an impressive parade, but one that brings home the fact that some of the submarines based at Bangor are “boomers”, or Trident missile platforms that carry 24 thermonuclear-armed missiles, each with eight warheads.Submarine with Escorts
Sub with Escort
Fort Casey Gun LineBehind the ships in the above picture is the shoreline of Whidbey Island, the location of the third fort in the triangle, Fort Casey.  Here also are the large gun batteries overlooking the Sound, and on the main battery is mounted a WWI-era “disappearing gun”, named because when fired, the recoil would push the gun back and down below the battery wall where it locked for loading.  The gun pictured was an original Fort Casey gun that was shipped to the Philippines during WWII and then returned later for display.  Fort Casey LighthouseLike Fort Flagler, Fort Casey has large grassy areas, usually populated by black-tail deer, and on a hill overlooking the water is a historic lighthouse built in 1861.
Exploring Whidbey Island, we visited the Naval Air Station (nice commissary), the quaint waterfront town of Coupeville, and Deception Pass, a narrow opening where the waters of Puget Sound are funneled through a narrow opening during high and low tides.  From the state park below the bridge, you can get a view of the rugged but beautiful area.  And everywhere you go, the view of Mt. Baker fills the eastern horizon.Deception Pass Bridge
Tide at Deception Pass
Deception Pass View

Mt Baker from Whidbey IslandTraveling by ferry here is easy and very comfortable.  Once aboard, you can leave your car and visit one of two heated decks, with comfortable seating, a snack bar, restrooms, and even a few jigsaw puzzles on tables to pass the time.  Although as you can see, just enjoying the view can keep you interested.Ferry with Cascades
We don’t always have a sunny day here in the Puget Sound area, but when we do, the scenery is breathtaking.  Even stepping out the door of the museum provides a great view:
View across Puget Sound
That’s it for now!  We’re finishing up our stay in Fort Worden, and will be moving a bit further west to Sequim (“squim”) at the end of the month, so be sure and visit again to see what we’re up to!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

2012 – The Year in Review

2012 Map2012 marked the completion of our seventh year of full timing, another great year of our wandering lifestyle!  This year we once again limited our travels to the West, and only traveled 3100 miles (most of which seemed to be in Texas).  We began the year on the Texas coast, enjoying the weather, exploring historic small towns, and watching the waterfowl and shorebirds.   Our favorites were the Black Skimmers, the only bird we’ve seen than really “crashes” when it falls asleep.Sleeping Black Skimmers
We visited Tucson, a place we first grew to love in the early 70’s when we were stationed at Davis-Monthan AFB.  We were joined by our daughter Kim and her husband, and became tour guides, taking them to places we first saw over forty ears ago, like the beautiful San Xavier Mission, Tombstone, and Pinnacle Peak’s Steakhouse, the home of the two-pound Porterhouse.San Xavier Mission
Tombstone Street
From Tucson we headed north through Phoenix and spend a few days at Camp Verde, not far from Sedona and it’s famous red rocks.  While in the area, we also visited Montezuma’s Castle, which although small, is one of the most picturesque cliff dwellings.  Sedona Chapel
Montezuma Castle Closeup
We stopped in Las Vegas for a quick visit, then on to Reno, and over the Sierras to I-5 and the journey north to Oregon.  Before heading over the Coastal Range to our volunteer location, we spent time in Sutherlin at the Escapees park, which gave us a base to explore the Cascades and the surrounding area.  We were impressed with Eugene, a vibrant university town with an active downtown area, lots of parks, and a great Saturday market.  Heading into the mountains, we found that while it was warm in the valley, it was still wintertime in the higher elevations.North Umpqua RiverEugene Saturday MarketDiamond Lake2
By the end of May, it was time to get to work, and we crossed the coast range and headed down the Oregon coast to begin three months of teaching the “Junior Rangers” at Humbug Mountain State Park.  The coast here is breathtaking, with crashing waves, sea stacks (offshore rocks), and miles of forested mountains.  The park is a gem – shielded by the tallest mountain on the coast, it receives much less rain and than other areas of the coast, and is usually much warmer.  We were warmly welcomed by the park staff, one of the friendliest we’ve experienced, and given a prime site that featured a paver-brick patio.  Teaching the children and giving a Friday program on Seals and Sea Lions was great fun, and we made many friends that we’ll keep in touch with.  We picked mussels from the rocks, ate some of the best fish & chips (thanks, Crazy Norwegian and Kelsey!) and rode a jetboat up the Rogue River.  But our three months went quickly, and after filling the freezer with local blueberries and blackberries, we returned to the Southern Willamette Valley for a month of relaxation before heading north.  Port Orford from Humbug MountainHumbug Mtn SiteCatching Creek CrittersRiver View
We had never seen Crater Lake, so off we went on a long day of viewing this amazing place.  We were fortunate to have a clear day with little smoke from the summer wildfires, and the deep blue of the lake and surrounding mountains were truly worth the trip.  On another day, we drove through the Cascade Range to the little town of Sisters, and found that a snowstorm in October wasn’t all that unusual.  Crater Lake4
Cascade Mtns Drive4
Heading north up I-5, we stopped to revisit Mount Saint Helens, and were fortunate to see the mountain on a clear day with a fresh coating of snow.  The scenery was amazing, each turn in the road gave us another view of the mountain and a clear picture of how the eruption carved new terrain.Mt St Helens Crater from Distance
The DNPC at Mt St HelensMt St Helens with Clouds
Back on the road, we entered the Puget Sound area and at Olympia, headed north on Highway 101 along Hood Canal to our winter destination of Coastal Artillery MuseumPort Townsend.  Billing itself as one of only three “Victorian” seaports in the US, the town is an interesting mix of New England seaport and San Francisco terrain.  UpRV Site2 above the town is Fort Worden State Park, a large former Army post that was built in 1902 to guard Puget Sound and it’s shipyards from any enemy.  Almost all of the original buildings still remain, and most have been renovated to provide rental vacation housing, college and workshop facilities, and a large conference center.  We’re volunteering at one of the original barracks that now houses the Coast Artillery Museum.  We have a full-hookup site on the hill above the museum, with a view of the sound and the mountains in the distance.  It’s a great place to start our eighth year!
Some of our year’s “bests”:  Best RV Park – for the second year in a row, it’s a volunteer site.  Humbug Mountain State Park was everything we look for.  Paved, level site, great hookups, large paver-brick patio, oversized table and a nice fire ring.  All of this surrounded by towering pines and sheltered by hedges and berry bushes.  Best Restaurant – After much discussion, we can’t come up with any place that we enjoyed more than the Mill Casino Seafood Buffet in North Bend, OR.  Imagine huge mounds of Dungeness crab, New Zealand Mussels, Snow Crab legs, local clams, smoked salmon, and well, you get the picture.  What set it apart from others is the array of chef-prepared dishes; bouillabaisse, smoked oysters on toast, cioppino….all delicious – oh, and the Prime Rib.  And for desert, lots of made in house pies and cakes with huge tubs of Umpqua ice cream.  At $17 each for us seniors, an evening, maybe a week’s worth, of great dining.  Runner up – the Crazy Norwegian in Port Orford, OR.  Even if it wasn’t the only decent restaurant in town, it would still be a favorite.  Fresh seafood, great chowder, and Kelsey, the friendliest, most efficient server ever! Most Beautiful Place – Mount Saint Helens, mostly because we managed to visit on a day with blue skies and a fresh coating of snow.  Runner up – Crater Lake.  The deep blue lake and surrounding pastel rocks combine to make it one of America’s most beautiful sights.   - Brenda’s Best Casino – Lucky Seven Casino in Smith River, CA.  Just south of the Oregon line, it’s relatively small but has a good variety of games, with the friendliest staff we’ve seen.  Most Disappointing Area:  The Texas coast around Aransas Pass.  Lots of decrepit buildings, muddy water and swamp, and overpriced restaurants.  And has any restaurant in the area heard of grilling instead of breaded, deep-fried seafood?
Sadly, this was the year that Brenda lost her mom.  Gladys was 96 years young, and always enjoyed the news of our travels.  We’ll miss her, and we know she’s somewhere watching us and wishing we’d stop at Cracker Barrel more often.  Brenda, & Mom
Gladys Color
Rest in peace, mom.  You’re with us wherever we go and whatever we do.
We’re looking forward to another great year; this spring we’ll be heading back to Spearfish, SD for a few months, then heading east.  There are new places for us to explore, so come back and visit!