Monday, July 8, 2013


It was June 1st, and we were prepared for our annual road trip across the U.S.  As a member of the Extra Miler Club, I have a personal goal to visit as many of the 3143 counties in the U.S. as I can.  This road trip made a significant addition to my total, although I could never visit all the counties in a million years.

We left the Chicago area at 5 A.M. on Saturday morning to get a good start.   We had a few bases to cover, and beyond that we were free to explore.  Our granddaughter Christina was graduating from middle school in the San Francisco Bay area on June 12.  On the way, we made arrangements to visit with my cousin Nancy in Washington state.  I hadn't seen her in about 50 years.  We also planned to see my sister Gerry in Auburn, California as we did last year.   AAA mapped out an itinerary to see Glacier National Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, and Petrified Forest National Park, none of which we had seen before.  Because we were not on a fixed schedule for the most part, we could stop at roadside attractions as we found them.

Initially, we headed to the frigid North to see two of the coldest towns in the U.S.--International Falls, Minnesota and Cut Bank, Montana.  Although it was June, we packed winter gear for frosty temperatures.  If its cold in June, imagine what winter is like.  Fortunately for us, it wasn't snowing, but it was cold.  We spent the night in both towns.  Needless to say, we didn't need air conditioning. 


Our goal the first night was International Falls, about 600 miles from our house.  Driving through central Wisconsin, we saw signs for the Leinenkugel Brewery in Chippewa Falls.  Although I don't much like beer, we like to visit breweries for the experience.  Leinenkugel is an iconic brand throughout the Midwest.  The brewery does not compare in size to Anheuser Busch or Miller, so the perception with most people is that the beer must taste better.  I didn't taste any of the beer; I was driving.  The people there are friendly and helpful.

We didn't have time to wait for a formal tour of the brewery (we've seen others), but we visited Leinie's Lodge, a log cabin gift shop/store the size of a discount store, selling t-shirts and other items of clothing, mugs, beer (!), etc. with the company logo.  Marketing people are brilliant.  They convince us to become walking billboards for their products and we pay for the privilege. 

Further up the road, in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, where in recent winters the low temperatures approached 60 below zero F., we found a wonderful restaurant for lunch, the Norske Nook.  The town was settled by Norwegians who are used to the cold.  The Norske Nook is famous for homemade pies, 73 different varieties including stuff like lingonberry sour cream and lingonberry apple pie.  They enter them in contests and have won numerous blue ribbons.  According to the Daily Meal, the Norske Nook, with branches in other towns like Osseo and Hayward is Number 2 on the list of Wisconsin's five sweetest places.  By the way, the burgers were good also.


We crossed over into Minnesota through Duluth, the largest port on Lake Superior.  It is best known for shipping iron ore from the nearby Mesabi Range.  We stayed in Duluth once before, so we didn't need to tour it.  A cold rain was falling, but it was still daylight, and we were determined to make the last 150 miles or so through Mesabi iron range to the Canadian border.

To save time, we bypassed Hibbing, the home town of singer Bob Dylan.  Hibbing was about 30 miles out of our way.  According to the guidebook, Dylan's house (on Dylan Drive) is privately owned and not open for tours.  Virginia, the city named after a state, was interesting in its own right.  The U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame is a large facility on the main highway.  Don't confuse it with the "real" Hockey Hall of Fame located in Toronto--most professional hockey players are from Canada.  We didn't visit it, but we did drive up a steep hill for a good look at a gigantic (now closed) open pit iron mine called Mineview in the Sky.  The mine is 3 miles long and 450 feet deep.  On the top of the hill overlooking it is a small museum and visitor center dedicated to the iron mining industry.

Most of the mine was under water, perhaps because it had been raining for days.  Everything in this area is supersized.  Outside the museum was parked the "King of the Lode" a 21 foot high, 240 ton dump truck with a flat tire.  The tires are almost 10 feet high.  Changing a flat is a bear.  The truck is 24 feet wide, too wide for any highway.  We enjoyed the gift shop, and we purchased a beautiful quilt made by local artisans for a bargain price. 


International Falls is the Mecca for serious fishermen in the North Woods.  The town is dominated by the Boise paper mill, and the smell from that mill permeates everything for a radius of about a mile.  The other major source of jobs comes from the tourism industry--fishing and snowmobiling.  People don't go there for the climate.  This place is cold, and snow covers the ground for much of the year.  We arrived on June 1st, and it was a balmy 43 degrees (F) in the afternoon with frost in the forecast.

International Falls' most famous citizen was football great Bronko Nagurski who starred for the Chicago Bears in the 1930's and '40's. We stayed at the AmericInn where they were hosting a fancy (by local standards) wedding in the Bronko Nagurski Room, graced with a large portrait of him.  The town built a museum honoring Nagurski's exploits with a large statue of him outside.  Across the park from Nagurski is a 26 foot statue of Smokey Bear (not Smokey the Bear).  The deal with Nagurski was that a scout from the Chicago Bears spotted him one day pulling a plow in the fields.  Most farmers would use a mule or a horse.  Nagurski was pulling it himself.  Maybe we can teach this guy how to play football!  The rest was history. 

After we ate dinner at the local Mexican restaurant, the Margarita, we decided to go across the border to Fort Francis, Ontario, looking for night life.  The border is the Rainy River which flows into Lake of the Woods.  The international bridge is a toll bridge.  The toll is 6 bucks.  We told 'em to forget it--we'll go to bed early. 

The next morning we started West across the top of Minnesota.  The town of Baudette is the walleye capital.  It appears that every town in that area is the capital of some type of fish.  On the main road is a statue of Willie Walleye, a 40 foot long fish for a photo op.    Everything is fishy around here!  We continued on to Warroad which is the only U.S. port on Lake of the Woods, and also to Roseau by the Northwest Angle of Minnesota.

The Northwest Angle is a subject for trivia buffs.  For some reason, a small portion of Minnesota juts into Canada and makes Minnesota the Northernmost state in the Continental U.S.  The reason it's there is pretty obscure.  It seems that the 1783 Treaty of Paris extended the Northern border of the U.S.  from the West end of Lake Superior through the network of lakes and rivers to the Northwest corner of Lake of the Woods.  A different treaty drew the Canadian border West along the 49th Parallel all the way to the Pacific Ocean.  They forgot to consider that the 49th Parallel was about 40 miles South of where the other border ended.  The result was the Northwest Angle.  There are no roads or towns in that area, and you can only get there by boat. 

Driving down the highway through the piney forest, virtually every vehicle we saw was towing a boat.  We didn't see too many cars; most people in this area have trucks or campers.  The North Woods is quite a rugged area, and the local culture is camping, boating and fishing.  Because of the melting snow and heavy spring rains, standing water and flooding was evident along the roads and farms all the way from Minnesota through North Dakota and Montana.  These states are flat and green, but beautiful in their own way.  With all the flooding, the corn crop is iffy this year. 


Straddling the U.S. and Canadian border is the 2300 acre International Peace Garden which is probably unique among the nations of the world.   For example, you wouldn't find something like this in the Middle East or along the Russian border.  Essentially, this garden commemorates the peaceful relations between the U.S. and Canada, at least for the last 150 years or so sharing the longest unfortified border in the world. 

We arrived there on June 2nd, and much of the gardens were not in yet.  They are not planted from seed because of the harsh winter--they use greenhouses.  The 120 foot Peace Tower, the Peace Chapel and 9/11 Monument are placed directly on the border, so you can stand in both countries at once.

In the Interpretive Center and Conservatory, we toured the greenhouse and were amazed by the different varieties of cactus, as well as other flowers.    On the day we visited, in the main hall they were putting on a folk singing concert employing guitars, fiddles, bass and other instruments.  People came with their instruments just to jam, and everyone could participate.  It was a lot of fun. 

We met several Indian (from India) families at the peace garden.  I struck up a conversation with an Indian gentleman.  I asked him where he was from.  "Fargo" was the reply, in an Indian accent.  Well I could have guessed that!  Since he was from Fargo, I asked him if he had ever visited the Roger Maris exhibit at the West Acres Mall.  "Who's Roger Maris?"  Even people who don't follow baseball usually know of the local guy from Fargo who played for the New York Yankees who broke Babe Ruth's home record.  He died at least 30 years ago, but still!  I suppose there was no point in asking him if he heard of the other famous North Dakotan, former Bulls and Lakers coach, Phil Jackson. 

Leaving the peace garden, we had to go through customs to get back into the U.S.  Fortunately we had our passports with us. 

We had a terrific fried chicken lunch in Langdon, ND, and more fried chicken at the buffet dinner at the Pizza Ranch in Minot, ND.  They make very good fried chicken in North Dakota but it doesn't have the cachet as Kentucky.Fried Chicken

North Dakota is perhaps the most prosperous state in the U.S. because of the oil discoveries in the Western part in the past few years.   Unemployment in North Dakota is almost nonexistent.  Despite this, it is difficult to attract new people to the state because of the harsh climate.  For 9 months of the year, the state experiences blizzards and frigid cold.   Also, there's not a lot of scenery to enjoy.  Most people from other states are content to make less money or pay higher taxes in exchange for milder weather.  Seriously, would a Californian migrate to North Dakota?

We made our way to Minot, a thriving railroad town, home to a nearby Air Force base.  Minot is called the "Magic City" because it grew so fast--in the 1800's.  Today every fast food restaurant and motel chain known to man is represented there.   We spent the night there.  The next morning, we drove West through North Dakota.  Oil wells dotted the countryside.  Williston, a modern day boom town is the center of the oil producing Bakken formation.  A residue of oil coated the roads and the rain splashed it up onto our car.  We needed a car wash badly.  It may be dirty, but you can almost smell the money!


As we crossed into Eastern Montana on U.S.Highway 2, the weather went from bad to worse.  Driving rain lashed into us with temperatures hovering in the low 40's.  Montana  is the fourth largest state, after Alaska, Texas and California, and we were crossing it at its widest point.  Its name implies mountains, but you have to traverse about 400 miles of flat prairie before you see a mountain.  In the rain, that's an awfully long and grueling drive on a two lane highway. 

We stopped for gas in Glasgow, Montana, the home of the Scotties.  Last year, we visited Glasgow, Scotland, but this railroad town has nothing in common other than the name.  The Scotland Glasgow is a gritty industrial city which tourists bypass to visit Edinburgh.  The Montana Glasgow is not easily bypassed; it straddles U.S. 2 and is the first rest stop for hundreds of miles.  We often talk to locals wherever we go.  In the convenience store they told us about an interesting museum in the next town featuring the dinosaur fossils found all over the state. 

Paleontologists give their dinosaur skeletons cutesy names, usually to honor the person who unearthed the bones.  For example Chicago's Field Museum has "Sue",  the tyrannosaurus Rex.   So in Malta, Montana, about 50 miles down the road from Glasgow, but not near anything else, we found the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum.  For a small admission fee, we spent an inspiring hour on a cold, rainy day looking at old bones.  We met Ralph, a new species of sauropod (discovered by a guy named Ralph--well duh!).  Other exhibits featured the Brachylophosaurs named Leonardo and Roberta.  We assume Roberta was female, but we're not sure how they would know that.   Dianne purchased a 60 million year old fossil shellfish.  It was on the shelf for about half that time, so we tried to negotiate a discount, but we were turned down.

At the local diner where we ate lunch, we were dismayed to learn that the famed Road to the Sun in Glacier National Park would be closed because of deep snow.  Despite this era of Global Warming, the park was inundated with about 60 feet of snow last winter.   As it turned out, however, the road wasn't totally closed, and you could drive about 15 miles of it and still see some spectacular scenery.  You just couldn't drive over Logan Pass on the shortcut through the park.  Instead you had to drive around the Southern boundary of the park on Highway 2. 


We spent the night in Cut Bank, Montana, about 50 miles East of Glacier National Park.  In the 1930's and '40's, Cut Bank was the oil capital of Montana.  The oil ran out and today it is home to a large wind farm.  We had a nice dinner at the Village Restaurant in a strip mall next to our motel where we feasted on a delicious stuffed green pepper soup.  The server there told us about the best shortcut to Glacier, and it was good advice.  We took the back road through towns like Babb and St. Mary to the Northeast sector of the park to see Many Glacier and Swiftcurrent Lake.  We drove 13 miles from Babb up the road into the park.  No sooner did we enter the park than a grizzly bear crossed the road in front of us. 

It was a sunny day, and the clear blue waters of the lake vividly reflected the image of the surrounding mountains.  The glaciated valleys were spectacular sights.  This was the closest thing to paradise!  The road over Logan Pass is 50 miles long, but we could get only as far as the Visitor's Center.  Then we had to double back to the main road for our trip to Two Medicine (not plural) Valley, another 7 miles up into the mountains with more breathtaking scenery--snow covered peaks and glaciated valleys.  It was still early in the season, so we didn't encounter a lot of crowds or traffic. 


The first major town West of  the Continental Divide is Kalispell, MT, which we had never heard of before.  The main attraction in this town of 15,000, according to our guidebook,  is the Charles Conrad Mansion.   It was Tuesday, and it was closed!   AAA's guidebook said it is closed on Mondays.  Irate and determined, we rang the doorbell, and the docent was kind enough to let us in.  It wasn't high season yet, so they don't get a lot of visitors during the week.  We were given a wonderful tour of the 26 room Norman style house which was built in 1895.  Most of the furniture was original to the house.

Mr. Conrad, like most Montanans, came from somewhere else, in this case from Virginia.  Shortly after the Civil War, the 18 year old Conrad left home and traveled up the Missouri River to Fort Benton.   He apprenticed to a man with no family and ended up controlling a shipping and trading empire on the frontier.  The story didn't end there, however.  Conrad saw more opportunities further West, and in 1891 moved his family over the Continental Divide to the Flathead Valley where he founded the town of Kalispell.  The name means "prairie above the lake" in the local Indian dialect.  He basically built a company town, setting up businesses and a bank.  Eventually Conrad's heirs couldn't afford to maintain the house, and they conveyed it to the city in 1974. 


We left Montana and entered Idaho, another mountainous state.  The road skimmed the shores of a beautiful Alpine lake through the twin cities of Hope and East Hope.  Hope has a population of 97, but East Hope has 200.  Maybe the names should have been switched, but in our observation, there's not much hope for either. 

After a long day of driving winding mountain roads, we found civilization in Coeur d' Alene where we had our choice of motel chains to spend the night.  Coeur d' Alene is believed to be the only city in the U.S. with an apostrophe in its name.  The name,  given by the French traders to the local Indians means "heart of the awl", a phrase describing the natives as shrewd traders.   It's hard to pronounce, so the locals call it "CDA".

The town was established in 1878 by General William T. Sherman, who made his reputation marching through Georgia.   Sherman was dispatched to the Indian Wars in the West, where he set up Fort Coeur d' Alene (later changed to Fort Sherman) and a trading post on the Columbia River.  Today, this town of 44,000 is a major crossroads on Interstate 90, and a popular resort town.   It is considered part of the Spokane metro area.

The town got a bad reputation a few years back when it was thought to be the home of the "Aryan Nations", a group of White Supremacists constantly at war with the American government and everyone else.  Coeur d' Alene boosters explain that those guys were actually located in nearby Hayden Lake.   A contentious lawsuit finally bankrupted them.  Their creditors seized their land and finally put them out of their misery. 


Only about 30 miles from CDA, across the Washington border, is the falrly large city of Spokane, Washington.   We arrived on a steamy morning, the first warm weather of our trip.   Spokane is famous for two things.  First is Gonzaga University, a Jesuit institution which, in recent years has become a college basketball powerhouse.  Second, Gonzaga's most illustrious alum, (not basketball great John Stockton), Bing Crosby has a museum honoring him on the campus at the Crosby Center.  Crosby's childhood home is right next to the campus.  We visited both.  Most people probably never thought about where he was from, but of course, everyone is from somewhere. 

Bing Crosby is perhaps the most popular American singer of the Twentieth Century and certainly of his generation (he was 12 years older than Frank Sinatra and about 30 years older than Elvis.).  Crosby's  gold records, including White Christmas (written by Irving Berlin) adorn the museum.  Everyone loved Bing Crosby except perhaps his kids, two of whom committed suicide. 

Crosby acquired his nickname from his favorite comic strip character Bingo, from the Bingville Bugle, a popular children's section of the local newspaper.  No, I don't remember it either!  Crosby received an Emmy award for the 1957 Bing Crosby Edsel Show which starred Bing, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Rosemary Clooney (George's aunt).   With all those big names, they still couldn't sell Edsels.   They couldn't give 'em away!   Crosby also won an Oscar for the 1945 movie Going My Way.  The awards are on display in the museum.

On the way to Seattle, we stopped for gas on I-90 in George, Washington, which is only significant because of its name.  Chicagoans may be dismayed to learn there is no "Harold" in the State of Washington.  The AAA guidebook doesn't mention George, but we had a decent lunch at the Subway.   George was founded in the 1950's by a guy named Charlie Brown (I'm not making this up), who built a truck stop and cafe.  Unfortunately for Charlie Brown, his profits were peanuts, and today the total population of George, Wash. is only about 500. 


We rolled into Seattle in the early afternoon on a sunny day, unusual for gloomy Seattle.  Seattle natives relish the infrequent sunny days, and they were out en masse.  We didn't have a hotel reservation, and we were concerned that a hotel in a large city like Seattle would cost an arm and a leg.  However, in the Pioneer District, we saw a sign for hotel rooms--75 cents per night.  We felt relieved.

We went into the Chamber of Commerce to get a guidebook and city map.   In particular, we were looking for the Science Fiction Hall of Fame which was in the AAA book.  After driving around downtown for a half hour or so, we eventually found it, right next to the famous Space Needle.  The Space Needle is a 600 foot tower built for the 1962 World's Fair.  Most of it is unusable except for the elevators to the top where the Observation Deck is located.  On the top are restaurants and a walkway with a 360 degree view of Seattle, Puget Sound and the surrounding areas.  Free telescopes are provided.   Looming ominously in the distance is the snow capped summit of Mt. Rainier, an active volcano which has been dormant for the past 150 years and hopefully will stay that way for a long time.  The view, of course, on a sunny day, is spectacular, and hordes of people were there to enjoy the view. 

Back on the ground, a few feet away, near the totem pole, is the EMP Museum which houses the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.  Outwardly, the building, designed by Frank O. Gehry, could have been designed by Gaudi--it looks like a blob.  Our first impressions was "What was he thinking?"  The guidebook says it is supposed to be a depiction of a smashed  guitar ala Pete Townshend of the The Who.   The What?

Be that as it may, the Sci-Fi occupies a relatively small portion of the museum.  Most of the museum is devoted to rock music which one wouldn't expect in Seattle.  You probably wouldn't expect that in Cleveland either where they house the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.  In the center of the EMP Museum is a wall of guitars--about 700 of them, approximately 50 feet high.  The exhibits celebrate Seattle natives Jimi Hendrix and the rock group Nirvana.  The guitar gallery shows the evolution of the guitar from the early 1800's to the present.  Speaking of that, I wonder if the recently deceased nonagenarian Les Paul has a museum.  Some of his groundbreaking guitars are on display in Seattle.

The Sci-Fi Hall of Fame is on the lower level and features monsters, robots, illegal aliens, movie posters and plaques honoring guys like the recently married George Lucas (Star Wars) and Frank Herbert (Dune).  Costumes from Star Wars and even Superman dazzled the tourists. 

We drove up through the North suburbs of Seattle looking for something a little cheaper than the 75 cent hotel.  We landed at a Holiday Inn in Lynnwood and it was more--a lot more.  On the other hand, the hotel had free parking, Internet service and private baths.  We stayed for three nights. 

We went back to Seattle the next morning to see the rest of the city--the Pike Place Market, Underground Seattle, the original Starbucks.  The Pike Place Market is best known for the fish guys we've seen on television.  These guys play catch, tossing a fish approximately 20 feet to each other while bantering with the crowd.  Fortunately, nobody missed when we were watching.  This is a huge farmers' market.  As tourists, we planned to eat in restaurants, so we weren't about to buy any fish.  bud we did eat a terrific fish stew at Pike Place Chowder, one of the many small diners in the market.  The name says it all.

The symbol, or mascot of Pike Place is the iconic Rachel the Pig, a large bronze piggy bank, located next to the fish guys.  This is not only a fish market; they sell meat, fresh produce, baked goods, flowers and almost everything else.  It is a 3 story shopping mall, covering 9 acres, but the vendors are small businessmen.  The original Starbucks is across the street.  Unlike the original McDonalds, there is no sign or anything else to indicate the historical significance.  When we visited, a folk singing combo was performing out in front. 

Parking is at a premium in Seattle.  We were parked in a nearby garage next to the Seattle Art Museum and were committed for 22 bucks.  There was no point in moving the car, so we walked the mile or so down to the Pioneer Historical District.  There we booked a tour of "Underground Seattle".  In my experience, every city seems to have an underground, and Seattle is no exception.  However there are no shops, nightclubs, etc. there.  It is just the basements of the buildings.  To attract more customers, the brochure describes "lust, sin, sex, debauchery" in the underground tour. We were pleased as the guide, a stand up comedian, gave us a humorous and educational description of the history of the city. 

The basements were the original ground level of the city, but a fire in 1889 destroyed most of the buildings and they had to rebuild on top of the debris.  Much of the city had been built on literally sawdust which, in a rainy city like Seattle, turns into mush.  The city fathers decided to raise the street levels as much as 35 feet.  The result was that for many buildings, the second floor became the ground floor.  Our guide admired the modern plumbing of that era, specifically the recent invention at that time by Thomas Crapper--the flush toilet. 

The main industry of Seattle was originally logging.  The logs were cut in the hills and skidded downhill to rest at the lumber yard of Henry Yesler, who made his money shipping lumber around the world.  He sold the sawdust to the city for landfill.  People couldn't say no to Yesler, and he was elected mayor. The term "skid row" was originally "skid road" and used to describe this area of the city.  It was undesirable because the sewage from the homes on the hill was pumped down to the waterfront and sloshed around.  The city planners hadn't considered that the tide takes it out--and then brings it in.

Seattle was basically a small town until the Klondike Gold Rush in the 1890's.  The Canadian government would not allow prospectors to go there unless they had 1 ton of provisions (to last them 6 months).  The merchants of Seattle then had their own gold rush--selling provisions to the miners.  the city became rich overnight. 

As we all know, government cannot operate without taxes.  The councilmen made a plan to find out the most profitable industry in town and levy a tax on it.   They didn't know which industry it was.  After some research, they found that the most profitable businesses were those of young single women who described their occupations as "seamstresses."  The most profitable "seamstress" of all was one Madam Lou Graham who spread her money around liberally among politicians and got herself elected to the City Council.  

The gift shop sells postcards with a photo of Ms. Graham and her "sewing circle", all in white dresses except for one in a black dress.  We learned that the one in the black dress was actually a male "seamstress".  Graham ran a "classy" establishment with extravagant furnishings, comparable to that the famous (or infamous) Everleigh Sisters in Chicago.  Every proper "man about town" could describe the furnishings in her establishment.  During the Panic of 1893, she "saved" the Puget Sound National Bank by making a large deposit.  She also bailed out other prominent businessmen with well timed loans, thus acquiring considerable clout at City Hall 

If nothing else, with all these seamstresses, the people of Seattle were well dressed.


The State of Washington operates an extensive ferry system plying Puget Sound.  It docks at several island towns including Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.  We picked up a ferry schedule, and upon talking to others in our hotel, decided to drive up to Anacortes, about 75 miles North of Seattle to catch the ferry to the San Juan Islands.       The ferry is economical--$6.50 round trip for seniors citizens like us.  Junior citizens pay double that. 

The Anacortes ferry fit in perfectly with our schedule, as we planned to visit my cousin Nancy and her husband Lee in Bellingham, near the Canadian border.  She had tickets for us to see Three Dog Night that evening.  We looked forward to meeting her, after 50 years.  My uncle Dave Suskin, her father, was a dairy farmer near Puyallup, Washington, far from my house in Chicago, and I had only seen him and his family a couple times when I was growing up. 

Normally, this would be an easy drive on the Interstate; however last month the bridge collapsed in Mt. Vernon, WA, right near the exit for the ferry terminal.  Despite this, we got to the ferry with 5 minutes to spare.  We parked our car at the terminal although we could have driven onto the ferry, but that would cost a lot more.  We didn't need a car on the island.  The ferry ride to San Juan Island was a little more than an hour.  It had a snack shop with sandwiches and breakfast food.  It's not a cruise ship, however--there are no planned activities.  The boat does provide jigsaw puzzles to pass the time.  We came back on a different boat, and it had different jigsaw puzzles.  We thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful scenery of Puget Sound,  They get a lot of rain, and the islands are green.

We docked at the picturesque tourist town of Friday Harbor, home to small shopkeepers, candy stores, ice cream shops, bookstores, and trendy restaurants.  /Some residents commute to the mainland or to Seattle, but it's a long commute--no traffic though.  They can amuse themselves on the commute with jigsaw puzzles. 


We sailed back to Anacortes and drove up to Bellingham, about 30 miles from the Canadian border.  We found our way to Nancy's house which is out in the country.  She gave us a grand tour of the town.  Bellingham stands in the shadows of Mt. Baker, over 14,000 feet high.  We got there in time to see the annual World Naked Bike Ride which I probably don't need to describe for you.  About one hundred cyclists race through the streets wearing nothing but athletic shoes.  the purpose is to promote cycling and to oppose fossil fuels.  They were accompanied by 3 (clothed) police officers.  My observation of that and nude beaches in my past experience is that most people who parade around naked, probably shouldn't. 

We took Nancy and her family to dinner at the Table Restaurant, a trendy place next door to the Mt. Baker Theater, a restored art deco theater that was once a grand movie palace.   I had a delicious gnocchi with Gorgonzola and red pepper sauce.   After dinner we went to the theater for a preview party with the featured act, Three Dog Night.  I had always though they were an Australian group, but actually they are from Los Angeles.  The group got its name from a magazine article about Australia in which it pointed out that Aborigines slept with their dogs at night to keep warm.  On especially cold nights, they would sleep with 3 dogs.

At the preview party for season ticket holders, the group sat at a table and fielded questions from the audience as everyone feasted on hors oeuvre's.   My cousin's husband Lee asked Jimmy Greenspoon, one of the original members of the group, "What's the deal with Jeremiah was a bullfrog?"  Greenspoon responded that they needed a song to fill out the album they were recording.  Songwriter Hoyt Axton came in and wrote the song.  The group thought he was crazy, but they recorded it.  When the song Joy to the World made it to Number One on Billboard,  they revised their opinion of the song. 

The concert was terrific, as Three Dog Night played all the songs we're familiar with, including  One, Joy to the World, Eli's Coming, Shambala, East to be Hard, etc.    The audience was rocking.  The young couple sitting next to us were jumping up and down in ecstasy.  We decided that they were high on something, so we let them be.   The acoustics left something to be desired, but the restored theater is beautiful with wall hangings and chandeliers. 

After the concert, we said our goodbyes and drove the hour and a half back to our motel near Seattle to prepare for the next leg of our trip down to California.  But first:


Although you can see Mt. Rainier from Seattle, it's about a 2 hour drive to get there.   Mt. Rainier, an active volcano, is one of the tallest peaks in the U.S. at 14,410 feet.  It used to be several thousand feet higher before the last eruption.  Normally the mountain is enshrouded in clouds, and we didn't expect to see much.  The day started out overcast when we left Seattle, but to our good fortune, it cleared up and the sun came out.  Mt. Rainier is a national park, operated by the Federal government. 

We were privileged to see this majestic mountain in all its glory.  It is completely covered with snow.  They get over 1000 inches of snow each year, and the mountain has 26 glaciers covering 35 square miles where the snow never melts.  On June 8th, when we visited, many of the roads were still closed because of snow.  Many tourists brought their cross country skis.  By the time we got to the lodge it was lunchtime.  After driving for an hour or so on narrow mountain roads without guardrails, it was a welcome break.  The chili in the restaurant was outstanding. 

The scenery in the park was breathtaking.  Besides our unbelievably clear view of the mountain, we saw numerous waterfalls, gorges and glaciers as well as dense pine forests.  This national park is not well known outside the Pacific Northwest, but it is certainly worth the visit.



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