Sunday, August 24, 2014

The North Cascades Beckon!

One of the features of a drive along Interstate 5 between Birch Bay and Seattle is a view of the Cascade Mountains lying to the east. During the first part of the drive, weather permitting, Mt. Baker (a dormant volcano and third largest peak in Washington state) provides irresistible scenery.
Mt. Baker with Bellingham in the Foreground

Though the mountains have been frequently in view, I have sampled the Cascades mainly through visits to Mt. Baker, driving on a few occasions to Artist Point in the latter part of summer when the snow is finally cleared and the road to it is open. Also, I have sped several times across the Cascades driving on Interstate 90 to get from Seattle to points east. Driving this four-lane highway, I have enjoyed quick glances around, especially when crossing Snoqualmie Pass. However, I have yet to take the time to get out of the car to look around.

My resolve to devote more time to exploring and enjoying the Cascades was fortified when I recently read The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide by Jack McLeod. This book has convinced me that it is time to explore the mountains. They are simply too close to ignore. My Birch Bay condo, according to Google maps, is a mere 90-minute drive from the start of a spectacular 83-mile drive across the mountains on Washington State Highway 20. The drive starts at mile 97.6 of the highway (in Rockport) and ends at mile 180 (in Mazama).

This highway, whose construction took decades, was completed only in 1972. Even now, parts of it close in the winter when deep snow and avalanches from the Washington Pass area cover it. Typically the closures occur from late November to late 

When driving the highway during its open months, first-time visitors will find likely McLeod’s book of great value. It advises visitors of the best places (identified by milepost number) to stop for superior views, and it suggests trails to take to see vistas not visible from the highway. In fact, one of the main messages of the book is to get out of the car and look around.  

From the highway, visitors can see numerous high peaks (with such colorful names as Bonanza [9,511 ft.], Stiletto [7,660 ft.], Switchblade [7,805 ft], and Cutthroat [8,050 ft.]) and mountains (such as Hozomeen Mountain [8,071 ft.], Jack Mountain [9,066 ft.], Sourdough Mountain (6,120 ft.], and Crater Mountain [8,128 ft]). Also, the drive follows the Skagit River for many miles, and it goes near three large lakes (Gorge, Diablo, and Ross Lakes), all man-made to provide power to Seattle.  

A couple of the Passes (both not far from Mazama) have especially interesting features. Rainy Pass (mile 157) is, according to McLeod, “the final barrier to moisture-filled clouds from the Pacific, which drop a yearly average of fifty-six inches of rain. The pass separates the wet west from the dry east.”  This pass is also “a trail hub for hikers of all levels” writes McLeod, who suggests some alternative walks. Of course, the truly brave could get on the Pacific Crest Trail near this pass and walk a couple thousand miles to Mexico.  

Five miles from Rainy Pass lies Washington Pass (mile 162.2), which according to McLeod is “the most spectacular and most photographed slice of the North Cascades” with views of the Liberty Bell and Early Winters Spires. Because of the type of rock in this area, it is a favorite place for rock climbers.

Next year when I travel this stretch of Highway 20 for the first time, I intend to have The North Cascades Highway at my side to help determine where to stop and to assist identifying what I am seeing. The book is stuffed with pictures of views from the highway with labels identifying the prominent features. In addition to the travel advice, the book is heavy on geology (answering the question: What kind of rocks are those?), with a smattering of poetry and exhortation (“Get out of the car and look around”).  

When making this trip, I certainly plan to get out of the car and walk some (short) trails. To help with that, I am going to consult another recently published book such as Hiking the North Cascades: A Guide to More Than 100 Great Hiking Adventures by Eric Molvar or one the other books that have been written on this topic.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Danielka's Fayetteville Adventures: Summer 2014

Circumstances have made it impossible for me to spend much time at my home in Birch Bay, WA during July and August, and that was especially disappointing because my Godson – the twelve-year-old dynamo from Podolsk (Moscow Oblast, Russia) – arrived on July 5 for his annual visit. The trip to Birch Bay, with his mother Oxana, was fifth time that Danielka Kalmykov (also known as Ka-Boy “the majestic and the powerful”) has traveled there to spend much of the summer.

Awesome Danielka
When it became clear that I would not be in Birch Bay most of time when Ka-Boy and his mother were there, Danielka’s Godmother and aunt, Natalia, proposed that he, his mother, and she travel to Arkansas and stay a week in Fayetteville, where I am presently required to be. I thought that was a great idea, and the trip was on. I flew from Fayetteville to Birch Bay, where my Subaru was sitting; then the four of us drove for 32 hours to get to Fayetteville.

 The four days on the road first took us through the noteworthy scenery of Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.  We poked through these states, enjoying the views and vowing to return for longer stays at different cities and sites.  During this part of the trip, Natalia and Oxana, denizens of the back seat, kept pointing out buffaloes and elk; Danielka and I responded with proper skepticism and scorn. We, in turn, kindly pointed out the grazing unicorns and dragons along the way.
Natalia, Danielka, and Oxana at a Scenic Spot in Washington State
Danielka claimed the shotgun seat with some vehemence. He pointed out that during the past five years or so, he had been forced to sit in the back seat. Now that he has reached 12, and of course his soul is 14 years old, it was his turn to sit in the front. The main problem with him occupying the front passenger seat was that he was not heavy enough for the sensor to know that someone was sitting in the seat. With him sitting there, a light indicated that the seat was empty and the air bag was not on. To solve that problem, every time Danielka got into the car, he carried a heavy box of books with him. When we got the signal that the passenger air bag was on, his mother would take the box and put in the back of the car.

Danielka Enjoying the Ride

Midway in the trip, we left the mountains to travel the straight roads of South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri. We sped through these states, and Danielka amused himself by reading the Hunger Games, which he enjoyed.

On one long stretch in South Dakota, Oxana – who recently got her driver’s license in Russia – volunteered to drive. She had never driven before in the U.S. She took the wheel for an hour or so. Not only was she very nervous, the rest of us had white knuckles waiting for the inevitable crash. She did fine, at least until she ran a red light at the exit. Fortunately, we all survived and celebrated by stuffing ourselves at a Denny’s.
Oxana Drives for First Time in the U.S.
After leaving on a Tuesday, we arrived in Fayetteville on Friday, early in the evening. The week that followed was full of fun and firsts for Danielka. They included:

A Sunday concert at the Fayetteville Public Library. It was a surprisingly good concert by a Barrett Baber, Fayetteville singer and songwriter, who also teaches sometimes at Fayetteville High School.  He writes some great songs and is a strong performer, and he has had some recent successes, including an appearance at the 2014 Grammys. His song “Arkansas (Get There from Here)” has been selected for use in advertisements promoting tourism in Arkansas. If you have not heard him, check him out at this site:  or on Facebook. He will be performing with the Razorback Band at halftime of the September 20th football game.

Danielka, who has become a serious student of the guitar, sat on the front row to watch the fingering of Baber as he played his guitar.

Danielka closely watches Baber play the guitar

First peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Danielka had his first taste of this delicacy at the Eleven Restaurant at the Crystal Bridges Museum. His mother, Oxana, also had her first taste of grits, enjoying the Shrimp and Grits selection. I savored my 3,000th meal of tasty brown beans and cornbread. Natalia was underwhelmed by the High South Chicken Salad. See the Eleven’s lunch menu here:
Oxana enjoys her first grits

First Grapette and Moon Pie.  Later the same day that he enjoyed the pb&j sandwich, Danielka got his first tastes of Grapette (purple, containing “no fruit juice”) and Moon Pies, bought at the store at the entrance of the Walmart “Museum” on the Bentonville square.  He found both to this liking.
Hard-to-Find Grapette
First B-B-Q Ribs.  When the four of us stuffed ourselves at Penguin Eds, Danielka ate his first BBQ ribs.  Eating ribs was a homage to his cousin, Denis, Natalia’s son. In late 1996, when Denis arrived in Athens (GA) from Ukraine as an 11 year, he took mightily to ribs, and for months that is all he wanted to eat whenever we went out to a restaurant. Ka-Boy ate the ribs with evident enthusiasm.

Danielka chomping BBQ Ribs

First Frosty Mug of A&W Root Beer. After losing (again) some bet with Danielka, I owed him a frosty mug of A&W root beer, which I had assured him had no equal it came to slaking thirst on hot days. Shortly after getting to Fayetteville, I was chagrined to learn that Fayetteville no longer has an A&W drive in or restaurant (though the Sonic drive ins are ubiquitous). Checking the internet, I found that the nearest A&W restaurants are in Fort Smith and Siloam Springs. So the last full day on the visit, we all drove to Siloam Springs to have a large frosted mug of root beer. It did not disappoint.

Danielka and Natalia Enjoy A&W Root Beer in a Frosty Mug

A trip to Tahlequah, OK to see the Cherokee capital. We took one afternoon to visit Tahlequah. I am not sure that I have ever visited this city, though I vaguely remember playing baseball there in the early ‘60s. I was surprised to find, after a 90 minute drive through Ozark foothills, an attractive downtown and several historic buildings. We devoured tasty pizza at Sam and Ella’s Chicken Palace, which is stuffed with chicken pictures, knick knacks and artifacts (for reviews of this restaurant, see )  Then we spent a couple of hours at the Cherokee Heritage Center, located a short drive from downtown Tahlequah. There, we learned a little about the history of the Cherokees, and Danielka scored a colorful tee shirt that will be unique among his friends in Podolsk. See

Danielka watches a demonstration of  wool dying at the Cherokee Heritage Center
On the way to Tahlequah, we stopped by the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park for a quick history of the battle and a look at some of the old buildings. (See
The park seems improved very time I go there. 

Natalia, Danielka, and Oxana at the Latta House in the Prairie Grove Battlefield Park

Daily dog walk. One of the pleasures of Danielka’s visit was a daily morning walk by or near Lake Fayetteville and its trails with my mother’s two dogs, Abby and Peppy (aka Pepsi). Danielka does not have a dog, and has not spent much time with them. He managed to make the dogs his friends through a liberal dispensation of treats. 

Danielka gives Abby a treat
Unfortunately, the trips to Lake Fayetteville raised some concerns. On the first day, we spotted a truck near the trails that. we think, was following us to conduct secret surveillance. Every day we went to Lake Fayetteville, the truck was there. The truck, as shown below, apparently belongs to the notorious secret police of the Soviet Union, the KGB.

If the KGB was listening to our conversations, they learned that Danielka was engaged in a battle on Minecraft against a ruthless and evil player who had stolen some valuable weapons from him and was a threat to other players. Ka-Boy was enlisting other Minecraft players to stop the bad guy from further misdeeds. Also, they would have heard of the elaborate prank that Danielka was planning to play on his Birch Bay neighbor, A.J., who is near Danielka's age. The goal was to scare him as much as possible. Danielka planned this prank, in part, because A.J. had not responded to a letter Danielka had sent him when A.J. was at a French Camp. In addition, they would have gained valuable details about Claire, A.J.'s dog with whom Ka-Boy had been playing, and a smart Chihuahua who belongs to a friend of his dad in Podolsk. 

In all, it was a great week in Fayetteville that went by quickly.  Natalia and I appreciated getting the opportunity to see the mind and energy of a robust and happy kid in action. Danielka and Oxana enjoyed their new experiences in the South.