Don’t get me wrong, I love the road less traveled as much as the next full timer, but sometimes when you take that road you get lost! But let me back up a bit. When I was searching for something to do on my birthday, I knew two things: I wanted to go someplace I had never been before and despite living in an absolutely beautiful setting, I needed a change of scenery. Mt. Rainier seemed perfect because it was a national park, and only 5 hours away by car. There were two routes we could take. One was all major highways and through Portland, or the “back way” which was on all new roads for us. Of course I chose the back way, and since we weren’t pulling the trailer, Lee agreed.
The beginning of the drive started out pretty great. We enjoyed the scenery and felt like we were getting back to a part of the lifestyle we really loved. Then we came upon one orange sign that said “Forest Service Road 24 was closed in 23 miles”. After a brief consultation we decided to keep going, because we had our paper atlas and Lee had the GPS in his phone. The farther north we went the less maintained the road was, and the deeper into the forest we were. We both lost cell service, but felt OK because our phone GPS was still working and then we came to an intersection. To the right was highway 24, which our phone wanted us to take, but now it said the road was absolutely closed in 12 miles. According to the GPS we needed to go farther than that, so not knowing what else to do we made a left on FS 90.
Now this is where it got dicey. 90 ran east/west and although my map had some thin road lines on it, none of them told us the name of the road. So I truly had no idea where this road would eventually end up, and more importantly didn’t know what road to take to go north again. 90 was in even worst shape than 24 was, and Lee started to dodge some serious potholes. More important than that, entire sections of the highway had “sunk” and despite his best efforts it was impossible to miss them all.
Now I was starting to worry. We had plenty of gas, but a flat tire in the middle of nowhere is an entirely different thing. Eventually I asked Lee to pull over so we could talk about it (not something I would have done in our early years as full timers), and he plugged in our Rand McNally RV GPS. We’ve had this GPS since the very beginning, and I’ll be honest we don’t use it much now, but when we need it we REALLY need it. The GPS loaded right up and started routing us, which is ultimately how we figured out which road to make a right on to go north. We also stumbled across the small town of Eagle Cliff in the middle of nowhere (closest utility power was 30 miles away) and there was a small campground and camp store. The guy running the place was super nice and verified that yes, 24 was actually closed, and we were roughly on the right track. Since it was well past lunch at this point we grabbed a couple of snacks and both wished the little pizza place was open.
Once we turned onto 25 we both started to feel better, but then we started to see the smoke. We’ve been really lucky at Timothy Lake this year with not many really bad smoky days, but the valley leading into Ranier was was full of it. There were lots of pull-offs and what we assume were spectacular views but we couldn’t see any of it. At this point I started to get really bummed out, because the weather report for Ranier had shown clear skies and there was no mention of smoke at all. Eventually we made it to our campground. Ohanapecosh, and went into the Visitors center. We met a very nice ranger who told us that unfortunately there was a fire ban (again not on the website anywhere before we took off and I read their twitter feed!), but I wasn’t too terribly disappointed because just in case we brought our new Bond Mfg 66603 Aurora Portable Gas Steel Fire Bowl, 18.5″, Black. The smoke was a larger concern, and at that point I was tired and just wanted to get into the campsite and eat some lunch.
Despite my darkening mood, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the campsite. #16 is on Ohanapecosh river and we even had a dirt path we could use to walk down to the river bed. It was a huge site, very deep, with a place close to the water we could pitch our tent. Really great site and the fact that it was only available for that one night made a ton of sense to me. It was in Loop A which was a generator free loop, and they had bear boxes for food at every site, which was a great feature. My only complaint was the restrooms, which were very dirty and didn’t include any paper towels for drying your hands, or soap in the dispensers.
After setting the tent up we were both starving and decided to try out a couple of our ready to eat meals we had brought with us. After our last camping experience and having raccoons get into our food, we both thought we wanted to try some dehydrated, “just add hot water” meals. Using Amex points we purchased about twenty bags of different meals and we both wanted to give them some of them a try. I should mention that these meals are NOT cheap, but they are super convenient and you don’t have to worry about bringing ice, coolers etc. There’s also zero cleanup, since all you use is a pot to boil water, and you pour the water into the bag to “cook” the food. You can eat right out of the bag, but we brought paper bowls. We had ordered multiple varieties and manufacturers to see what we liked, and Lee tried Mountain House Beef Stroganoff with Noodles and I tried Wise Foods Entree Dish Chili Mac with Beef (2 Servings)
Lee really enjoyed his, and the flavor of mine was surprisingly good, BUT we didn’t stir mine enough so there were chunks of powder in the bottom of mine which was not so good. It was definitely operator error, but a bit disappointing, because there was no good way to tell it wasn’t fully cooked until it was too late. Still, it got the job done, but despite being better flavored than I would like I was stuck on the price. They cost over $8 each, and I kept thinking about what other kinds of meals I could get for the same price, which isn’t really a fair comparison, because the whole idea is that you eat these when there are not other places around.
I was also struggling with the fact of how disappointed I was by the smoke. As full timers we tend to take a pretty philosophical view when weather isn’t cooperating, but mentally I was acting like I was on vacation and it was an all or nothing experience. That concerned me because theoretically we could jump int he truck and come back anytime we wanted to this summer, but the reality was we both knew we wouldn’t. This job has been seriously kicking our butts and it was tough enough to carve out these two days to get here. I really didn’t like the fact that I was feeling this way at all, but Lee said let’s just go into the park and see what we see.
Turns out that was an absolutely wonderful idea, and I am so glad I agreed. For one thing at 4pm crowds were minimal and as it got darker, more animals came out. From this point I am going to show you what we saw with the pictures, but I think you will agree that staying inside the park and exploring after 4pm is a great way to go!! That choice not only salvaged the day, but taught us something as well, and helped reconnect us once again to the true purpose of this lifestyle for us. By the way, we drove into the Stevens canyon Entrance (no one was manning the gate so entrance was free) and worked our way “backwards towards the Nisqually entrance.
Plus I saw on the map that there were two waterfalls near our route and I knew that the haze shouldn’t affect them much. Turns out the waterfalls were absolutely amazing and the Christine Falls were one of the most romantic waterfalls I have ever seen. There may have been waterfall kisses 🙂
After the wonderful waterfalls, we decided to go up to Paradise Inn and eat some dinner. We knew it would be pricey, historic lodges generally are, but splurging for a birthday dinner seemed like an OK thing. And I am so glad we did, because there was construction going on and we missed our turn into the parking lot which took us on a one way loop away from the lodge, and back down the hill to where we started when we headed up to the lodge. Lee stopped the car rather suddenly and asked for the camera, and started taking pictures of a hoary marmot. These guys are about as big as a ground hog and the only other place we had seen them was Alaska. The first little guy posed for me for a really long time to my delight and then a second one was on Lee’s side and stood up for him and he got some really great shots.
That encounter was amazing and pretty much dumb luck since we took the wrong turn and once again the lack of traffic on the roads made it possible. The lodge itself was OK, and dinner was pretty good, although the service wasn’t awesome. Lee had and Elk chili noodle dish and I had prime rib, which I actually really liked. It was a nice way to top off the day though, and the gift shop up there was pretty terrific.
After we were done we headed back and made it to the campsite in the dark, and fell asleep to the wonderful sounds of the river. It was a really good day and I was very grateful for it and especially grateful that my husband had hung in there with me and made it a special day. We had a plan B if it was still smoky the next day, but more about that in my next post.
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