The Cascade mountains trim the highway in jagged purple peaks. Towering thin-legged pine trees, straight as pencils, reach to the sky 100 feet or more. The charming ports and marinas of Puget Sound bustle with shoppers, seafarers, diners and tourists. Everywhere are beaches and the exhilarating saltwater crispness of a coastal state. Pure white snow-covered Mount Ranier peeks through the clouds like the logo of Paramount pictures. Columbia River rushes through its ever-deepening gorge. Huge trees draped in gossamer greenish-gray moss create a perpetually streaming veil throughout the wet, dripping rain forests in the Olympic National Park as the spike moss provides a soft, cushy carpet of velvet beneath the trodding feet of awed tourists.
STATE TOURIST INFORMATION: (800) 547-7842
OLYMPIA -- "So fair a dwelling place"
"Afar their crystal summits rise
Like gems against the sunset skies,
While far below, the shadowy mist
In waves of pearl and amethyst,
'Round somber fir and stately pine,
It's dewy, jeweled fingers twine;
Olympia's gods might view with grace,
Nor scorn so fair a dwelling place."
-- Composed in 1849
by Colonel I.N. Ebey,
Gold Miner from Missouri
Olympia is a town that offers great water views, parks, a bayside open air Farmer's Market, seafood, vegetarian restaurants, cafes and off-beat stores with some rare and unusual finds. The weather is pleasant most of the year, so are the people. Never saw such polite, well-mannered people. Public transportation is both affordable and reliable. There's even a Free city bus to take you shopping all around the area all day long. A wonderfully livable city.
Statehouse (360) 586-8687
It's called the Legislative Building, not the Capitol. Located directly across from the Temple of Justice, it's one of the four buildings which make up the Capitol Campus, a "revolutionary concept of a capitol group instead of a single building," proposed by the New York architects in 1928. Inside this building is a marble marvel: Walls, floors, staircases, railings, pillars and columns . . . all gray marble. Sounds a bit bleak for this gray-weather town, but the pink and gold accent colors and the natural lighting soften the cold austerity into a peaceful, warm glow.
Tip: If the tour is small enough, you might get a peek into the Office of the Secretary of State and see his private collection of rare and unusual artifacts, including an entire bulletin board of old campaign buttons that go back 20, 30, 50 . . .even 100 years.
Tip: On Wednesdays you can get a tour of the Governor's mansion next to the Capitol.
Check it out . . . The grounds are beautiful with a "Heritage Trail" that descends to Budd Inlet, which you can see from the capitol. The view is spectacular. Be sure to rest your feet and your eyes at the synchronized fountain in Heritage Park below.
Check it out . . . Before taking the Heritage Trail pop into the Capitol Greenhouse Conservatory to the right of the trailhead. In addition to cultivating flowers for the capitol grounds, it also holds a small, but interesting collection of cactus.
MOUNT ST. HELENS NATIONAL VOLCANIC MONUMENT (360) 750-3900
This 110,000 acre park is like a shrine to the May 1980 volcano eruption. In addition to the remains of the mountain itself is the remnants of the deadly devastation of the surrounding areas. Skeleton trees in a morbid ash-gray color litter the landscape as a haunting record of the ferocious power of the blast.
Highway 504 is a 43-mile drive with five Visitor Centers depicting different aspects of the volcanic area.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument Visitor Center -- An introductory film, an historical photo display, artifacts, and a walk-through model of the volcano make this visitor center a great launching point to this 43-mile drive.
Tip: This is the first official Visitor's Center, five miles from the exit onto Hwy 504. The first Visitor's Center you'll see, about three miles before this one is not part of the park system. It does, however, show a IMAX type of film of the eruption. We came here first, thinking it was part of the park system and spent too much time browsing, making us rush through the other more interesting spots. It's nice to visit, but make it your last stop, not your first.
Hoffstadt Bluff Visitor Center -- The restaurant will fill your tummy while you feast your eyes on panoramic views of the Toutle River valley. You can also catch helicopter tours here.
Forest Learning Center -- This center offers an indepth display of the reforestation of the area, particularly from a lumbering point of view, i.e., what happened to downed trees that were usable? How were these gigantic trees removed from blocking rivers, roads, and homes? Snippets of survivor's tales and an account of the now famous Harry Truman, the man who refused to evacuate add a human touch. There is also a great film on Elk. Absolutely beautiful.
Tip: Visitors can sit in the cockpit of a simulated helicopter, put on headphones and pretend to fly over the area.
Tip: At the entrance is a cave-like structure that has a short film and a life-sized display of a truck embedded in ash.
Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center -- The Observation Deck provides a spectacular view of Mount St. Helens, only 7 miles away from this vantage point.
Tip: Take a walk on the 1/4 mile "Birth of a Lake" interpretative trail and see how this new lake was formed as a result of the eruption.
Johnston Ridge Observatory -- This is the most fascinating of all the visitor centers with an all-encompassing display of the eruption and the most riveting scenery from its observation deck. This vantage point offers awesome views of the mountain, now only 5 miles away, where you can see the still smoldering lava dome, the crater, the pumice and the landslide deposits. A wide-screen film shows a "Speilberg-style" reenactment of what happened inside and outside the volcano. After this exceptional film, the screen is raised, the drapes are drawn, and the audience is left agape, staring through an enormous window at Mount St. Helens as it is today. The real thing. It's a breathtakingly dramatic effect.
Tip: If you have limited time, skip all the other Visitor's Centers and go directly to this one, which is at the end of Hwy 504. Then, if time allows, stop at the other Visitor Centers on the way back.
This town has it all: open-air markets on the waterfront, restaurants of every flavor, each offering its own unique decor and atmosphere; shops for all tastes, espresso on every corner, parks of every size. And you're forever followed by omnipresent, snow-capped Mount Rainier.
Space Needle (800) 937-9582
Since it was built in 1962 for the World's Fair, the Space Needle has become the hallmark of Seattle. No trip is complete without taking the elevator to the top of this 600 foot building to get a birds-eye view of the town and its surrounding beauty from Puget Sound to the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges.
OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK (360) 452-0330
Olympic National Park is an exciting wilderness of 923,000 acres of land covering a vastly diversified collection of Nature's finest spectacles, from enormous, snow-covered mountains in the center, to fantastically rough-hewn beaches on the surrounding shores. And sprinkled in between are lakes, streams, and three rain forests. At 7,965 feet, Mount Olympus is the highest of the park's mountains and dominates much of the scenery like a big friendly ghost guiding the way. The only way to get to the Olympic National Park is via Highway 101, which loops around the Olympic Peninsula and is itself a beautiful scenic ride through towering pines, ocean views, and fabulous beaches. Side roads off Rte. 101 lead into the park's various glacier trails, rain forest trails, or wildlife trails -- whatever suits your fancy.
Tip: Don't miss the "Hall of Mosses Trail." It's less than a mile long, yet it transports you into a fairyland of misty, mystical, moss-covered woods with huge, twisted trees draped in veils of gossamer green moss.
OUR CAMPSITES FOR THE WEEK:
Olympia Campground, Olympia (360) 352-2551
Pines. Pines and more Pines. Feel like Hansel and Gretel in this campground filled with tall, pencil-thin pine trees that stand one-hundred feet high, or higher, in this wooded wonderland. Sweet scents continually waft through the RV, making it feel more like a cabin in the woods, than a tin box in a parking space. The sites are very spacious, giving a sense of privacy and hominess. Great facilities, clean and warm bathrooms and showers -- and walking distance to public transportation into Olympia. The hosts are friendly and go out of their way to be helpful.