After 37 days on Whidbey the wanderlust overcame our love of the island, and since we finally ran out of extensions at the fantastic RV Park on the Naval Air Station, we decided to continue on our original roughly outlined plan. So on August 1st we pulled chocks and headed generally east. We left via the north end of the island chain, which means that rather than an expensive ferry ride we crossed Deception Pass and then took the bridge to the mainland. We made a quick stop at the Swinomish Casino to do our usual players club sign up for free slot machine credit, and walked out with an additional $11 bucks to our name and working a sugar rush from the free soda. Woot!
We also stocked up on booze, mistakenly thinking that the tribal casino would not charge the ludicrous Washington liquor taxes. In addition to 20.5% sales tax, the state also charges $3.77 per liter excise tax. So a $20 fifth would actually cost you $26.93. Ridiculous.
From there it was a short 90 minute drive to our first stop: a small private RV site just outside North Cascades National Park. Our campground, Alpine RV Park, was a fairly utilitarian affair less than a dozen miles from the park entrance, but since they took the PA rate, it was a great deal: $15 a night for full hook ups including generally usable WiFi. The shower house was pretty deteriorated and the lot was nothing to write home about, but the price and location were perfect for us budget travelers.
This would be only our second national park of the year; we had managed to get to the Channel Islands, but circumstances (crowds, availability, weather, and our own financial limitations) had caused us to skip the popular California, Oregon and Washington options. Unfortunately, our timing was pretty awful for this park since the entire region was blanketed in smoke from several out of control wildfires in British Columbia.
This meant that the normally amazing views were heavily obscured and hiking would involve sucking in a lot of particulate. We made the best of it with our traditional stop at the visitor center for the park movie, a day drive through part of the park, a short hike beside a set of waterfalls behind the old hydroelectric power plant, and a (very) quick swim in the Skagit River just south of Lake Diablo.
We spent our last day in the area doing a bit of geocaching (dropped off two trackables we had lugged all the way from the Florida Keys), visiting a fish hatchery, and wine tasting at Glacier Peak Winery. While they had some traditional dry wines there, we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the dessert options since that is usually not our thing at all, and we walked out with the excellent and unique black currant wine.
In better conditions, North Cascades would be in our our top third of National Parks, particularly since it is not nearly as crowded as the better known places. We cut our stay to three days and moved on, pushing through the rest of Washington. After a 20 mile detour to dodge another wildfire, we arrived at Lakeview Terrace, a Passport-America park near the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. It was a nice little place, not exactly a resort or destination location, but the small RV section had medium sized spaces, full hook up connections, and a bit of greenery in each site.
We were particularly surprised by the wildlife wandering through what is basically a residential neighborhood. Three does spent a good amount of time on a nearby site chomping down on what looked to be a crab apple tree, and a flock of wild turkey passed through as well. At $17.50 a night on the PA rate, this park was an excellent value.
From there it was on to our last Washington stop: one night at Clear Lake Recreation Area, an Air Force Family Campground near Fairchild AFB. They operate two facilities in the area, one on base and this one a dozen miles south. Like many Air Force camps, the former is a first come, first serve facility, and a call to the Recreation Office revealed that it was full. So we turned off the interstate for the Clear Lake option.
It was a great choice; we didn’t have to deal with finding a commercial truck gate on base, and Clear Lake, as the names suggests, is situated on a nice big lake. The sites were pretty basic and few of them had any trees, but at $20 for full hook up it was a good stopping point before we moved on through Idaho into Montana. Additionally, due to our participation in the Air Force Frequent Camper program, every Family Camp at which we stay effectively gets us half of a free night certificate for future stops.
We are headed towards Glacier National Park next, which segues into a public service announcement: If you are 62 and over, the senior lifetime National Park Pass will increase from from $10 to $80 on August 28th, so get you pass now while it’s dirt cheap.