In which we check one off: North Cascades National Park

For my birthday Jeff gave me a map of the US with all of the National Parks on it because he knows of my love of travel, my love of the outdoors and most of all, my love of checking things off lists.

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We hit a few of them on our way out here a few years ago (though sadly I didn’t know about the Wind Cave in South Dakota even though we were so close to it! Ahh!), and this weekend we checked another one off – the only one we were missing in Washington State: North Cascades National Park.



It’s only three hours drive north of Seattle now that WA 530 state route is back open after the Oso mudslide. We drove through the devastated area where 43 people died when the side of the mountain came crashing down one morning back in March. The road was early quiet – like driving through a graveyard.

State Route 530, opened one week ago on June 20th.

State Route 530, opened one week ago on June 20th.

The side of the mountain that came down and the destruction underneath.

The side of the mountain that came down and the destruction underneath.

We left after work on Friday and after fighting Seattle traffic, rain and some bad directions, we made it to the campsite with the last bit of our long Pacific Northwest daylight around 9:15pm, just enough to pick a spot and put up the tent. We had planned to use our air mattress like we had before in Yellowstone, only we hadn’t factored in that we had bought a larger size to replace the old one that died on my trip up to Whistler in January. It did not fit at all. But in the dark and pouring rain, all we could do was deflate it halfway and cram it in as best we could to get out of the wet – it filled up probably half of the tent by volume. We climbed in and managed to balance ourselves somewhat, now much closer to the tent roof and constantly readjusting our lopsided selves on top of the squishy behemoth. The air mattress at this point took on a life of its own; it was the third creature in our three-person, three-season tent. It felt like sleeping in what Jeff described as a half inflated fun house. It’s been years since I’ve slept outside where it rained hard throughout the entire night. I remembered that I do not miss that.

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John Muir in a letter to his sister, 1873

The next morning I managed to light the camp stove in what had let up to a light drizzle and we made coffee in the French press – it was much needed after the soggy, squished night. We then decided to hike up nearby Thunder Creek to the 4th of July Pass (it being close to the holiday and all and one of the only trails the park ranger said wasn’t covered in snow). We made it about 5 miles in the rain before deciding that we had had enough fun. A steep ascent had left us exposed on the side of an open mountain face and Jeff did not have adequate rain gear, so I made the call to turn back. It wasn’t fun rain. It wasn’t just deal with it rain. It was beat at you without tree cover, soak you to the bones rain. I’ve had hypothermia once before, many years ago and I wasn’t willing to repeat it.

Sometimes knowing when to turn back is just as important as knowing when to push on, even when it’s hard. We were close to the Pass and close to the top, but it was just getting too dangerous. It paralleled an experience I had had with a patient just the day before: a sweet kid with a medical condition that I could have easily precipitated into a medical emergency with a little stress of dental treatment. Sure, we could’ve gone ahead with the filling, and maybe nothing would have happened, but the conditions that day were just right for the makings of something more sinister and I had to make the call not to risk it. Same with the hike – we could have made it. Or because of today’s conditions, one of us could have gotten seriously hurt in the storm. The older I get, the easier it is to make the call. I think they call that maturity or something? Anyway, we got a few pictures of the old growth forest and Thunder Creek on the way down:


Very wet Elise


The water is milky blue green - from when the park's many glaciers have crushed the hills into fine power. This "mountain flour" mixes with the water and reflects the light to make it look this way.

The water is milky blue green – from when the park’s many glaciers have crushed the hills into fine powder. This “mountain flour” mixes with the water and reflects the light to make it look this way – it’s surreal.


We ate lunch back at our campsite and spent the rest of the day driving around looking at things. A lot of the trails still aren’t open yet because of snow – crazy to think that even after the official start of summer things are still thawing out here!

The old faithful Jeep - still trucking.

The old faithful Jeep – still trucking after 189,679 miles..




Overlooking Ross or Diablo Lake

It was freezing cold and still raining.

It was freezing cold and still raining.

Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake


More clouds moving in – time to get back in the car



Peaks peaking through

Around this time I began to feel very sick from lunch. We had grabbed to-go sandwiches from the grocery store since this was a last minute camping trip and we hadn’t had time to prepare well. Something in mine did not sit properly with me and I was struggling. This, coupled with the prospect of another rainy sleepless night in a deflated fun house of a tent, was too much. I called it again, for the second time in one day. The reason there are no pictures of our very picturesque campsite in Colonial Creek (right by a very blue lake in an old growth forest, really a spectacular spot) is because we packed everything in ten minutes of this decision and headed home.

I was fully reminded and humbled that June is not a summer month here. No matter what the calendar says, July 4th is the official start. This post on reading it highlights a lot of horrible things on our 28 hours trip up north – but it was in fact actually really good to 1) check off a new, and beautiful National Park and 2) get our bearings for when we come back. It’s too close and too pretty not to return. When it stops raining.

In which we go to Glacier (Part II)

We’re starting to perfect our camping skills as an offshoot of our “throw two bags in the car and go” skills. This time came the added challenge of sharing our adventure with some toothy wildlife:


Our campsite had recently had some bear sightings and the Ricky Rangers were out warning everyone to keep their food secure.

We ate all our meals out of the picnic basket that was a wedding present from my grandparents. They have the sweetest tradition that each grandchild is given a picnic basket and a family Bible when they marry. I love that this one is part traditional basket and part cooler on the bottom; we’re certainly getting some miles out of it!


DSC_0596 One of our favorite camping foods is “drunk fruit” which we invented in Yellowstone and made for this trip. The recipe is a jar of fruit, drain (drink) some of the liquid and then add back in your favorite spirit. Shake occasionally and then enjoy.


This time it was mangoes, peaches and rum.

For dinner we feasted on hotdogs and baked beans over a pretty darn good fire:

DSC_0607We ended the night sharing some marshmallow roasting techniques with sweet retired man at the campsite next to us. The secret is a good looped wire, focusing on the second mallow and lots of turning. He gifted us his homemade roasting wire as a present before he left. Thanks kind sir! Whenever we make perfectly roasted mallows we’ll think of you and your kind lessons!

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Good morning! Our new snuggle sleeping bags from REI worked great!

The next morning we drove the Going-To-The-Sun Road in reverse:

Saint Mary's Lake

Saint Mary’s Lake


Saint Mary's Lake with Wild Goose Island in the background.

Saint Mary’s Lake with the small dot of Wild Goose Island in the background.

Jackson Glacier, one of the only glaciers you can see from the Going-To-The-Sun Road (those other things are ice packs).

Jackson Glacier, one of the only glaciers you can see from the Going-To-The-Sun Road (those other white things in the pictures aren’t glaciers, they’re ice and snow packs).

Did you know in 1890 there were a 125 glaciers in GNP? Now there are only 25 and they’re all projected to disappear by 2030. Weird and sad to think I won’t be able to take my grandchildren to see this.

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This road hugs the mountain so intimately

Back down the mountains. This road hugs the mountain so intimately

Jeff loved driving this road - you can see the incredible panoramic views we were treated to.

Jeff loved driving this road – you can see the incredible panoramic views we were treated to.

One last stop at Logan's Pass

One last stop at Logan’s Pass

DSC_0650Thanks Glacier for the chance to come back and see more of your beauty! 

Soon it was time to head back towards the West. As we passed out of Montana we were reminded of how much beauty our untamed neighbor has:

Fields the same shade of yellow highlighters are apparently a flower being grown as an experimental biofuel

Fields the same shade of yellow highlighters are apparently a flower being grown as an experimental biofuel

The vastness is indescribable

The vastness is indescribable

Roads are sweet that lead to home

Roads are sweet that lead to home

We crossed into Eastern Washington which looks for all intensive purposes, like Kansas – flat and agricultural. It’s miles upon miles of peas, Timothy hay, wheat, corn and potatoes:

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Our Jeep is still holding up well, if only a little dusty after this latest jaunt. We’re at 181,143 and counting. You’ve got miles to go little Jeep. Miles to go.

Those are windmills in the background over the Columbia River Gorge

Those are windmills in the background over the Columbia River Gorge

And so ends a road trip that was all at once beautiful, long, refreshing, quick, enlightening and so, so worth it. Until our next adventure!

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In which we go to Glacier (Part I)

Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park in June 2012.

The view from our hotel room of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park in June 2012. Doesn’t it make you want more?

Last year on our trip out West, we tried to hit a lot of the highlights on a drive across the northern US. We got to see a lot of cool things: YellowstoneMount Rushmore, the World’s Largest Ball of Twine, etc, but we when we got to Glacier National Park in June the highlight of the park, the Going-To-The-Sun Road was closed for snow. To be fair, it was gorgeous all the same and the folks at the National Park Service would like to let you know there are other things to do, but it just seemed we were missing the whole main experience.

This picture, from the same place as the picture above, is the image on my work computer desktop and iPad  background

This picture, from the same place as the picture above only the next morning, I love so much. It is the image on my work computer desktop and iPad background

Jeff and I were hiking around a cool little urban pocket wilderness, Tiger Mountain State Park outside Issaquah, last week when we started talking about our move last year that had us chasing the ever lapping sun:

Me: You know the only thing I regret about that trip is that we didn’t get to drive the Going-To-The-Sun Road.
Jeff: Well, let’s do it next weekend.
Me: What?
Jeff: Yeah. I mean, we can do it. You’re not on call. It’s possible to get there in a day. We can do it, so we should do it if you want. 

And that’s one of the many reasons I married him. I’m thankful for his spirit of adventure and his insistence that we seize the opportunities we have control of. It’s a nice lesson to be reminded to do things if you can in fact, do them.

So that’s how on Thursday night we found ourselves in the insanely cool REI headquarters downtown, dodging mountain bikers on a tree lined test path and climbing out of the parking garage with its very own waterfall, to buy some sleeping bags:

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Inside REI Headquarters

And then on Friday after work, heading out on yet another Team Sarvas road trip. Just East this time:

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Just a 2 day, 1200 mile road trip. No big deal.

The original plan was to make it to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, just across the Washington state line to spend the night. When we got there though all hotels there and in nearby Spokane were booked. All. Of. Them. A helpful hotel clerk told us that our only real option was to continue driving 40 miles east and hopefully Kellogg, ID would have something. It was approaching midnight, but what could we do? So we kept trucking on, the whole time trying to call ahead, but failing due to losing signal in the mountains. The desk clerk at the almost full Silver Mountain Resort seemed sad that all he had to offer was a studio room, but perked up when I told him that he was my new favorite person and we’d take it! Yay for a bed and a shower after a long day of clinic and an even longer day of driving.

After a goodnight’s sleep and hearty breakfast we set out again and reached Glacier around 1pm. And then we started to climb. I’ll just let the pictures tell the story from here (though they do not begin to do it justice):

Stopping for lunch on the way up.

Stopping for lunch on the way up.

Adult lunchables!

Salami, cheeses, fancy crackers = Adult lunchables!

It's not being in the woods without some good ol' raisins and peanuts (and M&Ms, granola and banana chips..).

It’s not being in the woods without some good ol’ raisins and peanuts (and M&Ms, granola and banana chips..).

The road is carved into the sides of the mountains. Obviously Jeff drove and I tried to keep my fear of heights down to a dull roar.

The road is carved into the sides of the mountains. Obviously Jeff drove and I tried to keep my fear of heights down to a dull roar.




Rim Rock


You can see why the road is sometimes closed - they have to clear thousands of pounds of snow each year.

You can see why the road is sometimes closed – they have to clear thousands of cubic feet of snow each year.

It’s crazy the amount of snow they clear each year. The park even employs professional avalanche experts to test things out. Pictures from this year’s clearing can be found here. Check them out – they are indescribable!


So excited we got to do this!

Logan's Pass Visitor Center

Logan’s Pass Visitor Center

Bighorn sheep just chilling in the sunshine

Bighorn sheep just chilling in the sunshine

Continental Divide - 6646 ft

Continental Divide – 6646 ft


DSC_0557The entire road is about 50 miles long and once we reached the end of it and therefore the east side of Glacier, we decided to camp for the night and snagged one of 4 camping spots left. We certainly cut the obtaining of nightly lodging thin on this trip, but both nights we were fortunately okay! (But seriously, with two tents AND the Jeep, which we’ve definitely slept in before, are you really ever out of nightly shelter?).


Perk: The Rising Sun campground was right next to the Rising Sun Motor Inn which meant hot coffee in the morning!

We set up our new (to us) tent to test it out for a camping trip we’re planning later in the summer and started dinner. Just in case the blue one didn’t work we had my favorite small yellow Marmot I’ve had forever in the car as backup.

Not too shabby lodgings

Not too shabby

I feel I've inundated this post with too many pictures already, so more in the next post.

I feel I’ve inundated this post with too many pictures already, so more later.

In which I get crafty

First, thanks to all the veterans for keeping our country safe and for the many sacrifices you and your families make. Special shout outs to Granddaddy (Army, WWII-Pacific), my Papaw (Navy, WWII-Europe), my father in law (Air Force, Vietnam) and my little brother (Marine, Afghanistan) and cousin (Marine). Love you all so much.

Since apparently Veteran’s Day is a three day weekend up here I decided to get a little crafty to cover one of the walls of our apartment. We signed the lease for this place sight unseen when we moved here last June and while it’s clean and in a great location, the interior layout leaves some room for desirability. Lots of weird angles, not my favorite color paint and lots of awkward large wall spaces.

To try and add some color to one of the largest walls in the living area I decided to make some “art” that paid homage to the increasingly hard question, “Where are you from?”. I grew up in Tennessee but spent the last nine years in North Carolina in school. Jeff grew up in Pittsburgh, but then spend seven years in North Carolina and the last two working up in New Jersey. Now we are here on the complete opposite coast. By the time we explain all this, the poor asker of the question has a glazed over look and way more information than he or she was looking for.

So here’s what I made:

1. Start with large plywood boards (Lowe’s will cut them to size for you), acrylic paint (bought the cheapest that Michael’s sold), some yarn in contrasting colors and lots of nails (I used 1 1/4″).

2. Paint the boards. (Step 2b. Beg your husband to run out for newspaper because you’re tired of running around all day looking for the rest of the supplies and now remember why you don’t craft on a regular basis).

3. Find the shape of what you want to have on your board and print it out. I used this website to find the state outlines and this website to blow them up. Tape it to your board.

4. Start hammering (and try not to annoy your neighbors). You can nail directly into the board like I did, but that leaves some small paper tags at the end. You can also try and impress your outline with a dull blade if you want to be all fancy. Keep the nails fairly tight together, but don’t get lost in the details of recreating a coastline or river border.

5. Rip off the paper (if it’s still there) and start stringing your yarn around all the nails. The more random you can be the better the outcome. Be sure to tie it off a few times so one slip off the nail won’t cause the entire piece to fall apart.

6. And repeat as many times as your neighbors will let you.

I secured them to the wall with some heavy duty 3M stickies (rated up to hold 9lbs! Love those engineers!). It’s not perfect (and Washington bothers me because it looks a little stubby – but I guess that’s just what the eastern edge looks like), but it’s a nice color pop on an otherwise bare and highly visible wall.

In which these are the last of the pictures from our trip

I know these are horribly out of order, but at least this completes the last of our pictures from our trip across the US last summer. After leaving Yellowstone we made our way north through Montana, stopping for the night in Helena (pronounced Hel-eh-na, not Hel-lee-na like I’d been saying my entire life in those name the capitol quizzes).

Official border crossing while leaving Yellowstone

More impressive state sign in Gardner, MT

We decided to check out the Lewis and Clark Brewing Company for dinner since 1) it was just down the road from our hotel and 2) like the yuppies we are, we’re fond of local breweries. The reviews online praised their beer and burgers, but when we got there they only had beer – no food except some popcorn and bar nuts. Also as a brewery they had some interesting rules:

Fortunately Helena had a great little pizza place just a block away and we filled up our bellies there instead.

Montana bills itself as one of the last great wildernesses in the contiguous United States and after spending much of the next day driving through it, the claim is pretty accurate. Despite being June it was cold and we spent hours driving without passing another car or building. I can only imagine the solitude here in the depths of winter.

Montana landscape

Our goal was to see Glacier National Park and drive its famous Going-To-The-Sun road as one of our final destinations before Seattle. We should’ve known that wasn’t going to happen when we stopped at a diner in West Glacier for some huckleberry pie and the only people there happened to be us and a park worker that said he started next week “at the beginning of the season”. My entire life I was somehow incorrect in counting June as a summer month – in Montana at least it is more of a late winter/early spring season.

We were some of the only tourists going into the park and one of the only rooms occupied in the Village Inn at Apgar. The Going-To-The-Sun road was closed due to snow and they hadn’t yet finished plowing it. I was pretty disappointed because I was looking forward to driving what has been called one of the most scenic roads in America, but we made the best of the evening and treated ourselves to a delicious meal at the nearby and nearly empty Lake McDonald lodge before retiring to our hotel room to hunker down under several blankets with the heater cranked on high.

View from our hotel window when we first checked into the the Inn

Lake McDonald – getting a glimpse of the peaks as the clouds moved out


Our first sighting that Glacier National Park has glaciers..

The next morning brought sunnier, clearer skies

The next morning we decided to drive the 10 miles of the Going-To-The-Sun road that were open to at least see a little of the park that we’d budgeted two days to explore.

Attempt as a self portrait from our hotel patio

The loyal Jeep

Lake McDonald

Since our ability to see more of Glacier was hampered by the snow fall we decided just to go ahead and drive to Seattle that day and end up there two days early.

To round out our road signs:

The day we drove in Washington was characteristically rainy – appropriate I think for our first time together in the Northwest.

Eastern Washington reminds me a lot of Kansas – flat and agricultural.

And that rounds out our trip across the US. If you ever have a chance to do it, go. We have a vast and diverse country. Travel on back roads as often as you can. Eat huckleberry pie from the dingiest diner you can find. Play all your favorite songs and listen to some new books. Pick a good co-pilot. Know that BLTs are best enjoyed at the local gas station/restaurant. Experience the areas you’ve only ever seen in books and on postcards. Do everything you’ve ever wanted – who knows when you’ll make your way there again.

And always keep in mind that the best part of the trip is the journey itself.

In which there was no rain and there were no vampires.

After our gigantic kayak fail last weekend we decided to take a trip that left navigating water to the professionals. From our balcony we can see the glaciated tops of the Olympic Mountains and so today we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and took a trip out to the Peninsula. Nothing like sunny day to inspire a trip to one of the rainiest spots on earth!

We left early and caught the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston – the first time I’ve ever driven my car on a boat!

As you can see, it was a little foggy. Looking through the windows of the boat you could see little more than a thin line dividing similarly colored heavens and water. This blank background made it easy to pick out orangey pink jellyfish floating in the sound and we briefly giggled at a passing otter that Jeff spotted.

Once on the Peninsula we drove west, a direction that after the past month or so we thought we had run out of. This took us through the town of Forks of Twilight fame. Lots of kitsch, but no vampires – maybe because by this time the sun had come out.

(and no we didn’t go on the tour – I like being married and I’m pretty sure forcing Jeff on the Twilight tour would have ruined this good thing we have going)

 There isn’t a whole lot on the Olympic Peninsula; it boils down to mostly a big chunk of inhabitable rugged mountains making up the Olympic National Park in the middle circumnavigated by the 101, a highway that starts up here and goes all the way down to the East Los Angeles Interchange (the world’s busiest highway interchange, btw). The 101 took us past Lake Crescent on our way to the Western entrance to the Hoh Rainforest.

It was really pretty, really blue and really clear

 We finally made it to the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park around lunchtime. Yay for our America The Beautiful pass for getting us in for free (we’d broken even on buying it at Glacier National Park but now we’re saving money on it!). This is the rainiest spot in the continental US, averaging 150 inches of rain a year – that’s 12.5 feet! From our visit you’d never know it though because it was gorgeous and sunny.

Phone booth!

We walked the brief Hall of Mosses trail which looked like it was straight out of the Dagobah system.

Many massive trees!

In a temperate rainforest there is a lot of moss

This was a skinny tree

Trees growing out of trees!

Massive trees and moss!

Little blurry, but that’s what you get with the auto timer

After lots of green and sunshine to recharge my soul, we headed back to Seattle on a much clearer ferry ride with great views of Puget Sound.

My car – ON A BOAT!
(i was wearing flippie floppies)

Good day trip 😀

After a long day of driving all over creation we settled into a nice chicken dinner at home and past episodes of The Office.

So today’s lesson: sometimes there is no rain in the alleged rainforest and when it’s sunny there are no vampires in Forks.

Also we found Twilight beer at our corner market and thought it was an appropriate end to a day spent visiting Forks.

Jeff saw this picture on my phone right after I took it and immediately said

“Well you won”.
“Won what?”
“Won Instagram.”
“You took a picture of an ironic picture of an ironic Twilight beer (which was probably already ironically named) with Instagram while in Seattle. If that doesn’t win I don’t know what does.”

So I drank one for winning. And it was delicious. The End.