Mother’s Day 2011 – the mountain loop.

Waffles polished off and coffee demolished Bill suggested we get out of the house. On the other side of the window it was shaping up to be a lovely day. Bill had a plan, and other than reassuring me that it wouldn’t involve walking too far (still battling the leg injury), he kept quiet as to where he was taking us.

By the time we packed the kids, and essential kid supplies, into the car it was already gone 1 o’clock. But no matter, daylight hours are stretching out nicely here in Seattle. All settled and buckled in, off we drove for a day trip to somewhere.

Bill hit the road and we went North. Up through Shoreline and beyond. It wasn’t a very scenic drive, though still interesting as the area is new to us. Nothing really to talk about though. As we drove Bill was evaluating the dismal view and looking a little worried.

Eventually we arrived at the outskirts of a town promisingly called Granite Falls. There was a roundabout. Actually a $29 million truck bypass roundabout. “Happy Mother’s Day! I’ve brought you all this way to see a roundabout!” Bill grinned. We drove around the roundabout, and it started to rain. Wipers on, we continued on through the town and quickly hit a sad looking t-junction. This was our real surprise destination.

“The Mountain Loop Highway!” Bill announced. Knowing that I really wanted to be running up a mountain instead of feeling sorry for myself limping around he had taken us up for a scenic drive around the Cascades instead. We turned right and a little later the amazing views began. Mist enshrouded, snow capped peaks towered above us, looming high above the tall thin spiky pine trees flanking the road.

The highway is about 55 miles long and travels through Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, connecting the town of Granite Falls with Darrington. It’s not always open though, stretches are often closed in winter due to snow or flooding. Signs warned us that today we could drive for just 22 miles before the route would be cordoned off.

The road sidled up to a river and it became our companion for many miles. The water was choppy with ridges of frothy white. It didn’t look too fierce but it’s true ferocity was evidenced by sightings of uprooted trees, tumbled down the mountain side, now being dragged downstream by the fury.

On our other side a wall of dense moss covered forest clung to the steep banks of mountainside. Numerous waterfalls were spotted coursing down granite cliffs, flowing into swampy patches of skunk cabbage and somehow soaking beneath the road to join the river on the other side. It was easy to see how the road closes due to flooding.

We kept nervously hoping to perhaps catch sight of a bear on the riverbank or see one wading through a shallow. It certainly seemed like prime bear fishing land. Peering through the trees into the woods we kept our eyes peeled. Was it still too cold for the beasts to come out of hibernation? Or were they out there somewhere, awake and ravenous?

Along the route were several campgrounds, right next to the river and clearly visible from the road. Wooden signs pointed into the woods towards numerous hiking trails taunted me.

The Red Bridge Campground, complete with a red bridge marked the point of our destination’s end. If we had been able to continue further the two lane road would apparently become single-lane, and gravel.

Pulling into the parking area to stretch our legs we spotted a tunnel in the hill side. Investigating turned out to be a bit of a damp squid as the palaver of the whole family hauling on rain gear, tromping through puddles and a small stream, then up a slight muddy slope was really not worth the effort. It was an old mining portal fruitlessly worked over by two brothers with a pick from 1900 to 1926 and then abandoned. Today it was dark, smelly and broken beer bottles greeted us inside.

The most interesting find was on the explanatory plaque in the car park. What at first appeared to be an old photo of a mining brother working was actually a picture of a lady chipping away with a pick. I don’t know what she was up to, but a later Google search revealed that she was certainly seems to have been quite an interesting lady: Enid Norlund.

Time for a quick photo with Bea before the kids started getting really fractious and hungry and we clambered back into the car to return to Granite Falls in search of nourishment.

On our second pass by the Verlot Ranger Station we stopped for Bea to go potty and then wondered how we almost missed seeing an incredible giant slice of tree arranged with its own protective roof hunkered down at the side of the road. The rings were labelled with historic dates spanning the life time of the tree. The centremost one read “1513 – Balboa discovers the Pacific Ocean.”

Putting the kids palate first, on our return to Granite Falls we opted to dine at the local pizzahouse. Child friendly pizza freshly baked and laid down in front of us, suddenly neither child was at all hungry. Despite the prior half hour of constant whining about being positively starving both refused to eat a morsel. Bea dumped her milk on herself and had to leave the restaurant in her underpants. Desperate promises of ice cream kept them at bay for the remainder of the trip home.

A first class Mother’s Day. Thank you Bill. Thank you Sam and Bea.

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