Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Motorcycle Ride to Sumas

Another beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest found us once again on the motorcycle.  This time we headed up to the Sumas border crossing into British Columbia. It is the perfect ride - through the Skagit and Whatcom County valleys with mountain and river views the entire way.  It is just about 100 miles - a perfect day trip.
We headed out Jordan Road to Arlington, following the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River.  
Highway 9 between Arlington and Sedro Wooley is dotted with lakes. We followed long, narrow Lake McMurray for a couple of miles, and then entered the forest for a few miles.
We had peek-a-boo views of Big Lake for many miles.
Mount Baker in the background, flourishing dairy farm fields in the foreground as we passed Big Lake and neared Clear Lake.
There was no place to stop in traffic as we went through Sedro Wooley, but the plaza when we entered the town was full of the most gorgeous flower display.
Mt Baker got closer and closer as we neared Acme, where we found the cleanest nicest biker bar we have ever been to.
Of course, it isn't just for bikers!  The food was excellent, and the view was wonderful.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Mountain Loop Highway - August 2011

We woke up on Sunday to a perfectly clear and sunny day, so the motorcycle came out of the garage and we set out as soon as I finished getting peaches into the dryer and laundry on the clothesline.
The highway is very scenic as it follows the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River from Granite Falls to Barlow Pass - a distance of about 30 miles.  On the other side, it follows the White Chuck River and then the Sauk River into Darrington, and then the North Fork of the Stilly into Arlington.
Most of the 100 mile loop follows a river through the forest.
The first hiking opportunity is about 3 miles East of Granite Falls, where a short trail takes you to the falls that gives the town its name.  One of the longest fish ladders in the country helps fish go past the falls to their breeding grounds upstream.
One of the most famous Mt Loop Highway trails is the easy one mile hike through the forest to the glaciers on Big Four Mountain.  Ice caves begin forming in June or July.  It is a popular hike and quite busy in the summer months. 
 The Verlot Ranger Station is located on the highway about 11 miles from Granite Falls.  Parking passes for the hiking trail heads are sold here.  They also have a nice selection of maps and books.
Green Gables Store is located near the Verlot Campground and Pillaguamish Nature Trails, a private camping club.
Reservations necessary for the campgrounds along Mt. Loop.  Lovely camp sites right on the river make Verlot a very popular campground.
For more rustic camping and fishing, just go further out on the highway.
After Barlow Pass, the road becomes gravel, with a few potholes, but not bad for a gravel road.  There are some steep places and some loose gravel, but we made it fine on a street bike.  A car would be easier.  Lots of hiking opportunities all along the highway.
Old Growth Douglas Fir
Lush farm land and pastures between Darrington and Arlington as Highway 530 brings you around the circle and back toward Granite Falls.
If you like barns, this is the highway that abounds in picturesque barns.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Native Plant Identification

We are fortunate to live on a fairly wild native plant rich 25 acres here in Washington State.  My parents taught us about the native trees and shrubs and wildflowers.  All my siblings are familiar at least with the common names for the plants that grow in our woods.   I am constantly amazed at how little the average child knows about the plants that are native to our area.  Most can't tell the difference between a fir and a cedar.

My sister, Mona, has been visiting and we have been brainstorming a class for plant identification.  We decided that strolling the trails through the woods, touching, feeling, seeing and smelling the various plants would be better than just a lecture.  So we dug out all our plant and tree books (we found six between us) and discovered just how much we had to learn!  

By cross-referencing the books and descriptions, we came up with a class that we thought might be appropriate for 10-15 year old kids.  When we had a family gathering this past weekend, we asked the grandkids if they would like to take a walk in the woods.  (This is one of their favorite things to do when they visit, so they all quickly jumped at the chance.)
Mona pointing out the way a fir tree branches droop.
Even the little ones enjoyed gathering cones and seeing the difference between a Douglas Fir and a Cedar and a Hemlock cone.
We found several varieties of edible berries on our hike.  Red huckleberries, salmon berries, and small blackberries. Mona did a fantastic job of pointing out the differences in needles and leaves and how plants grow in the wild.  We are thinking about offering the class to the local 3rd or 4th grade class when school is back in session.