May 24, 2001

Two Tickets to Paradise

Day 1: Tacoma, WA to Snoqualmie, WA to Mount Rainier National Park

First, I want to express my displeasure with my title. As much as I love mountains and grand National Parks, I may love the show, "Twin Peaks" even more. Even though we visited a few locations used in the show this day, I figured my readers would more readily identify with a crappy Eddie Money song then the creative Lynch/Frost masterpiece. That's right, I'm talkin' about you. What are you gonna do about it?

Hoang and I started dating a little over a year before this trip, at about the time her little sister Quynh (a.k.a. Verna) moved out to Tacoma, WA. By January or February 2001, I figured we were stable enough to enjoy 10 days together on a vacation. Seeing as though several days would be spent with sister Verna, I thought Hoang would go for it. She did, of course, but not without calling the trip, "The test." While I certainly didn't view the trip as a relationship test of any sort, I was happy that she was on board and I could get to planning it.

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's planning trips. I love maps, I love lists, I love figuring out the most efficient way from point A to point B, and I love finding cool things to do. If I keep up with this travelblog, and if you keep reading it, you'll see that not only am I good at this type of thing, I'm proud of it as well. This trip was easy to plan - kind of a practice run for Hawaii and France in later years. And for the record, both those trips (and all in between) went off with nary a hitch and barely a wrong turn.

We stayed with Verna in Tacoma for the first two nights, allowing us to a) save money and b) justify the trip to our parents a bit more. Verna picked us up from SEATAC airport and we spent the first evening having dinner and catching up with each other. Hoang and I got to bed pretty early due to the time difference and the fact that we had a big day ahead of us. The next morning dawned cool and rainy - gee, what did we expect from the Seattle area in the Spring? Undeterred, I gathered up the maps and camera, and we hit the road after dropping Quynh off at work. Another money saving bonus was having her car available to us for the day. Unfortunately, I didn't know how to drive standard at the time, so Hoang would have to do all the driving. She's a perfectly good driver and all, but she had never driven roads like the ones around Mount Rainier in her life.

Looking back at my itinerary, it's a little difficult to figure out exactly the order in which we did stuff in the first couple days. I left it uncharacteristically open-ended due to the unpredictability of western Washington's weather and probably in a futile attempt to hide my neuroses from Hoang early on. However, I've determined what we did on which day from our clothes - keep in mind that the weather changed on a dime so sun/rain doesn't help and looking at the trip as a whole, it appears I packed about 3 shirts, 1 pair of pants, and 1 pair of shorts. But I digress... On to the day's activities already!

After dropping Verna off at work in Tacoma, we drove north to Snoqualmie, up in the Cascades mountain range about 28 miles east of Seattle. My plan was to see the waterfall, lodge, and diner used rather prominently in "Twin Peaks." Lest you think I'm some sort of nut for caring about this, there are entire websites devoted to such ephemera. I thought we'd simply enjoy a pretty waterfall and have breakfast where Agent Cooper dreamt of backwards talking midgets. (The interior shots were done elsewhere, but you get the point.)

We arrived in Snoqualmie after about an hour of driving through fog and drizzle. I stuck my head out the window like a dog and breathed in deeply to get a feeling for how Agent Coopoer felt when arriving in Twin Peaks. Ahhh, the intoxicating scent of Douglas Fir filled my nostrils and a smile crept across my face. We had arrived. Finding the hotel used as the Great Northern on the show was easy, as it was just above Snoqualmie Falls - a scene seared into my brain as it was featured in the show's opening credits. (Plus, Snoqualmie isn't exactly a bustling metropolis.) The falls were in a well-kept park and required a slippery descent to get the view made famous by the show. Unfortunately, the foggy conditions obscured the scene a little bit - and the power generation station up on top marred the picture as well. But no matter... I was happy to soak it all in as my shirt soaked in the rain and spray.

After checking out the 270 foot waterfall, we hoofed it back up to the Salish Lodge in hopes of having some breakfast there. It was pretty cool seeing the lodge up close after having seen it on Twin Peaks so many times. Our anticipation immediately turned to despair once we saw the prices on the menu. Remember, this is 2001 when I had no business pretending I could afford the flight out here, let alone $50 breakfasts. I'm sure it's a great place to stay and maybe someday we'll experience it. However, back then, we said thank you and with one last look-see around, we hopped back in the car.

[If you think I was just being a cheapskate, check this restaurant out. The breakfast menu is pretty telling, but have you ever seen a place with a cheese menu? You have? Well, aren't you special. How about a sugar menu? Didn't think so.]

We drove back across town and made a quick stop at the Double R Diner from the show. Hoang, who had never seen the show, couldn't quite figure out why I cared about what appeared to be a dumpy vacant old diner. My hope was, of course, to eat breakfast there - but alas, its desolation was disappointment # 2. I totally would have asked for some black coffee and a slice of cherry pie.

As it turned out, we drove a little further and happened upon a quaint little outdoor museum type place with a giant cross-section of a tree and some old railroad equipment along the road. There was also a little breakfast joint so we entered and dined among the locals. If you ever wondered why Nirvana and the Seattle music scene of the mid 90's adopted flannel shirts as their "thing," I can report that it's because that's all people wear in Washington. Hoang and I both giggled at the special pie of the day - "Marionberry Pie." In our East Coast ignorance, we thought it was a joke at expense of the disgraced crack smoking mayor of DC. We learned that, duh, marionberries are local fruit that resemble blackberries. It was pretty stupid to think some tiny little restaurant in the middle of the Cascades in Washington state would be making a lame joke about the mayor of Washington DC who got arrested 11 years prior. Chalk it up to our giddiness clouding our minds.

I was giddy after seeing all the Twin Peaks sites, Hoang was giddy for the next stop of the day. The world famous Geyser State Park in Black Diamond, WA! I don't remember how I found out about this little gem of a place, but I did and it was right on the way to Mt. Rainier, so we simply couldn't miss it. And if anyone reading this ever finds themselves within 100 miles of Black Diamond, WA, make the effort to get there. Flaming Geyser is AWESOME.

We found the park easily enough and even though the sun had poked through a few times on the drive down, it was now cloudy and drizzly again. No matter - nothing could dampen our spirits while at Flaming Geyser State Park! We parked in the lot and found the trailhead to The Flaming Geyser! We shook with anticipation because after all, have you heard of anything cooler than a geyser of flames?! I know I haven't. Think about it for a second... A Flaming Geyser!

We practically ran down the trail and were quickly rewarded with THE FLAMING GEYSER! Remember in "Spinal Tap," when the boys were all geared up for their totally rad Stonehenge stage show? And they ended up with a few 4 foot foam blocks with a couple dancing dwarves? Well, that, in a nutshell, describes our Flaming Geyser experience perfectly. The "geyser" is nothing more than a 5 inch flickering flame coming up out of a cement block in the ground. Supposedly, it was bigger in the past, but that was no consolation. The picture of me here is so terrible because Hoang was laughing too hard to keep the camera steady - and as this was pre-digital camera # 1, we had no way of checking the results.

"Ok," we thought, "that sucked, but maybe the Bubbling Geyser will make up for it!" Yeah, in retrospect that was a stupid thought - afterall, the park was named after the Flaming Geyser, not the Bubbling one. 20 seconds down the trail and there it was - a small gray mudpit that bubbled every minute or so. Sigh... Thank goodness we didn't go too far out of our way to come to this place. Actually, we enjoyed ourselves at the Park, if only for its kitsch value. If anything, it was good for Hoang and I to have this experience so early on in our vacationing/dating lives, as you better believe we'd have many more Flaming Geyserish experiences throughout our lives.

In fact, just a few days later we had a similar experience at the Octopus Tree in Oregon. (But again, it was really fun going there.) And, when I think about it, pretty much the entire highpointing thing is just more of the same nonsense. Ahhhh, life with me. If your name isn't Hoang, consider yourself lucky!

Since it was raining and we had more important natural wonders to see, we didn't do the whole Flaming Geyser hike and simply went to our car and drove southeast to Mount Rainier National Park. This was the first time Hoang saw me in such an environment - I get kind of childlike. I'm not sure what it is, but majestic mountains and summer snow make me excessively happy. So I think she was more fascinated with my goofiness than the actual mountain itself. Which is crazy because Mount Rainier is incredibly beautiful and one could be content just silently staring at it for hours.

It's also the highpoint of Washington, but that didn't mean anything to me back in 2001. Will we ever summit Rainier? I don't know, but I sure hope so. I really don't remember many specifics about our visit, but I remember the park ranger telling us upon entry that if we were to drive above cloud level up to Paradise, the sun would be shining brightly with nary a cloud in the sky. This seemed a bit impossible to believe on the rainy valley road, but we paid our money and began the long drive up the side of the dormant volcano. Hoang did great navigating the narrow twisting roads of the park - she was a ball of concentration all along the way. A very cute ball of concentration.

In fact, after we had broken above the cloud cover, Rainier revealed itself to the west in all it's massive snow-capped glory. It was truly an awe-inspiring sight, filling the entire horizon. As we passed viewing areas every minute or two, I kept marveling, "Hoang, isn't it incredible?" Then trees, trees, trees. "Hoang, God, that is beautiful!" Then trees, trees, trees. After about seven missed opportunities for Hoang to see the mammoth mountain just off to the right of the car, I forced her to pull over, stop the car, step out, and look at the damn thing. It was all very funny (you had to be there) and a little frustrating as Hoang is a bit notorious for her straight-ahead concentration while driving. To be fair, the road was a bit sketchy, but still... I thought she'd at least glance over at the mountain once!

We wound our way down and around the Southeast corner of the park, making our way up to a visitor center/lot named Paradise. Now, some people would certainly not associate a cold snowy glacier with the word, "Paradise," but I sure would. Especially when the sky is bright blue, shorts and t-shirts are okay to wear on the snow, and you're with your goofball girlfriend. We climbed up a trail towards Camp Muir for about 3/4 of a mile - well away from any other people as far as we could tell. Well, at least I hope so with pictures like this.

It was, for me, a defining moment. Queer as that sounds, it was - Rainier was the first stunningly beautiful natural wonder we'd been to together (and I'd venture to guess the first time Hoang had been to such a place) and it was perfect. We didn't really know what to do with ourselves, so we soaked in the whole scene for a while and then took off running down the mountain as fast as possible. Let me tell you... Running down a steep mountain in snow, always at the verge of your legs not being able to get under you fast enough, is incredibly fun. If you fall, you fall into nice mushy snow. I think Hoang did fall once or twice but I made it to the bottom without incident. Ahh, just remembering it puts a smile on my face...

Once back at the parking lot, we realized we had to get back to Tacoma to pick up Verna from work. I knew we'd be back to the National Park someday, so I wasn't too bummed about leaving so soon. [And now, in 2005, I know I'll - we'll - be attempting to climb it someday too.]

On the way we passed a house/museum that contained nothing but rusty iron sculptures. We didn't stop, nor did we even entertain the idea. The only reason I'm mentioning it is because we be begged, prodded, and implored to do so by Verna's roommate. Um, no. And really, after the Flaming Geyser, did anything matter anymore?

We picked up Verna, had a lovely dinner with her, her roommate, and her friend and I believe we spent a quiet evening watching TV and conversing. What did you expect after such a long day?

Check out day 2
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