Most things in nature prove their largeness, while simultaneously proving our smallness. The abyss of the ocean, the infinity of the stars, the immenseness of the mountains.
The cascade mountains are no exception to this rule and the little nomad escapades to the mountains were some of the most momentous parts of our journey in the Pacific Northwest. Seen one seen them all right? Not at all, mountains are not all created equal and each one offered a significantly different habitat, some were covered in ferns, mosses, and fungi while others boasted the most beautiful wildflowers I have ever witnessed. Humanity has a way of screaming to be seen with all of our mechanisms of "sharing" and searching for "likes", while nature and its other inhabitants humbly wait to be noticed. Taking notice is not always as simple as it sounds, I am guilty of rushing my daughter away from chasing a butterfly when running late to this or that. Life gets busy and we get desensitized to the beauty that surrounds us; a whistle of a bird, a bumble of a bee, a sway of a daisy, a ripple in a pond. Really could there be anything more enchanting than nature?
Since we are from the lowcountry a high mountain peak is many driving hours away, and mountainous landscapes are certainly not the backdrop on a daily drive to a favorite coffee shop, as is the case in Washington. I think on every clear day we would point out the window and say "wow just look at that snowy mountain!". The views from afar are breathtaking but of course an up close and personal encounter was a MUST for the little nomads. There were so many on our list of to-dos that we had to visit and cross each off our list in small, separate bites, a few little getaways whenever Papa Nomad had a stretch of off-days.
Our mountainous exploring began at Mount Ranier National Park. Mount Ranier camping and hiking generally does not open until July because each year when the snow melts flooding sweeps its way along the rocky landscape. Luckily for us, they opened two lower elevation campgrounds early for the season due to mild winter weather. Consequently we were the first and only campers at the campgrounds. We enjoyed the silence, stellar views of the mountain, and of course a multitude of amazing spots to choose to call home for the night. Unfortunately many trailheads were still closed so we didn't get a chance for a "brochure" type hike, but we did enjoy a few leisurely trails along the river and amongst the giant spruce trees.
Next on the agenda was the North Cascades. They opened the Cascade Highway Loop, one of the best scenic byways in the United States, it is a must-do for any fellow wanderluster! We set forth letting our teardrop roll over the mountain peaks and disappear into the valleys. The little nomads kicked it off in Leavenworth. Leavenworth was an old logging town that was bought and revitalized into an Old Belgium style town. Everything from the grocery store signage to the ginger bread house architecture was designed in this old world holland fashion. It has become a hub for Boulder climbers, cross country skiiers, and backcountry boarders. We did an amazing hike and actually heard and saw a yellow-belly marmot, whistling to protect his family from our likely vicious beast, Luna the dog.
The next town on our agenda was Winthrop, an old mining town settled in 1883. At first glance the town did not look like much to write home about but this quaint town felt like a large step back in time, it looked and felt like an old Wild West film and had much more to it than originally met the eye. Winthrop exceeded our expectations with its delicious bakery and a saloon that claimed to be the first "legal" distributor of alcohol. A local volunteer of the Winthrop museum offered to give us a tour and we were very impressed by the pioneering artifacts donated by ancestors of Winthrop. The little nomads enjoyed the day perusing the shops and now I'm not just writing home about it, I'm writing it in my blog.
Between Leavenworth and Winthrop we felt like we had either entered a time capsule or a disney theme park, so we were somewhat relieved when we pulled up to a beautiful campground and not another designer town.
Georgi picked up a wildflower identification card back in Leavenworth after spotting various flowers dotting the mountain-sides on our hikes. It was a $4 well spent.
We were thrilled by some of their fun names, like this "fairy slipper". We think it was a thank-you for all the fairy houses we built.
The Cascade Loop was by far the most worthwhile time I have spent in the car driving. The scenery was breathtaking with mountain peaks in every line of sight, I'll take mother earth's skyscrapers over the human ones any day.
Mount Saint Helens was the next mountain destination, even though it is impossible to pick a favorite mountain if I was under extreme pressure I might be forced to say Old St. Helens. This decision might be biased, we had some of the best weather while visiting and went on a trail that took us past the most amazing scenery. The volcanic eruption occurred 35 years prior and the devastation was still visible, but so was the reconstruction and life was emerging in its wake. The abundance of rich volcanic soil had created the perfect habitat for new growth and it was stunning.
Our oldest little nomad, Georgi, was on the receiving end of tons of volcanic history and information. We sang the "old saint Helens" song (redone by Billy Jonas) and flipped through photography books so that we could compare what the landscape looked like 35 years ago versus today. It was a great learning experience for us all. Mount Saint Helens you blew us away, thankfully not literally.
The little nomads also did a brief trip to Mount Hood. This was bittersweet for us all because it was the last camping trip before heading back to the East Coast. It was a wonderful place to spend the last chapter of the trip.
The months have flown by and now we are forced to say a tearful goodbye and move on from the Pacific Northwest. This place is where we discovered our wild passion for traveling, tested our family limits, and truly figured out what we wanted from this one life we have each been given. Our adventure began, not ended, out west and we are going to continue on this nomadic lifestyle as best we can because there is so much out there awaiting discovery. I know that my children will not remember the details of our time spent out here but memory retention is not the only reason for breaking free from the box (after all they can just read their lovely mother's blog to fill them in). No, what I want them to take away is more than memory, I wish for it to become part of who they are. I want them to be able to step outside and feel at peace. To never cease having exploration and adventure in their lives. To wonder and wander and live passionately.
We can look up at the stars, trees, and mountains and feel small, insignificant, and alone or we can feel empowered because we are part of that largeness. I want my kids to take notice of the beauty that surrounds them, look up at the greatness of nature and know that they are great too.