Well, sorta. This past weekend was the steam event at the Foss Waterway Seaport, in Tacoma, Washington, which sounded like a lot of fun.
Which it was. I knew before I arrived at the museum that they’d done a lot to it since the last time I’d been there, mumble-odd years ago, and they have. The museum is housed in what was once one of the largest wheat warehouses in the world.
By the time the museum was conceived, the warehouse was falling to ruin, but it’s been extensively remodeled and is now quite the showplace, although you can tell it’s still a work in progress.
When I bought my admission ticket Sunday afternoon, the woman handed me a sticker and said, “This will get you a boat ride, too.” I looked around, and asked, “where?” She laughed and told me to go back outside and down the gangway to the dock.
So I did. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, warm enough that the breeze off the water of the Thea Foss Waterway felt wonderful.
Three boats were running that afternoon, taking turns giving people a spin out on the water.
The name of the boat I rode in was The Vital Spark, and I got to sit right next to the little steam engine, which was cool. I’d never seen one running up close before (I did get to see a steam engine at the Golden Spike National Historic Site earlier this summer, but while I saw the engine, and I saw the locomotive moving down the track from a distance, I didn’t get to see the engine actually working).
It looked and sounded just like the one in the African Queen, except much cleaner and in better shape. The captain even blew the whistles (there are three of them, in gradation from softest to loudest).
We went out to where the Thea Foss Waterway meets Commencement Bay, then turned around and came back.
And who is Thea Foss, you ask? Well, if you’re old enough, you may have heard of Tugboat Annie. Thea Foss is the real woman Tugboat Annie was — very loosely — based on. Mrs. Foss was a Scandinavian immigrant back in the 19th century who, with her husband, started Foss Maritime, which became the largest tugboat company on the U.S. west coast. The story goes that while Thea’s husband was away from home doing carpentry work, a disgruntled fisherman offered to sell her his boat, and when her husband came home, it turned out she’d made more money with the boat than he had with his carpentry. And so a business was born.
The museum is well worth a visit if you visit Tacoma. And if you happen to be here on the last weekend in August, see if they’re offering steamboat rides, too!
Well, that was the only night I camped on this trip. For some reason I could not get comfortable in my sleeping bag, and I finally gave up about four in the morning. So I pulled out my Kindle and read till it got light at about 5:30, packed up, and headed out.
Not very far at first — the Sunrise campground sits at the very top of the long, steep drop to Bear Lake, and a very nice viewpoint/visitor center, which was unlocked even at that gawdawful hour of the day (much to my pleasure, as the campground only had pit toilets and no running water), is practically next door to it. So I got cleaned up and then sat and watched the sun rise over Bear Lake. It was fairly spectacular.
I decided I deserved breakfast out after that, and after descending 2000 feet (7900 to 5900) to Bear Lake and the small town of Garden City, I started looking for somewhere that might feed me one.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, was open in Garden City at six a.m., though, so I went on, heading north along the shore of Bear Lake. Eventually I crossed the state line back into Idaho, and found the small town of Montpelier, which was just waking up for the day. The lady at the gas station where I filled the tank for the fourth time on the trip told me the truck stop just north of town was about the only place to go to get breakfast (I did mention that Montpelier is a small town, right?). So I went to find the truck stop.
It turned out to be a nice place, as such things go, and the waitress very helpfully warned me that I only wanted one pancake, not a short stack. Wow, was she right. That pancake was about twelve inches around and at least half an inch thick. It was good, though, especially with Bear Lake raspberry syrup (the berries are a local specialty). I ate a bit more than half of it before I gave up.
I headed north and east on U.S. 89, the same highway that I took all the way to Yellowstone. Up and over a pass and into Wyoming, where I noticed that I was not as alert at the wheel as I could be, so I stopped in a forest service campground, let my seat back all the way, grabbed my pillow and afghan, and crashed for a couple of hours.
Much refreshed, I arrived in the town of Afton an hour or so later, where I got stuck in a bathroom line with a bunch of French-speaking bus tourists, and saw what is purportedly the world’s largest antler arch across the main drag in town. I did not get a photo of it, but if you click here you can get a look at it.
My goal for the day was the ski resort of Jackson Hole (no, not Jackson’s Whole — that would be the wrong Nexus, thank goodness), where I was going to spend tonight, and Grand Teton National Park, where I would spend the rest of the day.
I’d spent about half an hour on my cell phone last night in the campground — I don’t know why I’m still astonished that I can talk on the phone in places that remote, but I am — making sure I had a place to sleep tonight at the hostel in Teton Village (at the base of the ski resort) and for the next two nights (they didn’t have space after that — last minute trip planning can be a bear) at the hostel in West Yellowstone.
I hadn’t spent any time to speak of in the Tetons since I was a kid. In 1999 on my Long Trip (see my book Cross-Country: Adventures Alone Across America and Back) I’d spent an evening on a dinner cruise on Jackson Lake with some friends, and in 2008 my friend Mary and I passed through, stopping for a few photos, on our way from Yellowstone to Denver for WorldCon, but that was pretty much the extent of it. In all the rest of my jaunts to Yellowstone, I hadn’t bothered to come south even that far. So I wanted to spend a little time here, at least.
The Tetons are spectacular, I’ll give them that, but they strike me as a bit — aloof. It’s hard to get out in them without doing a lot more hiking than I’m capable of. I stopped along the roadside to take pictures and to look at wildflowers (which were everywhere), and then at the visitor center at Moose, which was fun. Then I drove out to Jenny Lake and decided on a whim to take a boat ride across the lake to a trailhead that led to a waterfall.
The boat ride was fun. It was also a great way to cool off from the 80+ degree temperatures. And the hike to the waterfall, albeit with a boatload of my new close friends, was good, too. So that was worth it.
After the ride back, though, it was getting late, and I took what was supposed to be a short cut but turned out to be a goat trail back to Teton Village.
And I ended my day by scaring the bejeebies out of myself. There was this gondola, you see. It was free in the evenings. I thought it would be like the gondola at Crystal Mountain here in Washington state, which is a pleasant little ride. This was not a pleasant little ride. It turned out to be about three times as long and three times as steep, and by the time I got to the top, I was a gibbering idiot (I don’t do manmade heights, at least not ones like these). If you want to see what the view from the top looks like, click here. I left my camera in the car.
I almost couldn’t make myself ride it back down again, but a group with a baby(!) got in the gondola with me, and that happy little baby was a great distraction. Thank goodness. I’m not sure I’d have made it down sane without him!