July was a busy travel month for us and the focus was on taking our 12-year-old grandson, Taylor, on his first solo RVing adventure with Grandma and Grandpa Rinehimer.
We scheduled a rendezvous near I-5 in the Sacramento area on July 7 and Mom dropped him off for “Destination Seattle”. Taylor has slept in the RV a few times when we have been parked at their local fairgrounds and he has gone on one short RV trip with his parents and brother along. This trip, however, was designed for him.
Taylor loves discovering how things work. I call him my “reverse engineer” and he’ll study something like a roller coaster until he figures out every angle, twist, turn, etc. and then he can go on his computer and re-create it with a software program or build it with a K’Nex construction set. So, in doing our trip planning, I gave him a lengthy list of possible places to see and go. Grandpa really wanted him to see the Boeing Aircraft assembly factory and Grandma really wanted to introduce him to the Microsoft Visitor Center and the MS campus culture. He had different priorities… but we did have an overall fun trip.
On the Road…
Taylor was not always interested in the scenery along I-5 (who is??), but he did occasionally leave his computer fort (made with the comforter he brought from home) to take some photos of his own. (BTW, our dog Star had no problem sharing the motorhome floor with Taylor.) The first day on the road the temperature hit 107 degrees when we stopped at the Rolling Hills Casino in Corning, CA. They would not let paid campground RVers use their hotel pool. Bummer! Try explaining that one to a hot 12-year old.
On the River…
The drive from Sacramento through Northern California, Oregon and Washington state can take a few days, so we decided to break up the trip with the Hellsgate Jetboat Excursion on the Rogue River near Grants Pass, OR. We chose the 3-hour, 36 mile luncheon scenic cruise, rather that an adventurous, all-day “rapids” running trip. Taylor was disappointed at first, but the jetboat pilot did his best to include a number of 360-degree turns -- with sudden stops -- so the passengers could get significantly wet. When we initially boarded, Taylor opted for the very front row. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that the front windshield actually kept us dryer that if we were sitting further back. Following our lunch stop, Taylor asked a gentleman in the row behind us to switch seats and the trip became a drenching success! The pilots of the three jetboats that went out together had fun interacting with each other, creating wakes and spraying the occupants of each other’s boats.
On our way north we did a brief stop at the Mt. St. Helens Visitor Center where we had a distant view of the volcano that erupted on May 18 (my birthday) in 1980. We had hoped to drive to Johnson Ridge, one of the closest viewing areas to the crater, but the Mt. St. Helens Forest Learning Center was closed the day we were there. This was one of the older, less sophisticated, visitor centers, but we did get to watch historical video and take photos from the walkway. Climbing the retaining wall did not get Taylor much closer for his photos.
In the Sky (sort of)….
The Space Needle in Downtown Seattle is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and it was #1 on Taylor’s list of what to see. Before taking the elevator to the top we got to pose for a FREE (included in your ticket price) souvenir photo. We stood in front of a “green wall” backdrop and then we were given an order number where we went online to select our own background scene. Not exactly realistic, but it did capture the moment. (For the record, other places we have visited that take your photo charge anywhere from $9-$25 in addition to your admission price.)
We learned that the Space Needle was originally designed on the back of a coffee shop placemat – how appropriate for Seattle. The 605-foot tall structure was completed in December 1961 and officially opened four months later on the first day of the World's Fair, April 21, 1962. Luke and I visited the Space Needle in 1969.
On this visit we had perfect weather and could see everything along the 360-degree view, including snow-capped Mt. Rainier to the south, the Cascade Mountains to the east, and the Olympics to the west. We all enjoyed access to the interactive displays and the free use of telescopes on the Observation Deck that told us what we were looking at. Taylor also checked out the attractions near the Space Needle for other places to see and do.
On the Land and the Water…
With all the water around Seattle, it was a no-brainer to plan a sightseeing trip from a boat. We considered taking a ferry but our RVing friend Bill Joyce suggested riding “The Duck”. You can read about the history of the original WWII DUKWs here, but basically it is an amphibian passenger vehicle that can drive on land and take a boat launch ramp right into the water. We have seen “Ducks” in other large cities with bodies of water and the drivers are known for their antics, changing crazy hats, and music like the Gilligan’s Island theme song while conducting the 90-minute tour.
Taylor, of course, had to have the official “Wacky Quacker” noisemaker.
In the “Toad”…
RVers call the vehicles we tow behind our motorhomes “toads”. Toads allow us to do local touring while we leave our traveling homes parked safely in a park. After a hard day of playing tourist, Taylor learned a “Nappy Hour” can come as soon as reaching the “toad” to return to the RV. If we didn’t have to drive and navigate back to our campground, Luke and I would have also loved to enjoy a power nap. We were all pooped.
Seattle Sightseeing Day 2
Our second day devoted to seeing Seattle included the The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour located in Mukilteo, Wash., 25 miles north of Seattle. Taylor again let us know he wasn’t “into airplanes” but he did find his way to the front of every observation stop as we toured the largest building in the world where there were at least 9 or 10 planes at various stages of construction under one roof. No cameras or even cell phones were allowed on the guided tour.
Seattle Sightseeing Day 3
Back in Downtown Seattle it was time to hit the waterfront and Taylor’s choice of destinations was “Ye Olde Curiosity Shop” – billed as “Home of the weird, freaky, interesting and curious.” Taylor LOVED this store with its collection of shrunken heads, preserved mummies, a “mermaid” and “stuff” from around the world. (Luke wasn’t as thrilled with this attraction and chose to grab a hot dog out on the wharf.)
We bought a book on the history of the Curiosity Shop and Tay learned that there were actually TWO stores. We headed back the next day, only to learn that store had closed. Taylor did have a chance to watch a sketch artist who created personalized souvenir pictures. Taylor wrote his signature on a paper and then the artist engaged him in conversation about what he liked about Seattle. Voila, within a few minutes he had sketched a very personal art piece centered around the Space Needle. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of the final piece for the blog.
Seattle Sightseeing Day 4
Besides the return trip to the Curiosity Shop, Day 4 in Seattle involved a stop at the EMP (formerly called the Experimental Music Project) and a ride on the local monorail. The unique building, located just below the Space Needle, was designed to resemble Seattle native Jimi Hendrix’s smashed guitar. While I don’t really identify with the musical icons represented in the museum, I was able to tell Taylor I had been present at the original Monterey Pop Music Festival when Hendrix smashed his guitar on stage. So much for Grandma’s nostalgia.
Besides rooms dedicated to various musical groups and sound rooms where visitors can jam with drums, guitars, and various instruments, the EMP currently has a display featuring Icons of Science Fiction. Taylor was fascinated with the technology used to create the Avatar environment and characters. He is also a fan of Dr. Who and enjoyed seeing artifacts from that program, Capt. Kirk’s command chair from Star Trek, and costumes and models from Superman to Star Wars.
Water Park Day
Not far from our KOA Campground in Kent, WA was Wild Waves Water Park where Taylor discovered short lines and lots of amusement park rides and a variety of water park activities. His greatest achievement was overcoming his fear of extreme roller coasters. He rode the Wild Thing’s upside down and 360-degree twists six times and lived to tell us about it.
Campground Friends and Fun
Early on in our trip planning we had decided to pick a kid-friendly RV park to use as a home base for our week in the Seattle area. We selected the KOA Kampground in Kent, WA, about 15 miles south of Downtown. The park didn’t have an abundance of extra features, but the pool, playground, large lawn, giant checkers and chess sets, and ice cream socials fit the bill. The highlight was making new best friends and riding the rental bikes around and around and around the campground.
Taylor’s trip with Grandma and Grandpa was actually just one-way. On Tuesday evening we drove Tay to SeaTac International Airport where he boarded a Southwest plane for his two-hour flight back to his parents. This was his first solo flight and we were allowed to escort him all the way to the boarding gate. Good thing, too. There were plenty of distractions between the check-in counter and the gate. If left on his own, he would probably be still wandering about a bookstore, sweet shop, or arcade.
He made it safely and was actually picked up by his parents in Oakland, CA by the time we had dinner out followed by a trip to Wally World. According to his Mom, he was full of good stories and enjoyed sharing the souvenirs he had brought home to his family. He is already talking about doing another trip so he can be the tour guide for his family.
NEXT: MORE PACIFIC NORTHWEST TOURING