50 Shades of Gray in Port Townsend and Fort Worden

July 8-11, 2019

We drove south from Snoqualmie through Tacoma instead of taking a car ferry, which let us avoid Seattle completely and takes the same amount of time even though it’s more mileage. I’m not sure of Tacoma’s reputation, but what we saw of it was interesting–steep and nestled on the side of a hill with great old buildings. They have a really nice art store–better than anything we have in San Francisco at the moment. I got watercolor supplies as I’d determined at the last minute to do one painting per day to brush up on my skills (so to speak – ha ha!). (Spoiler alert – I only did two but that was better than I expected.)

From there we drove north, seeing mostly trees and occasional glimpses of Puget sound and working ports. To my surprise, the landscape became drier (compared to Snoqualmie). Not super dry, just not the lush wetness I’d expected. Maybe the Olympic National park grabs up all the rain in the summer?


Awesome drive-in movie theater on the way to Port Townsend. I wish I’d gone! 

I’d expected Port Townsend to feel more isolated, but there were towns, houses, farms, and businesses all along the way and no real sense of transition when we arrived.

First stop, Safeway to get snacks, as I feared that once we arrived at Fort Worden the family reunion would be ON and it would be hard to get away. The store was lively and I got a kind of Sebastopol feel from the clientele…tattoos, hippy vibe, some colored hair, teen dressed in a candy-raver outfit, a few down and outers in faded cotton with tattered sandals. We ran into my aunt and uncle there (they came from British Columbia for the reunion) which was a fun surprise.

We drove down the main street and it was cute as promised, but smaller scale than I’d expected, maybe a dozen small blocks. Much evidence of artsy-ness though, and probably more bookstores per capita than SF has.


It’s breaking my designer heart not to tweak the contrast on this,
but mid-level gray is most accurate.

The homes, once we turned onto a neighborhood street, were nicer and more upscale than I’d expected. All very well maintained, a mix of older and more modern structures, and with great landscaping and gardens. The place feels prosperous and I began to wonder who lives there and what they do for a living.

After only a few minutes, we arrived at Fort Worden. The town is small! I’ve been imagining and planning for this and somehow I misread the scale and assumed anything on a peninsula was the size of San Francisco.

I didn’t have high hopes for Fort Worden (it being a state park and me knowing that contracts to run these places often go to vendors that don’t feel the love) but overall it was very nice. It’s a late 1800’s military base that’s been converted to a park and conference center. The forts built in this era (for coastal defense) all look a bit alike, with many nondescript two-to-three story wooden buildings, plus fancy houses for the officers. They’ve done a great job repurposing the place, and now it’s got a nice restaurant, woodworking center, small press, marine center and museum, campgrounds, fitness center, a college of some sort, and is home to other arty-sounding organizations (based on the signs on windows). There was a painting workshop going on while we were there, and a week-long writer’s workshop starting next week.


Victorian (as advertised)? I guess? Definitely in need of fresh paint.
That’s my house (left side only – they are duplexes.)

Our extended family rented four officer’s houses, all next to each other. Though they were built in the Victorian era, from the outside they weren’t really classic Victorian looking (to my eye), and all were a bit drab and in need of a fresh coat of paint.

The elders got the fanciest house, a Commander’s unit with six bedrooms. The interior was lovingly restored to Victorian splendor, with nice carpets and wallpaper and books and art and decorative plates, mirrors and antique clocks. All that stuff. A little too fussy “bed and breakfast” for my taste but well done.

We popped in there to get the key to our place, hugged a few people, and hurried to our house to unload the perishable groceries…and…our house was SUPER CRAPPY. Stained grey industrial carpeting, no art other than a few lame photos of cannons that were too small for the frames, peeling paint on the ceiling, beige walls chipped and gouged, no decorative plates, no fancy lamps on marble side tables – nothing! Not that it was empty. We had a couch and two chairs in the living room, a dining table that seated six–but the wooden chairs were missing crucial pieces that made me nervous to sit in them. The bedrooms were awkwardly furnished, ours having an oversized wooden dresser placed in front of the window (partially blocking the view), a table in the corner perhaps meant to serve as a desk, but with no chair, and a double bed that clearly was not going to hold two full-sized adults comfortably.


There was only one shower for the seven of us staying there, and the bathroom looked like something from a prison. They’d screwed a piece of frosted plexiglass over the window so we couldn’t open it. Why??

That aside, all the houses had great, deep porches and those were tons of fun. We moved from porch to porch throughout the days, socializing. We’d gather at the big house in the afternoon (they had the most chairs) and have drinks and hors d’oeuvres. The houses fronted a huge lawn (aka the parade ground) and the smaller kids ran wild there and it was easy to keep an eye on them. My aunt, super sweet of her, brought a fully-loaded piñata and got us all out on the lawn the first night to wack it. It was a great way to see and greet everyone because, due to being in four separate houses, we were never quite sure where anyone was at any given time. Though I’d have liked us to be all together more often (we were only all together twice) it would have been like herding cats to try to coordinate group activities.


Okay, the weather was occasionally very nice. But only for a few hours, so I don’t have to change the title of the post. 

Instead, we randomly encountered each other and spent time in smaller groups hanging out on the beach, walking to town, going to the store, visiting the light house, checking out the marine mammal center, hiking on the hill, kayaking, grabbing lunch, playing bocce or board games, etc. It worked out well.

The weather was mostly shades of gray with occasional sun and rain. Not cold. The temperature was very pleasant. Oddly, the grayness had a kind of glare that irritated my eyes. A bright diffuse light that came from everywhere and nowhere. I didn’t want to wear sunglasses because that made things too dark, but I kept my hat on, brim pulled low, to deal with it.


As I walked the beaches and the charming streets, I hoped I’d fall in love with Port Townsend but I never did. It has the right elements on paper, but in real life it didn’t work for me. Firstly, where were all the people? I know it’s a small town but the residential streets were deserted. I could walk all the way from the fort to the downtown and see no creature but deer (which were weirdly lounging all over the place). No one mowing the lawn, no one washing their car, no one biking. So freaking odd. Clearly people live there because of the immaculate yards. I like neighborhoods to have people in them. The dead end street I live on in San Francisco, which has about 50 houses on it, is abuzz with activity on a normal day. I guess that sounds hellish to those that prefer the peace and quiet of small towns but I love it.


The beaches and water views were nice, but not as dramatic as I expected. I thought I’d sit on the bluff and watch the clouds drift around and the light play on the water and the mood shift but nothing much happened. It was like being on a lake, with no waves, just a gentle lapping on the shore. The tide did go in and out, but that just meant more rocks exposed, less rocks exposed. The sand is a grayish tan, and the bluffs are made of the same. The rocks and pebbles are kind of nice but I was hard-pressed to find any I wanted to add to my collection. The huge driftwood logs on the shore are interesting but you get used to them.


Does this look like heaven? You should move to Port Townsend!

I guess, bottom line, peaceful, gray, quiet coastlines aren’t my thing. My soul did not connect with that landscape.


I did like all the bird sounds everywhere. That was really nice. And I saw an eagle! I’m not sure I’ve seen one in real life before.


I feel like not being able to see beauty everywhere is a kind of personal failing, along the lines of, “only boring people get bored,” but aesthetics are subjective. And listen – I tried to take nice, artsy pictures here but I struggled. I didn’t feel moved. Rarely did I grab my camera and think – I’ve got to get this right now. I had to pull myself out of the gray and think – I might be able to do something with this later. And as I write this post, the photos look nice and I feel happier looking at them then I did being in the place, which is weird.

beach bonfire

One of my favorite places was not in Port Townsend, but 11 miles south in Chimacum–Finnriver farm and cidery. https://www.finnriver.com/


It’s an organic farm with a huge covered seating area where they serve food and (obviously) cider, and have guest food trucks and music and other events.


The evening we were there, a woman hosted a science fiction trivia night in a room off the bar. They had bocce and cornhole and hula hoops, and the setting was lovely–it felt like I was in Napa or Sonoma valley.


Overall, the family reunion was a success, and Fort Worden was a good place for it. If we’d have been somewhere more exciting we’d probably have never seen each other at all. This event was about spending time with people, not sightseeing. I was really sad when everyone began to pack up and drive away on Friday. All my whining about wanting us to have held the reunion in Hawaii was me wanting a vacation, and overlooking the reason for the trip–which was family bonding. Yeah, I like vacation but I’ve got to devote more time to the extended family. They aren’t gray–they are amazing, interesting, creative people and I love them.


A company town

September 14th, 2014

Today was a driving day. Not tiring though. We each drove halfway and the roads were clear.

We stopped in Gary, Indiana because we were curious about the city. It was founded as a company town for U.S. Steel in 1906, which in the 1960’s laid off most of the workers. Half the population left, and the city has since fallen into ruin.


A huge abandoned apartment building,
no barriers around it to prevent it from falling on passers by

We’ve been to Detroit and thought we had a handle on ruin but Gary is a completely different experience. It is both smaller scale and vastly more troubling.


An entire downtown block, abandoned

Most of the areas we walked around in downtown Detroit were completely abandoned, so I never had the feeling I was disrespecting anyone’s neighborhood by gawking. Gary is a putrefying town that people are still trying to inhabit, picking their way around the dead bodies. We were stunned. I’d guess there was one functioning building for every 50 abandoned. My artistic interest in decayed buildings was overwhelmed by an urge to tell everyone I saw to run, fast as you can, out of this place.


But no, people live here. In some cases, maybe only one or two houses on a block are inhabited. And those houses are next to burned down houses, or houses that will probably burn down soon, or gigantic empty brick apartment buildings that are shedding facades from seven stories above.


Notice the facade is greenish bricks, red beneath?  Those green bricks are are falling on the sidewalk below. The whole building could fall on the houses next to it.

The potholes on the streets are 8 inches deep and impossible to avoid.


There were abandoned hotels, churches, stores, a convention center, rail lines…it was astonishing. I didn’t feel comfortable stopping to take pictures. Not because someone was going to jump out of the bushes, but because there were people here and there and this place was their home. I snapped some pictures from the car window.

I don’t want to get political here on a travel blog but why do we have the money to fight foreign wars but not to deal with one of the 10 most dangerous cities in the United States? I’ll bet the money spent on one drone strike could do a lot to help Gary, and would probably save as many lives. I’d like to vote where my tax dollars are spent, please.

Santa Fe road trip day 3: Dinosaur quarry fiasco

After another strange hotel-chain buffet breakfast, eaten with plastic silverware so weak the knife nearly bent in two when I tried to butter an english muffin, I went out to explore the town of Richfield, Utah.

We’d driven down Main Street the night before so I had no illusions about what I’d find, but small towns fascinate and confound me. I passed a Mormon church, an insurance agency that looked like a Mormon church, then entered the depressed and depressing shopping area. A good number of storefronts were vacant.

Though it was 11am on a Saturday, many businesses were closed. Those that were open–shoes, furniture–held nothing that interested me. The one cafe serving breakfast was cute and cheerful, but I needed sandwiches to take with us on the road. I found a highly-rated deli (the highest rated restaurant in that town on Yelp, “way better than Subway.”)

Despite a super sketchy exterior (windows completely obscured by posters and ads), I went in. The interior was dark and stuffy. A few cheap tables and chairs, unoccupied, were scattered around the good-sized room. A woman at the counter was taking an order from a man dressed in western wear, yelling it back to someone out of my view. A few open bags of store-bought bread lay on the counter beside her, getting stale. I looked at the handwritten menu on the wall. All the sandwiches came with provolone cheese. That was the only choice.

We went to Subway.

Next stop: the Cleveland Lloyd dinosaur quarry. Though detour this will take use over a hundred miles out of our way (that spike up to Price you see below), I wanted to see a *working* dinosaur quarry. Though I don’t have any kind of top 10 list, I think seeing dinosaur bones being dug out of the ground would have to be on it.

Though the website says the place is open, the phone number I called to confirm went to a BLM voicemail box. I am gradually settling in to the road trip state of mind, but it is hard to shake off the feeling that we are going somewhere in particular and if that place is closed, I screwed up. Really, our main goal is to see new things and this stretch of highway is off the beaten path, so, success.

The scenery was amazing, and the road wasn’t, as google maps would imply, a crooked pencil scrawl of a line on a blank canvas ending in the town of Cleveland, but an artery linking active micro towns.

We turned off the paved road and followed the signs to the quarry as a thunderstorm brewed in the west.

The 12 plus miles on the dirt road were slow going, but we lucked out and saw some antelope!

Eventually, we arrived at the quarry visitor center, which truly is off the grid, solar-powered, no phone lines–which explained why my calls went to voicemail. Behind the building I see two tin sheds, a pit toilet, and a picnic table. I figured we’d have to walk a ways to the real quarry. I had a vision…hiking over a hill to behold a huge pit, transversed by string lines, interns kneeling in the dirt gently brushing at bones that were obviously the vertebrate of a huge creature.

In the visitor center we view reproductions of dinosaur bones, because, as the sincere ranger tells me, this is a terrible climate for preserving bones! I get a sinking feeling. I ask if any of the bones around us are real, and he points me to *one* case that contains a rare smashed femur.

Lemme just cut to the chase. There were many many bones here. They were all over the place. People came and took them away. Now, there are two 15×30 tin shacks, one covering a neglected half-hearted dig and the other housing staged exhibit. The dig shack is locked. Through the dirty windows I can barely make out piles of junk (storage for the visitor center, as far as I can tell) and one small hole that maybe has bones somewhere down in it.

The other shed is open and has signs all over the ground so I doubt this is still an active dig. The bones here are for the most part (maybe all) reproductions showing where the originals were found.

Like the rare femur in the visitor center, I am crushed. This is NOT what I was promised. I’ve been duped! I didn’t need to drive hours to see fake dinosaur bones in a tin shed. Sigh.

The rest of the drive to Montrose is lovely, but long now that we’ve gone so far out of the way. We are entertained by great thunder and lightning for part of the way. The dramatic scenery seems to recede as we approach Colorado–still there but in the distance.

Santa Fe road trip – Day 2, St. George to Richfield

We woke in our adequate room at the La Quinta. I had a troubled sleep thanks to the loud in-window air conditioner going on and off all night. It kept startling me awake and gave me bad dreams. Or, come to think of it, maybe the dreams were caused by the greasy food we had for dinner. Why is it so hard to find decent food in these mid-sized towns? St. George isn’t small with 70,000 people. Based on reviews, there seemed to be a couple of very expensive, anniversary-dinner type places, then price and quality plummet down to Denny’s level. The place we picked was on a “best of” list that included the Olive Garden.

Nonetheless, after a weird, make your own waffle at the free breakfast buffet and a couple of cups of coffee and hot chocolate, I was alert and ready to go and we hit the road!

First stop, dinosaur track viewing! I, always the optimist, thought we’d be walking on a path in a narrow canyon and see 50 million year old tracks right there, in situ. Nah. Some developer found the tracks when he was clearing a building site and they hauled all the big blocks of stone to a shed-like building and laid them around in there. In case you were wondering, dinosaurs stepped in wet ground, sand filled in the tracks, and that is what we are seeing here.

I…well…I wanted to be really excited and I did like these, but they all looked exactly like this one and frankly, what had the biggest impact on me in this small museum was a 50 million year old imprint of a leaf. One beautiful leaf. *That* I could relate to. Wow. When I see a dinosaur print I keep flashing back to Jurassic Park. That’s all I’ve got, so these prints feel fictional.

Next stop: Zion National Park! Where I stepped in quicksand – for real! Okay, I’m not sure of the technical definition of quicksand, but I was walking around in a three-inch deep sandy creek to cool my feet next thing you know I was sunk down to above my knees. I was not happy about this but I did manage to wrestle my way out.

Oh yes, how could I forget – we saw bighorn sheep! At the time I was excited but I’m even more excited now that I learn sighting them is Very Rare. I wish I could say we were on a ten-mile hike, but no, the three sheep were right beside the road, causing a huge traffic jam.

Zion is breathtaking but the big vistas were almost too big to photograph. Maybe stereo photography might work, but my pictures felt flat and small. I preferred more intimate scenes.

After we exited the park, the landscape changed to mostly rolling hills, some cool “southwest” features, and many cute small towns.

I’m going to wimp out right now and not try to figure out all the names of the places, but I promise to properly cite the following photos soon…very soon.

Here is the route we took today:

Santa Fe road trip – Day one, Las Vegas to St. George, Utah

Every long-time San Francisco Bay Area resident is faced with the same situation: getting out of town requires driving the same six or seven roads over and over again.

I haven’t got much to complain about. The scenery on these roads is quite nice, but it is hard to maintain that initial excitement in the face of familiar landmarks, especially when your goal is to experience new things. For short, 2-4 hours trips, we go out of our way to take small roads as long as they head in the right direction, but this can double travel time.

For this trip, taking the long way round to a family reunion in Santa Fe, we are flying to Las Vegas and renting a car to give us a jump start.

We wanted to rent a small SUV (for visibility) but ended up a beefy Jeep Liberty. After my Honda Civic it feels like a tank, but out here in the “country” everyone seems to drive enormous cars, so we fit in fine.

Today’s day of travel left my head spinning. I cleaned and prepped the house for our friend who is house sitting, packed, jumped in a cab, jumped in plane, took a bus, then drove 3 hours. On the road we saw a beautiful moonrise as well as much lighting, but I’m not in the road trip groove yet. I just want to “get there” which is the wrong attitude!


Railroad trip to Chicago, Day 2

We were finally allowed to board the train sometime after midnight. When I saw our sleeper car, I was crushed. I had expectations. Not “Oriental Express” level expectations, but realistic expectations based on looking at diagrams of the car, videos other people had posted, photos. Add to this the fact that the sleepers cost more than I’ve ever spent on a hotel room, even a nice one in New York. I had high hopes.

The attendant, who was very nice and helpful, had made up the room for sleeping. Unfortunately, this meant we could not actually enter the room. The 3 foot 4 inch wide bed pressed against the wall of the tiny bathroom bulb out (which was immediately to the right of the front door) making it impossible to get to the only place we might be able to stand–in front of the single chair beyond the bathroom.

Above our heads, a towel was crudely duct-taped over a hyperactive air conditioning vent. None of the controls did anything to stop the blizzard. The attendant mumbled and apologized but it was clear there was nothing he could do.

Problems aside, the roomette was just plain depressing. Shabby, dirty, ugly fake wood, soulless plastic and dented metal, I felt like I was in a crappy rental RV–not a train!

The train finally got underway, and since we just got on and weren’t ready for sleep (and there was no space to recreate in our room) we made our way to the observation car. R. had fond memories from childhood of the observation car being attached to the bar car, and at night he could visit the normally off-limits world of grown ups drinking and smoking and having a great time.

After making our lurching way through numerous cars, we arrived at the observation car to discover that passengers without sleepers had claimed the benches and seats and were using them as makeshift beds. Instead of the lively bar scene R. described, I found myself in a homeless encampment.

Dispirited, we made our way back to the roomette, stowed our stuff as best we could, and lay down on the tiny bed.

Let me be clear. R. and I are tall and do not fit in a 3’4″ wide bed. I got in first, laid on my side, and held onto R. to keep him from falling out.

We slept through Idaho and all of Glacier National Park, which is probably beautiful when viewed at a time other than the dead of night, and woke in Cut Bank, Montana.

Now is when I really realize my biggest misconception. I thought I’d be able to take pictures. I’m faced with several insolvable problems. First, the window is dirty and tinted. Second, by the time I see and process something, it’s gone! We are passing by rolling plains, incredible “wild west” scenes like sun-bleached cow skeletons laying in a ditch, and falling down wooden homesteads which for all I know might be 100 years old.

For someone who loves going to middle of nowhere places and taking pictures of just this type of thing, the relentless forward motion of the train is torture!

On the plus side, we take note of the fact that the train tracks roughly follow Route 2, the northernmost highway in the U.S., and we vow to return in a car.

(rail) Road trip to Chicago. Day one, Seattle to Spokane by bus

Oh my god, I really did jinx us! When I woke up I had a voicemail from Amtrak alerting me that our trip had a schedule change. After 10 minutes on hold, I found out we’d be taking a bus from Seattle to Spokane due to “track work.” I’ll spoil the surprise right now: there was no track work. That was bullsh*t. The Chicago-Seattle train was so late that is was faster to bus all those passengers to Seattle and all of us out to Spokane so that they’d have time to service the train. The conductor told us all about it. Rationally, I get what they were doing, but I didn’t like being lied to by the customer service agents.

So, our train trip started out in utter confusion as hundreds of people with double that number of suitcases milled around the under-construction Seattle Amtrak station.

We got seated, and got underway.

seattle to spokane bus

The scenery was quite nice but I couldn’t get over my disappointment that we weren’t in the train yet.We climbed pretty mountain passes,

descended into pastoral farmland, and watched a lovely sunset.

We made it into Spokane just after 10pm and we were starving. The train wasn’t scheduled to leave until 1:30am, so we popped out for a bite. Turns out the station was near the bars and clubs, so we got a glimpse of Spokane’s youth getting their drink on. I was a little surprised at how wasted everyone was at such an early hour. Nonetheless, all their energy revived me, and we headed back to the train in good spirits.