Travel Day & Air Quality Maps

Thursday I am heading over to eastern Washington to spend my final 5 nights in the state.  Here is what the nationwide map looked like last Thursday:


Yellow is Acceptable, Orange is Bad, Red is Very Bad (Unhealthy), Purple is Hazardous.  As you can see, this time last week things looked pretty bleak for the Northwest US and Southwestern Canada.

Here’s what it looks like this morning:


As you can see, there is a small area of orange in eastern Washington and within that orange area is one red spot – Spokane.  Where am I going for the next 5 days??  Spokane.

The area just north of Mount Vernon got some rain yesterday morning which moved east along the border with Canada and I think that, along with other areas of rain in the past week, have contributed to the temporarily improved readings.  The fires continue, though, so I expect smoke and bad air to return.

Padilla Bay Interpretive Center

Wednesday I drove out to this facility, not far from where I am staying in Mount Vernon.  It is part of the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, an 11,000 acre protected area in and near the Salish Sea and the saltwater delta of the Skagit River (which runs adjacent to downtown Mount Vernon).  In additional to several rooms of displays and photographs explaining the research which occurs here there were several aquariums with some of the critters which live underwater.

Starry Flounder


Coonstripe Shrimp


Painted Anemone


Giant Pink Star (probably 3 feet across.  It was clinging to the glass so you are seeing the underside of it)



Red Sea Urchin


There were lots of other things in the tanks but these were the most photogenic and many were too dark for the camera to focus on them properly (my smartphone camera likes to push my buttons by focusing on the wrong thing…)

Go ahead, count ’em. I’ll wait….

How many sailboat masts do you see?


I don’t think I’ve presented this challenge yet this year.  I had the opportunity when I was down in Olympia but I passed.  When I saw this marina in Anacortes I realized I had another bite at the apple….

UPDATE – Actually, I did do this when I was down in Sequoia National Park.  Well, it’s been a while so here it is anyway.

Whidbey Island

Tuesday I spent much of the day out on Whidbey Island, the largest of all the islands in the various waterways in northwest Washington.  I could see Whidbey Island from Port Townsend (only 4 miles and a short ferry ride away) but I didn’t go out there because the wildfire smoke was limiting visibility and the air quality was poor.  From the east side (I am currently staying in Mount Vernon, north of Seattle) I could drive out onto the island over a series of bridges.

First I went back to downtown Mount Vernon to take some pictures with the sun behind me.  When I arrived in town Monday afternoon I spent a good bit of time walking around downtown and along the waterfront (along the Skagit River).

This large piece of art is located along the waterfront.  Many of the Indian tribes in the area utilize fish in their tribal logo and this symbolizes salmon swimming upstream.


And this area in Washington includes the largest growers of tulips in North America.


Many of the local fields are bursting with color in April when the tulips bloom.

One of the merchants in town sells items for runners, joggers and other exercise-minded individuals and these “entry numbers” from various marathons lined two of the unused doors to their store:



Next I headed out to Whidbey Island.  First stop was the town of Anacortes which is actually on Fidalgo Island.  Last year I saw several chessboards outside in various places which consisted of child-sized chess pieces.  This is the first checkers board I saw along the same line, this one at a marina.


Also, overlook the ships in the marina, a piano for anyone with a sudden desire to “tickle the ivories”.  If my older brother was here he’d have knocked out a few tunes.  Me, I can’t even play “chopsticks”.


I have seen these in a few places and there were several people at various times playing one when I was in Port Angeles.

Next up, cross the Deception Pass Bridge and start my trek out on Whidbey Island.  The first big town I came to was Oak Harbor.  I drove down to the “historic” part of town overlooking the water but the tide was out and it wasn’t very impressive.  The only excitement in Oak Harbor was when several military jets from the nearby Whidbey Island Naval Air Station made a low, slow pass over the highway as they came in to land.

Next stop, Coupeville.  This is where I would have ended up if I had taken the ferry over from Port Townsend.  The town and harbor are on the opposite side of the island and several miles from the ferry terminal so I am really glad I didn’t take the ferry as a “walk-on” planning to walk into town!  Coupeville has a charming little main street area with restaurants, art galleries and gift shops.  There was also a large building out at the end of a wooden dock with several such shops.  Out on the deck on the water-side of that building was this bell for people to ring when they see a whale.


I went into one of the gift shops to ask when was the last time the bell was rung and the clerk said it was one day last week.  Evidently Orcas (Killer Whales) are often seen here.  The only action I saw while was standing on the deck looking out over the water were these people kayaking:



As I was walking back to my car I saw this ice cream shop:


There was a sign on the building indicating that this was the original location of what would become “Seattle’s Best Coffee”.  Two brothers opened a coffee shop at this location in 1969 and in 1991 their blend was named as Seattle’s Best!

I drove further south, through Greenbank and past Freeland and finally arrived at Clinton.


I could have taken a ferry there back over to the mainland at Mukilteo (and visited the lighthouse there) but I decided to turn around and drive back north to Mount Vernon.  It was a beautiful day, sunny and with very little wind.  I think the warmest it got was the low-70’s.  The wildfire smoke has mysteriously disappeared.  In fact, when I checked the Air Quality website Monday night I thought maybe it wasn’t working properly because ALL the oranges, reds, maroons and purples were gone!  I don’t know where all the smoke went but at least for now the air quality and visibility in the region is back to normal.  As I post this on Wednesday morning at 840 local time the only orange spot showing up in the state of Washington is in Twisp.  Maybe they’re mad that I have a new favorite town….

I will be driving through Twisp Thursday as I head east to my last stop in Washington, Spokane.  I will be there 5 nights, through all of the upcoming Labor Day weekend.  I know they had a little rain over the weekend which is maybe why the smoke went away but given all the fires still burning in the area I’m sure the smoke will be back.

After I leave Spokane next Tuesday I’ll be stopping in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Michigan (both the UP and the mitten) before visiting family and friends in the northeast.


Museum of Glass – Tacoma, WA

Monday, as I traveled from Olympia to Mount Vernon, Washington I stopped in Tacoma to visit this museum.  The admission price had been reduced because one of the major display areas was closed to set up a new exhibit but there were still lots of things to see and do.

One of the current exhibits was a little confusing to me at the time but since I have learned more about it I guess it is starting to make sense.  It is called “Foraging the Hive” and is a large room with thousands of glass test tubes hanging from the ceiling:




Each test tube contains tiny, random items.  The artist’s intent is to mimic the behavior of bees, who gather and manipulate pollen to populate identically shaped chambers in their hive.  The artist wanted people (friends, family, museum employees and even museum visitors) to gather, manipulate and place items of their choosing into glass test tubes which are then sealed with beeswax and become part of the “hive”.

The large room with the current exhibit had black lines on the floor which visitors aren’t supposed to cross but out in the main lobby were some examples of what’s inside the glass test tubes so I took a few closeups of those:





I wished I had some tiny helicopter parts or other items from home so since I didn’t have anything “uniquely JohnBoy” I didn’t create any test tubes of my own to add to the work.

Another place to visit in the Museum was their “Hot Shop”.  There was a Visiting Artist from Seattle named Brent Rogers (black t-shirt, center of the photo facing away from the camera) who was finishing up a piece he had been working on.  The woman in the lower right corner was providing commentary on what was taking place and there were several helpers scurrying about.  There was also someone working a video camera and there was a large TV screen where closeups of the work-in-progress were displayed and showed exactly what was being done to it.  I was at a museum and hot shop in St. Petersburg, Florida back in January and watched a vase being made from start to finish.  It was quite interesting to see all the steps involved and how colors and patterns are added to the final product.



During breaks the artist and workers are available to answer questions from the visitors watching from the stadium-style seats.

The Museum also has a one-of-a-kind Mobile Hot Shop which they take to schools, art festivals, State Fairs, etc. to promote interest in the field of glassblowing.

Museum of Glass – Chihuly – 2 of 2

Monday I visited the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington.  Much of the Museum’s design and history is to highlight the works of Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native.  In addition to the artworks housed in the museum there are several places nearby where Mr. Chihuly’s work is on display free, 24 hours a day, for the people of Tacoma (or from anywhere else) to enjoy.

One of these places is the “Chihuly Bridge of Glass” which is billed as a 500-foot long glass ceiling over which sit over 2,000 pieces of colored glass.  Now that I’ve been there I can tell you that is a little misleading.  There are actually 24 panels (3 panels wide and 8 panels long) which are suspended about 30 feet over a pedestrian bridge which spans from the Museum near the waterfront, over Highway 405, to downtown Tacoma.  So at 20 feet in length (each) the actual length of the artwork is 160 feet.  It is still very impressive, especially lit up at night.  I know this because I have seen this concept on a smaller scale in several art museums around the country (pre-blog) and the pieces were much closer to the viewer and were lit from above.  Each piece is truly unique and there are lots of colors, shapes and sizes.  There is quite a bit of repetition in the basic shapes used but it is still an amazing sight.  If you ever get a chance to see this type of display in person I highly recommend it.

Here are 5 of the 24 panels:






As people cross the bridge there is also a huge “display case” called the Venetian Wall which contain over 100 individual pieces (large, oversized vases for example).

Finally, in Union Station, across the highway from the Museum and now converted to a federal courthouse, there were several pieces of Chihuly art on display.

This is a window, high up in the building – facing the highway and waterfront.  These pictures were taken from two different vantage points.



This is a large piece hanging from the center of the entryway.  Each of the colors you see is a separate piece of glass.  I saw a piece like this in Oklahoma City last year which I bet was 4 stories tall.  Again, this is from two different angles:



And this was on an upstairs balcony, where visitors aren’t allowed to go:


I have seen Mr. Chihuly’s art in several places around the country and have lots more pictures, including closeups, which I will post when I get back to Durham.

Museum of Glass – Kids

Monday I stopped at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington.  There were exhibits and items created by various artists but this was, by far, my favorite.  The Museum conducts “Kid’s Design” classes for kids 12 and under and each month picks one or two designs to actually be made into a glass sculpture.  The artists make two – one for the child who designed it and one for the Museum’s collection.  Here are some of the designs currently on display.  These were all made by a team of glass blowers employed by the Museum.

SQUARE SHARK – Adelle Patton, Age 11



THE FOLDING CHAIR – Cale (Unfortunately I neglected to get a picture of the sign with Cale’s last name and age.  Sorry, Cale… but at least you made it onto the blog!)


Here are Cale’s thoughts behind his creation:


ALIEN GUY – Chase Balay, Age 7  (If you need help, A.G. is the green one on the right)


Evidently Chase created Alien Guy in second grade and it adorned all his schoolwork papers.  And not to be left out, the white animal on the left is…

BUNNELLAFANT – Myles Johnson, Age 10.  A combination Bunny and Elephant.


Here is my favorite:



Here are Ian’s thoughts on it’s evolution:


HAMBURGER COWBOY – James Barr, Age 7


Why, James?


And finally:

MR. POPCICLE – Emily Cooper, Age 9


And her thoughts on “Mr. Popcicle”…



America the Beautiful

Some nights when I have trouble sleeping I get online and find some sites with funny or clever pictures. This is one I came across recently which does a pretty good job of summarizing the country…

I am near Tacoma, Washington, waiting for lunch hour traffic to clear before getting back on the road to get north of Seattle by mid-afternoon. I will have pictures from the Tacoma Museum of Glass to post tonight or tomorrow.

The weather has improved so hopefully I will be taking more pictures. I have been in kind of a rut lately.

Chinook Salmon!

While I was in Olympia I learned that the salmon are starting their migration to spawn. Under the 5th Street I could see them (LOTS of them) swimming frantically about, waiting their turn to jump to the next level up before the nearby sea lions grabbed them.

They were huge – at least two feet long, I’m sure. From the Budd Inlet they will go into Capital Lake and ultimately the Deschutes River.

UPDATE – I went back and looked at my pictures from the Salmon Hatcheries and according to a sign there Chinook Salmon can grow to be up to 3 feet long.  The ones I saw were underwater and some distance away but they could have been close to that length.