North West America

God, guns and guts


Teun is looking at me; he looks tired. And he’s hungry; after a long plane ride, it’s time for a good meal. We both ordered the Wild Alaska Salmon, “with a delicious blend of garlic and herbs”. The description on the menu conjures up visions of a rugged wilderness. Of a lone bear nonchalantly grabbing a salmon from the rapids with its powerful claws and of a bird of prey circling high in the sky against the backdrop of a snow-capped mountain range. Then reality strikes. A drab slab of animal protein appears on our plate. It looks disgusting and tastes the same; you wouldn’t even serve it to your cat. If anything is wild about this Wild Alaska Salmon, it was the trip from the freezer to the microwave. And Captain Igloo is an absolute boss compared to the kitchen artist who came up with this.

Dûh! This is America, the land of the fast food. So what did we expect? Good point. We ourselves chose to eat at Denny’s, a glorified snack bar. I’m sure Downtown Seattle there was something better to find. But we’re staying right next to the airport, and we didn’t have the energy to take the train to the city center. Call it a rookie mistake. A mistake, by the way, that we immediately make again the next morning at breakfast. Sometimes you want to make sure it’s not your fault. Ellen barely swallows a steak sandwich fried far too long, while the rest of us drown in a blood sugar tsunami.

More than a decade ago, we also visited the States. Back then, we made a grand tour from Las Vegas, all the way to Colorado. We visited Bryce and Zion, and of course the Grand Canyon. It was our first big trip with offspring. Our son sat in a high chair in the back of the motorhome; we celebrated his first birthday on the road. Twelve years on, he is an adolescent and has a sister of almost ten. The four of us are now travelling through the northwest of the US. First, we will travel inland from Seattle, visiting major and minor parks in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and then return to Seattle via the coast of Oregon and Washington. We have four weeks to do so. And we are looking forward to it!

Plan A was renting a RV. Travelling in an RV is great, especially in America. But it wasn’t cheap the last time around, and since the pandemic it has become completely unaffordable. You can easily shell out six or seven thousand euros rent for the period we have in mind. We are not going to do that. We skip to plan B. Plan B is always camping. So lovely and primitive, back to nature. We’ll bring a tent, sleeping bags, cooking gear. Plan B never lasts long. Because it all sounds very rugged and romantic, but very soon the thought of there being nothing more than a thin layer of fabric between us and the wilderness will prove unbearable. Even worse is that beyond the tent fabric, bears may be roaming about. Not to mention the toilets, which – if there are any – are also located bear-sided from the tent cloth. So, in the months before the trip, my spouse silently switches to plan C. One by one, reservations at campsites are replaced by solid cabins and hotels. Eventually, only one or two nights of camping are left, and then it is suddenly a lot of hassle to lug around a tent and air beds and a foldable titanium five-burner gas cooker just for that. “Shall we book that expensive lodge after all?” Ellen ponders. I say yes. So the final plan is forming: drive in a “regular” hire car, and sleep between walls of stone. Or at least wooden walls.

We are still in Seattle. The four of us are hiking from our motel to the car rental agency. I’m reminded of the book “Americans don’t walk” that I read a while ago. This book, written by Dutch journalist Arjen van Veelen, is exactly about this. We have been on the plane for so long, and we’re a bit early, and don’t feel like taking a taxi – so we decided to walk. We are European geeks. There is hardly anyone on the streets. The only person we encounter in this Seattle suburb is a homeless person with clearly evident mental health issues. He is screaming the shit out of things and is wildly waving his arms. All in all, it is not a cheerful picture.

Another cliché: in America, everything is big. Naturally, this starts with the car. We already hadn’t chosen a small city car, but the sales lady still manages to sweet-talk us into an upgrade. In a big fat Toyota Highlander, we leave the car park, on our way to the first Walmart – also huge. Who said Americans don’t walk? With a decent shopping list, you can easily run half a marathon here. Everything is huge here. The kids take selfies with a five-kilogram pack of minced meat and a two-kilogram bucket of garlic spread.

Now that we have the car and groceries, we can almost hit the road. We are still missing one thing: bear spray. Once, I thought bear spray was a joke. I was wrong, bear spray is bloody serious business. This misunderstanding came from the false resemblance to mosquito spray, but bear spray is not something you rub on your skin. A can of bear spray is your last resort when you haven’t managed to avoid a bear and the realisation sets in that running away is suicide. At such a time, you don’t want to be left empty-handed. Bear spray is similar to pepper spray that you use to deal with a human attacker. From a few metres away, you spray a cloud in the bear’s direction. By doing so, you hope that the bear will make up its mind and go away. So far, it makes sense. However, where a can of pepper spray slips discreetly into a lady’s purse, for the next few weeks I will be walking around with a miniature nuclear missile dangling from my belt. This resemblance to nuclear weapon goes much further than you might think. Just do the math. Firstly, a can of bear spray will cost you a fortune, money you would rather have invested in something nice. And that’s while – point two – it’s already established that you’re not going to use that spray can. Well, you hope so, and you expect so. You don’t normally meet a bear, full stop. Thirdly, none of that has to be a problem if you are simply allowed to take that unused spray can back on the plane afterwards. But you guessed it: that’s not allowed. Fourthly – though I doubt the analogy with nuclear weapons holds up here – the market for vintage bear spray is very poor. Reselling is out of the question. Fifthly, and this is very nuclear: if, against-all-fucking-odds, a shoot-out does take place between bear and Stijn-with-spray, there is no guarantee that bear will actually run away. In fact, there is a good chance that Stijn will have to use his life insurance. Long story short: a spray can like that is a bad buy. But explain that to our reptilian brain.
” That’ll make fifty dollars, sir.”
Dejected, I hand him the money.

We leave the city and drive from Seattle towards Mount Rainier in an hour or two. It is overcast. The road undulates past forests of tall trees into the valley. On the way, we stop in Enumclaw, a small town with an artsy-feely vibe. We visit the Visitor Centre of Mt Rainier National Park in Paradise; the place is pretty crowded. We buy an annual pass for all the National Parks. Even if you only visit a few parks, it’s worth it. The problem is that we cannot pay for it with cash here, and because we have just paid our rental car, our credit card is limited. These are just start-up problems.

Our credit card hiccups also mean that we will have to ask at our first hotel if we can pay tomorrow. At the reception of the Crest Trail Lodge in Packwood, there is a sign saying “we reserve the right to refuse service”. Behind it, on the wall, is a tile that reads “God, guns and guts made America free. Let’s keep it that way.” Are we really going to be able to check in here on the puff? With trembling knees, we press the bell. The hostess announces herself, a burly lady, heavily tattooed. Of course we can pay later, she says, and hands us the key. We dine in a little Mexican restaurant, it tastes delicious. The holiday feeling finally starts to sink in.

It’s Monday, we head to Norway Pass. There we go on a hike. I’m still a bit uncomfortable walking around with the bear spray attached to my waist, but the hike is incredibly beautiful. Both Mount Rainier and St Helens show themselves in all their glory. In the valley between us and Mount St. Helens lies Spirit Lake. A good part of the lake’s surface is covered with logs; you don’t see it until you realise it. We take a swim in the Blue Hole near La Wis Wis campground. The water is freezing cold, but we don’t let that stop us.

Tuesday proves to be a long day of driving. Hope is the destination; it is a good six hours inland. Slowly, we see the surroundings change from a mountainous landscape to coniferous forests and finally to a vast barren plain. Behind us, Mt Rainier gleams in the sun. Along the highway, the 90 Interstate, is an endless series of fields. Signs along the road indicate the crops being grown: lots of potatoes, fifty shades of corn, and various types of beans including alfalfa. Personally, I only knew alfalfa from the seedlings you can subtly garnish a trendy dish with, but here it is big business agro. Alfalfa has been used as high-quality animal feed since ancient times.


We have arrived in Idaho, in what is called the Panhandle, a northern bulge of the state sandwiched between the neighbouring states of Washington and Montana. The area has a reputation for being a hotbed of right-wing politics, a result of, among other things, the decline of the mining industry in the 1980s. And we think we sense that. We see more and more Trump flags, in gardens, on houses and on cars. The same is true of pro-Trump and anti-Biden stickers. The supporters of MAGA – “Make America Great Again” – do not hide their sympathies.

In Hope – what’s in a name? – none of this is apparent. Our hostess does not look like a typical redneck at all. I estimate she is past retirement age but has the energy of a 20-year-old. Her plan for the summer is first to go ice climbing up here and then to go rock climbing in Italy where she has just bought a house with her fiancee. We take it a lot slower. We swim in Lake Pend Oreille. The name comes from the French word for earring; a reference to the shape of the lake. It is chilly outside and so is the water. The next day, the weather warms up a bit. We hang around in the town of Sandpoint, and swim at a jetty among divers.


On Thursday, we drive to Glacier NP, a three-hour drive. Glacier is in the state of Montana, right up against the Canadian border. With an area of almost the Netherlands, it is one of the larger parks we visit on this trip. It is also a popular park; there are limited tickets available for some parts. Ellen was online very early this morning and managed to get tickets to drive the Going-to-the-Sun-Road in our own car at 7:04 am. That’s in the pocket. The GttSR is the only road that crosses the park from east to west.

We are staying at Timber Wolf Resort, not far from the park’s western entrance. The word “resort” no doubt conjures up associations with dinner buffets, cocktail bars, drunken Russians, armbands and barriers. This is not such a resort. On the contrary, this accommodation comes very close to our original plan A, camping. Although we sleep in a hut, between four walls that is, there is no electricity. Also very much plan A is the “recent bear activity” sign. For our sense of security, we jointly walk to the toilet in the evening. Better safe than sorry. Incidentally, mosquitoes are the only animals that bother us; Tessel is completely covered in mosquito bites.

We seek refreshment in Lake Five, a ten-minute drive from our resort. Our experience as travellers is that while it’s easy to find a beautiful lake, public access is not a given. Beautiful spots are often privately owned, and in America private definitely is off-limits. No ‘right of way’ or other enlightened phenomena; threats of gunplay are more the norm. Which makes it even better that, after some searching, we find a very nice public spot on Lake Five. Paul’s Memorial is the name of the place. There is a jetty where the occasional boat moors. The weather is beautiful; a little cloudy but the sun shows itself a lot and the heat is tempered by a nice breeze.

On Friday, we enter the park for the first time via the Going-to-the-Sun-Road. We drive to Logan Pass, at 2026 metres the highest point on the road. Even though it is very early in the morning, it is already quite busy with cars. We take a look at the visitor centre and then take a beautiful hike to Hidden Lake. The route largely crosses snow; it’s very slippery at times. But the effort is rewarded; along the way we see numerous squirrels, marmots, and bighorn sheep. At the end of the hike, we watch a couple of gutsy kids hike up the steep mountain slopes and then ski down.

The next day, too, we get up very early. We hope to get ahead of the crowds this way. We drive the route below the park; it is quieter here. After a quick visit to Two Medicine Lake, we drive on to Many Glacier Entrance where we rejected because the parking spaces are full. The permit we had obtained unfortunately does not apply in this part of the park. We decide to get lunch and make another attempt after that. Even getting lunch is not easy: in Saint Mary, everything is either closed or extremely expensive; we end up feeding ourselves on potato chips and a $12 bowl of guacamole. Unfortunately, a second attempt to get into the park is also unsuccessful. We end up making a short hike to Baring Falls. We are a bit tired from it all and decide to drive back for a nice swim in Lake Five; It’s time to cool off, it is hot.


Sunday a long drive to Yellowstone awaits us. It is the day of sevens: it is seven hours clean driving time to the destination, we leave at seven, and we are expected to have dinner at seven in the evening. That should do the trick. The route takes us past neatly raked villages and appetising spots like Sourdough Island and Salmon Lake, and past Quake Lake, a lake formed after a massive earthquake in 1959. Dead trees protruding above the water are silent witnesses to “The Night of Terror”.

On our first night in Yellowstone, we sleep at the Old Faithful Inn. This historic place takes its name from the famous geyser that lies directly opposite. About every hour and a half, water is hurled dozens of metres into the air. There are benches around it, so you can watch the spectacle in peace. And then there is the Old Faithful Inn. I walk inside and look around in amazement. In the middle of the huge hall is a twenty-six-metre-high stone fireplace; apart from that, this inn is built largely of wood. On one of the balconies overlooking the lobby, a duo plays classical music on a violin and a piano. Downstairs, the place is buzzing with activity. According to Wikipedia, this is one of the largest log cabins in the world. It was built in the early 20th century, in a style called ‘National Park Service Rustic’. Now “rustic” is not the first association I have. I rather think of words like grandeur, gaudy, pompous, bombastic. That sounds more negative than I intend it to; it is a truly monumental building. But it does make me realise that Americans really are cut from different cloth than us. Europeans – well, except maybe the French – would take a much more modest approach to this kind of thing. Or so I think. To accentuate our modesty, we spend the next two nights sleeping in a cabin at the Koa Campground just outside the park. There’s Wi-Fi, a little pool, a coffee bar and a grill, and that’s really all a person needs.

For two days we drive through Yellowstone and take short hikes past the many sights. Almost everything here in Yellowstone revolves around geothermal energy, of course. It fizzes and bubbles, and the ground shows itself in bright colours due to the actions of minerals and bacteria. The names of the places are all very evocative, from the Artists Paintpots and the Steam Boat to the Mammoth Hot Springs, the Mud Volcano and the Grand Prismatic Overview. Downright spectacular is the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.

For all these geothermal burps, the Yellowstone hotspot is held responsible. This underground magma bubble slides under the North American tectonic plate with four and a half centimetres per year (or actually the other way around: the plate slides over the magma). Over six hundred thousand years ago, a “super volcanic eruption” occurred. The resulting crater, the Yellowstone Caldera, covers a large part of the park. Earlier super volcano eruptions took place about 1.3 million and 2 million years ago. If you naively extend this sequence, you come to the conclusion that it is about time for another eruption. And I mean sometime in the Anthropocene; I’m not looking at a year earlier or later. Not surprisingly, several documentaries and disaster movies have been made about the impact of such an upcoming super volcanic eruption. The consequences will be enormous. In previous explosions, an area almost the size of the United States was covered under a layer of ash. An eruption would trigger a new ice age – an alienating thought in times of global warming. Scientists insist that there is no reason to believe that an eruption is imminent. What they do warn about extensively is the danger of walking off the trails. The heat – and sometimes the acidity – of the subsoil means that ignoring these signs is not a good idea. Warnings are reinforced by the mention of previous victims. It is reported that more than 20 people have already been fatally burned in the park’s history. By the way, that is only a minuscule percentage of all visitors. And then you have the wildlife, of which bison in particular capture the imagination. We see one along the road, you can’t actually miss it because of all the humans that stop their cars and get out to take a look up close… Plenty of candidates for the Darwin Award here.


Not far below Yellowstone sits Grand Teton National Park, which is our next stopover. We spend a night on the Grand Teton Climbers Range, in a shared cabin. What these climbers come for is obvious. We have a view of the Teton Range, part of the Rocky Mountains. It is a playground for human mountain goats. In the evening, there is a lecture on the history of mountaineering in this region, given by one of these old goats. The audience hangs on his every word. We enjoy the atmosphere, but our highlight is not in the mountains. Driving around the area, we spot a herd of reindeer among the trees. We have ample opportunity to watch them. After such a spontaneous sighting you are immediately a lot more alert, and after some detective work we see two moose standing in shallow water, a female with her young. The next morning, we get an unexpected bonus. Ellen has set her sights on sunrise at Jenny Lake and motivates us to get up at 5.30am. The idea is that the sun will drop its reflections on the lake through a crack in the Teton Range. This proves to be somewhat disappointing, but just as we get back in the car, something strolls across the road about 20 metres in front of us. Only when we pass it do we realise it’s a bear. That wakes us up straight away!


We drive west to Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve. This puts us back in Idaho, but a lot further south than the Panhandle. It all looks a bit less Trumpish here, or are we imagining it? To our left, the lunar landscape from which the park takes its name unfolds. It is a pitch-black spectacle; the ground seems made of brownie. And it’s bloody hot. This is no place to wander around for a whole day. We take a few measured walks to the Cinder Cone and the Spatter Cones. In the evening, we take a breather in a suburb of Jerome. Robert – a friendly man with a belly, a shaggy beard and amusing eyes under his baseball cap – rents us the basement of his bungalow. This is the kind of B&B we like. In the middle of our room is a pool table, in the corner is a vintage Pacman slot machine and outside chickens scurry around the trampoline. If we wish, we are allowed to collect eggs.

On Friday, we drive a few hours further west. We spend the hottest hours of the day at Dierkes Lake, a nice recreational lake a few minutes from the spectacular Shoshone Falls in Snake River. Swimming is almost a necessity; the temperature approaches 40 degrees Celsius. In the late afternoon, we drive on to Grand View, a dusty town on the same Snake River. We drive through a huge empty plain. How do people make a living here? We can’t think of anything beyond cattle ranches. In Grand View, we have rented a flat for the night. It takes us some effort to find the location and the key. The landlord himself is not there, we have no network connection to search for anything, and at the saloon-like bar right next to our supposed flat, they have no idea where we are supposed to be. Long story short, it’s a kind of reverse escape room and I think I’m going to patent that concept.

The Snake River flows across our street. At dusk, we stare across the wide, slow-flowing water. Two teenagers approach us. They hesitate and address us cautiously. “Excuse me, do you know if we can fish here?” As we get punctured by mosquitoes, we start talking to them. They thought we were from here and tried to probe whether we would send them away. When we explain that we are tourists and that we are from the Netherlands, they give us a puzzled look. Europe, they have vaguely heard of that; they immediately apologise that their education system is not all that good. But there is nothing wrong with their survival life skills. We get a lecture on spear fishing. They hunt carp, an invasive species that they kill after catching and throw back into the water. The eldest of the bunch learned the trade from his father who served in the army in Alaska. He shows us his bow, and with a big torch he shines on the water and shows us where the carp are. Apart from carp, he also has learned to fish for ducks and deer. His father also used to have a “bear tag”, a licence to hunt bears. We tell him we are on our way to the Oregon coast. “Enjoy! I’ve actually never seen the sea.”


From Grand View, we continue to Mitchell today. Five and a half hours’ drive it is. If we thought we were driving through the outback before this, then this is the superlative. In the urban ‘oasis’ around Boise, we seize the opportunity to buy lunch, and the kids abuse the Walmart wifi to download new Netflix episodes. Before we head for our accommodation for the night, we take and look at the visitor centre of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. This area is a geologist’s paradise. The coloured stratification of the Painted Hills is the visible trace of millions of years of climate change; the red colour dates from hot and humid times while the yellow was caused by a cool and dry regime.

We spend the night in a tiny house affectionately named Coppini Creekside Camp. Tiny it certainly is. Most of the space is taken up by a two-person bed. That’s where Ellen and Teun sleep. Tessel sleeps on a mattress on the ground, and I sleep at the top on a small loft. The energy we need comes from a couple of solar panels and gas bottles. It’s hot, 109F, which is 43 degrees Celsius! There is no air conditioning, but there is a cooler full of ice cubes and a USB fan (and electric heating!). Horses roam around the cottage. There is not a soul in sight; our hosts live quite a distance away. This rightfully feels like the middle of nowhere.


On Sunday, we move from the Painted Hills area to Crater Lake National Park. We will stay here for two nights, in a motel-style room at Mazama Campground, a few kilometres from Crater Lake. As in the previous accommodation, there is no air conditioning but heating, perhaps a sign that the hot weather here is not quite common. For that matter, the weather gods provide variety here on the mountain. When we enter the park, a downpour causes the temperature to dip below 20 degrees Celsius for a while. And from the road around the crater, one minute the lake can be seen in all its glory while the next minute we are completely covered in clouds. In the latter case, the steep mountainside on the other side of the road is also completely out of sight. And that slope starts right behind where the crash barriers normally are. Is it an advantage or a disadvantage that you can’t see that precipice? I haven’t decided yet. Either way, it does feel safer to drive this crater road clockwise.

Crater Lake formed after an eruption of Mount Mazama about eight thousand years ago. Native Americans witnessed it, it is said. The eruption was forty-two times heavier than that of Mount St. Helens in 1980, which was the largest eruption in modern times and thus the measure of eruptions in North America. (By comparison, the super-volcanic eruption that formed the Yellowstone Caldera – see above – scores a thousand on the scale of Mount St. Helens). After Mazama’s eruption, the crater collapsed. Smaller eruptions within the crater plastered the bottom, preventing precipitation from flowing away, creating the lake. The lake reaches almost six hundred metres deep – a record for the US. As soon as weather permits, we hike to Watchman Peak, a viewpoint over the lake. And we hike the Pinnacles Trail, a beautiful cliff walk overlooking a spectacular landscape formed by lava and erosion.


We continue towards the Oregon coast via Umpqua National Forest, a huge forest filled mainly with lots of conifers. There is no sign of heat now, it is cool and rainy. We stay two nights at Moolack Shores Inn near Newport. We have a flat right on the beach. It couldn’t be nicer. Before breakfast, I go for a little barefoot run on the beach. How Instagrammable! As I wash the sand off my feet, I strike up a conversation with an American, an elderly man.
“‘Isn’t it beautiful here!”
“So true,” I agree.
I don’t get time to catch my breath. Within seconds, he brings the topic of conversation to Our Lord – well: his – and to that we should above all keep praying that He gives us the right people to lead this beautiful country. When I inform him that I am from the Netherlands (“in Europe”), he also wants to know if we are all communist. I begin to suspect that this man does not live in the same bubble as me. I wish him a blessed day and rush inside.

This meeting was no exception. America’s love for God runs like a thread through this holiday. Surprising? Not really. But the fact that it is all so obsessive and widespread does surprise me. On the internet there is a graph of how often people pray versus the prosperity of the country. The trend is to be expected: the more prosperous a country is, the less people pray. But there is one big outlier in that scatterplot and that is the US. Could that be because this country was founded by pilgrims? I have no other explanation. Anyway, everywhere – on billboards, on wall tiles, on T-shirts, on mugs – really everywhere, the Christian faith is being expressed. Bibles and secondary foundational literature in the hotel room are the rule rather than the exception. A few days ago, Ellen stood next to a woman who was speaking to her adolescent son as they looked out over an awe-inspiring landscape. “And guess who created all of this!? The Lord!!!” I was always taught not to take statements like this so literally, that it is all meant metaphorically. But her tone of voice seemed to imply otherwise. She really meant that God made it all. Ellen handles any semblance of creationism very badly. She couldn’t resist to kindly draw the attention of mother and son to the National Park Service information panel a few metres away. This panel explains in detail how this landscape was created over millions of years, by volcanism and erosion, among other things. Thank God the NPS still seems to be secular.


From Newport, we drive north to Cannon Beach. Wherever we can, we get out of the car to take in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. And to search for whales, against our better judgment, because the season for whales to swim here on their way north is supposed to be over by now. All the nicer when you do see them: at both Otter Crest Loop and Rocky Creek, we spot several whales in the ocean. A little further on, we clamber over rocks in the tidal landscape at Siletz Bay. At Cape Kiwanda, we climb the spectacular seventy-five-metre-high dune. It’s a tough workout.

Lots of coastal entertainment, but it’s not going to be a traditional sun and beach holiday. The ocean is far too cold for extensive swimming anyway. We are more into strolling along the beach and exploring beautiful places. Of course, sometimes it takes some negotiation to keep everyone on the same page. For Ellen, the sunset is a photo opportunity that cannot be missed. That means we usually get in the car after dinner, heading to a carefully selected location, to capture the perfect picture. For Teun, a sunset is “waiting until it’s dark” – and he prefers to do that at home on the couch. Sometimes that clashes. Nevertheless, that outdoor “waiting” often turns out to be more fun than our adolescent children anticipate. At Haystack Rock, in no time, they are frolicking around in the surf. The sun is long gone, and their clothes are soaking wet from the freezing water, but they don’t care. Tessel runs across the beach with a paper Mc Donalds bag over her head, to the amusement of a few small children. Campfires on the beach complete the atmospheric setting.


Our tour is almost over. The last major stop is Olympic National Park, a large peninsula west of Seattle. Passing through Astoria and Aberdeen, we drive to our motel in Forks. The relative cool of the past few days has disappeared again; it is already close to 30 degrees. Fortunately, a swimming pool awaits us at the motel.

Olympic National Park means trees. For instance, there is an unimaginably thick spruce at Lake Quinault where we make a picnic stop. The circumference of the trunk is eighteen metres, and its height of fifty-eight metres is no mean feat either. The Americans make it a competition. The specific record of this Sitka spruce is the number of AFA points as awarded by the American Forest Association. You can calculate the AFA score by adding the height of the tree (in feet) to the circumference of the trunk (in inches) plus a quarter of the average span of the branches (in feet). I will spare you the further contest rules but take it from me that this is a Big Tree. We see dead trees at Beach 2; the beach is covered with large amounts of driftwood. We clamber over the logs and swim in the freezing Pacific Ocean. Perhaps the most popular part of Olympic is the rainforest at Hoh. We plan to go on a hike there, but there’s a one-and-a-half-hour wait to park your car. As in Glacier and Yellowstone, nature is sometimes very crowded. So instead, we take a short hike to Hoh River, with the nuclear missile on my belt as we find ourselves in “bear country” again. The next morning, we get there very early and find a parking spot at the Hoh Rainforest visitor centre. From there, we hike two short loops through a wondrous landscape of hanging mosses and trees growing on trees.

For the last overnight stay, Ellen has booked a lovely B&B in Sequim. We stop en route for a hike in Hurricane Ridge. In winter, this part of Olympic National Park is popular with skiers and snowboarders. In summer, it mainly attracts hikers… and mosquitoes. Combined with the heat, it makes for a tough climb. Tessel gets completely freaked out by all the insects and we decide to turn around.

We ceremoniously end our vacation with dinner at a diner. At the Hi-Way 101 Diner to be precise, a family restaurant that has imposed an Elvis theme on itself. Fair is fair, you can see that a lot of attention has been paid to the interior. Elvis lives here. And the food is a lot better than at our first dinner at Denny’s, although that says very little.

Hope and Glacier

Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP

Craters of the Moon, Painted Hills and Crater Lake

Oregon coast and Olympic NP