Every Sno-Isle Library

Two months into 2019, I finally finished one of my 2018 New Year’s Resolutions.

The goal was to visit all the libraries in the Sno-Isle system. I am trying to deal with the fact that I have both wanderlust and children by embarking on a series of micro-adventures. Since I can’t visit all fifty states or every continent (right now, anyway), I am settling for visiting all 23 libraries in the Sno-Isle system.

Luckily, library branches are on islands, peninsulas, mountains, and near hiking trails. Lots of opportunities for adventures.

So, with my two kids in tow, the challenge was to make an expedition out of each library visit.

I was so anxious to get started I forgot that a resolution should take plan in one calendar year and started on December 27th of 2017. At the time, I figured that I’d be done by the time the 2018 baseball season started and I could give all my extra attention to the Mariners. I was a few months off.

I just crossed the last library off my list today, February 23rd 2019. So I was only a year off. Close enough.

Trailhead Libraries

The Darrington library is up in the northeast corner of my region, surrounded by the North Cascades. It was a library that I kept putting off. Part of the problem is that it’s closed Sundays. Initially, I figured that we’d stop here on one of our trips out of town. We passed Darrington twice last summer, once while heading to Ross Lake to go camping one rainy weekend in June and a second time on the way Winthrop. However, we never ended up stopping there on the way to our vacations, and both return trips were on Sundays when the library was closed. Therefore, summer came and went and I realized that I’d better get up to Darrington before it started snowing, since I am deathly afraid of the driving-mountains-snow trifecta of death. My delays turned out to be a good thing because the girls and I headed up to Darrington in the middle of fall when all the leaves were busy looking gorgeous.

Hiking was a total bust. I tried to take the girls up Boulder River Trail, and after four miles of driving on a gravelly pot-holed forest service road, my five-year-old pitched a total anti-hiking fit about 200 meters into the hike. So that was fun.

Sultan was better. It was one of the first libraries that we went to during the early spring of 2018, and after the rainy drive and library, we headed to Wallace Falls, which is a great kid hike. There is a less-than-a-mile loop with a waterfall early in the trail that served as motivation for my lackluster little hiker.

A train pulled through town just as we headed into the City Hall-Library combo, which is VERY exciting if you are three. We enjoyed the slow comfort of book, stuffed bears, cozy chairs and magnet building blocks before heading to Wallace Falls State Park in Gold Bar.

Wallace Falls one of my favorite kid hikes. It starts with a gravel straightaway that just begs to test out your sprinting skills. That was everyone gets the impulse to run out of the way before the real hike starts are we all need to stick closer together. Once in the woods, the trail splits off into paths of varying length and difficulty. We chose the .5 mile down to Small Falls and then did an extra little loop before heading back. 

The Granite Falls Library is also tucked in between mountains and trailheads, although we opted to visit the museum instead. It was a delightful tiny open-only-on-Sundays place that featured mostly logging lore and very enthusiastic staff of elderly volunteers who gave us candy. The library was super cozy.

The Mukilteo Library is a trailhead library, which is weird because Mukilteo is not in the mountains, but right on Puget Sound. However, the library is surrounded by the Big Gulch Trail which leads down to the beach.

The Oak Harbor Library also turned out to be a hiking destination. Even though Oak Harbor is (like Mukilteo), is right on the water, in order to get to the place, you have to drive over a very dramatic bridge. The Deception Pass Bridge connects Whidbey Island to the mainland, and the little park on the Whidbey side is a perfect place to park your car and take a walk across the bridge (unless you are scared of heights) and/or walk down to the beach.

Island Libraries

When the girls and I visited Camano Island Library, I wasn’t expecting the place to feel so island-y, since Camano Island. It’s more of a peninsula that has a couple of slough-like rivers separating it from the mainland. Yet, the minute we drove over the (not at all dramatic) bridge I got that island feeling. Everything was immediately brighter, more relaxed, slower, more fun. We stopped at a park, got ice cream by the library, took the scenic route to the beach. Total island stuff. Sorry for misjudging you, Camano Island.

The Clinton and Langley Libraries on the south end of Whidbey Island. The Clinton library is tiny and charming. We took a ferry across the sound to visit. It must have been sometime in October, because I remember the Clinton librarian taking my girls on a pumpkin-counting hunt through the library. The Langley library was fun because it was right in the middle of the tourist center of town, near a firehouse-turned-glass-blowing factory and lots of good places to eat. The library itself was bright and airy with tons of great toys. This was one of the girls’ favorites.

We visited the Coupeville and Freeland libraries in late February 2018. The thing I remember most of about these libraries was that my husband was there too. Most of our library adventures were just me and the girls, but in February we went to Coupeville as a family because I was running a trail race that I was not at all prepared for. Oblivious to the fact that I was about the run the worst race of my life, we spend the weekend on Whidbey visiting libraries and staying at a perfect little AirBnB.

Destination Libraries

Edmonds: With a rooftop overlooking the town and the water, this is one of those libraries that people get married in.

Monroe: This library was an unexpected wonder. A glass wall backing up to a forest, the best play area of the bunch, a fun park next door and delicious taco trucks nearby.

Snohomish: Definitely the pearl of the sno-isle system, the Snohomish library is going for that old-world charm feel, with dark wood and tall ceilings, and cozy chairs tucked around the fireplace. A perfect place to spend a dark and rainy night. Naturally, I don’t have a picture but you can see some good ones here.

Stanwood and Marysville: Okay, these libraries weren’t really the destination, but they were perfect stops on the way to the Warm Beach Lights of Christmas Festivals. We stopped at Stanwood in 2017, and Marysville in 2018.

Around Town

Lakewood/Smokey Point, Arlington, Lake Stevens, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood: Okay, when it came to these libraries I’ll have to confess that I didn’t really make an expedition out of them. There were no ferries, ice-cream stops, AirBnBs or trails. Usually the most exciting thing we did after visiting these libraries was to stop at Safeway for groceries on the way home. Not that they aren’t great libraries though.

The library in the town that is 5 minutes from my house and I have never been there

Brier is the town right next to me. In the five years I’ve lived here I had never even driven through Brier. It’s a little pocket neighborhood tucked in a triangular space between two freeways. I know that sounds horrible, but it isn’t. Because Brier is on the way to absolutely nowhere, nobody ever goes there. Unless they are on a quest to visit every library in the Sno-Isle system. We stopped in at a pizza joint in Brier where everybody knew each other, and we were clearly the out-of-towners (again. I live about five miles away from the place. Total out of towner).

Ah, the strip mall library

The Mariner library is in a strip mall between Everett and Lynnwood. It’s next to a Park n Ride and a good chunk of its patrons have questionable living situations. It is my favorite library because it is mine. It is where I rush nearly every week to pick up my holds. It is where I see my neighbors at the story time, which is tucked in a too-small room in the back. It is the library where my students go to check out laptops and use Wi-Fi and find a tiny space of quiet in their lives. It’s where the best and most patient librarians work – juggling the demands of toddlers, high school students, and an ever-increasing homeless population with grace. It may not have a fireplace or wood paneling or a view of the ocean, but this library is exactly what all libraries should be – a place where anyone, from anywhere, can find a warm welcoming space…and maybe even find themselves the perfect book.

Unobtainable Summer Goals

Now that National Boards are turned in, my classroom is packed up, and no stacks essays on Algerian colonialism are sitting on my desk, I can finally turn to my summer to-do list. It is as follows:

  1. Ensure that Seattle Mariners make it to the World Series. This basically means checking the standings every 10 minutes, even at 10am when no teams have played and nothing could have possible changed. Thanks to stupid Houston, we are 14 games back. Clearly I need to check the standing more often if this goal is ever going to be accomplished.
  2. Cheer on the Everett Aquasox in their quest to become Northwest League Champs. To accomplish this goal, I actually go to games, although my companions aren’t always the most enthusiastic fans. My dad is as legit as they come (you can’t see his scorecard, but believe me – it’s there), but my daughter needs to really step up her fandom. 
  3. Qualify for the Boston Marathon. Third time’s a qualifier, right? After a 3:55 in 2015 (that would be 15 minutes too slow) and a failure to even race in 2016, I’m back in my Brooks. I spent all of April and May getting in shape enough to start my 16 week training plan, because this is no couch-to-marathon plan. The first week of training called for a 13 miler long run. I’m currently 6 weeks in and doing okay. I even won the Aquasox 5K, also producing the fattest finish line winner’s photo ever. Check out THAT double chin! (I know, I know, the flashframe is tacky, but come on…would you buy that photo?!?) 
  4. Finish my novel. This is on every to-do list I’ve ever written.
  5. Go somewhere new every day. This week is was Orcas Island, where we spend a couple of days in a cabin on Doe Bay (“Doe Bay Cabin” = mobile home with log-wood exterior paneling), which was lovely. The Doe Bay vibe is summed up here:    We did the shortest hikes we could find, picnicked on Mt. Constitution, played in Cascade Lake, and ran around. Fun stuff. 
  6. Read all those books that the Sno-Isle Library thinks I lost and is currently charging me for.

Wish me (and the Mariners!) lots of luck.

Washington’s Mountains: Better than Colorado’s

At Denver’s Coors Field, when the Sunday afternoon singer belts out God Bless America, Rocky fans wait in anticipation for that “…From the Mountains…” line. As it’s sung they all let out a collective roar of approval, so sure that their mountains are the best ones the country has to offer.

Except you can’t even SEE the mountains from most seats at Coors Field. You have to get to the upper deck for this view: Coor's Field

And still, the sight is nothing compared to Mt. Rainier, the Olympics, or the Cascades. Because the best mountains aren’t found west of Denver, they are surrounding Seattle.

Maybe it’s just that leaving a place and then returning makes you appreciate things more, or maybe I’m just feeling snarky today, or maybe Washington just has better mountains.

They are green: When the snow melts off the Front Range, Denverites ski and hike through forests of brown sticks, waiting for those few months in the late spring when color comes back until everything dries out and burns in the summer. Meanwhile, back in the Evergreen State, things are verdant all year long. The only time trees don’t look green is when the sun sets and mountain crevices turn blue and purple.

Olympics

Better camping: With less wildfire danger, campfires get a safety nod for most of the year in Washington. Campers in Colorado not only lack the legal ability to start a campfire, but finding a live tree to pitch a tree under is even getting difficult. The Mountain Pine Beetle is tunneling under the bark of trees all over Colorado, leaving behind a trail of arboreal death under which no tent is safe.  

Camping

Washingtonians are not so pretentious about their mountains: It is possible to talk to an outdoorsy hipster in Seattle without hearing about how their main goal in life is to climb all the fourteeners in the state.

Everyone is not on the same road on Friday afternoon:  If you are in Colorado and want to get out of town, you are probably on I-70, heading west. Sure, you could go up to Rocky Mountain National Park or down to Pike’s Peak, (or to Nebraska!?!), but Breckenridge, A-Basin, and a few of those fourteeners are off I-70. If you want to get out of town in Seattle, pick a road and drive on it. It will lead you to a mountain. Or at least somewhere cooler than Nebraska. There may still be traffic, but road construction on one highway doesn’t destroy all hope a weekend hike.

The roads are clear!

Visitors don’t need a day to acclimate before going on an adventure.  

Mountains look more dramatic: Mt. Rainer isn’t much taller than Pike’s Peak, and Mt. Baker is not nearly as high. But you can see these beauties from everywhere and they look way more dramatic. When standing a zero elevation, a mountain (especially a volcanic one) just looks better than when you are already standing at 5280 feet. Not only can you see stand-alone icons from almost anywhere in Western Washington, but you can see the panoramic shot of a whole ranges from the city as well. In Denver, the shorter mountains block the views of the giants, so you don’t even get that dramatic view of a snow capped mountain range until you’ve sat in I-70 traffic and gotten through the tunnel.

Seattle
More outdoor options: Sure, Washingtonians like to hike, ski, climb, mountain bike, and trail run. But those aren’t the only options. If altitude isn’t your jam, there is still sea kayaking, water-skiing, crabbing, or sailing. Washington state hosts ice sculpting contests AND sand sculpting contests.  

(Note: Better skiing, gorgeous red rocks, more sunny days, drivers who can navigate snow, and a baseball team that has actually been to the World Series were deliberately not discussed. Shhh…)

Winthrop with a Toddler and a Princess

 

I know, I know. Most people go to Winthrop to mountain bike, kayak down rivers, or cross country ski. All difficult things to do with two and three year olds. But turns out that Winthrop is still awesome with little ones. Here’s what we did:

The Shortest Hikes Possible

Methow Community Trail: We caught a portion of this trail east of Tawlks/Foster BridgeMazama, just off Goat Creek Road. It consisted of a mile long walk alongside the river to the Tawlks/Foster Suspension Bridge. This was a great little walk for kids: flat, shaded, alongside the river, with a picnic area right after the bridge. My kids switched off walking and riding in the backpack and both liked throwing rocks in the river at the turnaround point. We also ran into tons of families biking (with both toddlers in bike trailers and young kids on their own bikes).

 

 

Dripping Air conditioning please!Springs Rd: Halfway through this walk, Aubrey the princess turned to Jason and said “daddy, can we go back inside to the air conditioner?” Not a ringing endorsement for the hike. The map suggests it is along the river, but you can’t see said river and there isn’t a lot of shade. Apparently you hit the river about 45 minutes into the hike (whatever that means), but we bailed and took Aubrey’s suggestion after about a mile. Plus I’d forgotten to pack diapers.

 

Sandcastles and Swimming

Pearrygin Lake State Park:  The lake is just a few miles northeast of Winthrop. Part of the eastern side of the lake is a State Park with two campgrounds. Next to the east campground is the day use area (Discover Pass required) with a large parking lot, tons of picnic tables, and a roped off swimming area. My kids both have a sixth sense for when a playground is near, and their internal playground radars did not go off, so I’m assuming there were none in the area.

Tubing the Methow

The beach/swimming area was a bit of a bust. You could optimistically call the beach “sandy,” but no great sandcastles were constructed due to the pebbly nature of the “sand.” The rocks continued into the swimming area which didn’t really bother the kids (both of whom hate shoes and routinely run over gravel roads as if they were nicely laid paths of cotton balls) but my husband and I weren’t fans. Luckily there were a few little alcoves between the beach and the campground with superior sand, and we snagged one of them. The area was also shady and served as a good boat launch for our canoe. The lake was nice for paddling, and we could see some fish jumping. Jet skis and motor boats are allowed on the lake, but it wasn’t that busy. Patterson Lake and Twin Lakes are also nearby with similar features.

Carlton Hole: Since there is a lack of sandy beaches in the area, we took our buckets and shovels about 30 minutes east. Carlton is a tiny town a few miles east of Twisp. Right off Highway 153, just before you would take the bridge over the river, turn right onto the dirt road. The little parking lot is 20 steps from the stretch of sand.

Carlton Hole

If it’s a sunny weekend day, just follow the crowd. We were there on a 90 degree Tuesday and there were a few other families there. Carlton Hole has a good sized sandbar and swimming hole (it’s a river though! Keep those kids close!). There is also a rocky area and some pretty good fishing spots, according to my husband (he didn’t catch anything, but that is probably because it was the middle of the day and we were all throwing rocks in the river). You do need a Discover Pass to park here.  This little swimming hole was totally worth the drive.

Fishing

 

 

 

The Perfect Location

We spent the week in a cabin at the River Run Inn, which I highly recommend for families.

Lawn at River Run

There is an indoor pool, huge lawn, onsite BBQ pits and fire rings, and the river is just out the back door. The place is a quick (.5 mile) walk from downtown Winthrop, and the community park and playground is even closer.  The Inn has complementary everything: charcoal, bikes, badminton sets, hammocks, DVDs. The inn also runs kayak and rafting float trips, which I unfortunately didn’t get to partake in, but my two year old loved waving to the adventurers as they set off down the Methow.

River Run Float Trips

 

Golden – Boulder Hikes

Does this guy look like a hiker or WHAT?

Jay

That’s my brother. He should be the one living in Denver. My hikes so far have been limited to mile-long nature walks that could be done whilst several month pregnant: see Table Mountain and Mt. Falcon. I suspect this is why my brother waited until I was sufficiently back in shape before he came to visit.

So within three hours of his landing at DIA, we were making our way up Lookout Mountain in Golden (tip for those prone to altitude sickness: Going from Seattle to Denver to Golden to Lookout Mountain shouldn’t be attempted all in the same afternoon).
Taking the Chimney Gulch Trail up Lookout Mountain is one of those perfect quick hikes: Tons of great city views on one side and mountain/valley views on the other. A good three mile hike, but easy enough to run or bike up it if you are super in shape. People hang-glide off of it, there’s a big “M” on the side of it that lights up at night (M for the Colorado School of Mines), and I could see it from my driveway when I lived in Golden.

Lookout Mountain in the snow

To get to Lookout Mountain take Highway 58 from Denver to Golden and turn left onto 6th Ave. Then you’ve got some options. You can drive less than a mile and park right off 6th Ave in this makeshift parking lot…

Lookout Parking

…or you could keep driving for another minute and then turn right onto 19th street, which winds through a neighborhood and then becomes Lookout Mountain Rd (follow the signs) and park at the trailhead alongside the road, or you could just drive all the way to the top. It’s a switchback-y road that’s not very much fun to drive (unless you like that kind of thing), but it gets you to the top quicker.

View from Lookout

The next day we headed out to Eldorado Canyon State Park ($8 daily vehicle pass), which is just off Highway 93 between Golden and Boulder. My brother looked longingly at the rock climbers doting the canyon walls as I heaved the baby backpack on my shoulders and we started exploring.

Hiking with baby

There are numerous trail options at the State Park from the rim trail (which is stroller friendly) to technical boulder scrambles that lead to sheer rock faces. The hiking and scenery were great, but the best part of this park was definitely marveling at the rock climbers. I vividly remember my difficulties scaling the one and only (very, very small) cliff that I’ve ever faced, so I could only shake my head in amazement at the guys and gals dangling above me. How cool is must be to conquer something as imposing as a canyon wall.

Eldorado Canyon State Park

We were there Memorial Day weekend, so the trails were packed, as was the area near the visitor center where huge groups of families and friends were picnicking and barbequing alongside the South Boulder Creek (which looked like a full-blown river after all the snow we had last spring).

The next day we re-traced our route and this time made it all the way to Boulder. We parked the car at Chautaugua Park and set out towards the Flatirons. We walked along Bluebell road which was very boring at first. It starts out as a flat gravel trail between a grassy valley and a housing development. But once it hooked in with the Flatirons loop (briefly) and then the Royal Arch trail things got a lot more mountain-y. About half a mile away from the arch viewpoint there is a natural stopping place to sit on some rocks and eat lunch. I stopped here, opting not to go all the way to the arch because the trail got a little steep and I wasn’t comfortable doing it with a baby on my back.

The Royal Arch trail was cool, but my least favorite of the three hikes. It was just your basic hike. Nice, but nothing to blog about. The trail was super crowded and everyone kept giving my brother dirty looks because I the baby on my back and everyone assumed he was Aubrey’s dad, shirking his fatherly-hiking duties. I had to keep explaining that he was only my brother, shirking his uncle-hiking duties, which is a less grievous offense.
Oh, and there was a snake. It was big.

 

West Fork Foss River Trail, Western Washington

“What do you mean you didn’t bring hiking boots?” My brother asks, exasperated. I shrug and he starts wondering aloud if his friends can supply me crampons along with hiking poles and snow gear.

“Um, you know your sister is pregnant, right?” My dad asks dubiously, not for the first time.

My brother gives me a quick glance, decides that I will be fine, and continues muttering about the snow pack levels and the need to pick up some M&M’s.

I can’t wimp out now. There are M&M’s involved. I tie plastic grocery bags over my socks, put on my running shoes, and figure I’d be good to go.

And I was! We took the West Fork Foss River Trail eight gorgeous miles (four up and four down) past two lakes, over two bridges, and past some of the biggest trees I’d seen since my trip to the Redwoods. The trail held the prefect hiking combinations: It was long and  challenging, there was unexpected scenery, it was just a little scary, and we all felt the need to high five each other upon reaching our destination.  

The first 1.5 miles to Trout Lake was pretty easy. The trail was great and included a new bridge, so river crossing wasn’t a problem. (Yet) We pulled into the picnicking spot along the lake and all the guys in the group immediately began throwing rocks into the water. What is it about guys and throwing rocks? I don’t think I’ve ever been near water without some male trying to skip a rock across it. This phenomena holds true from my friend’s 1 year old son to my 65 year old father. After all the good skipping stones had been hurled into Trout Lake we continued on.  

The trail got a little steeper after Trout Lake, but still easy to follow and the views of waterfalls, valleys, etc. were great. There were a couple snowy patches, but nothing I couldn’t stomp through in my running shoes. Trickles of water started running down the trail, but my water-proof socks/grocery bags held up quite nicely.  

At mile 3 (or possibly 3.5) things get tough. The river creates a waterfall across the trail and there was nothing but snow from here on out. My brother’s friend fished some yaktrax out of her bag and helped me pull them over my shoes for the upcoming snow. I don’t think I would have continued if not for the extra traction.

The river was a little sketchy, but not exactly a death trap. My primary goal was to not fall in the water (goal attained), with a secondary goal to keep my shoes dry (goal NOT attained). The dog hiking with us picked up on the tension as we all crossed the river and let out an uncharacteristic bark. The scariest part wasn’t the river though, it was looking up at the bridge we had to cross. From down below it looked like nothing but a log stretched across a waterfall with banks of snow on each side. When we got closer it turned out to be a legitimate bridge, so all was well.  

The rest of the trail to Coppe rLake and the two lakes beyond was completely covered in snow. Not having skills in the finding-the-trail-in-the-snow arena, I wouldn’t have continued on by myself, but another one of my brother’s friends took the lead and we all confidently trekked after him. He did not disappoint. After a little bit of wandering around (including trekking across some not-so-safe snow banks where sliding and post hole possibilities were numerous) we found a frozen pond, and Copper Lake beyond.

To celebrate a propane stove was whipped out and we all had grilled cheese sandwiches and hot cocoa. I am totally bringing such a stove with me on my next big hike. Words can’t even describe how much better the melted cheese was compared to the peanut butter-Dorito sandwich that I had packed. After lunch everyone (except my pregnant self) took advance of the great sledding opportunities above the lake. This kinda freaked out the dog, who kept trying to save people from flying down the hill.

We got back to the empty trail parking lot right before nightfall (a little after 9:00pm, up here in the Pacific Northwest), and exchanged those high-fives for a day well spent.   

To get to the trail head, Drive US 2 east towards Skykomish. Continue east for 1.9 miles, passing the Forest Service ranger station. Pick up a $5 trail pass here. Turn right ontoFoss River Road(Forest Road 68). Continue for 4.7 miles (the pavement ends at 1.1 miles), turning left onto FR 6835. Follow this road for 1.9 miles to its end and the trailhead. There is a very clean and not-bad-smelling pit toilet at the trailhead.

Mt. Falcon: Morrison, CO

Naturally Denver has no shortage of hiking trails, and I’m excited to try them all out. Much to the horror or skiers and people worried about summertime droughts there wasn’t a lot of snow this year, so trails are clearing up earlier than usual.

My mom (who was in town for the weekend) and I started out the season easy yesterday with a quick morning hike up at Mt. Falcon. Forty minutes west of Denver, this is a great hike if you want to sleep in, hike, and be back in the city for lunch.

What I like most about Mt. Falcon were the options. This well maintained, not-too-rocky and not-too-steep trail is perfect for an easy hike, a trail run, and those who prefer to tackle trails on mountain bikes or horses. There are enough people around during the weekends that I would feel comfortable hiking solo here, but the trails are easy enough to take friends of varying fitness levels.

There are also plenty of trail options.

Make your decision before you head out though (or print out this map to take with you), because the only map I saw was the one near the parking lot. We opted for the three mile Parmalee/Meadow loop. I hope to head back in a couple weeks and try running the Castle Trail, so there may be an addendum to this post soon. The loop was a nice rolling trail with great views of the Front Range foothills (although where in Denver do you NOT have great views of the Front Range foothills?) towards the west and the Mile High skyline to the east. I hear this is a gorgeous place for sunrise pictures. (Again: addendum coming up!)

The GPS on my phone pretty much got me to Mt. Falcon, but directions are as follows:

  • Head west on I-70
  • Go south on 470 (just past 6th Ave)
  • Turn onto 285, again heading west

If you are following directions on a GPS, once you turn off highway 285 turn it off and just follow the signs. My GPS wanted me to turn down various private drives and dirt roads which was not necessary. The signs were plentiful and obvious.