Friday, August 30 Through September 10, 2019
After eleven days camping in Larrabee State Park south of Bellingham, Washington, I still have that uneasy feeling that I hadn’t seen or done all there was to do during this stay, the hallmark of a park to keep returning to, over and over again.
There is definitely more to go, see and do!
Whether or not Larrabee has flaws is a matter of perspective and perhaps time of day. Trains run night and day along a rail line winding along the Puget Sound coastline. The tracks are within a stone’s throw of the campground. Heavily laden trains with three engines leading and one engine following. The engines’ heavy labor thunders as spent exhaust from each exploded piston exhales in tremendous staccato booms. Often, engines are felt rather than heard so thunderous they are. As each car reluctantly turns around each curve in the track, it makes the most awful metal on metal knife cutting screech, wail and hiss as was ever heard.
Access to the boat launch on Cove Road requires crossing the railroad tracks. The railroad crossing gate clangs. Trains on their approach blow their horns loudly, enough to wake the dead. Luckily no cemeteries are nearby otherwise the corpses would have woken from their slumber.
Campers should not expect a restful night’s sleep.
Leveling an RV will be a tricky exercise. RV sites are not level front to back or side to side. On leveling, we were happy to have the bubble in the bubble level barely touching the bubble marker from the outside. Not really level but level enough given the effort and leveling blocks required to get more level.
Few sites are large enough to accommodate thirty plus foot rigs. Leveling a forty plus foot motorhome is not a chore wished on anyone.
Another irritation – the bathrooms. On the busy weekends, the bathrooms were disasters. We elected to use our wet bath for all our personal needs. The public showers and toilets were that bad. This is mainly a weekend problem. During the week, when the campground wasn’t full, the bathrooms were more acceptable. Not great, just barely acceptable.
Something else. We made a huge routing mistake. Chuckanut Drive is one of those beautiful scenic drives. Even though Chuckanut follows the shoreline in places just line the rail lines do, that doesn’t mean it is passable end to end by large vehicles.
We should have done better research on how to get to the park. Instead, blindly following Apple Maps, through Sedro Wooley on WA-20, the North Cascades Scenic Highway, past I-5 to WA-11, Chuckanut Drive. We went some distance on WA-11/Chuckanut Drive through relatively flat farmland. Then right before a turn in the road there was this sign. Vehicles over 18,000 pounds GVWR prohibited ahead. We are under 15,000 GVWR. No problems right? It isn’t just a weight problem. There were unexpected vehicle size issues as well.
The approach to Larrabee State Park from the south along Chuckanut Drive is narrow with tons of very sharp turns. There are few turnouts for slow moving vehicles. The rear dually tires could be seen in the rear view mirrors touching the double yellow center line and the white curb line. This was not a single occurrence. Both sides of the truck over both sides of the road was common.
Additionally, The road is cut from cliffs (exceedingly steep slopes). There are places where tall vehicles might touch the rock walls northbound on this road. We were lucky we were as short as we are. Longer vehicles might not be so lucky.
This would be a fun road to drive in a sports car. It is not a fun RV drive.
The good news is, we made it and won’t ever do that again.
The right way to approach Larrabee State Park is from the north along Chuckanut Drive. We should have driven north on I-5 from Sedro Wooley and taken the Old Fairhaven Highway exit. On Old Fairhaven Highway, turn right. Turn left at WA-11/Chuckanut Drive. The rest is just following the signs.
However, everything else seemed overwhelmingly good.
With reservations, campers arriving early can just go see if their site is open. With the reservation, everything is prepaid. However, once the park office is open, campers are expected to get passes for each vehicle that are to be placed on the dashboard where they can be seen.
On the plus side, our site had plenty of privacy afforded by blackberry bushes between the neighbors. This turned out to be handy as the park was completely full both Labor Day weekend and the following weekend. Errant children were roaming all over except through blackberry briars.
On arrival, I put up our portable dog fencing and pushed back the briars. After putting down the green carpets, the awnings were extended and the chairs set out. The weather was warm but not hot. The air was restorative.
An evening dog walk provided an opportunity to explore and discover. The goal: to find a route down to the beach. Near the entrance to the day use area, a marked trail to the beach was found. Access to the beach is also easily done through the day use area.
The beach trail is between a group pavilion and the band shell. Hikers know they are on the trail when they see the tunnel under the railroad tracks. At this point, the trail gets steep enough that campers with mobility issues might want to rethink this hike.
On the other side of the tunnel is a steep concrete staircase with about three floors rise. At the bottom of the staircase is a sign. Left goes to viewing areas and right goes to the beach and other viewing areas. The path down to the beach is steep, uneven and when wet, slippery. Just before the beach, there is a spot where climbing on all fours may be appropriate for the less sure footed.
At high tide, the beach area is small and can be seen on the right hand side of the above picture.
Regardless of the tide, being on the beach is peaceful and picturesque, especially dawn to sunrise and sunset to dusk. Above, the tide is in.
At dawn Saturday morning, a group of sea otters were playing in the bay. You can see the ripple from their heads bobbing along the surface on either side of the shadow cast across the water by the little spit of land.
On clear days, the setting sun over the islands is worth the hike.
The tunnel under the train tracks is a mural with the sides and ceiling painted. It is especially pretty at sunset when the sun’s rays reach in and caress the mural walls.
On the way to and from the beach, there are multiple opportunities to catch a train rumbling overhead. This may or may not be your thing. Couples were seen having the time of their life experiencing the train rumbling overhead. This was not my experience
The dogs and I were in the tunnel as a train went overhead. We were overwhelmed by the low frequency rumbling. The rumble could be felt, not just through the feet, through the entire body. The 1989 San Francisco earthquake couldn’t hold a candle to the train rumble. Creepy. Made me and the dogs extremely uneasy. After this first time, we avoided being in the tunnel whenever trains were coming.
The Fern Trail, taking hikers to the boat ramp, starts at the campground’s highest elevation public bathroom and ends at Cove Road, just ahead of the railroad crossing.
To get to the boat ramp, hikers need to continue over the railroad tracks and turn left or south following the road.
The road immediately forks. Take the left fork to continue down to the boat ramp.
In the boat ramp parking lot, Moondance Kayaks rents kayaks and stand up paddleboards (SUPS). On summer weekends, they do a brisk business. They don’t appear to be open everyday. Best to call in advance if you need rentals outside of peak park usage times.
To make sure everyone is wearing life jackets, life jackets are posted on the board, available for use on the honor system.
A vault toilets is also available in the boat ramp area.
Same as the beach area, the boat ramp area is especially scenic at dawn/sunrise and sunset/dusk.
The Larrabee State Park stay was twelve nights in the same campsite. For the first nine days the stay the weather was perfect. Cool, sometimes foggy, mornings with warm afternoons. Sometimes cloudy, other times overcast. One or two days it was sunny. Then Saturday night of the second weekend there was an intense thunderstorm. The remaining days rained off and on. Seemed like typical weather for the area.
There was a lot of outside time in the campsite. For much of the time, the awnings were left up.
Linda flew from Bellingham to San Antonio early Labor Day Monday morning to take care of some business. On the way to the airport, the Jeep’s check engine light came on. It was tense driving the Jeep on the Freeway and not knowing if the engine was going to explode or not.
After the check engine light came on, Linda did some Internet searches and found a way to get the Jeep to display the check engine light diagnostic code. After dropping Linda at the airport, I pulled off into the cell phone lot to try to get the error code.
With the ignition all the on and the engine not running, turn the ignition all the way off and all the way on (without starting the engine) three times in a row. Then error codes (sometimes there is more than one) are displayed for a very brief period of time. So brief, it took me several tries before I could take the above picture.
A simple Internet search revealed the above diagnostic code description and possible causes. This was not something that would quickly ruin the engine. The Jeep could wait wait for repairs until Tuesday when businesses were open.
Tuesday, at the local dealer, the Jeep was repaired while I waited. The problem turned out to be the thermostat that controls coolant flow through the radiator, a common problem. It made sense to also have them flush the radiator and replace the coolant. During the diagnostic phase, the dealer also discovered discoloration in the brake fluid, possibly from water incursion. The dealer flushed and bled the brake lines. Small problems, quick solutions and good sized bill.
Until Linda returned on Friday, I had to fend for myself.
With Linda leaving on Labor Day, I made a large pot of spaghetti. Enough spaghetti for five days. Plus I made it the way I like it – with the sauce and noodles mixed together. By eating a serving everyday, I was able to finish it off before Linda got back from San Antonio on Friday.
Going to dinner with friends who live in Bellingham exposed us to some great local restaurants.
Skylark’s Hidden Cafe started out on the backside and in the basement of the building shown above. Skylark’s was successful and eventually expanded upstairs to the entire first floor. I had smoked salmon linguine followed up with upside down apple pie with ice cream. The linguine was excellent although I would have been happier if there was more salmon in it. The salmon was shredded which did a good job of getting the smoked salmon taste into the noodles and sauce. It just needed more salmon based protein in the dish.
Skylark’s is located in the Fairhaven Historic District which was hopping with activity the Saturday we were there. Parking was available but it took a bit of hunting around. It is a quaint area of Bellingham that is pleasant to walk around in. This is the part of Bellingham people drive through to get to the Alaska Ferry Terminal.
Monday for lunch, I went to lunch with friends at Arlis’s Restaurant. This is a nice neighborhood breakfast/lunch place. They close at 2:00 PM but serve both breakfast and lunch whenever they are open.
Arlis’s has great atmosphere. The waitstaff is efficient, friendly and warm. The cooks are quick. On this day I had their Turkey Melt which is the turkey version of a patty melt. Pretty good.
When visiting Arlis’s, be sure to read the signs/posters. They are either sarcastic or smart-alecky and always amusing.
Arlis’s was so good I brought Linda there twice. One time I had Gary’s Delight, a sandwich with turkey, ham and swiss cheese. The other time I had a Belgian Waffle.
One evening with friends, we ate at the Rimland Drive location of On Rice, a Thai restaurant.
On Rice is a great dinner restaurant. For the quality and quantity of food, prices seemed low. Atmosphere was excellent. We had a great time talking and laughing. I had Yellow Fried Rice with Chicken, a curry dish that was deeply satisfying.
The Web Locker Restaurant, located in the Squalicum Harbor area near commercial fishing docks and support businesses as well as a swanky marina is the perfect way to satisfy your inner seafarer.
While they sell burgers and fries as their headliner, I chose the fish and chips, honoring the down-by-the-docks seafaring heritage. I was not disappointed with my choice. The fish, cod, seemed unusually fresh and tasty.
The north end of Bellingham is less than 30 miles from the Canadian border on I-5. Canadians drive down to Bellingham for shopping. At Costco on a Sunday, half the cars in the parking lot had Canadian license plates. It was so crowded. Can’t blame the Canadians for coming down. Bellingham has all the stores of any major city while at the same time it doesn’t feel like a big city. Great place to layover when returning through Canada from Alaska.
While shopping at a Fred Meyer, we noticed a Whole Foods and a laundromat.
The Bellingham Cleaning Center, a cleaners, dry cleaners and laundromat all rolled into one, isn’t the highest rated laundromat in Bellingham, it was the easiest for us to find and was acceptable.
I like Bellingham. I like Larrabee State Park. We’ll be back.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!