Notes from a Pacific Northwest Road trip – Tacoma to Packwood
Well, after a great deal of research about somewhere to stay in Mt. Rainier National Park with year-round access (not all roads are created equally), I finally settled on the Crest Trail Lodge in Packwood, Washington. It looked like there was some semblance of a town nearby, according to Google Maps, it was just above an hour from Tacoma, and the roads radiating out from the town centre were labelled on our old-school Rand McNally road atlas as “scenic.”
Finding Packwood was not the hardest thing I had ever done whilst traveling, but the GPS and I had quite the row because it wanted to take us the sensible route and I wanted to drive the scenic routes. I even had my Apple maps working against the Garmin, and two voices were shouting at me to turn here, turn there, that I eventually pulled into a Shell gas station in a small town called Morton (west of Packwood on Hwy 12) to ask for directions.
After stocking up on snacks – heck knows if we’d ever find this town! – we got some reliable directions on how to find the highway we needed.
The hotel was just on the “outskirts” of town, so that was an easy find, and we ventured forth into Packwood, finding a cafe – and much-needed caffeine – and a small restaurant for burgers and fries. I couldn’t say much other than there are spectacular views of Mt. Rainier from the small shops and the restaurant, and there is a grocery store where we picked up bits and bobs for supper since there weren’t many other dinner options.
Once we were fortified with the American classic road food of a diner burger and fries and limitless fountain drinks (I’d forgotten about free refills in America!!), I dragged Mom along on a four-ish hour driving tour of Mt. Rainier National Park. We started up through the forest, not able to see much but a crapload of tall evergreen trees, and then we were on some truly high, altitude-sickness-inducing roads which twisted and wound like writhing snakes along precipices which, if you looked down, would mean looking down, down, down, and more down. Straight the hell down.
I hugged the side of those mountains like we were best friends as I drove along. Highway 410 was a special challenge, to say the least. It had the most beautiful, breathtaking scenery, but the roads required close handling of the car to make sure I wasn’t going 100 mph down a deep hill.
I could see why these roads were closed in the winter. Or during rock slides. The nets holding the rocks back looked barely able to contain them.
However, there were a few pull-off areas where I could safely park the car and get some photographs of the spectacular views around Mt. Rainier – and of the looming, snow-laden monster itself.
Strangely, however, as we drove around west again, the hills went from being lush and green and full of flowers to barren, dusty, and yellowish-brown, almost like we’d entered a desert. It was like an alien landscape after the miles and miles of evergreens.
Fortunately, we found our way back to the hotel, which, glory of glories, had a Keurig coffeemaker in the room, which meant great coffee after a several hour mountain tour. Then, they hosted a wine night – every night – with two free glasses of wine. It was lovely to sit outside, watch the sun go down over, and visit with others staying at the hotel. The community feeling was almost like a bed and breakfast – complete with deer wandering out of the woods to look for snacks.
Contentment was easy to find in a beautiful, quiet place like Packwood.