The heatwave forecasted for this weekend caused a mix of angst and frustration at the thought of staying here in the surge of temperatures that would doubtlessly clog the local waterways, beaches, and air conditioned places. After scanning the map for slightly better forecasts and keeping an eye on my ever present outdoor “to do list,” I called my fellow adventurer, Josh A., and we settled on last minute plans to drive up to Bellingham, WA, where temperatures were going to be about 10 degrees cooler than Seattle.
Josh and I set out Saturday afternoon with a few stops in mind but otherwise no agenda aside from getting to Bellingham and finding a place to stay for the night. On the way north, we agreed to stop at a ghost town that has been on my radar for a while. Northern State Recreation Area is adjacent to the current Northern State Hosptial, the larger grounds having once been the dairy and food processing facilities for one of the state’s large mental hospitals. While Northern State still has a campus there, the adjacent park allows for visitors to play disc golf, access a small river, and of course explore the ruins of the original buildings.
Signage was sporadic and the one log and limb rail fence only spanned a corner of the buildings and seemed more for vehicles or maybe a half-hearted mitigation effort once upon a time, because several paths lead you up to and alongside the buildings before you even notice over your shoulder that there is a partial fence off on the corner. After seeing conflicting messages and discussing the best course of action, Josh and I decided to respect the buildings by approaching and admiring but largely keeping our skulls clear of the precarious looking structures while following the combination of mown and paved areas to explore as much as we could. Sadly, the presence of graffiti inside the buildings speaks to an attitude of disrespect among other visitors. However, it was fun to be able to walk around and explore so freely. Hopefully future visitors will also respect the history of the place.
The beating sun and temperature in the 80s kept us from staying too long in the park. We explored for about 40 minutes and then decided it was time to hydrate and get out of the sun. Next stop, Bellingham!
Several sporting events had the local hotels crowded with young basketball and soccer players and their families, but we managed to find a good deal on a room just north of the city. After checking in and getting situated, we scanned the area for something to do before dinner. Some of my favorite urban adventures have come from opening up a Googlemap in a new city and scanning for green areas that often indicate parks, and for this trip we had success as Whatcom Falls Park jumped out at us almost immediately as we zoomed in on a promising looking area on the east side of I-5.
This is clearly a favorite place to cool off on a hot day for the locals. Adults and kids of all ages were walking back to cars in wet clothes, or still swimming at various spots along the river as the evening came on and shadows filled in the spaces between the trees. We took our time exploring the river and various waterfalls (though sadly without having brought a change of clothes or towels, so no swimming this time around), checking out the fish hatchery system and pond, and overall enjoying the shade and cooler temperatures around the river that helped combat the heat and humidity of the day.
The next morning dawned with a more social agenda with plans to visit friends throughout the day, but also one of my hiking goals: Oyster Dome. At only 5 miles RT and elevation gain of 1,050′, this is considered an easy hike and is probably comparable to Little Si in Snoqualmie Pass. Her prominence on my hiking list was due to the reputed views out across the water from the top and overall positive reports from friends who have hiked here before. The heat made the miles seem to stretch, parking down the road from the alternate TH added another mile or more to the total distance (if you read the WTA descriptions, we started off of Highway 11, not the Samish Overlook as it describes), and even though there were a lot of other hikers, it was a manageable flow of friendly people. The views certainly did not disappoint!
My favorite moment on the hike was a very small one that we could have easily missed. We stopped at a large boulder so I could get a rock out of my shoe, and Josh quietly told me to look up. Where we had stopped was just below a hidden robbin’s nest built in a mossy ledge on the large boulder and we were blessed to watch a mother bird feeding her babies. Not wanting to disturb her or attract the awareness of other hikers to the presence of the little family, we quietly continued down the trail. Sometimes the greatest gifts are not at the summit, but in the still, small moments when we are able to pause and see the beauty around us.
To follow our trail…