Introduction

   

We had lost our sense of adventure, mostly. With two small children packing the car and enduring road trip eventualities — soiled car seats, endless questions, whining — creates significant homebody inertia. Getting out, especially in the short, damp days of a Northwest Winter, was often just too much. We needed motivation.

Busy professionals with weak spots for childish competitions and games, one of us gifted the other a Washington State Parks checklist banner — thanks Etsy — for Christmas. The challenge was on, the game afoot. Visiting State Parks is a sizable reduction in both investment and payoff, from say, counting continents, countries or even National Parks. We had checked the map; done right we could probably do 5-7 parks some days. Our reward would be picnic shelters and boat launches not grand geologic formations and soul-stirring vistas. Playgrounds not postcards.

There are a lot of state parks in Washington State, 136 in all, and not all are accessible by car. The good money would be on us not finishing this quest…and that’s ok, its the journey we seek. In our pre-child mid-twenties, we once visited the Grand Coulee dam. We’ve been to the Mima Mounds, overnighted in Warnambool (twice) and weathered a typhoon in Toba. We are no strangers to long journeys with small payoffs. We’ve experienced – and enjoyed – being surrounded by retirees, RV people and empty parking lots. Though now we are two car seats strong and have a tiny collapsable toiled in the hatch. Adventure takes no universal form.

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5) Dash Point:

 

  • 2020-01-05
  • 47.3183165 -122.4162708 | Map
  • 43 Degrees and Raining
  • Miles Traveled: 43.0
  • Sighted: 1 minor accident on freeway

     

The second park on our first (hopefully of many) multiple park day. One failed park visit already on the books, we would not be denied here. It was raining. So, we geared up and hit the beach. Temperature, 43 degrees. We had brought neither the beach toys nor the rugged and waterproof pram.

Fortune shined on us even though the sun wouldn’t. Everett found two discarded sifters on the beach and we were able to fashion our picnic blanket into a make-shift umbrella/tent for Hawkins. The little one didn’t last long outside, but Everett and I collected, cleaned and piled shells until we were soaked.

The hardest part, often, is just getting out of the car. Kids have no problem racing off to play in the rain. Its as if they don’t even notice it such is their focus on the task at hand (play). Its a good lesson; one that us adults would do well to remember. I’m proud of us for braving the weather, the closure and overcoming the instinct to pack it in when it became a little uncomfortable. If one is going to do this thing right — the parks quest, parenting, life, everything, really — a little fortitude and child-like abandon is necessary.

Getting ready to leave the parking lot, there were three families preparing to do a polar plunge. Just when you think you’ve gone off and won the day, someone will show up and put you in your place. Humility, don’t forget the humility.

5 Down, 131 to go.

      .


4) Saltwater:

 

  • 2020-01-05
  • 47.37446 -122.3237796 | Map
  • 43 Degrees and Raining
  • Miles Traveled: 24.2
  • Sighted: 1 broken-down car carrier

     

The forecast looked grim, the weather delivered, we persevered…at least in terms of intent. The highlight of the journey was seeing a broken down car-carrier being actively repaired on the side of the road.

‘So, too much poop?’. That was our 3-year-old’s summation of our explanation of why Saltwater State Park was closed on our arrival. The torrential rains earlier in the week had caused sewer overflow runoff to contaminate some of the low-lying areas, thus leading to the park’s closure. Our poor research efforts this morning had failed to uncover these developments. After reading the full announcement from the park’s website (while parked in front of the locked gate), the response from the back seat was ‘So, too much poop?’

Despite this, our spirits were high and instead of heading home defeated we called an audible and headed south to Dash Point State Park.

4 Down, 132 to go.

      .


3) Lake Sammamish:

 

  • 2020-01-04
  • 47.5590578 -122.0650745 | Map
  • 41 Degrees and Windy
  • Miles Traveled: 44.6
  • Sighted: 6 kites stuck in a tree

     

A front had moved through last night and gone was the balmy 50+ degrees. In its place a biting wind and threatening clouds. Still early in our State Parks quest and full of vim, vigor and a general dread of being shut up for the entire day, we decided to have a go at Lake Sammamish State Park. The choice of destination was a hedge, however. Lake Sammamish Park is (sub)urbanly located meaning if the weather drove us off, we could still fulfill a number of other errands without much additional travel.

The weather had kept the crowds at bay and the massive parking lot was mostly empty. The few humans about were walking their dogs. The main park structure, playground and associated grounds had recently been re-done, a marked change from the standard worn picnic tables and cramped toilets. The sense of public investment — crisp design, new structures, clean surrounds — was reminiscent of our time in Melbourne. Our stay at the park was short; in which we took turns speed-walking the stroller around to stay warm. The big hit was the large plastic spoon that was found and used to fling mud at the resident ducks.

3 Down, 133 to go.

      .


2) Saint Edward:

 

  • 2020-01-01
  • 47.7325728 -122.2591007 | Map
  • 44 Degrees and Partly Sunny
  • Miles Traveled: 22.2
  • Sighted: 2 tow-trucks

     

Twenty minutes from our house, Saint Edward is our most quickly and easily accessible state park. The journey was rather uneventful, few people other than parents and, perhaps, athletes-in-training venture out on the roadways at eight-thirty AM on New Years Day. The park, however, was full. Heaping full of young families like our own. In addition to the trails and old seminary building there is a massive, Sherwood Forest-themed playground. Actually, child-castle would be a better description.

We opted first for a hike to the lake and back. The Grotto Trail descends quickly to the water, past hanging moss and radial sword ferns, but oddly, not past the Grotto. Though a much promised attraction, we did not back-track to find it. Our 3-year old rated the hike “Bad: too many mud and roots”. The beach area also lacked enough “sticks for throwing in the water.” His complaints were duly noted and filed with the park ranger.

Post-hike, we entered the melee at the playground. Time was passed silently judging the disciplining techniques of other parents and taking mental notes of design ideas for the treehouse we are building at the in-laws. In the parking lot we were accused of being Australian — due to our kids being suited in Bonds clothing — by another couple that had also lived in Melbourne a few years back. We chatted briefly and were on our way home. Within the bustle of daily life we often forget about our past Australian adventure. Little coincidences like this bring it front and center and remind us of: 1) How amazing it was; and 2) Why we refuse to let our intrepid fire die. Smolder as it may during through these years of rearing young children, we shall keep a spark (or two) alive.

2 Down, 134 to go.

      .


   

1) Spencer Spit:

 

  • 2019-12-27
  • 48.536069 -122.861176 | Map
  • 42 Degrees and Cloudy
  • Miles Traveled: 14.8
  • Sighted: 1 cat on a utility box

     

We were five days into a six-day stay at the in-laws. Sure, Christmas and some unseasonably good weather had eased the psychological toll of having and/or being guests. Nonetheless, patience wore thin. Escape called.

The steel gray, bone-chilling damp days had returned. The eldest child was lured from the house with promises of a beach and eagles and a log cabin and some snacks. All of these were available, or at least possible, at Spencer Spit — the to-be first stop of our WA Parks Challenge. We had been here many times, in fact, Erin had worked here as a junior park ranger during high school. It seemed right to take the first step on our home turf.

The highlight of journey — an eight minute drive — was seeing a white cat perched on a utility box. No tantrums, no detours, no arguments; a solid first step.

But…the park was closed for the season. We had stumbled out of the gate. Or maybe not. This was our Challenge, we made the rules and the rules became only that we had to get a photo of the entrance sign. Physical presence within the park boundary is enough to check the box. It is important to get a thing like this started and important to set expectations. It certainly won’t be the only time we run into a ‘Park Closed’ sign; now we have precedent. Case law, if you will. Plus, we’ll likely be back here many times before we visit all the others.

1 down, 135 to go.