Puget Sound, Seattle, and Vashon Adventures: Round I

Puget Sound and Seattle (and now Vashon) is an area that has always interested me. Early explorers such as English Captain George Vancouver, who first made contact with the Suquamish Nation in 1792, explored the Seattle area in a search for a Northwest Passage. The idea of a Northwest Passage–an inland waterway that would connect the east coast of the continent with the Puget Sound–was an idea that appeared in maps for many years.

“The Northwest Passage did not exist, and so could not be discovered, until Europeans invented it.”— Ken McGoogan, author of Fatal Passage (2001)

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18th century map depicting the search for the Northwest Passage

This exhibit by Princeton University provides great insight into the cartographic history of this fallacious but pervasive geographic fantasy.

Maps, for centuries, were an important information source about  the explorations of the world. And their word carried great weight. Think of them as art; as political propaganda; as a magazine; as a web page of what’s hot and new in the universe as it was known at the time.

Imagine how navigating the North American continent would have been dramatically changed by the discovery of such a passage. Imagine the impact on settlement and commerce. The idea held the imagination of many. Well regarded cartographers created imaginary maps, copied each other, and spread the word of such a passage.   It would take years for such fantasies to be dispelled.

The settling of the northwest has many chapters. The entrepreneurial persona of the region struck me this week as I explored the Seattle area.

The original Puget Sound white settlers (the Indians pre-dated them by centuries) were an entrepreneurial group of people who founded the region to explore and exploit the rich natural resources. Many years later Boeing was an early innovator in aviation, and the company’s influence on the area, as well as on the history of aviation, has been profound. The daring spirit of original exploration, followed by the early years of aviation, the pilots and the cheering crowds, set the adventurous tone for this town. And more recently tech innovation has found a home on Puget Sound. This history of creative energy makes me wonder if I should reconsider the area for relocation down the road. Living on an island, near a city, has some real allure.

But for now, I’m just exploring.

The Seattle Museum of Flight


How do I contain my enthusiasm on this topic? If you are a space or aviation enthusiast, this is an absolute must do. If you’re not, go to this Seattle museum and you’ll become one! The 12 acre campus includes an outdoor hangar with a B-17, a B-29, a Concord, and old Air Force One and a total of over 150 planes, plus historic and space memorabilia.

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The Entry to Boeing Building 105, Museum of Flight in Seattle

The main museum incorporates Building No. 105, also known as the Red Barn, the original Boeing Factory which was moved from its Port of Seattle Terminal 115 location and restored, and integrated into the museum’s campus. It contains a history of aviation and of Boeing’s evolution and growth.

From the Wright brothers, to the Boeing factory, through the history of both World Wars, memorabilia captures the timeline of aviation discovery and manufacturing.

One of the things I liked best about the Museum of Flight was the emphasis on the human story. Whether it’s the films about the shuttle that explore numerous vantage points of the launch that allow engineers to evaluate the technical aspects of the vehicle’s performance, or the Saturn V rocket, the ultimate story is about the individual men and women and their role in such historic forces.

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#TheRightStuff of the original Mercury astronauts

And it’s an incredibly inspiring story, full of risks and ultimately success. From #The Right Stuff to the WASPs, these people made history. And the planes and memorabilia of these historic moment are here.

For example, eighty years ago, Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra went down somewhere in the Pacific. Conspiracy theories abound. Some say she was a secret agent spying on Japanese occupied islands. Others say she and her navigator Noonan were taken prisoner. And still others suggest that she returned to the states, changed her name, and lived in obscurity.

Remains have been found on the remote South Pacific island called Nikumaroro (know as Gardner Island in the 1930’s). At the time Noonan and Earhart might have landed, the island would have been uninhabited.

Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra had numerous modifications for her extended flights. But this plane from the Museum of Flight is the same type and model:

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Lockheed Electra from the Museum of Flight, Seattle

It’s a substantial plane, but by modern standards, it is primitive. The bravery it took to undertake the distances and navigation, particularly over water, are not part of our modern day thinking. There was no GPS, and there were no satellite telephones to save the day.

One of the most interesting pieces of aviation history that I picked up was the Mercury 13, (not #The Right Stuff Mercury 7 pictured above), but the thirteen women who went through the identical psychological and physical testing that the Mercury 7 astronauts received. They were Jerrie Cobb, Bernice Steadman, Janey Hart, Jerri Truhill, Rhea Woltman, Sarah Ratley, Jan and Marion Dietrich, Myrtle Cagle, Irene Leverton, Gene Nora Jessen, Jean Hixson, and Wally Funk. You can read more about these amazing women pilots at www.mercury13.com and in the book “Promised the Moon” available on Amazon.

Both World Wars are well represented in the Museum’s collections, with planes from both sides. Triplanes, Biplanes, Mustangs and Corsairs. Zeros and even an Italian Caproni Ca20.

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Italian monoplane, Seattle Museum of Flight

The main museum space has planes everywhere. Suspended from the ceiling, on the floor of the pavilion, in pictures and in the flesh. A photo exhibit also offers some beautiful pictures by amateur photographers who capture the passion of flight.

In the hangar, across the street are a B-17, a B-29, a former Air Force One from the Nixon era, a Concord and numerous other visit-worthy planes as well.  In addition, you can (attempt to) land the space shuttle in a fun simulator (I crashed twice!). No matter what your age, this is one of those museums that truly has something for everyone. I was delighted to see many dozens of school children at the museum, getting a first had look at the history of aviation. I hope it inspires  more than a few of them.

There is too much to comprehend in this Seattle museum. This is only a teaser. For those of you interested in vintage aircraft and aviation history, I’ll be adding a page with some of the pictures from the Museum of Flight (available shortly).

Island Hopping

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Map of Puget Sound

Puget Sound is full of islands. I won’t have a chance to get up to the Orcas or the San Juans this trip. Or even to the many more nearby islands.

Ferries are key components of daily transportation in an archipelago of islands. Seaplanes, and simply small aircraft, offer other commuter options. On Vashon Island, the airport is a delightful grass strip, reminiscent of the early strips I flew from back east.

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Vashon Island Airport


But these days, I’m not flying and being based on Vashon Island, every foray to the mainland starts with a ferry ride.



Some might see this as a hindrance, but I’m enjoying it enormously. The Vashon ferry offers regular service to Point Defiance (Tacoma) and to Fauntleroy (West Seattle). Passenger (not auto) service is available to Seattle on a few ferries early in the morning and back again at night. But the service is very limited.

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Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge, on the other hand, is readily accessible and has been highly gentrified as a result. Multi-million dollar, eco-sensitive housing, restaurants and pricey shops have become the norm in this upscale community.

One person explained the difference between Bainbridge and Vashon as follows: Bainbridge was settled by doctors and lawyers. Vashon was settled by loggers and fishermen. And a few convicts. In many ways, that really does sum up the differences between these two Puget Sound neighbors.

Bainbridge is beautiful, and somewhat quaint, but at this stage of my life, I’ve seen enough perfectly beautiful, outrageously expensive towns. To some extent, they are all the same, regardless of their locale. These days, I’m more interested in the quirky, or something with possibility. I like the energy of the promise rather than the fait accompli; the journey rather than the destination.

But my trip to Bainbridge had an unexpected surprise! I drove up Route 16 from Tacoma and down Route 305, which took me through Suquamish. And in Suquamish, up the road from the Indian casino, is a remarkable museum. The Suquamish Museum.

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Walkway to the Suquamish Museum

This stunning modern structure is nestled in the woods. The gardens along the walkway had just been mulched with cedar and the smell rises from the beds. Entering the building, I am directed to the exhibit room.

A pair of breath taking carved figures stand on  either side of the doorway:

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Carved figure (male) in the Suquamish Museum



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Carved figure (female) in the Suquamish Museum

The museum has many fascinating stories to tell. One of the most interesting tales is the history of the Tribal Journeys. I first learned of this from a gentleman at Vashon Suds, the local Vashon island laundromat. He has participated in numerous trips and was getting ready to leave on this year’s trip. He encouraged me to join the trip at one of the stopping points.

These Tribal Journeys span hundreds of miles and can include ocean crossings at various points. This tradition was resurrected for the Washington State Centennial in 1989. Emmett Oliver (Quinault Tribe) brought old growth cedar logs to some of the reservations in the western end of the state, inspiring many to once again carve canoes. As part of the celebrations, numerous tribes, including the Quileutae, Hoh and Elwha, held an intertribal crossing of the sound, from Suquamish to Seattle.

The evening before the paddle, Frank Brown of the Heiltsuk Nation challenged all the Canoe Nations to travel to Bella Bella, his home on the central coast of British Columbia, four years hence. Twenty eight Canoe families answered the call. The Suquamish/Duwamish Raven Canoe made a three week journey of more than 500 miles over open sea.

Each summer, a different Nation hosts the Inter-Tribal Canoe Journey. From the museum here are “The 10 Rules of the Canoe”:

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Ten Rules of the Canoe from the Squamish Museum


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The Carriers of the Canoe

This amazing carving in the center of the museum’s exhibit room celebrates the Carriers of the Canoe, which include creatures and people, who Indian tradition have it, shape shifted. The two people in the front are Suquamish. Along with the otters, and the ancestors who are also represented in the carvings, these figures represent those that have carried the canoe through time.

This year’s Tribal Journeys schedule is published here. It culminates in a 6 day event, with a public feast on August 5. Visitors are welcomed, although picture taking may not always be possible, given the etiquette of the situation.

The museum underscores the ancient Indian connection to the earth. The theme of water and land is present throughout each and every exhibit, and is lovingly crafted and stunningly presented. Fish sculptures descend from the ceiling and are scooped from a beautifully woven “net”. Baskets seem suspended in mid air in a lit glass cube.

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Beautiful Suqamish basketry

I had no idea this museum existed. (Had I thought to combine  museums + Bainbridge in a Google search, I would have found it) I saw a sign about a tribal headquarters along the road and decided to follow it. Like many of my adventures, a chance meeting (this time in a laundromat), a sign and (a bit of ignorance), and my curiosity resulted in a wonderful adventure.

The trip to Bainbridge was definitely worthwhile.


Food For Thought on Vashon Island

I found myself chatting with a local shop keeper on Vashon about meditating in Thailand. She’d just returned from several months in Thailand and India, and had a marvelous time. “I wouldn’t hesitate to go to Thailand alone,” she advised me. This was good to hear. So far, I’m not getting a lot of enthusiasm from anyone about going to Thailand, and I cannot understand why. I think I just need to put the idea out there and be patient.

“Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.” -Moliere

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May Kitchen storefront , with elephants on roof on Vashon Island Main Street

In the meantime, it is dinner time and I’d like to try the local Thai restaurant. May Kitchen and Bar is a very nondescript storefront in “downtown” Vashon. The elephants on the roof with raised trunks are the only real defining feature. And they don’t exactly inspire confidence. Dull beige curtains cover the windows. The place looks lifeless; and it doesn’t open until dinner time. It doesn’t serve lunch. It’s only open Wednesday to Sunday. In short, it screams, go away.

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The stunning and unexpected interior of May Kitchen, on Vashon Island

When opening time finally arrives, usually with a few people waiting outside, the door opens. Be prepared. You are about to be transported to another world.

Inside, the space is transformed. Rich carved wood panels line the walls. A bar in the center has seating, which is in high demand since reservations claim the tables long before opening. And for good reason. The food is excellent and beautifully presented.

I ordered more food than I could possibly eat, but I just had to try the papia taud, the spring rolls. And they’re worth trying.  Subtle, with a perfectly balanced burst of thai basil and mint, lettuce and finely shredded veggies, topped with fried shallots. And served with a spicy, slightly hot dipping sauce.

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Spring rolls, May Kitchen style, Vashon Island

For dinner, I ordered the gaeng khi waan, house green curry with green thai chilies, galangal, lemongrass, thai eggplant & coconut cream with tofu. Other proteins available include chicken and pork.

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House Green Curry, May Kitchen, Vashon Island

The attention to detail includes a banana leaf laid across the bottom of the plate for a lovely presentation. The dish was fairly mild, which I enjoyed. I ordered a side of red rice which was the perfect compliment. Leftovers obviously followed me home.

And I can’t wait to go back. I contacted the restaurant to ask a few questions, and when they get back to me, I’ll update this post. In the meantime, put May Kitchen and Bar, located at 17614 Vashon Hwy SW Vashon, WA 98070 to your Seattle area bucket list. Yes, on Vashon Island.


More Reading About Vashon Island, Seattle and Environs:

Healdsburg to Vashon
What To Do On Vashon Island
Seattle Farmers Markets: Picking Your Berry Favorites
Oyster Quest
Whidbey Island
The Charm of Port Townsend

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Read more about island hopping in Puget Sound near Seattle


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