[Wander Washington] Dream Big at the Pacific Bonsai Museum

Driving along the 5 South of Seattle, it’s hard not to notice the sweeping ivy sitting delicately on top of an abandoned corporate office. In the realm of COVID, quarantine and 2022 – the landscape feels like a stark reminder of the last few years; but in actuality, the area around the old Weyerhauser Tacoma building has sat quietly. Meanwhile, contained within their grounds – the Pacific Bonsai Museum provides an enchanted reason to visit. Heading off the beaten path and into the grounds, I was immediately transported into a forested fern gully and wrapped in the breath of trees that stretch their limbs to meet the sky. Spring eagerly awaiting from each and every angle, as rhododendrons lining the winding walkway bear their lime green blossoms. Within moments, I had forgotten that I was anywhere remotely near Seattle.

One of only two museums in the United States devoted to the art and appreciation of the living art of bonsai, and one of only a few bonsai museums around the globe, the Pacific Bonsai Museum plays host to an international collection of incredible Penjing and Bonsai specimens, each with a distinct and fascinating history. Featuring gorgeous foliage from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and Canada – you’ll be in for a special treat as you’re greeted with the most geographically diverse selection of bonsai in the United States. Though there are nearly 200 individual exhibits, with only 60 on display at a time, you’ll easily find new reasons to visit throughout the year that are beyond observing the changes of the season.

Even though Bonsai has deep roots in Chinese culture, it was the Japanese who have expertly developed and defined the art as it is today. One thing I uncovered for myself after visiting is the distinct difference between the current Japanese art of Bonsai, which explores refined, natural and minimalistic stylings of single tree systems, as versus the traditional Chinese school of Penjing – which explores the artistry of the landscape, often by utilizing multiple and distinctly separate trees. Bonsai lends itself to being refined and technical, whereas Penjing is creative, emotional and expressive. As you meander around each of the delicately adjusted exhibits at the Pacific Bonsai Museum, be sure to digest and marinate on the history of each of the trees present in front of you. Some are from the last twenty years, others have a deep and rich history – all of them begging for your undivided attention, and each as uniquely beautiful as the next.

Built in 1989 by the Weyerhaeuser Company as a joint venture with the Washington State Centennial celebration, the initial collection of bonsai was known as The George Weyerhaeuser Pacific Rim Bonsai collection – and isn’t that just a damn mouthful. Ironically, the Weyerhaeuser Company made their millions off of American Timber; it’s only fitting they philanthropically give back in tune. Their contribution to the world of bonsai established Weyerhaeuser’s commitment to forest resources, their community and their customers.

Sitting on over twenty acres adjacent to the Pacific Bonsai Museum, an incredible selection of over 10,000 Rhododendrons lay in deep rooted wait for acclimate weather. Built in 1964 by the American Rhododendron Society, the grounds feature 700 of the world’s species of 1000 rhododendrons – making the RSF one of the largest and most diverse collections in the world. Though it’s not currently in bloom, I am absolutely eager to visit the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Botanical Garden as soon as Spring settles into the area. However, one doesn’t necessarily need to wait for Spring to be sprung to be enthralled by the landscaping as you quickly find yourself dancing with giant native conifers, while you frolic through the lush landscape of fern gully’s and woodland gardens.

Image Source: Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden

If you’re in the mood to up on your exploration, take a quick trek around the abandoned and architecturally incredible Weyerhaeuser building. A groundbreaking building when it was crafted in 1970, the Weyerhaeuser campus feels similar to feelings that only the hanging gardens of Babylon have been able to elicit in me. Between cascading levels of starkly empty rooms with terraced roofs and burgeoning trails of lush ivy set, the building stands tall against rolling hills and grassy meadows – and seems almost out of place, or even from another planet. Ten out of ten would recommend a long stroll down to the water’s edge and for even just one moment, find yourself lost among the trees; it’s simply magical.

Image Source: Architecture Daily

For more on the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Tacoma, head to their website and socials – and if you’re in the area, just swing by and visit!

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[Wander Washington] A Romantic Getaway to the Red Mountain AVA

While the skies shift slyly above us, the times shift slowly with us. The world always seems to slow itself down after the heat and hustle of the Summer, flowing into Fall relaxed and renewed, finding resolve in Winter and then new growth come Spring. Autumn in Washington means that Fall greets us with her cacophony of vibrant colors, and mercurial bouts of weather – instantly grabbing our attention; instantly reminding us that the long days and blue skies are, in all respects, officially said and done. Dualistically, it also means it’s time for adventures far and wide: chasing waterfalls, hopping amongst the San Juan islands and my personal favorite, strolling through Wine Country.

Looking back, I didn’t celebrate the transitions between the seasons with quite the same vigor and veracity growing up in California – but let’s get real: California simply doesn’t have dynamic, drastic shifts in weather that we see in the Pacific North West…or anywhere in the greater United States, for that matter. Though COVID had me a bit wary of travel these past few years – after landing a promotion and a raise, it felt right to celebrate with a weekend away in Eastern Washington’s AVA; wine not, right?!

For all the rain and grey skies in Western Washington, it’s a bit funny that the Eastern region of the state is more or less a vast desert on the border of the Columbia River, hiding in the rain shadow of the Cascades. Though not a traditional location for wineries, as climates shift and migrate the Pacific Northwest, and specifically Eastern Washington, has become a mecca for all things red wine and boasts a similar microclimate to both Chile and New Zealand, two other fantastic regions for reds if I do say so myself.

Known for being the smallest and warmest viticultural area in the Pacific North West biome, the Red Mountain AVA has proven itself to be an internationally renowned region for Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and my personal favorite – the Syrah. Sprawling over 4,000 acres of countryside in Eastern Washington’s Yakima Valley area, sprawling Red Mountain landscape gains its name from the local ‘drooping borme’, commonly known as cheatgrass; it matures to a vibrant shade of – you guessed it – red. Don’t fret – you can still find some incredibly crisp white wines, but when in Rome, right?

The View from the Hedges Family Estate

Starting in 1970 with Kiona Vineyards, the Red Mountain AVA is now 22 wineries strong and still blossoming. Most recently, in 2007 – Washington’s own and oldest winery Chateau Ste. Michelle (which has a fantastic tasting room at their estate in Woodinville) partnered with Marchesi Antinori, an Italian winery with roots back to 1385, on a $6.5 Million investment to co-produce a red varietal in the region. Personal favorite vinters in the area include the aforementioned Kiona Vineyards, and the fantastic Hedges Family Estates.

Chenin Blanc from Kiona Vineyards

From Seattle proper, the Red Mountain AVA is just a hop, a skip, and a wonderful road trip away – taking about four hours to travel to the South Eastern part of the state. If you’re a oenophile in the region, and have any sort of affinity towards varietals of reds – this area is simply not to be missed!

For more on the Red Mountain AVA – head to their website or social media channels, or if you’re really feeling the itch – plan a visit and just get out there. You’ll be glad you did!

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[Wander Washington] The Magic + Majesty of Mount Rainier

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”

Image may contain: tree, sky, plant, outdoor and nature

Whether you’re coming into Seattle or exiting the city stage left, there’s one piece of nature that simply towers over the rest, sitting pristine and pretty at 14.1 thousand feet above sea level. We know it now as Mount Rainier, but past indigenous tribes proudly remember and revere it was Tahoma, or Tacoma.

Located about sixty miles southeast of Seattle, the spectacular – and active! – stratovolcano has become a larger than life icon of the Pacific Northwest landscape. Made of alternating layers of lava, ash and pyroclastic ejecta flows, Mount Rainier effortlessly towers over the rest of the Cascade Mountain Range with 26 major glaciers and 36 square miles of permanent sparkling snowfields, earning its status as the most glaciated mountain peak in the contiguous United States. At the top of the summit, the geothermic heat spewing from a duo of volcanic craters prevents the rims from getting snowed in or iced over, forming the world’s largest glacial cave network of ice-filled craters.

While the current top formation of Mount Rainier is estimated to be approximately 500,000 years old, the mountain and the entire Cascade Volcanic Arc is considered part of the ‘Lily Formation’ and spans from roughly 840,000 years old to a whopping 2.6 Million years old. Many eons and moons ago, it’s purported that Rainier was around 16k feet high – but with increased volcanic activity around 5,600 years ago around 3600 B.C., the volcano erupted, removing the top 2k feet and causing the northeast side of the mountain to collapse. Now known as the Osecola Lahar – or mudflow, a wall of mud, rock and debris over 100′ high cascaded over land and into the waters of the Puget Sound, nearly 50 miles away. Though small eruptions have happened since with a frequency of every few hundred years, the last major eruption of Rainier was about 1000 years ago – to which many geologists say, we could be due for a ‘big’ one, and it could be absolutely disastrous to the whole planet.


“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”


Home to dozens of roaring rivers, reflection ponds and lavish lakes, the spectacle of the park shimmers and sparkles in full color from every which direction. Boasting assorted entrances, a plethora of unique micro-climates, and dozens of viewpoints and over 130 interpretive trail descriptions – you can essentially guarantee a completely new trip with each visit. I happened to fall in love with the park in a little under six hours, but with multiple lodges and camping spots on site, not to mention the vast amount of hotels around the base of the park, you can completely make a weekend of your visit while you marinate in every last inch of wildlife.


“Of all the fire-mountains which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.”


With the velocity and veracity of shifting weather patterns, not to mention changes in altitude as you traverse the mountain – it’s also entirely possible to experience every season within a full days adventure. During our stay the other weekend, we were greeted by ambient low level clouds, only to peter out into gloriously clear sunshine at Sunrise Ridge, then a hail storm as we etched our way around the mountain, followed by an intense game of hide and seek with a bog of fog, and finally one of the most glorious lightning storms I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting under. That said – word to the wise, pack enough extra clothing that you can be warm and dry if the rain starts in, or have a tank top and shorts for when the sun finally manages to break through the day.


For more on Mount Rainier, head to their website or social channels – or simply pack a bag, and plan a visit!

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