Ghosts of Roche Harbor Await Visitors at the Afterglow Vista

Afterglow Vista Mausoleum

Meet the McMillins.

They’re some of San Juan Island’s favorite ghosts. In their bizarre home in the middle of a forest near Roche Harbor, Wash., they share some laughs and like to entertain visitors from time to time.

And I do mean bizarre. It’s the kind of place you need to see to believe.

The Mausoleum Walk

sanjuanislandFrom Friday Harbor, the ferry destination for San Juan Island, bike or drive to Roche Harbor. The trail starts near the airfield; follow the signs leading into the woods.

The trail winds through an old cemetery, then eventually hits a gravel road. Keep walking down the road and deeper into a dreary forest straight out of a Stephen King story. Eventually, you’ll come to the arched entrance for the Afterglow Vista Mausoleum.

Afterglow Vista: Step inside for a bizarre experience.

Come to the Table

In the middle of a clearing, you’ll find a limestone table ringed by six chairs. It’s surrounded by 30-foot columns supporting a concrete ring with fleur-de-lis designs.

John S. McMillin

The ashes of the McMillin family members are stored inside the bases of the chairs.

John S. McMillin, the family patriarch, is the man behind the mausoleum. The industrialist McMillin made a fortune on the limestone quarry and lime-kiln at Roche Harbor in the 1800s, and built the nearby Hotel de Haro, now part of the Roche Harbor Resort.

McMillin created the mausoleum during the 1930s as a final resting place to honor what he believed in: The Masonic Order, the Bible and the Sigma Chi fraternity, among other things.

The stairway leading to the McMillin family mausoleum.
Ashes for members of the McMillin family are stored in the chairs at the Afterglow Vista Mausoleum.
The names of McMillin family members are on the backs of each chair.
One column of the mausoleum structure was intentionally left broken to symbolize death as “the broken column of life.”

The Ghosts

The ghost stories about the Afterglow Vista Mausoleum go like this:

  • Blue orbs are sometimes seen floating above the chairs at night.
  • Sounds and voices are sometimes heard.
  • Cold spots seem to linger near the table and chairs.
  • On full-moon nights, the ghosts of the family may be seen sitting talking and laughing around the table.
  • Visitors who sit in the chairs report feeling nervous, as if they are violating a sacred space.
  • Those who sit on the table have said it felt like invisible hands were shoving them, trying to make them move.

And for ghost-story lovers, it gets better. The ashes of Adah Beeny, the McMillin family’s governess, are also are interred at the mausoleum. Her ghost is said to haunt a different location nearby — McMillin’s Restaurant in Roche Harbor. Adah has been said to turn on appliances and lights, and she also likes to open and shut doors in the restaurant.

The historic Hotel de Haro at Roche Harbor.

SkiZer Suggests

When to visit: If you aren’t into getting scared and just want to see the mausoleum, go at midday. The mausoleum is eerie, no getting around it, but at midday your brain won’t be conjuring strange noises and nervous feelings. If, on the other hand, you’d like freak yourself out, a visit at sunset does the trick. The woods are dark and the setting is beyond weird.

Bike it? That’s what I did. The ride from Friday Harbor can be done as a 22-mile loop, with mostly rolling terrain.

Drink up: You may need to calm your nerves after an Afterglow Vista visit. McMillin’s, at the Roche Harbor complex, is the perfect place for a drink. And you may just run into the precocious Adah.

McMillin’s: Where the ghost of Ada Beane likes to play tricks.



Escape from Amazonia to Queenly Views

The Hike: South Lake Union to Queen Anne

  • Distance: About 3.5 miles
  • Transit: South Lake Union Trolley, buses 40 and the C Line

Queen Anne Hill is one of Seattle’s most dramatic landmarks. Why not climb it?

Once on top, you’ll walk through some lovely neighborhoods and get the best views in the city.

This journey even comes with a sketchy woodland adventure — if you’re up for it.

Start: Amazonia

maplakeuniontoqueenanne2As you begin your journey at Terry Avenue and Mercer Street, notice the thousands of odd tribal members shuffling along wearing blue badges. You’re in Amazonia now. Don’t worry, they’re too busy staring at their phones to notice you.

Cross Mercer and head north toward the lake.

Once here, hop on the Lake Union Loop pedestrian trail on along Westlake. It’s a pleasant walk with great views of the lake, and it’s flat as a pancake for about a mile. Then things get real.

Entering Lake Union Park at the start of the hike.
Here’s where it gets real. Climb these steps to Dexter Avenue.

Start Climbing

At Crockett, cross Westlake Avenue and take a set of stairs, heading west and ever upward. You’ll hit Dexter, then keep going up on a diagonal road to your right. That’s Dexter Way.

Here’s where it gets tricky: Crossing under Aurora Avenue, you’ll see a rough-looking lot to the south. There’s a footpath here that climbs steeply up the hill through the woods. It’s kind of spooky, but once on top, you’ll pop out of the woods into one of Queen Anne’s nicer neighborhoods at Taylor Avenue and Crockett.

Cross under Aurora Avenue on Dexter Way.
A sometimes-sketchy trail takes you up the east side of Queen Anne.

You’re on the Hill Now

Up you came, up you must keep going.

As you climb west along Crockett, notice that the residents in these nice neighborhoods are no better at picking up after their dogs than anywhere else in Seattle.

Targy’s: Drink up.

Step carefully and you’ll eventually top out (elevation 400 feet) and hit the Queen Anne Avenue commercial district.

Need a snack or a drink? You have a wealth of choices on the avenue.

Consider a stop at one of Seattle’s quintessential dive bars a little farther on. At Crockett and Sixth Avenue West, Targy’s Tavern is the place to get lost for a couple of hours.

Queen Anne Boulevard offers majestic views of Elliott Bay.

It’s View Time

You’re in the homestretch now. One block away, take a left on Seventh Avenue West and head south.

You’re on what’s known as Queen Anne Boulevard now, where you’ll find the best views in Seattle. Wonderful, historic mansions line the route as it coutours around to Queen Anne’s south side, where more views await.

Highlights: Betty Bowen Viewpoint, with exceptional views of Elliott Bay, the Olympics and West Seattle, and on Highland Street, you’ll come to Kerry Park, arguably the best skyline view of the Emerald City.

Done walking? You can catch a bus (Routes 2, 13, and 29) two blocks to the east at Highland Street and Queen Anne Avenue.

Betty Bowen Viewpoint looks out on Elliott Bay.
Kerry Park offers one of the best views in the city.


Climbing into Winter at Granite Mountain

Granite Mountain Lookout

  • Roundtrip: 8.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 3,800 feet
Snow along the trail near the top of Granite Mountain.

Recent mountain snows have the SkiZer dreaming of an early season.

On a perfect fall day, it seemed like a great time for a climb to see what’s up there.

The Granite Mountain trail certainly fits the “climbing” bill: It goes up a mountain for 3,800 vertical feet, rewarding hikers with great views of Washington’s highest peaks from the top.

The hike

Take a right to Granite Mountain.

Start the hike 16 miles east of North Bend, Wash., on the north side of I-90 at exit 47.

This trail gets down to business immediately. From a trailhead parking lot in a dark forest at elevation 1,800 feet, the first 1.2 miles climb steeply to a junction with the Pratt/Talupus Lakes Trail. Then things get REALLY steep and rough.

Along the way, you hear the sound of traffic roaring along I-90. The guidebook I used for this hike, “Day Hike! Central Cascades,” by Mike McQuaide, suggested thinking of the traffic noise as “an ocean breeze,” and from time to time, the auto traffic did sound like distant waves crashing on a beach.

It’s nice to pretend, anyway.

About two miles up, you hit an avalanche chute and eventually pop out of the forest for good. Then there’s a bunch more climbing to do — but at least the views are nice. Mount Rainier makes an appearance as you near the summit, and once on top, you can see the other volcanic big dogs: Mount Baker and Glacier Peak to the north; Mount Adams to the south.

Recent storms had dumped several inches of snow on the 5,629-foot peak. The crisp fall day turned to teeth-chattering winter about 800 feet below the summit.

Fall color covers the mountain side below the snow line on Granite Mountain.
Hikers reach a rock garden, one of the few flat places along the trail, just below the summit.
Snow covers fall leaves along the trail.
View from the top: That’s Mount Rainier on the horizon.

SkiZer Suggests

Headphones: Those who can’t pretend-away the sounds of  a major highway might want to block out the noise with some music.

When to go: It’s a popular trail because of the easy I-90 access. Hit it during midweek, and avoid warm days: The slopes of Granite Mountain are south-facing and bake during summer.

Blister rating: Five out of five stars. This trail is relentlessly steep. Your heels will take a beating on the way up, your toes will suffer on the way down. Bring the Band-Aids.




Will it Dump This Winter? We’re Off to a Good Start

And so it begins.

A fall storm has already dumped from the Cascades to the Northern Rockies, raising expectations for a great snow year.

Crystal Mountain‘s Campbell Basin has snow. Mt. Spokane, 49 Degrees North, Schweitzer and Whitefish Mountain all are reporting several inches on the tops of their resorts.

And Jackson Hole has already released this slick video after a dump on Oct. 4:

Of course it’s way too early to get too stoked. But it appears a long-range forecast that is calling for above-average snowfall in the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies is on the mark.

Below, check out these webcam shots from Oct. 10:



Search for Fall Color and the Ghosts of Seattle

The Hike: UW to Volunteer Park

  • Distance: About 4 miles
  • Transit: Buses 43, 44, 49, 70

Blustery fall days are made for urban hikes.

On a stormy day in Seattle, the SkiZers headed in search of fall color through the University of Washington and the Washington Park Arboretum, eventually a visit Bruce Lee and Doc Maynard at Lake View Cemetery.

The great thing about this hike is that goes from park to park,  spending the majority of your time away from roads and traffic.

Mrs. SkiZer sets the pace through the University of Washington campus.

Start: the UW

Starting from 45th Street and 15 Avenue NE in the U District, we set out across the UW campus. The UW is home to some of Seattle’s oldest trees, and as we headed toward Husky Stadium, we saw some lovely color.

Once past Husky Stadium, we headed south over the Montlake Bridge and hopped onto the the Lake Washington Ship Canal Waterside Trail going east and connecting with the Arboretum Waterside Trail.

Small islands on the Arboretum Waterside Trail are linked by bridges.
A rower makes his way down the Montlake Cut.
Lily pads thrive in the shallow waters near the Washington Park Arboretum.


The waterside trail is excellent. It scoots over two islands, under State Route 520 and then connects with the trails of the Washington Park Arboretum.

Once in the Arboretum, you may never want to leave. We nearly didn’t, getting lost at one point, but that was OK. The Arboretum is a wonderful place to wander.

Eventually, we made our way to East Interlaken Boulevard and headed west.

Visitors walk the trails through the Washington Park Arboretum.
Fall colors are just beginning to peak along the Arboretum trails.

‘Blair Witch’ Woods

After walking past the rich folks’ homes along Interlaken Boulevard, we entered a dark and foreboding woods. We were headed to Lake View Cemetery to pay a visit to some of Seattle’s most famous dead people, and it seemed fitting that we would face a scary test along the way.

Closed? We decided to see.

Off of Interlaken, we came to a trail labeled “Warning: Do not enter.”

Naturally, we went on.

The trail was rough, with downed trees and slippery roots, winding up a steep hill. The SkiZer said, “It looks fine!” to a dubious Mrs. SkiZer. Then he proceeded to wander up the path alone to check things out as it got rougher and darker, leaving a none-too-pleased  Mrs. SkiZer behind.

“F*ck this sh*t!” Mrs. SkiZer was heard to say.

Spooky noises eminated from the trees, a homeless camp appeared, and if this had been a movie, the SkiZers would surely be dead soon. Just in time, they popped out of the woods at 15th Avenue and Garfield, across the street from Lake View Cemetery.

Visiting Doc and Bruce

Seattle’s pioneers are all buried at Lake View Cemetery. So is martial arts movie legend Bruce Lee.

Among the pioneers, David “Doc” Maynard seemed like the guy to see. He had the first cabin at Jackson and First in Pioneer Square. By most accounts, he was a fine fellow, a friend of Chief Sealth and he liked to drink a good deal.

His grave stands under a large cedar tree near the top of the cemetery. We said hello, then visited Bruce, where well-wishers still stop by to leave flowers.

Bruce Lee’s grave at Lake View Cemetery draws crowds daily.
Doc Maynard’s tombstone sits under a large cedar tree.

The finish: Volunteer Park

We were almost done. Our final stop was at Volunteer Park, just south of the cemetery. Entering off of 15th Avenue, we walked to the high point near the Asian Art Museum and took in the view of Seattle. It was a fitting way to finish.

Visitors catch a view of the Space Needle near the Asian Art Museum.