Washington: Reviews of Travel Books and Maps

If not for a little research to go waterfalling in Washington, we wouldn't have encountered divine sights like this view of Mt Rainier at the meadow known as Spray Park
The purpose of this page is to reveal to you the resources that we have used both prior to and during our trips to Washington. We have reviewed such resources so we can convey to you which ones we thought were most useful as well as those we didn't find useful. Hopefully, this may better direct your information gathering efforts for your own trip...

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A Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest [Overall Rating: 4.5/5]:
When it came to an absolute waterfallers guide for the Pacific Northwest (especially for Oregon and Washington, but also for Idaho), this was pretty much the de facto resource that we turned to. It was probably the wisest investment that we made, especially considering that we have multiple trips to Oregon and Washington, and we even found this resource useful when we made a trip to Idaho to visit a friend.

In a way, it almost did for us in the Pacific Northwest what Ann Marie Brown did for us concerning California. We basically used this book heavily for pre-trip research, bookmarking the heck out of it, then doing further research to narrow down the target waterfalls for our trips on limited time and budget. And we would do this repeatedly before and during each of our trips. So not surprisingly, this book was pretty much wrinkled and dog-eared from a lot of use.

What author Gregory A Plumb has done with this guide was a very simply and no-nonsense approach in that he broke down each major region then went right into the waterfalls and their corresponding writeups. Each writeup contained a star rating (pretty helpful to us), along with summaries of the difficulty and accessibility. Then a short blurb of what the excursion would be like from his own experience. Some of the blurbs contained some useful tidbits of information from the history to some scientific facts about it (as it seemed like he also had a science background).

There were some photos here and there for some of the waterfalls though I personally would have liked to see at least one photo for each waterfall written up, but I know there's a tradeoff between printing and layout versus the quantity of photos. The book was in black-and-white, but for a guide that emphasizes the comprehensive coverage of the rainy Pacific Northwest over the glitz of full color, the book pretty much does the job and will continue to be a resource for as long as we'll continue to go waterfalling in the northwest of the USA.

Romance of Waterfalls: Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington [Overall Rating: 3/5]:
This was probably one of the more unusual books that we had bought on the topic of waterfalls. While this book somewhat had information fit for a guidebook (e.g. the boom boxes with the waterfall height, waterfall type, hiking distance, parking, trail description, and more), it also contained an illustration of each featured waterfall accompanied with a poem. The book even had suggested view and "kissing" locations as well as have "romantic" ratings, too!

The reason why I got this book wasn't so much for finding romantic places to kiss my wife, but that I was intrigued by the illustrations since some of the waterfall writeups in Plumb's book didn't have pictures. So this guidebook was the next best thing at the time (though the Google image search ended up doing a lot to change that in the coming years since I bought this book).

In any case, I have to warn the reader that artists' drawings tend to focus on qualities that jump out at the artist who in turn composes and depicts those features that drew him/her in the first place into the sketch. The bottom line is that sometimes the illustration can be a bit too idealized and misleading. This can especially be the case for those waterfalls that are hard to view safely. So you might get a romanticized illustration in the book when in fact that view is not possible. I can cite off the top of my head Curly Creek Falls as one such example, but I know there were others.

That said, it could be a pretty useful guide if it wasn't for the Plumb guide being so comprehensive and useful. So I pretty much relegated this guide to a second opinion, especially for the visuals that were lacking in Plumb's book.

Hiking the Columbia River Gorge (Falcon) [Overall Rating: 3/5]:
With all the focus on waterfalls amongst the library of books that we have bought concerning the Pacific Northwest, I decided to give this book a shot since they also featured other sights and hiking destinations that weren't waterfall specific. However, in the limited time that we spent in the state of Oregon and Southern Washington, it turned out that this book was pretty much relegated as a second opinion to see what other ideas and possibilities were available if we needed a change of pace from waterfalls.

As a result, we didn't heavily use this book, and I pretty much did some alternate trip research with it. However, I didn't bring it with me on the field. That said, these guides did for the Columbia River Gorge what they always do with their other regions and destinations. That is, they provide at-a-glance information concerning the elevation profile, hike length and difficulty, milestones, and words-eye trail descriptions with a few black-and-white photos sprinkled here and there.

Perhaps if we finally get a chance to do an extended hike like the Eagle Creek Trail past Punch Bowl Falls or Larch Mountain past the top of Multnomah Falls, I'd bring this guide with me so I would know what to look forward to as I went along the trail. But until that happens, I can't say we have put this book to the test in the field. So I'll reserve the average rating based on its usefulness as a pre-trip resource so far, but it can easily be bumped up if I find that it has served us well in the field given the opportunity...

Topo! Washington (National Geographic) [Overall Rating: 3.5/5]:
I bought this product way back around 2006 when Julie and I attended a relatives' wedding in Seattle on Memorial Day weekend. We have since used it on a follow-up trip to Washington State in 2008 (when we visited the other side of the Columbia River Gorge and Mt St Helens) and in 2011 (when we also integrated that trip with a cruise to southern Alaska).

Back then, it seemed like I was starting to get used to the NatGeo software as I had already amassed a fair collection of states that they covered at a level of detail that was an incredible 1:24k scale with raster-based superpositions of scanned maps put together and digitized into this software. In other words, we were able to see down to the level of walking trails, campsites, bathrooms, and even specific buildings. And this level of detail was for the entire state, which I guess would justify the $100 price tag. So needless to say, we used this product extensively for both trip planning before our trips as well as trip logging both during and after our outings.

For our trips to Washington, we used this map, but we also found use for it regarding the state's National Reserves like Mt Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, and more. We also found use for it for places like the more remote parts of the state's National Forests in the Gifford Pinchot area. So to make a long story short, this was our de facto map resource as it had probably gained the most use of all of our map products that we owned at the time.

But with all the benefits that we were getting from this map product, there were also plenty of drawbacks. The most glaring one was the really kludgy interface that made it a real chore to try to use our GPS for real-time tracking, or even try to annotate the map for figuring out routes and marking them before even going on the excursion itself. They had follow-up products for purchase to try to address this, but they turned out to be buggy and not very reliable (thereby a waste of time and money). Fortunately, our Garmin Nuvi covered all of the US so navigation wasn't an issue, but trip logging and dumping from the Nuvi to this software was awkward and non-standard (they should have used or allowed .gpx format). So as it was, the map's functionality was frustrating at best, especially when the more functional Garmin MapSource products started becoming more extensive and available in the coming years since we bought this map product.

The bottom line is that this map product was excellent for hiking and backpacking (or at least planning for them), but was terrible for in-the-field navigation or track and waypoint management. We didn't have much to go on besides this product at the time, but as the years went by, I can see we might just ditch this product and go for the Garmin Mapsource product of the Western US down the road (especially if they contain just as much info as this Topo! product itself, which I'd imagine would be derived from USGS Surveys)...

Garmin MapSource Topo! US 24k West Topographic Coverage for Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada [Overall Rating: 5/5]:
After getting over the wastefulness of buying quite a few states of the National Geographic Topo! CD-ROMs and then going out and getting this product, it didn't take long before I realized just what I was missing from those older maps that we had bought. Not only did it contain a similar level of detail (though I'm not sure if it had all the place names that the NatGeo Topos had or if they were just as many but in different places), but it also had that full functionality of trip logging and planning that I came to appreciate about the MapSource softwares that the NatGeo products had seriously lacked.

I was especially impressed to see the level of detail that included default waypoints for pretty obscure places such some waterfalls on the slopes of Mt Rainier, the Olympic Peninsula, and even further south in Gifford Pinchot National Forest as well as Mt St Helens. Just the fact that these points were clearly waypointed meant that if I searched for them, I'd find them. That was a bit of a roll of the dice with the NatGeo software.

So even in an age of GoogleMaps where there might be plenty of disjointed waypoints and tracks from random bloggers, hiking clubs, business, and general info providers, this map is still necessary to get the rest of the USGS info that otherwise wouldn't find its way onto Google. And for that reason alone, that makes this product very valuable. I know that little by little, these map products are being phased out, but I really hope that they stick around for a little while longer so I can buy up the other regions of the USA (or other countries for that matter) before such info is lost for good.

I know from seeing Amazon reviews that quite a few people have trouble with getting the product installed or used, but I can't say I've had terrible difficulty in getting up and running with each MapSource product I have. Perhaps what's more annoying is having to enter serial numbers or license info and connecting with their server, where I fear one day I might get stuck having to re-install it only to find out that I can't communicate with their server anymore (thereby rendering the product useless even though I bought it).

I noticed on the US 24k West product, even though it had a sticker with the serial number on it, I was never prompted at the install. So perhaps that already did away with this? I don't know. But nonetheless, until the product is rendered useless, I still contend this is the most useful map product out there and only lags behind GoogleMaps in that the place name search may not be as extensive, flexible, nor up-to-date...

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