Road Trip IX, Days 41-43, Moab to Lopez Island: Home! (And the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados)

After missing us for six weeks, our home was so happy to see us, it lit up its own windows with sunset.

Aww…we feel the same way!

19 states. 72 close friends/family members.  I’ve lost count of hikes and bike rides, but I can trace our route through the generosity of my cousins, who sent us on our way from L.A. with a bagful of avocados from their tree.

Thanks, cuzzes!

As the traveling avocados ripened, they graced our meals, most of which I managed to capture before gobbling. We started with leftover Vietnamese food in a motel in Mesa, Arizona:

Gluten free!

Next up: our avocados went camping in the Chiricahuas of SE Arizona.

…like camping NEEDS avocados, right? Turns out, it does!

Then they accompanied a salad at our friends’ in Dallas,

…making up in advance for all the greasy food we intend to eat in North Carolina!

and enjoyed a night in a sweet State Park cabin in Alabama:

Quick, before the squirrels show up!

Our avocados reached their culinary zenith at our friends’ in Asheville; Ben cooks the best food on the planet, and the guacamole just went along for the ride.

You have no idea.

So numerous were the avocados, they lasted into our return trip, where they appeared in a cameo on some curry in the Land Between the Lakes of Kentucky.

Thanks, cuzzes!

I did, of course, pay attention to more than just food on this trip. And now that I’m home, instead of playing my traditional game of “Best Of,” I’m just going to share some random Discoveries.

Discovery #1: Even when you’re going somewhere sunny and southerly, that white stuff can still follow!

approaching Los Angeles

Sunny, snowy?! saguaros in Tucson

Discovery #2: Disasters are much, much worse on the ground than they appear on television.

remnants from the Woolsey Fire in Malibu

Discovery #3: Apparently I am so immature, I can find delight in another athlete’s shoe explosion in a big game. (Oh, don’t worry, Zion Williamson is just fine!)

Photo credit–and cake credit!–to my friend and fellow Tarheel fan, Cynny Scott

Discovery #4: the Organ Peaks of Las Cruces, NM!

Where have you been all these road trips?

Discovery #5: The Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas has an ADORABLE Mardi Gras parade.

Aww…they probably ran out of time to finish decorating, but hey–viva recycling!

Discovery #6: the Missouri Bluffs section of Missouri’s Katy Trail

the Mate meets the Mighty Mo

Discovery #7: I thought I didn’t care for llamas. Turns out I care a lot for BABY llamas!

OMG, those eyelashes!

I won’t list “there’s no place like home” as a discovery, because I already knew that. And it remains just as true as ever. Thank you, Red Rover, thank you friends & family, and thank you, my Mate, for all that driving!

Home.

Wing’s World now morphs back into its regular, irregular, non-travel-blog self. Please keep visiting!

 

 

Road Trip IX, Days 38-40, Denver to Moab: Mecca’s Crowded–Who Knew?

By now you’re probably tired of hearing me talk about sandstone. Too bad.  So far on Road Trip IX, I haven’t had the pleasure of talking about RED sandstone.

This stuff!

After zipping across western Kansas and eastern Colorado (please somebody tell me something interesting about western Kansas or eastern Colorado!), we spent the night with a friend in Denver. Full disclosure: this stop was in full Carolina Tarheel Fan Mode, not our usual Outdoor Adventurers In Search Of the Ultimate Bike Path or Hike Mode. Our friend is from Chapel Hill. Together we ate pizza and happily whooped the Tarheels into the Round of 32. Mission Accomplished.

Next day we braved the passes of I-70 through the Rockies, blessing the weather gods and Colorado DOT for keeping the roads clear, even though the roadsides looked like this:

11,000+ feet, 20 degrees…and 55 mph!

Safely on the other side, temperatures back in the 40s, we took a recreational stop at Grand Junction’s not-so-hidden treasure, Colorado National Monument. We’ve camped there before, and know that its red sandstone towers and hollows and who-knows-what-to-call-its are the equal of anything outside of Arches National Park. We didn’t have the time to go deep into the park, but a single swift hike through the very corner yielded this:

“The Devil’s Kitchen”

Inside The Devil’s Kitchen. The Devil has some cool appliances!

After that, we said goodbye and thanks to Colorado, and zipped on down to Mecca Moab, Utah.

Why do I call it Mecca? Because Moab is the holy city for people of The Mate’s and my religion, The Church of the Great, Dirty, Sweaty Outdoors. In Moab, every other car looks like ours.

Red Rover says, “Finally! I’m one of the cool kids here!”

Wheels, wheels, wheels! Granted, some are attached to monster engines on scary-looking jeeps and ATVs. But most are some form of bike. And even those folks who aren’t there to ride around on something are still there to play hard and get dirty.

These families are climbing this super-steep red dune to race and slide back down. That could be the definition of cheap thrills.

While patiently waiting for the Heels to play their Round 2 game, we delighted ourselves with bike rides and hikes in some of the most perfect, astounding, God-given terrain available to mankind. Now when I say bike rides, I do NOT mean this:

I’m sure mountain biking is fun. I’m equally sure that I would kill myself if I tried to do it.

I mean this–this amazing trail that runs all the way from the rim of the valley,

Yes!!!! 7% grade…but the scenery takes your mind off the grind.

through town, and along the Colorado for who knows how many more miles (I had to turn around before finding out).

Sun started disappearing. Scenery stuck around.

As for hiking, well…the entrance to Arches National Park was two miles from the campground we were staying in. And if you don’t know Arches…

…please allow me to introduce you! This is the famous Landscape Arch.

And this is Balanced Rock. Not sure where the name comes from.

Pine Tree Arch is one of my favorites, mostly because it’s off the main trail. We actually had it to ourselves!

My hope was, if the weather was decent, we could spend a night camping after having safely seen our beloved team into the Sweet 16. (Pause for wild cheering from Tarheel Nation.) But stupidly, I’d been so deeply enjoying the fact of all these other fans of the Great Red Outdoors, I’d missed the obvious: those fellow red-rockers were our competitors for camping spaces. And unlike us, they’d been smart enough to make reservations. Months in advance, probably. The Arches campground was, of course, FULL FULL FULL.

You–keep walkin’.

So much for my “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” image of “I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight/With a million stars all around.” Yes, there are first-come, first-served BLM campgrounds scattered about, but you can camp in those for up to two weeks. What were we supposed to do, hang around all day waiting on the off chance of being there when someone pulled up their tent stakes? C’mon! We have trails to hike, basketball games to watch!

No room at the inn for these ol’ lovebirds.

So…Irony. The very thing that draws us to Moab–the joyous celebration of its dirty, sweaty beauty–prevents us from engaging in that highest of ceremonies, spontaneous camping. Yeah, I suppose we could’ve acted like our younger selves and just pulled off the road somewhere to pitch our tent. But in the Church of the Great, Dirty, Sweaty Outdoors, I guess these days we’re those Establishment types who claim front pews. Next time, if I possibly can…I’m making reservations!

One last morning hike before we have to go… 😦

Road Trip IX, Days 33-37, Kentucky to Kansas: Bluff Buffs, Sharing Our Love of Sandstone

Since this is Road Trip #9, you can imagine how many times The Mate and I have crossed Kansas. But Kentucky, not so much. We’ve generally passed either above or below it; the big interstates make it fairly easy to miss. But this year we went to eastern Kentucky, on purpose, for two reasons.

Reason #1: St. Patrick’s Day was our 40th anniversary, and we wanted a pretty place to spend the night, plus a kitchen for me to make the Reuben sandwiches we’ve been eating together ever since March 17, 1979.

Thus: Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

Ooooh.

Pretty place with kitchen: check.

Reubens: check. (Roasted Brussels sprouts weren’t a thing 40 years ago…but they are now!)

I’ll be honest: the culture of eastern Kentucky makes me uncomfortable. In these polarized times, it’s hard not to imagine people looking askance at our scruffy Subaru, and The Mate’s ponytail. It’s hard not to wonder how we’d be received if we were a gay couple, or people of color. I also imagine what they’d think of me, a middle-aged lady acting like an early retiree, eating my hummus-arugula sandwich…a left-coast, REI-wearing, Subaru-driving Ivy Leaguer…

Maybe I’ve been listening to too much CNN, or reading too much US history, but that polarization is real

So it was a sweet relief to get up into those lovely trails and find people…enjoying the same beauty I was enjoying.

Ooh!

The Natural Bridge itself is very cool…

…whether from above…

…or from a distance

…but it’s only part of the sandstone sculpture on display. There’s also balanced Rock…

Rock: check. Balancing: check.

Lovers’ Leap…

Those teeny-tiny tents down there tell you how high up this is. Leapin’ Lovers!

…and then just the stone itself. I couldn’t get enough.

So…pretty!!!! I can’t stand it.

All the trails are concentrated in a small area, so I imagine during high season it must be pretty crowded. But in March, meeting handfuls of other tourists was just nice. Everyone up there had walked steep trails for the sake of scenery: my people!

Reason #2 for our Kentucky dalliance was two sets of old friends, not seen for over a decade. The first lives in Louisville, where I didn’t take any pictures, but we did ride our top-favorite bike path, the Louisville Loop, so here’s a picture from last year.

Coolest bike path ever! You go, Louisville!

The second was in Land Between the Lakes, near Kentucky’s western tip. We met our friend for a day hike, then spent another night in a very pleasant cabin. (Could we have camped? Yes. It only got down to freezing that night. I wimped out. No excuses.)

“Hey, it’s nice and warm in here.”

No sandstone here, but we did enjoy a lovely lakeside walk…

No sandstone? No problem.

which treated us to some splendid little crowds of turtles.

Yes! Spring’s a-comin!

And just as before, meeting fellow walkers in the woods did my conflicted soul as much good as reuniting with an old friend.

From Kentucky we headed across Missouri, another non-Subaru state. There, we visited another section of the amazing Katy Trail, a 200+-mile rail-trail that stretches nearly the entire length of the state.

And such a cute name too.

Our section follows the Missouri River, thus…bluffs!

Ahhh…

Otters wallowed in the powerful current. Cliff swallows attended their nests. Signs alerted us to Lewis and Clark’s one-time camping ground.

Mud nests. Not pictured: otters, and Lewis & Clark.

Because it was the middle of a work week, we met very few souls out on the Katy. But just knowing it was there, knowing that citizens of Missouri support this…

You can see I-70 crossing the Mighty Mo in the background

and this…

Free air for your tires and everything!

…gave me those warm fuzzies about my fellow Americans that I so badly need.

Next day, we had one more sandstone encounter, this time in Kansas. Most of what you see of Kansas from the interstate is fields (pretty unimpressive this time of year), but as you might expect, a few miles off the big roads yields great results. In this case: Wilson Lake State Park.

I mean, it’s not a wheat field, but it’ll do.

And guess what: sandstone bluffs again!

Hey, buddy!

Once again, our privileged status, on vacation in the middle of March, gave us the park to ourselves. And the solitude of my walk set me thinking.

The real stuff, the good stuff, what we share as fellow Americans–love of our land, our families, and our freedom to enjoy both–that’s our bedrock. Like sandstone, it has accrued over time, all the time warped and eroded by pressures like economic need and religious mandate. Sometimes it’s just covered up by ugly growth.

Something like this

So I hope and pray that this period we’re living through now is one of those temporary times–a period of ugliness from which our bedrock may emerge. I pray the rock isn’t riven straight down to its core. Let those bluffs hold.

Road Trip IX, Days 17-22, Dallas to North Georgia: Crossing the South While Reading U.S. History

If I had titled this post, “The Confederates Actually Won,” I wonder how many of my white readers would be shocked?

I’m a Southerner born and bred—a Tarheel, as many of y’all know. But by true Southern standards, I’m also not. My mom was born and raised in LA, my dad born in Germany and raised in a weird immigrant/Quaker/Jewish/freethinking mishmash in Philadelphia and LA. They created their own mishmash of Quaker education/ back-to-the-land farm life/ world travel for me to grow up in. So…not REALLY a Southerner.

Our first night in one of the original 7 states of the Confederacy: Texas…in the wonderfully-named Possum Kingdom State Park

Except when I’m not in the South. Starting with college, up north, that’s when the nostalgia kicked in–and living now in the northwest, it still kicks. I find myself longing for the soul food my mom never cooked; when I speak to a fellow Southerner, my vowels lengthen on words like, “I’m fine.”

And that’s not even to mention the great passion The Mate and I share for the Carolina Tarheels.

But now we’re here, crossing the Lower South on our way to NC. And I’m reading These Truths by Jill Lepore.

Even thicker than it looks.

Hold that thought for a sec. First I have to give a shout-out to Dallas, or rather, to the Dallas neighborhood of Oak Cliff, where we spent three days with friends. This part of Texas is really into Mardi Gras.

Masked dinner! Not pictured: dinner (jambalaya, cheese grits & greens, etc…)

Maybe it always was, maybe the influx of New Orleans refugees from Hurricane Katrina played a role, but whatever–laissez les bon temps roulez!

Really fun parade, despite near-freezing temps

I was touched and heartened by the mix of races and ethnicities out celebrating together.

“Old” Texas lives…

…with “New” Texas!

And don’t forget Pomeranian Texas! (These guys were part of a whole group of “Recycled Poms”!!)

With my friend, I also walked the Fun Run (note to self: Fun Runs really are fun when you’re not racing! Who knew?). These adorable girls spontaneously danced in front of the start line when their favorite song came on…

They had great moves!

And then there was this little guy, along the course:

Why, indeed? Love it!!!

But the day after we left oh-so-cool Oak Cliff, we found ourselves in Vicksburg. Not often drawn to historical attractions on our road trips, we decided to pay our respects to the Vicksburg National Military Park–site of the Union’s 18-month campaign to capture this all-important center of control over the Mississippi River.

Monument to fallen Confederate soldiers–both sides have many monuments, but I only captured this one’s image

In the past, such a reminder of the viciousness of the Civil War (nearly 4,000 men died on these hills and vales, with thousands more wounded, captured or missing) would just reawaken all the complexity of my feelings about being Southern. As I’ve written in the past, I’m very conflicted. One of my songs tries to express that conflict:

If my old neighbors have their way, I’ll be burning down in Hell

But just ’cause I’m a sinner–it’s nothing personal.

They hate everything I stand for, but I know who they are

So don’t you ridicule their accent when they talk about hellfire.

But, as I mentioned, I’ve been reading Jill Lepore’s book. Let’s get back to that, shall we? It’s a comprehensive history of this country. I have a Master’s in U.S. History, and I’ve taught it to teenagers. These Truths both reminded me of things I knew, and taught me things I didn’t.

Things I knew: 

–The Supreme Court–of the whole country!–ruled in Dred Scott, 1857, that “a black man has no rights that a white man is bound to respect.”

–The Radical Republicans’ compromise with the ex-Confederates to end Reconstruction left millions of Southern Blacks at the mercy of Southern Whites..who showed none. (Radical Republicans were NORTHERNERS.)

–The Supreme Court–of the whole country!– in Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, ruled that “separate but equal” was constitutional.

–Following the Great Migration of Black Southerners to the North and West to escape Southern terrorism, NORTHERN real estate laws and other restrictions trapped them into segregated neighborhoods

Things I didn’t know, or at least didn’t know enough:

–The People’s Party (the most successful third party in US history), “rested on a deep and abiding commitment to exclude from full citizenship anyone from or descended from anyone from Africa or Asia.” (p. 343)

–“By one estimate, someone in the South was hanged or burned alive every four days” in the first few years of the 20th century (p. 369)

–The 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg included none of the Black soldiers who had fought there. (p. 389)

–The enlightened Woodrow Wilson? “…like other Progressives, Wilson not only failed to offer an remedy of racial inequality; he endorsed it…’Mr. Wilson bears the discreditable distinction of being the first President of the United States, since Emancipation, who openly condoned and vindicated prejudice against the Negro.'” (James Weldon Johnson, quoted on p. 389)

.Given that the entire country ended up committing itself, legally, to the values the Confederacy fought for, Lepore concludes, “the Confederacy had lost the war, but it had won the peace.” (p. 360)

LOOKING AT OUR COUNTRY TODAY, I CAN’T HELP BUT AGREE. 

But then we spent a day and a night in Alabama, at Oak Mountain State Park, near Birmingham.

Lake Tranquility, with blooming maple

Can’t get more Southern than that. We rented a cabin.

You can just barely make out our cabin & car in the trees.

It came with our very own ducks on the doorstep.

Got any bread you’re not using?

We went for a hike. The winter woods were starkly beautiful.

Steep ridges!

The rocks were craggy.

Me trying to show how steep the drop is

The crags were rocky.

You get the idea.

And my soul was full. Because, as my song goes,

It’s another song about the South, y’all–

trying to sort my feelings out, once and for all.

How can someone feel so in and out of place?
That sweet, sunny South where I first saw the light,

if she’s my ol’ Mama, I’m a teenager in flight:

do I want to hug her neck, or slap her face?

I am a Southerner, even if I’m not. I get it. People love their culture. That Confederate statue, above? When you zero in on it, you see the soldiers’ suffering. You understand.

Notice the dead man at lower right. Not too glorious.

I hate the white supremacy the South stood for, and I hate that a lot of the South still stands for that. But I also know that our WHOLE COUNTRY stands for exactly the same–de facto. So I guess it’s my whole country I want to hug and slap at the same time.

 

 

 

Road Trip IX, Days 11-16, Tucson to Central Texas: Why Have I Never Heard Of This Park Before?

Disclaimer: some of the pictures from this stretch of our trip come from parks that are very well known indeed. Like Saguaro National Park, whose two sections frame Tucson. We love Saguaro, but we have fallen into a rut the last few times through, opting to ride our bikes around the wonderful 8-mile loop of the eastern chunk of park. This time, we went west.

Now THIS is winter desert. Right?

But that glorious sunshine didn’t greet us till the second day. What did? THIS. 

Really, Tucson? Really?!

There’s a reason I have no pictures of Tucson’s sweet downtown, as we were too busy avoiding frozen puddles and hunkering down in coffee shops to sightsee.

But when it came to snowy cactus, my camera couldn’t get enough.

Ocotillo…which ought to be blooming this time of year!

I really need to stop clicking and start hiking.

Okay, okay…one more!

Also on the west side is the Desert Museum, one of the best put-together set of exhibits we’ve ever come across to interpret the desert environment.

Really cool sculpture there, tracing the evolution of animal life from protozoan on up.

It happens to include a zoo, made up of animals rescued from injury or abandonment.

Like Cruz the puma, who gave us the death-stare from three feet away (behind glass).

The greater Tucson area also includes a good network of bike paths, but the section we rode was more about exercise and visiting with an old friend, so no photos there either. Ditto on the tacos.

After three days of civil, though, we were eager to revisit one our favorite and least-known parks: Chiricahua National Monument.

Hoodoos in my happy place!

We’re pretty sure the only people who know about this park in Arizona’s extreme southeast corner are friends of ours we’ve raved to, or birders. Birders know the Chiricahuas, because they rear up to 10,000 feet, create their own riparian system in the desert, and act like an oasis for bird species you’d otherwise have to go to Mexico to spot.

The Mate and I aren’t birders, or we wouldn’t have been there in February. We’re hikers. And once again, having arrived just after a snowstorm, I couldn’t stop taking pictures of big rocks in snow.

Enough of these to make giant mushroom soup.

Different flavor of mushroom?

The Mate above Echo Canyon

Me in The Grotto

Or just big rocks.

Can’t…stop…taking…pics!!

Camping was cold: 28 degrees.

With faithful Red Rover in the background

We’ve slept through colder, though, and it was so worth it to be there at sunset…

G’night…

…and under starlight, and sunrise (even though my fingers were too chilled for photos by then).

Next stop: Las Cruces, NM, a town we’ve driven past multiple times. This time we met a friend there and, unusually for us, stayed in an artsy inn.

VERY artsy.

We also hiked, twice, in a section of another park we’ve never bothered to notice: Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument.

Heading for Dripping Springs…which were actually dripping.

I kept thinking, “This is just as cool as the Pinnacles! Where has this park been all my life?” No condors, true, but…

This! (and the ruins of an old TB sanatorium. This place would heal me!)

There was also a cave, which came with intriguing stories from the 1700s about a murdered priest/hermit.

No disrespect, Father What-was-your-name.

Made of volcanic tuff…ancient, petrified ash.

Before heading out across the dismally flat and featureless West Texas plain, we hit one more park. Guadalupe Mountains National Park was first introduced to us via the mystery writer Nevada Barr, whose park ranger protagonist, Anna Pigeon, worked there in Barr’s first book. While hiking solo, I kept that book cover in mind: it featured a puma print. (Puma attacks have been in the news lately…)

But pretty soon the scenery seized hold of my attention.

Hey, wow–a madrona tree! Like a hello wave from the Pacific Northwest!

The Guadalupes are part of the same range as the hollowed-out mountain which we know as Carlsbad Caverns. They are an ancient reef of limestone, uplifted 6-8,000 feet and eroded from within by water.

You can see how much this stuff wants to be hollowed out.

I saw plenty of evidence of that geology on my speed-hike (racing sunset).

On the right: pure, smooth limestone–probably full of fossils. On the left, an aggregate of loose rock glued back together somehow. Oh, why aren’t I a geologist???

The real “prize” of that hike was this formation, Devil’s Hall:

Ever notice how the Devil gets all the cool stuff named after him?

But the whole hike was cool. We’ll definitely be back to the Guadalupes, hopefully to camp!

After spending the night in the town of Carlsbad, we put on our big-kid panties and headed out across West Texas.

Sighhhh.

Now THIS scenery we can all be forgiven for not knowing about.

While we’re on the topic, though, I’ll ask my annual Road Trip Question: does anyone have any special, little-known beauty spots of their own to tell about?

Road Trip IX, Day 6-10, LA to Tucson: Climate Change And Other Extremes

THIS was our gateway to sunny SoCal, on I-5 South just above LA:

Tejon Pass. The northbound highway was closed.

Once there, in the city where my mom was born & raised, where my grandparents & uncle are buried, we holed up for a few days with my dear college housemate & her husband, visiting with them as well as some of my cousins AND a dear almost-sister of the Mate’s, Rhonda.

I’ve been to LA more times than I can count, since childhood. Since I can no longer visit my grandparents, this time I chose to notice contrasts and extremes. For example…LA is this:

Looking south from Will Rogers State Park

and this.

The LA River, with trees full of garbage and the former belongings of homeless people, flooded out

It’s the 100 year-old avocado tree whose fruit my wonderful cousins gifted us with

We got a whole bag full! Thanks, guys!

and it’s the Woolsey Fire, which spared Rhonda’s house (and chickens–a miracle) but destroyed the art studio where she and her late husband Alisha made and kept all their creations (she’s a metal artist; Alisha did glass).

That slab is all that’s left of the 2-storey studio.

Part of one of Alisha’s pieces that survived the fire

If you think about it, that fire from last November–California’s largest ever–is itself a symbol of extremes. Too much drought mixed with too many people = misery. It burned nearly 100,000 acres and over 16,000 structures…including these, Rhonda’s neighbors across the road:

I’d seen it on TV. But it’s so different when it’s all around you.

I can only hope these folks can recover their lives. Their mailbox has a personal note to “George,” their mailman.

Leaving LA for what we call The Big Left Turn to cross the rest of the continent, we made our recreational stop in one of our favorite, accessible national parks, Joshua Tree. The first set of trails is only 8 miles (but a world away) from the interstate.

We are so lucky to be able to walk so safely into the desert like this. Think of all the people for whom the desert means danger.

Since I have so many pictures of rocks, this time I focused on flowers.

These pool little golden poppies are too cold to open!

There were a lot of them! Ah, blessed spring.

Isn’t this gorgeous? Anyone know what it is?

But what’s up with those dark clouds?

Ocotillo cactus blossoming

Hmmm. Getting colder by the minute.

Last little blob of sunshine…

By the time the Mate took this, snowflakes had begun to fall.

Hurry up, my legs are freezing.

Let’s get out of here! Dropping back down to I-10, we left the white stuff behind…

…until next morning, driving into Tucson. Seriously?!

Seriously.

I don’t know if this is just Climate Change, or Nature’s way of reminding me I need to include “Snow Falling On Saguaro” in my photo gallery. I saw that, all right, but unfortunately I didn’t capture it…’cause I was too cold and wet to take off my gloves.

Sun’s supposed to come out tomorrow. It would be nice to have something non-extreme to notice for a change.

 

 

Road Trip IX, Day 1-5: Making the Familiar Strange, from Lopez Island to Coast Redwoods to Oakland to Pinnacles National Monument

We can’t help it–but it isn’t all our fault that all our road trips begin by heading straight south to California. The Mate and I have too many loved ones in the Golden State, but Mother Nature sends us that way too. Only once have we dared heading straight east to Montana in February, and we were as lucky as we were stupid, that year.

Waiting for the ferry: “Get me out of this slush!”

Anyone who’s driven repeatedly over the same route knows it can be a challenge to find new things to focus on. Blogging simply ups the ante.

I have to admit, I completely punted at our first stop, Eugene. We were too glad to be off the road, too happy to see our dear friends, and too warm and dry to want to venture back out into the cold and damp to take any pictures. I got a little exercise walking around and around the ferry boat when we left, and that was it for the day.

But the next day, we were back in one of our favorite environments: the coastal redwoods of Prairie Creek State/National Park. On Valentine’s Day! Because it was too yucky to tent-camp (the only kind we do), we treated ourselves to one of the little, bare-bones cabins there.

I cooked dinner on that porch in the middle of a hailstorm!

That way we got both a hike AND a bike ride in the big trees. Now, I’ve taken a zillion pictures of redwoods. They’re each so unique, so irresistible! So this time, I tried to focus on other things, like the effects of weather. You always see those old, fallen giants…but we met a newfallen one!

TIMBERRRRRR!!!!!

When the sun did finally break through, it drew my lens even more than the trees did.

Aaaaaalelujahhhh….

But I still couldn’t resist this old beauty, just for itself:

Ready for my closeup

Next morning, we had the world’s best bike ride down the closed-off Drury Parkway: 13 miles all to ourselves, riding down the middle of the road, looking up at the gorgeous giants spanning every bit of space around us…

Wheeee!

Later that day, with our cousins in Oakland (when the sun finally came out!), I did my usual walk-through  of the Temescal neighborhood, but this time I focused on character. Literally. You know these signs, right?

Should go without saying, but, since apparently it doesn’t…

In Oakland, there are several of that type on each block. Then there’s the totally cool-looking Oakland International School (public), dedicated to immigrants.

More of this, please, America!

And out front, this enticing “golden box,” which, upon closer inspection, proved to be a tiny studio where they connect kids with people from all over the world to share stories.

And this

Next stop: Pinnacles National Park. Since we’ve been here before, I tried to make myself take pictures of things besides, well, the Pinnacles. Less obvious things.

Like…moss! Vertical moss.

Pretty sure I have a picture of The Mate in this trail-tunnel…so now it’s my turn.

Don’t know why tunnels are so fun, but they are.

What kind of pine tree IS that? I really should look it up. And look at that light on the rocks!

Whoa.

Okay, I probably have this exact same picture from 3 years ago. But he was probably wearing a T-shirt then!

Did I mention this is the High Peaks Trail?

Turns out there was a reason for the brightness of the light: contrast with the approaching black clouds.

Uh-oh.

And when they arrived, all that lovely sun went bye-bye, and we were suddenly being pummeled by hail.

Oh HAIL yes.

Then snow.

I feel ya, flowers! Hang in there!

At this point, I put on gloves and traded photography for swift walking. Time to get DOWN and get WARM. Are we in Southern California or what?

But despite–or perhaps because of?–the weather, I really enjoyed finding alternative foci for this entry…and hopefully you’ve enjoyed it with me. Happy February! See you down the road.

Return to Kiwiland, Part VI: Middle-Agers + 20Something = A Trip

When we spent a sabbatical year in New Zealand back in the ’90s, we spent it with Sons One and Two. On this most recent return, we invited Son Two to join us, and, being between jobs, he eagerly accepted. But for him, this trip wasn’t really a “return,” because on his first visit, he looked like this:

on the golden sands of Abel Tasman NP, 1997

He was four then. He remembers NOTHING. Clean slate. When we traveled around, we generally went from playground to playground.

Every little town had one–still does!

And when we hiked, we couldn’t go very far.

Back then I had to carry the boys over the swinging bridges–they didn’t like the bouncing.

Now, having grown up in the family Church of the Great Outdoors, Son Two knew he was up for a lot of hiking on this trip. Not the kind of thrill-adventure New Zealand’s become known for. (After all, Kiwis did invent bungee-jumping, or “bungy” as they spell it.) He likes to hike.

Even in the rain (on the Routeburn, one of NZ’s Great Walks)

But I think we were all relieved when he managed to peel off and enjoy some good 20something-style touring on his own. Not rafting, though we were all tempted…

Ooh! We would have done that. But this trip was for research, not adventure.

As it happens, our good friends Nancy and Graeme live near Queenstown, NZ’s crown jewel of adventure touring. Their house is right above the Shotover River, where jetboats filled with screaming tourists roar up and down throughout the day. But Son Two didn’t need to pay for a jetboat ride…because Graeme has his own! A true Kiwi.

They really were just a blur.

Son Two also rode the lift up above Q-town for a glimpse of the whole spectacle…

Lake Wakatipu in the background

and spent a late night on the town with Graeme, capturing a scene I missed by going sensibly to bed.

It’s high summer, so this is around 9 pm.

But his true millennial attributes came to life when he announced he wanted to bungee-jump. Since he was paying for it himself, we had nothing to say on the matter (Graeme did use to work for A.J.Hackett, the bungee-inventor himself, but no more–so no discounts, sorry).

Bungee bathroom

Yes, I have a video of the actual jump. But no–I didn’t want to upload it to YouTube just for the purposes of imbedding it in this blog. I’ll only go so far to violate my sons’ privacy. 🙂 These stills will have to do.

Kawarau Gorge Bridge, site of the World’s First Bungy Enterprise

Just in case you need some…

Ready for the plunge!

Good news: he didn’t break his neck. Nor barf (“chunder”) after his night out with Graeme. Phew.

After that, it was back to hiking.

Copland Track, west coast–another Great Walk

Hokitika Gorge, west coast. “Hm, good spot for bungee…”

Heaphy Track, west coast (up north). Notice he no longer needs to be carried over swinging bridges!

But up north, in Abel Tasman National Park, I think we finally impressed him.

This is the same beach he ran on in 1997!

Blue water and sun, in January? Yes please!

Maybe a little less sun for us oldsters.

Cleopatra’s Pool

Tramping around an inlet along the coastal track

Happy to embrace his Hiking Heritage

Giving our sore feet a rest after all that hiking (tramping), we did some paddling in Marlborough Sound (Totaranui).

The Mate, enjoying the lack of mosquitos.

Yeah, this’ll do.

That won the Official 20something Seal of Approval.

Pun intended

But when we got back to town, the lil’ tyke showed he can still enjoy a good playground.

in Motueka

Do I recommend middle-agers traveling with their 20somethings? If you have one like ours–absolutely. Would Son Two recommend to his cohorts traveling with their middle-aged parents? We can only hope.

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part 3: British Columbia’s Big Ol’ Vancouver Island

Having checked out some of its wee satellites (Quadra and Cortes), we turned our attention to Vancouver Island itself, a mothership so vast it’s hard to remember it’s an island. (Although I suppose one could say that about our continent as well, eh?)

With only two days before our ferry home, we didn’t have time to head all the way over to the wild West Coast–that trip will have to wait. Instead, we bumbled into the easiest possible gateway to gorgeous: Strathcona Provincial Park, just west of Campbell River.

Our goddaughter had described her “best bike ride ever” a couple of years ago, along the shores of Buttle Lake in the park. That’s talking our language! In scrutinizing the map, we discovered Strathcona Park Lodge. And since it was now raining more or less continuously and we were no longer interested in campgrounds, we crossed our fingers and gave the lodge a try.

They had one cabin free.

“Tent, shment.”

They also had 180 Canadian teenagers staying on the grounds…because Strathcona Park Lodge, it turns out, is an Outdoor Education Center–I mean, Centre. In their own words, they are “a self contained community of more than 20 buildings, 50 or more staff and hundreds of guests. The entire operation is powered by a micro-hydro system, which means we’re highly sensitive to energy conservation. We also treat our own water and heat some of it with passive solar technology.”

Yup–we’d found our peeps. Those 180 teenagers? Not only did they get whisked away to spend their days hiking in the rain and learning to kayak, they also returned at night to tuck into a dining-hall meal that truly shocked us in its boldness: curried eggplant and lamb, with samosas and yogurt! Can you imagine American teens eating that? Good for you, Strathcona! Good for you, Canada!

[If I were the kind of person who takes pictures of food…but I’m not, so you’ll just have to imagine it.]

The second night we cooked, using our camp stove out on the cabin’s front deck, with this view.

This will do.

Nights were awfully cozy.

“Tent, shment.”

Oh, and that bike ride? As beautiful as described, going on for miles and miles and miles. (I mean kilometers.) AND relatively flat. I did one section with the Mate, and another alone, stopping to take pictures.

Looking into the interior, where the mountains rise to 7,000 feet.

Their version of the dogwood…and, I THINK, BC’s provincial flower (too lazy to fact-check this)

Don’t think I’ve ever noticed maples changing color outside-in like this.

The hiking was no more jaw-dropping than a hike in our own Cascades–like I’ve said before, I’m completely spoiled. But I did encounter some FANTASTIC fungi.

These guys usually have red caps! Is this the Black Panther version?

Who needs maple leaves when you have this?

The rare British Columbian Boobshroom in full fruit

On our way back to the ferry in Sidney, we made a few stops to smaller provincial parks. This one, Elk Falls, was a favorite–right outside Campbell River.

Elk Falls, falling.

Must…cross…suspension bridge over ridiculously deep gorge!!!

There’s a reason for those high side fences.

Returning home to the San Juans, we received a sunset reminder not to feel sorry for our vacation coming to an end.

Home.

O Canada! We’ll be back. As soon as possible, eh?

Road Trip VIII, Days 39-42, Colorado Springs, Durango, Page, AZ: Big Rocks Rock. Don’t Ask Me Why.

WHY are giant rocks so irresistible???? I’ve been pondering this for three days now.

From these breathtaking, knife-edged monoliths casually lounging practically in our friends’ Colorado Springs backyard…

The Garden of the Gods is just a city park!

…to the gloriously tempting caprock ledges of Mesa Verde…

The Mate skirts the edge…

But I gotta go right to it!

…to the hopelessly delicious sandstone of Navajo Country…

Must…climb!

…I am in awe. There are these Rockies…

Pikes’s Peak at sunrise, from our friends’ window

Looking back toward Durango from atop Mesa Verde National Park

and then there are these, and what they do to me I’m still trying to understand.

Is it their smoothness? Their age? Their color? Their…? I give up.