Road Trip XI, Days 50-56: Nevada, California, Oregon, Washinghome State!

Almost…there: the tulip fields of Skagit Valley

Road Trip XI …by the numbers:
8 weeks.
10,000 miles (best guess).
26 states.
62 far-and-dear friends and family members.
14 national parks/monuments.
20 state parks.
6 post-season Tarheel men’s basketball games (5 victories + 1 almost!)
One of these was waiting for us in our pile of mail. Order yours at johnnytshirt.com 🙂

…and by the category:

Best hike: Custer State Park, South Dakota, Needles region

My kind of needles

Best bike ride: Colorado National Monument rim road 

Wheeeee!

(Honorable mention: Bizz Johnson trail in Susanville, CA …but it doesn’t win because it gave The Mate a flat tire)

The tunnels are part of its charm.

Best waterfall: Sioux Falls…even though conflicted feelings arose when I read about its blasted, quarried history

So it used to be MORE beautiful???

Best trees: California redwoods

I mean…c’mon. What’s going to beat a redwood?

Best wildflowers: Rogue River National Recreation Trail, near Merlin, Oregon

I didn’t even know larkspurs came in scarlet!

Mariposa Lily!!

Best wildlife: tie between javelinas in Arizona…

piggie!!!

…and [not pictured] wild burros spotted in Utah off I-70 (a first for us)

Best sunset: outside our Virginia motel on our loversary

When God says, “Happy anniversary, y’all!”

Best restaurant meal: sushi in Chapel Hill with my parents

Mom, in her natural habitat [not pictured: sushi]

Best home-cooked dinner: our friend Ben’s roast lamb with chimichurri 

Our friends Lynn & Ben in the Blue Ridge [not pictured: lamb w/ chimichurri]

Best gift from our hosts: kumquats/avocados/oranges from our Hollywood cousins’ trees

Best car snack ever! Thanks, Cuzzies!

Biggest detour: dropping south all the way to Las Vegas in order to avoid dangerous, truck-toppling winds

The sand-filled sky, seen from our motel room, blotting out the mountains [not pictured: 2 toppled semi trucks we passed on Rt. 395 when we finally escaped the winds]

Best silver lining: getting to hike & clamber in Red Rocks National Preservation Area (or whatever it’s called) just outside of Vegas, just before the winds hit

Some people like casinos. I prefer rocks.

additional bonus to silver lining: the desert in bloom!

Yucca? Should be called yumma!

Longest day’s drive: Moab to Las Vegas (460 miles)

good excuse for one more Canyonlands picture!

Scariest drive: crossing the Cascades on snowy lil’ Rt. 89 past Mt. Lassen in California

The cute lil’ motel we stayed in at Old Station, CA [not pictured: next morning’s snow; too busy helping The Mate watch for ice patches]]

And now for a couple of less-traditional categories.

Best basketball game: UNC vs. Duke in the national semifinal (81-77)

South Dakota Black Hills, I’ll always associate you with that game!

Best dog: Ramses in Olympia

Also best-DRESSED dog–thanks to Dia Tornatore for the photo & the hospitality!

And finally, the Grand Travel Blog Award for Best New Discovery goes to…Oregon’s Rogue River Trail!

I never could catch my breath on this hike–just too much beauty!

We’re already talking about how to get back there.

See what I mean?
Waterfall over the trail? Eh…time for a photo.
New favorite place, old favorite person

…but for now, oh my goodness–it’s good to be home, safe and sound and grateful as all get-out for this long, LONG getting-out. And now, as Wing’s World morphs back into its non-travel mode…thanks for traveling with me anyway!

Road Trip XI, Days 43-49: Red Rock Country–No Bugs, No Wind, No Rain…But No Reservation

What camping enthusiast wouldn’t enthuse to camp near this?

Meet Canyonlands National Park!

That’s exactly the problem, as The Mate and I began to learn a few years ago, and now, in the post-COVID travel boom, multiplied by ever more active Boomers actively booming around the same places we like, we’ve discovered a basic flaw with our mode of road trippin’: it doesn’t work any more.

But let me back up to where I left off a week ago. Knowing we were in for some dangerous winds, we veered south from the Black Hills and holed up in one of our favorite mountain towns, Estes Park, CO.

I took this photo entering town because I knew the Rockies would soon disappear in the winter storm. They did.

Estes Park is uber-cute, and probably a complete zoo in high season, which we vowed always to miss.

Riverwalk, with a lil’ snow still…but hardly any people. Score!

EP is so cool, it has its own elk herd!

I biked right past; they never stopped grazing.

While the trails of Rocky Mt. National Park (just up the road) remained inaccessible to folks without snowshoes, we were able to traipse up to my favorite Gem Lake with only a little bit of scary ice & blow-you-down wind.

a gem indeed

After two days in Estes–which included watching our beloved Carolina Tarheels come within inches and seconds of winning a national championship they were never supposed to be in the running for, taking the game down to the wire and giving it their full hearts and ankles (so proud of those guys, can you tell?)–we decided to move our trip a little further on, while still waiting one more day for the winds to abate before crossing the Rockies.

Luckily for us, we have friends in Denver (one of whom had just returned from watching the Final Four in New Orleans!). They invited us to stay. We enjoyed them nearly as much as we enjoyed their charismatic dogs.

Meet Sherlock.

Thursday, when it finally felt safe, we joined the semis crossing the 11,000-foot pass on I-70, marveling as ever at the peaks and wishing that downhill skiing had less of an impact on them. [Not pictured: marvelous Rocky peaks]

After dropping down, down, down, down, we aimed for Colorado National Monument, a gorgeous hunk of sculpted rock erupting above the town of Grand Junction. Knowing we had no reservation for a campsite, I kept my fingers crossed: Please let there be one! Please let there be one!

There was.

We got lucky that time–thanks to having a tent, not an RV, and arriving on a Thursday, and, oh yeah–it’s the Colorado National Monument, NOT National Park. Huge difference.

Still completely stunning–especially riding the Rim Road, which goes right along this cliff. I adore cliffs.

It’s always hard to stop taking pictures of rock formations; bear with me.

They call these “The Coke Ovens.”

Of course you can’t put railings around an entire canyon, but this particular railing seemed designed just for me…because OF COURSE all I wanted to do was crawl out onto that ledge, a.k.a. that flat-topped, nearly free-standing pillar of red stone.

Did I mention that I love cliffs? It’s not an entirely healthy affection, I’m afraid.

After a happy camping night–first time since early March that we’ve been able to camp on this trip!–we continued on down toward the town of Moab. Again: no reservations, so we had no hope of camping in either Arches or Canyonlands N.P. BUT we knew there were several BLM campgrounds strung along the Colorado River, which operate on a first-come, first-served basis. It was Friday; we didn’t love our chances. But once more…

SCORE!!!

We got the very last one, at 10:45 in the morning. (Then we spent the afternoon & evening hours watching disappointed would-be campers like ourselves drive by, turn around, and move sadly on. We felt for them; we were them. There are so many of us now!) [Not pictured: dust from cars of disappointed would-be campers.]

Because who doesn’t want to cuddle up to this???

Since we only had a half-day to recreate, we opted for Moab’s famous bike trails, saving the hiking for next day.

I imagine this is what the Ten Commandments would have looked like had God given Thirty instead of Ten.

We celebrated our special spot that night by sharing an enormous microbrew from the Black Hills.

First come, first served all right!

We could have opted to stay another night. One of the curses of the BLM system is also its blessing: once you’ve pitched your tent, you can stay up to two weeks, $20/night or $10 for seniors with passes. (Two more years till I get mine!) No wonder there are never any spots during high season.

By “high season” I mean spring. June-August, this place is WAY too hot.

But the winds were picking up again, and we wanted wifi & showers (BLM sites are pit-toilet only, and BYO water). So we reserved ourselves a basic cabin in town, and took ourselves to Canyonlands–the 30-miles-distant part, not the 85-miles-distant; Canyonlands is VERY spread out!–for a day of hiking.

Because there are too many types of rock to choose from, we opted for several shorter hikes. First up: Aztez Mesa. Yep–right up to the tippy-top…

…looks easy-peasy from here…

I love cliffs, remember? And ledges? Turns out I DON’T love ledges that look like they could crumble beneath your feet. This trail sent me scrambling to the left.

Seriously??!!

Next up: smooth red slickrock.

They call this one The Whale.

How many blowholes does a whale need? And shouldn’t they be up top?

From the up-close to the faraway, this view of the Green River’s work, etching itself through layers of time:

Same theme, different view:

Totally happy to stand on that cliff! (Just don’t ask me to CLIMB it. I’m unhealthy, not completely nuts.)

One last look…just not quite believing it’s real:

The Mate would not hear of me hopping onto those flat, tempting red tower-tops. Can’t blame him; I actually don’t care to look at OTHER people on cliffs, even while I enjoy being there myself. Weird.

And just to throw one other rock formation into the mix, here’s Upheaval Dome, a mysterious , rainbow-colored pile inside a crater that geologists are still arguing over.

Slow uprising, or meteor crater? I like the latter hypothesis. Wish the colors had come out better; some of that sand is actually GREEN. Much of it, we learned, is salt.

Need a break from all the red rock? How about some red Paintbrush?

Go guys, go–you can do it!

We left Moab feeling both grateful and a bit deflated. Now we know that, if we want to nestle into that amazing habitat anywhere closer than a commercial room, we’re going to have to do the P-word: PLAN. Plan WAY ahead, like 6 months at least. One of the best parts of our road-trippin’ is its haphazardness, but that luxury seems to be evaporating.

But we found a silver lining.

Next morning, hopping back onto Interstate 70 West, The Mate & I were treated to three and a half hours of almost nonstop geological wonder. Starting with…

Wait–who put THESE here?

We kept turning to each other in confusion: Hold on. Have we not driven this stretch before? Wouldn’t we remember this if we had?

Yes. Yes we would.

The above photo I took at a viewpoint, where we parked. All the following, I simply snapped as we drove past.

Not a park. Just a bunch of roadside rocks.

The colors changed with every curve or hill.

Raspberry mint? What would you call this?

I think we saw every color except blue. Even black got into the mix.

Not my fault the black rock was on The Mate’s side! So yep, that’s his schnozz.

The colors and formations simply Did. Not. Stop…till eventually we bumped into I-15, and that, my friends, is where I-70 ends (after starting in Baltimore; we looked it up).

Mint raspberry? Give yourself a hand, I-70. I’m sorry I ever dissed you as boring!

So my takeaway from the past week is this: if you find yourself one of those disappointed, non-planning-ahead would-be campers…don’t whine; find your blessings where you can. Take a hike, and then go drive the interstate! #silverlinings #redrocks #istilladorecliffs

Road Trip XI, Days 37-42: Dancing Madly Across the Midwest, Or, Team o’ Destiny, Now with Extra Scenery!

In case it has, ahem, escaped your attention, last week (March 29) marked the 40th anniversary of the Carolina Tarheels’ first national championship, in 1982. That date matters quite a bit to The Mate, and even more to me, because that’s the day Michael Jordan baptized me into Tarheel fandom with what’s known as “The Shot.”

The rest is history. (Photo courtesy NCAA.com)

Up till then I had been more of a Duke fan if anything, but being back in Chapel Hill, on spring break from college, when The Shot fell–that was total immersion. I’ve never lapsed.

Fast-forward 40 years and six days, and guess what: our team is once more playing for the national title…in the same exact city where MJ helped them win in 1982.

Now, in case you’re someone for whom college sports means little or nothing, I’ll just briefly refer to a certain rivalry game that occurred last night, where a certain 42-years-tenured coach of a certain rival school to UNC ended his career–or rather, had it ended–by those selfsame Tarheels. Not sure if I speak for all Carolina fans, but truly, for me, if “we” lose tomorrow, I won’t care so much, because “we” already beat Duke twice on the most blaringly national stage possible.

But I’m still looking forward to one more day of sports babble, one more evening of texting far-flung fellow fans while alternately cheering and doing calisthenics for extra mojo.

We’ve even taught some of our friends this trick. Pushups work best!

Amidst the madness, however, Road Trip XI continues! We left Milwaukee last Tuesday, and spent two cold & dank but otherwise VERY happy days at the home of old friends with lots of dogs and cats. The Mate & I managed one uncomfortably windy ride along the Mississippi, and then relaxed with critters and pie.

UNC pie!

Leaving the frozen north for the slightly-less-frozen latitude of I-90, we crossed into South Dakota and chose Sioux Falls for a recreation stop. It was too windy to ride, so we decided on a walk–till our first glimpse of the falls stopped us in our tracks.

Seriously??? How have I gone so long without knowing about this place?

The more you explore, the more waterfalls you find.

RiDICulously intricate: like a flattened, pinkish Rivendell

However, when I stopped to read the signage, my awe changed to sorrow. Turns out that incredible sight is actually a remnant, blasted and quarried to a shadow of its former self. A view from the observation tower provided the gritty perspective of the whole scene, surrounded by the ugliness of industry.

“But can I blame those white folks from 140 years ago?” I thought. “They were so excited about electricity. How are they any different from me, driving across the country using fossil fuel even when I know better too?”

We drove on, sobered by these thoughts despite the thrill of that beautiful pink water garden. Crossing the Missouri River, I glimpsed yucca plants, and decided: It’s official–we’re back in the west!

Missouri + yucca = West!

But from there, the land got REAL western. As in bad. As in Badlands.

RAVie posing for her car commercial

We’d driven through the Badlands decades ago, in the summer. This time, entering under rainy skies, we made a startling discovery: those jaw-dropping crags aren’t made of natural cement, as they appear. They’re made of MUD.

This kind of mud.

So every drop of rain simply reduces each elegant, striated mountain into, eventually, something like this:

I’m mellllting!

Trying to hike across this stuff was like trying to hike on oiled ice. I’ve never felt any substance so slick. The Mate & I managed a couple of miles, hiking as much sideways as forward, trying to stay on grasses…

…with limited success…

Somehow it never looks like this in those Westerns!

…but eventually we gave up and tried a shorter, drier trail. This one featured some fun obstacles, like

Yikes. Even more so coming down.

…but also some amazing color.

What’s so bad about this?

Speaking of color, just a glimpse at the Yellow Mounds on our way out:

Makes me want to eat a popsicle

Seriously, this park is one of the most accessible in the country: just a stone’s throw off the interstate, and entirely driveable.

But on foot–so much the better!

And oh yeah, it comes with bighorn sheep.

I did not photograph what happened next.

We finished up that day by driving into South Dakota’s Black Hills. Since we knew nothing about this area, I booked a motel with full kitchen for three days so we could explore. And oh my goodness, did we ever.

We started with the George Mickleson Trail, a state-run, 109-mile rail-trail that winds through some of the most amazing scenery any bike trail gets to boast of.

Yeah.

Unfortunately, the snow patches kept increasing in size as we rode, making me nervous. Liza’s tires did great, but she’s no mountain bike, and I really didn’t want to fall. So we called it quits after 90 minutes of so, but 100% we’ll be back in a warmer season if we’re ever able.

Although leafy aspens can’t be any prettier than this, can they?

The Black Hills are most famous for Mt. Rushmore, but we didn’t care to visit. That’s just no way to treat a mountain, in my opinion. We did glimpse the Crazy Horse work-in-progress from a ways off…

a LONG ways off!

…but didn’t opt for the tour. I do feel better about that monument, since a Lakota leader commissioned it, but still…I prefer my mountains whole, thank you. Which is why I fell deeply in love with nearby Custer State Park.

If only it weren’t named after a war criminal! But that’s not the mountains’ fault.

Sylvan Lake is dammed, but that’s not its fault either.

The dam itself is breathtaking to walk out onto. But…where does the trail go?

Oh. Gonna need a sharper set of hiking poles.

Heading out of the park, I snapped a shot of the single-car “tunnel” which gives some indication of the ultra-mountainy road up to the park. And lo and behold, what does that dashcam shot show but…

…our Tarheels, journeying with us through all the mountain beauty.

So…go mountains. Go Heels. Go tradition, and marriage, and teamwork, and the Church of the Great Outdoors.

But Monday night, in New Orleans? Especially, Go Heels!!!!!

Road Trip XI, Days 31-36: Taking Time to Smell the…uhh…Skunk Cabbage? (NY-PA- OH-IN-WI)

The Mate and I are NOT good at slowing down. Hunkering down, chowing down, gettin’ down–yes. But slowing down, once in road trip mode? Our past m.o. has always been to pack the car to perfection and then, GO. Stop for recreation (and some stretching & peeing & gas-buying), but otherwise, spend the day getting to the next stop.

This trip is different. Since we’ve assigned ourselves a whole extra two weeks, and we’re trying to mesh our visits with the schedules of other people, sometimes we actually need to be less in a hurry. As in the past several days.

We left our cousins’ farm in Vermont at a leisurely 9 a.m., and chose to backtrack south a bit for the I-80 route across Pennsylvania, rather than taking the shorter I-90 across NY. Weather in PA looked better, so I chose us a promising rail-trail, and…Whoops.

[Not pictured: rail trail in White Haven, closed in both directions]

Instead we ended up biking here, in Lewiston PA, where the farms were so classical…

Even down to the barn color!

…I wasn’t surprised to see a couple of Amish buggies trot past on nearby lanes. (I didn’t care to take their pictures without permission.) Fun fact I discovered: Bucknell U. is in Lewiston.

Next day, again–no hurry. We forced ourselves to sleep in, putting sleep in the “sleep bank” for the upcoming, VERY late-scheduled Tarheel game. Our rec stop was Cook Forest State Park, in western PA, which promised a stand of old-growth conifers–something I’ve NEVER seen east of the Mississippi.

Cook Forest delivered.

Big trees AND big rocks!

The largest of the hemlocks and pines were 48 ” across–hardly redwood-sized, but still big enough to be hard to capture in a frame. So I settled for this fallen one…

R.I.P., big girl

…and more rocks!

Where’s a small child when you need one to climb with?

The park even had sweet little cabins (seasonally closed, unfortunately), with an adorable swinging bridge.

view from said bridge
Even the trees seemed to be enjoying some ease.

An additional note of poignance amid all the stately forested beauty: the blaze of the main trail happened to be the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

As if our hearts weren’t already there…

So after our hike, we returned to our car, and CNN, feeling a mixture of extra blessing, but also helpless heartbreak.

We spent that night in Ohio, by the Sandusky River. (All these were motel nights; with rain/snow threatening every day no one felt like camping.) Next day we FINALLY passed back into Central Time, and discovered a place we’ve probably driven past a dozen times on previous trips: the Indiana Dunes.

Well hello, Lake Michigan!

A federal and a state park lie adjacent there. We opted for the federal by default, but later decided the state one, which was older, actually offered more. The Bog Trail on the federal side didn’t, in March, actually show off much of its purported diversity…

…although I’m a huge cypress fan: love all those knobby knees of theirs!

…but I was treated to some fresh new skunk cabbage emerging for spring.

Ahhh, the scent of…hmm, never mind.

But it’s not the bog’s fault I was there in a wintry season. What really attracted me were the oak-covered dunes, with trails silky-soft to tread.

How can these trees grow on…
…THIS?

In the state park’s trails, the back-and-forth between sand and vegetation was even starker:

I think the sand’s winning this one.

But even so–kudos to those oaks!

Let’s face it–this east coast girl does miss oaks.

That night, hunkered down (remember, we’re good at that) near Gary, Indiana, The Mate & I splurged for once on pizza

Chicago-style, of course (don’t anyone tell Jon Stewart!)

in order to properly celebrate what might be the Tarheels’ final game of the season.

But it wasn’t. All our mojo worked, and the Heels advanced to the Elite Eight. Then The Mate & I gratefully collapsed, around midnight. (We are NOT used to being in eastern time zones during these games!)

When our plans to meet up with family in Chicago fell through, we had hopes of returning to the Dunes next morning before the short drive to Milwaukee to see friends. But it was snowing sideways, so–know what? Let’s just drive. And get some pho. And see a movie. OKAY to slow down, remember?

Milwaukee greeted us with a cold snap, at least for us Northwest wimps: a high of 30 with a vicious lake wind.

Our friends were like, “Cold?! Heheheh. You guys.”

We got a great tour of the lakefront…

…complete with bike path for later!

…and UW Milwaukee, where our friend works.

The mascot: “Pounce” the Panther

My German heritage instantly bonded with the offerings at the public market…

Only the best wurst!

…but after our tour, we were happy to cuddle up with our friends’ dogs.

Note: I’m generally NOT a small-dog fan, but I make exceptions for Morton (a.k.a. Mo the Vicious) and Delilah.

You notice my shirts, right? With Carolina vying for a place in the Final Four, and with the mercury dropping back down to 20, I wore BOTH my UNC shirts (as well as my lucky earrings) to watch the game.

It worked. GO HEELS! Bring on Dook!

Here’s what Mo thinks of Coach K.

Next up: Minneapolis, and then…westward! Slowly! Turns out there’s something to this smell-the-roses-type travel after all.

Road Trip XI, Days 22-26, NC to VA to WV to MD to PA: M is for More Mountains–Mmmmmmm

On the 3-week anniversary of this Extra-Strength-Making-Up-For-2021-Road Trip, we left my folks’ farm and headed west. Well duh, you might think–turning for home means west, right? Yest, but no. We were simply heading back to the Blue Ridge, and friends we’d missed on our first visit the week prior.

Mountains + Friends = Happiness

THEN we turned north, which is why I’m writing this from Allentown, Pennsylvania, two days and several states away from where we started yesterday. (We spent literally 10 minutes crossing Maryland–the suuuuper skinny part that probably involves some interesting history that I need to look up.)

Our goal is Vermont, and cousins, and a donkey almost as cute as Stevie (World’s Cutest). But since we were gifted with both time and good weather…

Hiking just above the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville

…back we went.

(Actually, about that weather? It did catch up with us one day, when The Mate and I were preparing to ride our bikes in the rain just for the sake of riding on a closed section of the Parkway. But we got up there only to find ourselves enveloped in a cloud so thick it made driving dangerous, let alone biking. Ah well.)

[Not pictured: us not riding in the rain on the socked-in Blue Ridge Parkway.]

Saying farewell to our friends, we headed north into Virginia, and stopped to ride the New River State Park Trail.

I mean, how could we not? It was a GORGEOUS day.

Have I mentioned how much I adore rural rail-trails?

And the crushed gravel was so soft it barely made a sound.

It was really hard to turn around, but the trail is 57 miles long, so…

OK, OK. Riding on now…Bye, New River!

With a Tarheels game to watch and a special St. Patrick’s Day love-anniversary to celebrate, we opted for a generic motel with a kitchen that night in rural Virginia near Shenandoah National Park…but were still rewarded with another spectacular Motel Sunset.

Why thank you!

Next morning, we took advantage of the mountains’ proximity–the reason we’d chosen this route–to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail heading into Shenandoah NP.

Quite some distance from the last AT sign picture I took!

It started off intriguingly enough…

Hey, only 965 miles to Georgia!

…but ended up being pretty, y’know…meh, at least for a National Park. This creek was the main highlight:

Pretty…but not much different from my folks’ woods, really.

Lesson learned; next time we’ll actually drive INTO Shenandoah NP and be more intentional about choosing a trail. But it was still a lovely walk. And just when we turned around, saying to each other, Really? This is it? we noticed these:

Why thank you again!

So there ya go: this is why I always choose mountains. Even when the trail isn’t spectacular, it always finds some kind of gift to give. And as we head north tomorrow, through New Jersey, up into New York and over to Vermont’s Green Mountains, I’ll be looking for even more of those gifts to accept. With gratitude.

Road Trip XI, Days 11-16: What Woods These Are I Definitely Know, Or, What Really Makes an Easterner

Greetings from Durham, NC, my hometown. I’m actually writing this from the living room of the farmhouse I grew up in, and where both my parents still live. I know. I’m beyond lucky, for a person of any age–and I’m 60!

The Mate and I have been pinching ourselves as we crossed this enormous country/continent west-east, waiting for the usual weather trap…but so far, none has sprung! No ice storms, tornadoes, swirling dust, nor blizzards. Not so much as a thunderclap. Yet. We still have a long trip to go. But for now, I’m free to write about stuff you can notice when your nose isn’t buried in a weather app.

Like forests, which I can see very clearly, thank you, even while seeing the trees. Last week we had the pleasure of camping in eastern Arkansas…oh, wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. First we stopped in Little Rock to ride our bikes along the Arkansas River, which is famous there for its

This being the south, ya gotta add those quotation marks.

I thought I saw swans on the river, masses of them–only to realize, those are pelicans! In Arkansas! Go figure.

Maybe seabirds enjoy an inland vacation once in a while?

At the end of a long day’s drive, we camped in a state park that’s notable mostly for its location alongside part of the Trail of Tears. We got there late enough in the day that I only had time for an hour’s walk before dinner, and what I noticed was–I could be home in NC! The woods looked exactly the same.

Sun setting on maples, oaks, tulip poplar…and The Mate

Even though we still had the Mississippi to cross, not to mention the entire length of Tennessee and the Blue Ridge, these woods felt like home to me. Which of course brought up the decades-old debate between North Carolinian me and my Californian Mate: Are deciduous woods beautiful in winter?

My answer: 100% Even without the garnish of rhododendron, leafless winter woods are, to me, maybe even more striking than green leafy woods. They’re showing you the bone structure of the land!

My Western Mate, and both our Western sons, always insist the winter woods of the east look “dead” to them. I mutter, “Huh,” raise my chin, and feel sorry for them.

Running out of time for a second night of camping, we opted for a motel right outside Smokey Mountain National Park (taking pains to avoid the shudder-inducing town of Pigeon Forge/Dollywood). One more quick walk before dark yielded a swinging bridge over the Little River…

…but unfortunately, all the river banks are locked up in private property, so no beautiful hikes there.

Next day we got to drive through the park, up and over the Appalachian Trail…

I know–how could we pass up “Sweat Heifer”? But we had friends waiting to hike with us in Asheville. And Mt. Katahdin was a little too far.

…and into North Carolina! Asheville is very hip these days, so we were happy just to stick with our friends at their house & eat homemade food. But I did snap this sunrise photo of the city waking up behind Beaucatcher Mountain:

Sure can’t blame all those folks who want to live there! (And maybe you can go home again. #TomWolfeReference)

I mean–what’s not to love about those trees? “Dead”? C’mon, people!

Our last stop in the mountains, before making our way back to the good ol’ Piedmont, was the tiny community of Celo (pronounced See-low), in the South Toe River Valley.

South Toe River at your service

Wayyyyy back in 1981, after two years at Harvard, I decided I needed a break from urban college life. It wasn’t so much the stress that weighed on me, but the lack of purpose. What was this all for? Being privileged enough to be able to take a semester off without working for money, I was steered by a mentor to sign on as an intern at a tiny junior high school serving both day and boarding students: Arthur Morgan School. AMS still exists–look it up here!

Quakers Crossing!

AMS isn’t officially Quaker, but I believe it’s actually more Quakerly in practice than many so-called Quaker prep schools. The kids do all the chores and the cooking, start each day with 30 minutes of singing folks songs, go on weeklong backpacking trips and 3-week field trips. In fact, they were off field-tripping when we got there, leaving us free to tour the campus I worked at 40 years ago. I didn’t feel like taking pictures of buildings, but I did capture the mountains behind the community soccer field.

There’s a school in there somewhere.

(But can we talk about how those trees grace the ridgeline like grey velvet? Can we?)

Without going into detail, I need to say that my time at AMS changed my life…by redirecting it. Two years in Cambridge had been swerving me toward a “sophisticated” ethic of city fashion and fierce academic competition. SO not me. AMS and Celo reminded me of who I really was: a country girl. A girl hopelessly in love with mountains and the trees that grace them.

Those creeks! So clear and pure! When, in 1990, I abandoned the Southeast to become a Pacific Northwesterner, I swear I recognized that Blue Ridge Mountain purity in the waters of the PNW.

The creeks (or “cricks” or “branches”) in the Piedmont are pretty sluggish & muddy. But mountain waters…

Also–swinging bridges are a thing in the Blue Ridge–or used to be. In 1982 I used to cross one regularly, with two more down the road. In 2022, I could only find this one:

Oh well. (But the trees are still pretty.)

Something else I forgot about those mountain folks: their driveways can be STEEP. (That’s neither here nor there, but I couldn’t resist a picture.)

Seriously? In snow & ice?

Oh, and a quick plug: if you’re looking for a sweet and healthy vacay or staycay, you can’t do better than the Celo Inn.

You’re welcome!

My time at AMS was short, only half a school year, and I’m still not sure why I pushed myself to return to Cambridge so quickly. But in those six months I learned guitar, strengthened my singing voice (30 minutes of Morning Sing for 6 months!), re-connected with my true nature, and The Boyfriend Who Became The Mate & I acquired lifelong friends who still host us to share memories, and waffles.

Waffles With Ward (not pictured: Ward)

Our friends Herbie & Marnie have a sign above their door that sums up Celo best:

Amen.

Do the bare eastern woods embody the “imperfect life”? Or do they simply remind me that woods are the whole package–trunks and moss and rocks and streams and whatever else is to be noticed–not just green trees. That’s what I go to bat for when I insist on the beauty of my dear eastern forests in the not-green time. Who’s with me?

Road Trip XI, Days 1-5: From Mossyland to Pricklyland, or, WA-OR-CA-AZ

We didn’t plan it that way, honest—but we picked a good time to hightail it south. Heading out from the Anacortes ferry terminal, we were surprised by snow.

But by the time we got to our friends’ home in Eugene, spring was already peeking out here and there.

Can I just take a moment to appreciate Eugene, Oregon? It was my gateway to the Pacific Northwest, way back in 1980, when The Boyfriend and I visited to watch the Olympic track trials. (We ran around town pretending we were American distance record-holders Frank Shorter and Mary Decker.) Since then I’ve grown accustomed to those magnificent, towering evergreens that embody the state of Washington. But one thing we don’t have are those irresistibly Middle-Earthy oak trees that, to me, define western Oregon.

And when the sun shines on the ferns and moss…oooh!

Because we’ve had bad experiences with icy passes on I-5 in southern Oregon, we opted to cut straight over to the coast at Florence. It was hard to bypass all those gorgeous hiking or picnicking spots, but we were on a bit of a schedule, so I had to make do with photos from the car. Oh, Highway 101, you are a temptress!

It’s called Humbug Mountain, and I really want to go back to it! Humbug.

Even though we might have chosen a brand-new trail, for a reliable 90-minute fast hike before dark, we returned like faithful spouses to our forever-favorite, the redwoods of Prairie Creek.

I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful sunny day. Almost all my redwoods photos feature moisture! So I had to add to my collection.

Insert your own caption here 🙂
OK, that’s enough! (note: Never enough redwood pics!)

It was, however, heading toward darkness and cold by the time we finished our hike, and we were eager to set ourselves up for a shorter drive next day, so we opted for a motel in Arcata—a town that feels like it’s struggling economically. Hang in there, Arcata.

In Oakland we got to spend the night with our cuzzies AND Son Two—bonus. Not pictured: yummy meal, youthful joy, domestic bliss, etc., etc.

For Day 4, still time-bound, we had to sacrifice our beloved Highway 101 for the delights of I-5 through the San Joaquin Valley. At least the almond trees were in bloom. In summer, this route is one of the few unattractive stretches of I-5.

Wish I could smell ’em! Grow, little almonds, grow!

Traffic into the city we’d sworn never to drive into was actually easy-peasy, as though LA were just playing with us. It was also sunny and 62–freezing cold for Angelenos, delightful for us—so we enjoyed a hike in Runyon Canyon before heading over to our other cousins (my side of the fam) for dinner.

These are the cousins whose generosity and 100 year-old avocado tree are responsible for the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados, which I’ve blogged about in past years. Nor did they disappoint in 2022. Not only did they have a sack of avos ready, in staggered stages of ripeness!!—my cousin Susi introduced me to her kumquat tree.

Whaaaaaat!!!?!

I’d never eaten a kumquat. But I made up for many years of kumquatlessness in a few minutes.

Not pictured: my mouth stuffed with those tart-sweet-bitter-zingy little Fruits of Amazingness

After spending the night at the home of another set of “far and dear” friends, we made the Big Left Turn and headed into the desert. Joshua Tree’s Cottonwood Campground was full…

…but freshly green!

…but we treated ourselves to a hike on one of our favorite (and most accessible) trails.

Our California friends reported a cold winter, and the desert seemed to agree: I saw almost nothing blooming.

Just this one ocotillo

Of course, ocotillos are pretty scenic even when not blooming.

There’s a reason “cactus-hugger” isn’t a phrase, even for folks who love cacti.

As I write this, The Mate and I have introduced our avocados to Buckeye, Arizona, in an overpriced motel on the outskirts of Phoenix. 

More where this came from!

It’s not exactly a destination city, but we crossed a lot of desert today, and staying here puts us that much closer to our happiest of happy places: Chiricahua National Monument. Coming soon to a travel blog near you!

Road Trip XI: Aaaaand….We’re Back. On the Road.

For Christmas 2020, in a fit of stubborn hope, I bought this for The Mate:

Oh, the places you’ll (probably not) go!

It never made it off the shelf.

But this month, February 2022, thanks to vaccines and good practices and wonderful people, we are heading back onto the road for Road Trip XI. The apex is, as always, my childhood home of North Carolina, a.k.a. Home of the Tarheels, Place Where The Mate & I Met & Became Mates.

This year, making up for 2021 (as well as 2020, when we came rushing home at the start of the pandemic), we’re giving ourselves a full TWO MONTHS. Red Rover is officially retired (she’s Son One’s island vehicle now), so this is our new ride:

Meet RAVie! (Toyota RAV4 Hybrid)

Our route there is only semi-set; our route home is completely open. Our plan is, as usual, to include as much camping, hiking, biking, and exploration as time, weather and health allow.

So meet my OTHER new ride: Liza! (Specialized VADO E-bike) About to lose her new-bike shine.

Here is who is NOT coming along for the ride: Maya the ‘Mute (a.k.a. Beastie).

Shhh. I haven’t told her yet. She LOVES car rides. 😦

Meanwhile, Lopez (Our Fair Isle) is making it hard to leave, throwing out sunsets like this beauty the other night:

Why are we leaving again? Oh right…

So, as Wing’s World goes back into regular Travel Blog Mode, you’ll be hearing from me every few days as I let you know how much our “plans” stacked up to Road Trip Reality. Be well, everyone–see you out there!

Road Trip Retro, 2018: Giving Those Noticing Muscles a Good Workout

As March draws to a close, this will be my last Road Trip Retro post for now–and hopefully, ever! This is the time of year when, in “normal” years, we’d have just gotten settled back into the home routine: me working at the bakery, The Mate clearing fallen branches around the property and getting the lawn mower in shape.

It’s not a “normal” year. But things are turning that way, even though I’ll never think of “normal” again. (The other day I went into a friend’s house for the first time in 14 months and felt like crying with joy.)

So let’s finish up with Road Trip VIII, shall we? That year, three years ago, I became aware that we had fallen into a pattern with our first couple of road weeks. So I determined to NOTICE stuff that I might have bypassed before. Starting with this amazing “We Can Do It!”” cloud in Tacoma.

Seemed like a good omen.

Passing out of Oregon into California on Rt. 199 (a fave), I captured this sign which we’ve always enjoyed:

Who doesn’t love some good sweet cron on a summer day?

Visiting our favorite Prairie Creek redwoods, I decided to highlight the less obvious parts of the forest.

“Don’t take my picture! I’m shy.”
Redwoods, shmedwoods. Look at me!

Visiting our wee cuzzies in Oakland, I tried to capture the sense of their neighborhood…

…and just up the road in Berkeley, this wonderful memorial to the Free Speech movement:

Dora, my bike, enjoying a lil’ break

Next up, SoCal. With our sons long graduated from college and my grandmother long since passed away, we visited a more obscure bit of coast, just the two of us…

Monaña de Oro State Park

…before heading into LA for the usual family & friends visits. Then, the Big Left Turn, and off into Arizona, where, for once, we rented a cabin near our favorite park-nobody-seems-to-have-heard-of, the Chiricahua National Monument.

2 years later, we came right back here and were treated to javelinas in our front yard!
I adore this place. Sunrise on sycamores is just frosting on the cake.
OK, I know- -I’m getting away from my “noticing the little things” theme…

In Albuquerque, I captured a piece of a “ho-hum hike” at the base of the Sandia range, right there in town…

New Mexicans are a little spoiled. But as a Washingtonian, I can relate.

…and finally remembered to give their spectacular cuisine its photographic due:

Green chile, blue corn…need I say more?

Speaking of noticing: we also finally decided to let Oklahoma show us its best stuff. Frequently terrible weather (blizzards, tornadoes) keeps us from crossing OK, but in 2018 we stayed in TWO different state park cabins, at either end of the state.

Boiling Springs State Park

Nothing breathtaking, but very pleasant (too cold for us to camp). And I got to see this porcupine asleep high in a cottonwood!

Yay for noticing muscles.

The eastern park, Lake o’ the Cherokees, featured 1930s-era cabins made by the WPA.

The lake itself…bleah. But awesome cabins!

Passing through Missouri (another rarity on our eastbound journeys), we stopped to recreate in some federal scenic river land. The name escapes me–but this beaver didn’t!

Well, HEY, cutie!

Cutting down through Tennessee, we treated ourselves to a date in Nashville.

Pause for a moment here to send lots of love to poor ol’ Nashville.

With our friends in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, I tried to focus more on the background of the place–its rhododendron thickets…

(with Mate in foreground)

…though who can resist a mountain sunrise?

No muscles required here.

At the apex of our journey–my home stompin’ grounds of Durham and Chapel Hill, NC–I focused my camera on some of my personal NC icons:

Mom in her pickup (hauling horse trailer)
…my parents’ shoe collection (part of it)…
…Mom’s loom (the smaller one)–here w/ Son Two, aka Grandson Two…
Chapel Hill’s Tarheel fire truck (Go Heeeeeeeeeeeeels!)

…and, of course, the culmination of every annual NC pilgrimage, the ACC Men’s Basketball feast:

Allen & Sons BBQ, slaw, hushpuppies & fried okra. Again–no noticing muscles needed here. Dare you NOT to notice.

Heading north this time, we made a straight shot to our other cousins, in southern Vermont, where all the little things I might have noticed were immediately blanketed by snow.

Sorry, Red Rover! Be right there.
I felt OK sharing this photo because everyone’s so hidden under their hats. Whee!

Heading home through Kentucky: isn’t this the best bike path bridge ever?

Louisville Loop

Stopping for a bike ride in Topeka, KS, we pretty much stumbled onto this historic site: the school where Brown v. Board of Education began.

At least it’s a protected site, if not exactly promoted. Then again, we were there on a Sunday.

Heading for the Rockies, we took advantage of some friends’ spending a sabbatical in Colorado Springs.

Pike’s Peak sunrise from the kitchen window–are you kidding me? Gotta love the juxtaposition with the light pole.

A hike at Mesa Verde, where we had the trail to ourselves…

…the Mate couldn’t help but notice how much Gretchen likes standing at the edge of things.

Our annual get-together with Adventure Buddies (you know ’em well by now) Tom & Kate was near Page, AZ. Just noticing this piece of the map (so near to the Grand Canyon) was new to us.

The Mate auditioning to be a mushroom rock
Jabba the Rocks–off the beaten path, just hangin’ out…

One thing we did that I’m not real proud of: took a boat tour on Lake Powell to see Glen Canyon, or what’s left of it. What I mostly noticed? My conflicted feelings.

Uff. Something so wrong here.

Finally back in Washington, going for a walk as we waited in the ferry line, I kept the theme going, capturing the beauty of our Salish Sea environment…

No place like home.

…every tiny bit of it.

Ditto.

Thanks for riding with me through most of the past ten years! Tune in next time for something a little more current, ok? And be well.

Road Trip Retro, 2017: Now With Extra Family!

I know I make it seem like interrupting our Road Trips with airplane flights is an anomaly, but 2017 actually managed to involve a plane ride too. Just a short one, right at the start.

See, I’d pitched this new idea to my two older sisters: “Hey, as each of us turns 60, let’s have a Sisters Weekend Getaway, in a town that’s new to all of us!” Since that’s something we’ve never done in our lives–all 60 years of them, for some of us–they thought that was a pretty good idea. That early spring, the eldest of us was up, and she picked…

San Diego. So Road Trip VII began with me flying there to meet my Seesters. We rented a house, went for lots of walks, and ate a LOT. We weren’t full-on tourists, but we spent one full day at the famous zoo…

Getting ready to ride the tram–whee!

and another out on Point Loma.

Ocean 1, Land 0.

The tide pools got an A+ in my book.

Right?!
Anemones rock.

First Seesters Getaway under our belts, we went our separate ways–one to Michigan, one to Texas, and me back to LA where I met The Mate and Red Rover. We visited with all our LA dear ones, and then headed out across the desert, like most other years.

The weather did NOT encourage recreation. This is a dust storm swallowing the scenery on I-10 in Arizona.

In Albuquerque, our friend Beth helped us indulge our craving for green chile at a very cool restaurant, The Range.

SUCH cool decor! Food was great too.

Armed with leftovers, plus the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from my cousins’ tree in LA), we beelined for our favorite part of North Texas, Palo Duro Canyon, where it was just barely warm enough to camp.

Yes, that’s the avocado. Can we see the canyon now?
Still…not…warm yet…

Next up, Dallas, where our friends treated us to a bike tour around the less-well-known parts of the city…

…including places once famous…
…and places that might be famous someday, like this free-range grafitti lot.

As often happens on our late-winter road trips, the route from TX to NC was a blur, which means the weather was probably lousy. We did manage one hike at the TN-NC border.

Oh yeah. This’ll do.

During these days, a new tradition was born: “Noodlebag.” How’s that work? 1. Cook noodles at friends’ house; add salt & olive oil. 2. Steal some of their leftovers. 3. Over the next three days, add whatever’s in your ice chest, and heat in the microwave of whatever cheap motel you’re staying in.

Deluxe Noodlebag!

In North Carolina at last, along with my Amazing Parents, Son Two met us for basketball, BBQ, and Being a Good Son.

Emphasis on the BBQ.

Basketball. Family. Critters. Family. Basketball. Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken. Basketball. Wild trout lilies. If you’ve been following this blog for even a couple of posts, you probably know the drill by now.

Except for this part. Not planned.

Snow in NC, in March? OK. So of course when we left, we drove North.

If happens sometimes. This was one of those times. We had a brand-new little baby cousin to visit!

Not pictured: baby cousin. Pictured: the very deep snow that greeted us. In Vermont. In March. Duh.

But hey–at least New Englanders know how to deal with snow!

Snowshoeing on a perfect day up Mt. Bromley

Also, I grooved on being able to help our cousins bottle-feed some of their new lambs, overseen by Ben the Shepherd Donkey.

Not QUITE as cute as my parents’ donkey Stevie, but pretty close.

Heading home through upper-middle of the continent, we had a couple of notable recreation stops. First, a bike trail that was once the tow path for the Illinois River barges, just like the song I learned from my friend Lance: “Every day I work on the Illinois River/Get a half a day off with pay/On the tow path hauling barges/On a long hot summer day...”

Not pictured: a long, hot summer day

Second, we diverged into Colorado at the end of the Plains to meet our Intrepid Adventure Buddies (say it with me) Tom & Kate in Estes Park…

Aspens & Ponderosas! Ah, the Mountain West.

…on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. I got sick while in Colorado, and spent most of my time walking slowly and enjoying the scenery from the back of the car. Still worth it.

Zoomed-in view of Long’s Peak, before the clouds came in
Feeling much better now, thanks.

Finally, back in Montana, we stopped at this special spot where the mighty Missouri River is born from the confluence of three smaller rivers. Lewis & Clark camped here.

No camping for us, but I did go for a run up the bluff.

Onward! Homeward! Apparently quite a bit of snow had fallen while we were dallying in the Rockies, but we’d given Idaho time to clear its highways.

And rest areas.

So, a road trip with extra sisters, a son & a new, wee cousin? All gravy. Yes please!

Tune in next time for RT2018. Gonna ride this retrospective right up till the last one. Maybe then I won’t notice the lack of RT2021.