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!)
…and by the category:
Best hike: Custer State Park, South Dakota, Needles region
Best bike ride: Colorado National Monument rim road
(Honorable mention: Bizz Johnson trail in Susanville, CA …but it doesn’t win because it gave The Mate a flat tire)
Best waterfall: Sioux Falls…even though conflicted feelings arose when I read about its blasted, quarried history
Best trees: California redwoods
Best wildflowers: Rogue River National Recreation Trail, near Merlin, Oregon
Best wildlife: tie between javelinas in Arizona…
…and [not pictured] wild burros spotted in Utah off I-70 (a first for us)
Best sunset: outside our Virginia motel on our loversary
Best restaurant meal: sushi in Chapel Hill with my parents
Best home-cooked dinner: our friend Ben’s roast lamb with chimichurri
Best gift from our hosts: kumquats/avocados/oranges from our Hollywood cousins’ trees
Biggest detour: dropping south all the way to Las Vegas in order to avoid dangerous, truck-toppling 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
additional bonus to silver lining: the desert in bloom!
Longest day’s drive: Moab to Las Vegas (460 miles)
Scariest drive: crossing the Cascades on snowy lil’ Rt. 89 past Mt. Lassen in California
And now for a couple of less-traditional categories.
Best basketball game: UNC vs. Duke in the national semifinal (81-77)
Best dog: Ramses in Olympia
And finally, the Grand Travel Blog Award for Best New Discovery goes to…Oregon’s Rogue River Trail!
We’re already talking about how to get back there.
…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!
What camping enthusiast wouldn’t enthuse to camp near this?
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.
Estes Park is uber-cute, and probably a complete zoo in high season, which we vowed always to miss.
EP is so cool, it has its own elk herd!
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.
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.
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!
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.
It’s always hard to stop taking pictures of rock formations; bear with me.
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.
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…
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.]
Since we only had a half-day to recreate, we opted for Moab’s famous bike trails, saving the hiking for next day.
We celebrated our special spot that night by sharing an enormous microbrew from the Black Hills.
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.
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…
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.
Next up: smooth red slickrock.
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:
One last look…just not quite believing it’s real:
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.
Need a break from all the red rock? How about some red Paintbrush?
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…
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?
The above photo I took at a viewpoint, where we parked. All the following, I simply snapped as we drove past.
The colors changed with every curve or hill.
I think we saw every color except blue. Even black got into the mix.
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).
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
The more you explore, the more waterfalls you find.
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!
But from there, the land got REAL western. As in bad. As in Badlands.
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.
So every drop of rain simply reduces each elegant, striated mountain into, eventually, something like this:
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…
…but eventually we gave up and tried a shorter, drier trail. This one featured some fun obstacles, like
…but also some amazing color.
Speaking of color, just a glimpse at the Yellow Mounds on our way out:
Seriously, this park is one of the most accessible in the country: just a stone’s throw off the interstate, and entirely driveable.
And oh yeah, it comes with bighorn sheep.
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.
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.
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…
…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.
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…
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!!!!!
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…
…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.
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…
…and more rocks!
The park even had sweet little cabins (seasonally closed, unfortunately), with an adorable swinging bridge.
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.
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.
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…
…but I was treated to some fresh new skunk cabbage emerging for spring.
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.
In the state park’s trails, the back-and-forth between sand and vegetation was even starker:
But even so–kudos to those oaks!
That night, hunkered down (remember, we’re good at that) near Gary, Indiana, The Mate & I splurged for once on pizza
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.
We got a great tour of the lakefront…
…and UW Milwaukee, where our friend works.
My German heritage instantly bonded with the offerings at the public market…
…but after our tour, we were happy to cuddle up with our friends’ dogs.
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!
Next up: Minneapolis, and then…westward! Slowly!Turns out there’s something to this smell-the-roses-type travel after all.
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.
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…
…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.
Have I mentioned how much I adore rural rail-trails?
It was really hard to turn around, but the trail is 57 miles long, so…
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.
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.
It started off intriguingly enough…
…but ended up being pretty, y’know…meh, at least for a National Park. This creek was the main highlight:
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:
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.
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
I thought I saw swans on the river, masses of them–only to realize, those are pelicans! In Arkansas! Go figure.
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.
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 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…
Next day we got to drive through the park, up and over the Appalachian Trail…
…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:
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.
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!
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.
(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.
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:
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.)
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.
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.
Our friends Herbie & Marnie have a sign above their door that sums up Celo best:
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
I’d never eaten a kumquat. But I made up for many years of kumquatlessness in a few minutes.
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 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.
Of course, ocotillos are pretty scenic even when not blooming.
As I write this, The Mate and I have introduced our avocados to Buckeye, Arizona, in an overpriced motel on the outskirts of Phoenix.
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!
For Christmas 2020, in a fit of stubborn hope, I bought this for The Mate:
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:
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.
Here is who is NOT coming along for the ride: Maya the ‘Mute (a.k.a. Beastie).
Meanwhile, Lopez (Our Fair Isle) is making it hard to leave, throwing out sunsets like this beauty the other night:
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!
You know an ecolodge is pretty hard-core when they tell you that right on their website. Then again, Campanario is not exactly an ecolodge. It’s a “biological station,” catering especially to student groups (middle school through grad school), but they will also take tourists ready for “off-the-grid Rain Forest adventure.” Like this:
Since Son One worked as an intern here and brought us to visit six years ago, we knew Campanario would be the centerpiece of our tour once more. We found nothing changed, from the stunningly scenic beach…
…the electricity-free cabins…
You reach Campanario via an hour-plus boat ride out of the mangrove-filled mouth of the Sierpe River and along the base of the Osa Peninsula. A handful of other establishments connect via a public coastal trail, but essentially Campanario exists in a little bubble of wildness, adjacent to Costa Rica’s largest National Park, Corcovado. The spider monkeys were there to greet us on our arrival…
…a male curassow paraded for his mate behind our cabin…
…and a coati helped itself to palm fruit nearby. (Coatis are kind of the Costa Rican raccoon–except they have raccoons too, lucky them.)
Campanario has its own trail system–the place where, in 2015, we saw that tapir featured in my last post. They’re pretty rugged…
…and rubber, snakebite-proof boots are so strongly recommended that they have dozens of pairs to loan to guests.
It was wonderful to see Son One in his happiest of Happy Places.
Hiking into Corcovado N.P., visitors are required to have an official guide. Son One doesn’t have that credential (yet), so Campanario provided one of his old friends, former station manager Freiner, to guide us.
Not only did Freiner lug a hefty scope on his shoulder during our multi-hour hike, he also let us take pictures through it. (He’s especially fond of trogons, he told me.)
It was still Son One’s idea to go inside that tree root, though.
I should pause a moment here, though, to make sure I’m not giving the wrong impression of Campanario. Yes, there’s electricity only in the kitchen of the main lodge. Wifi, are you kidding?! There is plumbing, but showers are…let’s just say refreshing. Dinner is eaten by candlelight. But the food! Campanario also boasts the best meals of any we ate in Costa Rica. “Just” basic Tico dinners, lunches and breakfasts like:
Even for our day hike, Flor (Freiner’s wife) packed us gallo pinto (rice & beans) along with our sandwiches!
At one point in our long Corcovado hike, The Mate and our traveling buddy opted to head back, so Son One guided them, leaving me to realize my goal of chatting in Spanish with Freiner for the rest of the route back.
I did notice, however, that my verb conjugation went all to hell as the heat & mileage caught up to me. Still, what a huge difference from six years ago, when I could only manage basic niceties! This time I got some of Freiner’s life story. Of course his English was better than my Spanish, but I’m not sure he would have opened up as much in English. Speaking the local tongue makes a statement of comradeship, I think.
Speaking of comradeship, we were especially lucky on this visit to have Campanario to ourselves! No big group of college kids as we’d hung out with last time–just us four, Freiner & his wife & cute little daughter, three other young local staff members, and Nancy, La Directora. Nancy treated us to a special sugar-cane pressing. We “had” to do the work…
…but our reward was delicious cane juice, mixed with Cacique and served in special bowls with a starfruit garnish .
starfruit from the tree by our cabins
What a special, family feel that afternoon had!
When it came time to leave…I didn’t want to. Three days of flashlights at night, rubber boots, warnings about prowling pumas and fer-de-lances on the trails, cold showers, no wifi…and it really felt like Paradise. Son One’s deep affection for the place seeped into me, big-time.
One more thrilling boat ride, back to Sierpe, and from there our journey just kept going, as Son One drove us all the way back to San Jose for our required COVID test, our scramble to re-book a cancelled flight, our red-eye to JFK and even longer flight back to Seattle…all those delights of modern travel that I refuse to complain about because it was such a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful gift of a trip.
If most of this description leaves you thinking “No thanks!”, I don’t blame you one bit. But if Campanario excites you–as an individual or an educator–I encourage you to be in touch.
Even more, if the thought of tailoring your OWN Costa Rican adventure–maybe without rubber boots?–excites you, please enjoy this shameless plug of Liana Travels!
This was actually my third time in Costa Rica. The Mate and I visited Son One when he was first working there six years ago. Then there was the time my zoologist dad took me deep into the jungle for an Organization of Tropical States conference when I was sixteen (I was too scared of the rainforest to walk alone–correctly, as it turned out, because the assembled biologists later discovered an extremely venomous fer-de-lance viper on the trail).
But it’s still a shock to realize how DIFFERENT Nature is there. Oh, it looks inviting as all get-out, from above.
But get in close, and it’s red in tooth and claw–even the plants. Like this ficus, or Strangler Fig, enthusiastically murdering its host tree.
In the jungle, it’s everyone for itself. Even a lowly fencepost becomes a host.
And don’t even get me started on the army ants. (Not pictured: army ants. You’re welcome.)
Because Son One is a classic naturalist, which is to say nuts about dangerous critters, he was REALLY hoping for a sighting of either a puma or a fer-de-lance–preferably both. We struck out on both, this trip, although we did score some stunningly large paw prints, and this official Pile o’ Puma Poop on the trail:
Son One did manage to find one fer-de-lance (terciopelo, in Spanish, which means velvet–has anyone actually stroked that snake??), but he hasn’t sent me the photo yet, so here’s one from our last visit:
But of course, of COURSE, Costa Rica is way more than things that want to kill you. It’s also a splendid riot of sound and scent and color. Like this motmot which welcomed us on our first afternoon:
And of course, of COURSE…monkeys. Since Son One’s specialty is taking people far from the madding crowd, we had an entire troupe of Capuchins to ourselves. (Here’s where I decided I need to invest in a zoom lens for my phone, but you get the idea.)
This thrilling wildlife encounter was somewhat undermined when we stopped for coffee at a place which puts out fruit for the birds…which the monkeys, of course, gorge on.
As we headed back down toward the lowlands on a road whose steepness I couldn’t possibly capture with my phone, this tree caught me eye. The locals call it “Gringo Tree” because it looks like a white person with bad sunburn. But this particular one looked like E.T.
I‘m not saying North American Nature doesn’t have weird stuff. Just not THIS weird. Or wonderful. See you in the lowlands for Part 3!