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 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.

Road Trip IX: Let’s Get This…Brrrr!…Party Started

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for a while, you know that The Mate and I take a 6 to 7-week pilgrimage this time of year, from our little island in Washington’s Salish Sea, all the way across the country, back to our former lives (and my folks, and Tarheel basketball) in North Carolina.

If you’re new to this blog–well, now you know. Welcome! This is the only time Wing’s World morphs into a travel blog; please join me!

The Mate cleared out our bike garage in order to load up Red Rover without getting snowy.

That is, if we ever get going. When driving across the country in February and March, weather is always in charge of your route. Every year we’ve diverted around something. But we’ve never found ourselves stopped in our own driveway! We were planning to leave on February 12, but now it’s snowing like crazy, so that is NOT gonna happen.

I’m pretty much packed. Cleaned out the fridge. Nothing to do but go for a walk!

Snow falling on cedars…and salal…and bracken…

…and moss…

…and reindeer lichen…

…and even kelp!

You know what, though? This extraneous walk gave me exactly what I needed: the reassurance that, no matter where we go, there is no more special place than where we already live.

G’bye, Gorgeous…see you in the spring!

The rest of y’all? See you on the road…whenever we get there!

“Go on, already…we’ll take care of this place while you’re gone.”

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.

Return To Kiwiland, Part V: In the High Country, Better Sheepish Than Cowed

My first research stop on our just-completed journey back to New Zealand was a sheep station. Previous stays in New Zealand had involved mostly towns or national parks. I needed to learn more about the rural life. And although NZ has huge (and growing) beef and dairy sectors, I needed the good ol’ pastoral life of sheep.

And I did learn a LOT–not without a bit of sheepishness myself.

An internet search turned up the perfect solution for my research needs: a farmstay at Dunstan Downs High Country Sheep Station: nearest town, Omarama, itself not too far from Aoraki/Mt. Cook, in the middle of the South Island.

Home, home on the range

Sheepish Realization #1: “Upcountry” sheep farming among 6,000-ft. mountains is very different from “downcountry,” on the east coast. Where my novel is set. So I’d more or less taken myself to Montana to learn about farming in, say, Arkansas. Oh. But the east coast is…right over there!! Who knew such a small country could contain such contrast?

I also learned that the live-action version of “Mulan” had just been filmed right here.

Sheepish Realization #2: Having scheduled this trip based on my own free time, I hadn’t bothered to learn what would be going on at the sheep station in mid-January. Turns out: nothing. Lambing was long past, as was mustering; shearing hadn’t started yet. Oh.

Well, never mind. The Innes family, who runs Dunstan Downs, was absolutely delightful, taking the time (which they actually had in this lull) to drive me around their enormous holdings, answering every one of my naive questions, plus those I hadn’t even thought to ask, like, how do you muster by helicopter?

Two generations of the Innes family, plus other guests on their deck

So I learned a ton. Like this terminology:

mustering = round-up (and yes, they have sometimes used helicopters to drop shepherds off onto mountaintops, and even to help herd)

mob = flock

crutching = shearing the dags off a sheep

dags = the nasty, crusty wool around the sheep’s bum

strong-eye = what a good sheepdog has, the ability to mesmerize the sheep into doing its will

The stay itself was a real home stay. Meals were with the family, full-on Kiwi roast, pavalova, the works. (Sorry, no food pictures–didn’t want to be obnoxious.) And my bed had belonged to one of the Innes children.

Just as cozy as it looks

Also not pictured: sheep. I mean, come ON. You know what sheep look like! But I did learn why merino is marketed as a separate brand from other wool…and that sheep farmers consider merinos pitiful when it comes to hardiness: “They’re dreadful mums. They’ll just walk away from the lambs.”

But my biggest set of Sheepish Realizations came on the second evening of my stay. After being toured around a bit, I left Tim & Geva alone to get their hospitality chores done–one of their lodging options includes this adorable wagon:

Available for booking now!

and got some writing done at the edge of their river.

I know, right? If you book a stay in that wagon, this spot could be yours.

In order for me to experience a fuller extent of their lands, and get my exercise,Tim arranged to drop me a few miles down the road so I could hike home. So around 5, with the summer sun still high, off I set into the hills, with Tim’s instructions rattling vaguely in my head, something about following the creek till I hit the track (track = trail). Last thing I remember him saying: “From the top, just follow your nose downhill and she’ll be right.” And maybe something about a fence.

I followed the creek, hopping over it a couple of times, stopping to drink out of as Tim assured me I safely could. (Tim, if you’re reading this…so far, so good. No giardia yet.) All was well, if a bit scratchy…till the creek disappeared into a mess of matagouri. I was swearing too much to take a picture, but…

THIS bloody stuff. (Photo credit: Taranaki Educational Resource)

No way was I pushing through that. The trail must be elsewhere. Feeling fit and confident, I decided to go straight up the hill and spot the trail from there. And I do mean STRAIGHT UP.

What followed was 40 minutes of all-fours scramble, using tough tussock grass for handholds, trying to avoid taking an unintentional ride on the flinty scree Tim calls “mountain taxis.”

Impossible to capture the steepness of this slope in a picture. Let’s just say I ALMOST said farewell to my water bottle.

Stopping to ease my shaky legs, I looked down to see–oh yeah, there’s the trail all right: on the other side of a cliff and a ravine from here.

Oh great–alpine plants. Did I mention I was up near 5,000 feet?

There was nothing to do but continue up, praying that I would eventually meet up with the trail at the top.

Spoiler alert: I did.

Ah, the top at last. Now, what was that about a fence? Follow it? OK, but first I’m crossing over to where the track looks flatter. I’ve HAD IT with climbing. In the local parlance, my legs are “knackered.”

Ah, the fleeting bliss of being up top. Okay…down we go.

You can probably guess what happened next. The fence led me, in fact, away from Dunstan Downs, and by the time I realized it and cut across the tussock, lo and behold: another thorn-filled ravine separated me from the ridge I should have walked.

By now I’d been gone a good two hours, maybe more. Determined not to embarrass myself by being late to dinner (planned for 8:30), I decided just to head STRAIGHT DOWN, damnit, and walk home on the road.

At least the view was nice. Too bad I had to keep eyes down to watch my footing.

Did I mention the matagouri? It grows in great big bushes, yes–but the smaller version also awaited my every footfall, disguising itself in the lengthening shadows. Trying not to trip on rocks–every good hiker knows going down’s when you have to pay attention–I bulled my way instead through the thorns. And tripped anyway.

When I finally reached the road, legs bleeding, there was Tim in his Land Rover, out scanning for me with binoculars. It was 8:40. Had I not turned on the radio he’d given me? he wondered. Oh. Forgot about that. (Truthfully: didn’t want to worry my lovely hosts.) And what about the fence–hadn’t I kept it on my right?

Oh, so that was the thing about the fence. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d lost the trail at the very beginning.

For dinner Geva served venison Tim had shot, and warm raspberry-chocolate brownies with ice cream. I would say it all tasted like humble pie to me, but it was too delicious…and my Kiwi hosts were much too nice to tease me. 

So if you happen to travel to central Otago, remember: Dunstan Downs High Country Sheep Station. And keep the fence on your right.

Return To Kiwiland, Take 2: Author’s Cut

A quick catch-up: twenty-two years ago, my family spent an academic year in southern New Zealand.

Two years ago, the Mate and I returned, with two objectives: 1) tramp (hike) the Milford Track (Trail); 2) learn about the Coast to Coast cross-country multisport race for a novel I’m writing.

Objective #2 was mine, not the Mate’s. And this time, the purpose of this trip is ENTIRELY due to the demands of my book. But lucky me, the Mate’s coming along anyway, and so is Wing Son Two, who can keep him company when I’m off learning about sheep farming and Maori culture.

There will always be sheep.

Will this trip feature some adventures? Of COURSE–this is NEW ZEALAND we’re talking about.

Rugged rivers? High probability.

Aoraki (Mt. Cook)? Could be!

Tree ferns there WILL be. (I love me some tree ferns.)

But when I return, will my accounts of New Zealand be travelogue, or Author’s Notes? Stay tuned. Ta for now.

My Big Backyard, Part IV, Travels in British Columbia: And Now, For Something Completely The Same…AND Different!

I know, I just finished one trip to Vancouver Island, and satellite islands, in September. But when some dear old friends visiting from the east coast wanted to discover Canada, the Mate and I jumped at the chance to do some more discovery of the lovely land so ridiculously close to where we live.

We didn’t have time to go all the way to our happy place, Jasper, Alberta…that’ll be, we hope, next year. So we rented a house in Harrison Hot Springs, adjacent to a generous handful of Provincial Parks, and made daily forays.

Foray #1: Sasquatch Provincial Park. Just outside of Harrison Hot Springs. Probably a zoo in the high season. But in October, we had the place to ourselves.

VERY tempted to take a dip…if the air had been just a teensy bit warmer!

 

The backdrop: Manning Provincial Park. That’s tomorrow’s trip. Meanwhile, we had fun getting lost while trying to hike around Hick’s Lake. Dumb Americans.

I canNOT resist a good fungus shot. And why should I?

Foray #2: Salmon Spawning Channel. It’s October! The Pinks and Chum are coming home! This channel wasn’t as photogenic as a natural stream, but apparently it boasts a 12x survival rate of baby salmon, so…we were OK with it.

It’ll all be over soon, guys. Thanks for all your hard work.

Foray #3: E.C. Manning Provincial Park. I was especially interested in this one, as I’ve had several friends through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and Manning is its northern terminus. We didn’t get to that part of the park (the weather was hovering right above freezing and we weren’t thrilled about tackling ice in our friends’ little rental car), but we did take a nice hike past some waterfalls, punctuated by fall color.

Did I mention it was a rather foggy day up there?

Not aspen, but a relative: black cottonwood. Or so we were told. Doing its October job.

Foray #4: Golden Ears Provincial Park. This jaw-droppingly beautiful place (of which we only saw a fraction–it’s huge!) is less than 30 minutes outside Vancouver!

I don’t think these are the actual “Golden Ears,” but I’ll take ’em.

Think this waterfall is pretty? Just wait for…

…the pool above it! Words like “entrancing,” “emerald,” and “crystalline” come to mind. Sometimes cliches are apropos.

That was it for forays. Well, no, we did also explore the environs of Harrison Hot Springs itself, including a pretty wild, fern-dripping hike around the edge of Harrison Lake, but I didn’t have my camera with me. But I did go for a bike ride around the Fraser Valley one day, capturing some local sights, like…

…this cranberry bog! Didn’t know they grew in the Fraser Valley; our Washington cranberries are all out near the coast. Not pictured: field after field of blueberries, all in festive autumnal red.

It was easy for the Mate and me to feel right at home, amidst the red cedars, moss, salmon–“We have all that,” we told ourselves smugly. But then I saw this campaign sign:

“Please”???? When’s the last time you saw a US campaign sign say “Please”?

O for such civic civility! O my! O Canada…take me with you!

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?

My (Even Bigger) Backyard, Part 2: British Columbia’s Cortes Island

I’ve been wanting to visit Cortes ever since reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel, A Tale for the Time Being, one of my favorite books of the last few years, and discovering that one of the two stories it winds together is set on Cortes. It seemed, if possible, even more Lopezian than Lopez Island, where I live.

Although we were only there for two days, I think I can safely say I was right. With under 2,000 year-round residents, Cortes is a quiet place in the off-season. Its beaches and forests looked like ours, only more so.

Looking northeast, toward the Sunshine Coast

Manson’s Landing–such a sweet spot!

Granted, I’ve never seen a 5-fingered Madrona, even on Lopez!

Nor do we have cedar trees anywhere near this old. OK, Cortes, you got us badly beat in the tree department, bless you.

But the thing that REALLY blew our minds on Cortes was…

…You know what? I’ll get to that in a moment. It was pretty jaw-dropping. So I need to save it for last.

Before then, I’ll share a few pictures from where we stayed. Like Quadra Island, the local provincial parks didn’t provide campgrounds, so we opted for the well-recommended Hollyhock Retreat Center. I mean Centre. It’s famous for multi-day classes in yoga and writing and history and, gosh, just about everything, but you can also just stay there. I was amazed at how reasonable their rates were: $180 per night for two people, with a shared bathroom (which we actually had to ourselves), all meals included. That’s Canadian dollars, so it was really less than $150 U.S.–and the meals alone were worth that! Hollyhock is entirely off-grid and produces nearly all its own pescatarian food. I’m not a taking-pictures-of-dinner kind of person, but here are a couple of shots from their garden, so you can just guess how amazing the food was.

Must…eat…kale!

I just could not make myself stop taking pictures of that garden. Anyone want to volunteer-garden there? Send in your application!

The view from outside our cozy room

One of many cool buildings on their forested campus…who wouldn’t want to study something in here?

No classes were going on the days we were at Hollyhock, which was fine with us. We just wanted to hike and bike around and get a feel for Cortes, which is what we did. Well–not so much the biking part. It’s VERY hilly there, and the one day we thought we’d try riding on the flatter parts, the wind was blowing 22 mph. But hiking, yes.

And that’s where we discovered…this.

Oh, it looks like bridge over just another creek. But that creek…

…is no creek at all–it’s the ocean! Rushing at very low tide from an inlet out to the bay…

…in a SALTWATER WATERFALL. A saltwaterfall! Have you ever heard of such a thing?

I’m not kidding! Those are barnacles growing there.

We were so gobsmacked by this, we actually tasted the water to convince ourselves it was indeed the ocean. A little jellyfish only confirmed the answer. Then we were overwhelmed by our luck in just happening to be there at low tide. Had we arrived another time, we might never have discovered this phenomenon.

And speaking of which, how amazing is it that we HAD never heard of this special saltwaterfall? Are they that common in BC? Or is that just Cortes Cool?

Because it is. Cool. Even beyond what I had imagined. So please, everyone–stay away in droves and keep it that way. 🙂