Thursday, August 31, 2017

Camping - or Sightseeing?

Finding time for a nap on Two Jack Lake - Banff
I think I've figured out the difference between camping and sightseeing. Either one is fine with me - how they meld together into one ten day trip is harder to pin down.

Banff - Glacier - Yellowstone National Parks. That was the plan and it was way too late for me to change the timing of these trips when I realized that August was the worst possible month to put that trip into action. I was calling it a camping trip; however, it ended up being a strategically planned sightseeing trip where we had to plot out our choices and arrive at particular spots by 7 am in order to go enjoy the national park's beauty - but sleeping in a teardrop trailer every night.

Best campground south of West Yellowstone:
Upper Coffee Pot Campground
As empty-nester's - as people who can travel to these locations any time of the year - why were we there in August? That epiphany came months too late.

The good news is that each of these iconic places are worth sightseeing in. We plotted out what was important to us and got to those locations early enough to enjoy the vistas and glaciers and waterfalls without the hordes of people that would clog the trails and roads by 9 am. We hiked and took too many pictures.

Two Jack Lakeside Campground - Banff

But this didn't feel like camping.

Sure, we used our wonderful little T@b trailer - which everyone everywhere wants to talk about - but it wasn't easy to actually enjoy the camping experience when rangers will literally come and take your stuff left laying out around a campsite due to the inordinate amount of bear activity they have had. I respect the policy but part of camping is setting up your campsite - and leaving it set up to enjoy your outdoor living space.

And that was part of the price to enjoy these particular locales - and perhaps always will be. When you build at campsite in a berry patch - in bear country - chances are likely that if humans are careless they will find their belongings torn into itty-bitty pieces - perhaps while you cower in the depths of your trailer. No, that has never happened to us but the warnings were clear and ruthlessly enforced.

The other issue this summer was smoke. Perhaps it will be wildfires that mark a true summer spent in the west as fire seasons become longer and more devastating due to a warming climate. I thought about all the communities, homes and businesses that have been destroyed, the folks evacuated, the firefighters battling the many fires here in the west. I thought about those tragedies while I tried to catch my breath, my throat sore, eyes stinging, nose bleeding. I thought about all the devastation as I didn't bother taking a picture of Glacier summits or Grand Tetons mountains made hazy with hazardous air quality ratings. There was no way I could measure my annoyance against the painful devastation around us. Two days after we enjoyed a lovely meal at the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier - the lodge was closed due to fires. The iconic Sperry Chalet lost the battle.

So there was all that going on...

We certainly had our camping moments. Playing cards after dinner. Paddle boarding on the lake next to our campground; sitting around campfires down in Idaho where the fire restrictions finally allowed us to have said campfire - all worthy camping experiences.

Yellowstone - Midway geyser basin
Many Glaciers - beautiful morning hike ...
and only saw one mama grizzly

There were wonderful hikes and new places to see. Bear encounters to be had...

It was our own inability to relax and slow down that made this camping experience feel like it wasn't quite meeting expectations. We felt bound to the sightseeing within each national park - the must see locations - but did we actually sit in the awesome beauty and majesty and breathe it in? I can't say that we did. And with the smoke being so thick and permeating most of our travels - breathing in deeply was the last possible thing we could do.

Fountain Flats - Yellowstone... around 7 am...
Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

No, somehow this trip was wonderfully hard. Perhaps it was packed too tightly, bound up in campground reservations fought over at 7 am on a cold January morning. And yet, we did get to places that were stunningly beautiful; we had our encounters with bears on trails and elks bugling into the night. We watched geysers erupt and gazed on vanishing glaciers. Each of these places is a national park for a reason and millions of people from around the world come to see the same things that I found wondrous as well.

Tea House Hikes in Banff

Tea House resident...

Its a balancing act - this whole notion of preservation and conservation - and the National park system has done what it can to mitigate the desires of the human horde. Having just been a couple clicks on the visitor counter at all three parks, I'll plan future trips very differently in order to balance my needs with those of everyone else.

This was a sightseeing trip masquerading as camping. Holding that thought puts my expectations in perspective.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Klaloch in June

June is turning out to be a great camping month in Washington State.
When I first moved up here from California, I was continually caught unprepared for the rainy cool days of June and there was no way you could count on good weather for long holiday weekends like Memorial Day or Fourth of July. And the coast? Forget about it - unless you had a warm, dry trailer to hang out in.

Heck that was often true in August.

Two years in a row, I've made the trek over to the Olympic coast in June for camping - and the weather has been fantastic.

The thing with camping at Klaloch in Olympic National Park is that you have to make your reservations 6 months in advance and even then it's near impossible to get one of the campsites that back up to the beach.

It's worth the hassle.

The other factor to note for June in Washington is that there are very low daytime tides later in the month.

Ruby Beach is a wonder to be explored at low tide.


 And it was nice to see some ocher sea stars among the rocks

And then there was the Hoh rainforest...

Monday, May 29, 2017

Italia - musings on culture

Along the Cinque Terre - Manarola
It surprises me how much I will miss Italy. While I'm glad not to be living out of a suitcase, I felt a certain sadness as we boarded our last flight. Yes, we were on an extended vacation, a trip many years in the making and certainly we were headed back into our routines, work, schedules - but I caught the scent of something beautiful in Italy that I simply didn't have time to fully savor.

People have been waxing practically poetic over different parts of Italy forever. I may actually have to do some reading to see if any of these writers capture what I'm still trying to put into words. I also wouldn't want to simply highlight all the wonders without acknowledging the problems that continue to nip at Italy the Country's heels. Italy, like the U.S., is a country of contrasts. Governing bodies and local communities struggle with social and economic issues. People there are grappling with a changing world, natural disasters, violence, and cultural identity - in ways that feel very familiar to my own social and political landscape back here in the states.

Here are some of my musings...

Italy is more than castles, wineries, cathedrals and archaeological ruins. One of the things I savored the most was the language. I don't speak Italian, perhaps someday I will, but it is a language that seems to favor the expression of emotion. To speak even the most basic greeting requires an emphasis on syllables that immediately proclaim engagement - certainly whether or not you are truly glad to see someone. You can't be shy with Italian - its the difference between diving in or simply sticking your toe in the water. I was shy with my Italian. Andy could speak Italian like he had spent years there - it suits his personality perfectly. He's not shy, certainly not timid. Acknowledging my internal struggle to give myself over to this expressive language had me wondering about my own reticence and who I am trying to be in the world - as opposed to just being in the world.
We wandered through Tuscany - literally wandering through the countryside on foot - and what I kept coming back to was a sense of place and community. I am a mutt of European origins whose family - say, the past 5 generations - have moved from one state to another until finally landing in the Northwest. I am well aware that the generations after me will continue to move as well. In talking to our guide, her cultural identity was based in Seina. What does it feel like to grow up and live in a region where your family has lived for all the past generations you can think of? What differences in perception and values are crafted out of those very different familial ties to place?
We meandered from ancient Etruscan burial chambers to the high end shopping district in Florence. From trains and wifi and modern wine-making operations to narrow, cobblestone roads, stone terraces and nazi bunkers. Old ways and new innovations melding together. And the communities that call these towns, villages and cities home have continued - sometimes thriving, sometimes struggling. Famine, war, plague, occupation, corruption, natural disasters, attrition - more than a couple millennium's worth of human history at its worst (and best) and still, these communities pull together and embrace their own, unique cultural identity. Look at Seina with its Palio race held in the main plaza of the city. Talk to anyone from Seina about their Contrada - or neighborhood team. It makes football fandom in the U.S. look like child's play. Look deeper and you see a city that has embraced a way for its citizens to take pride in their city and neighborhood; it's provided a venue where emotions can run high and be acted upon via a horse race that is all about luck and fortune. What a way to keep volatility focused - to channel potential civic unrest into a shared experience for the whole city.

I'm going to go out on a limb here but I tend to think of Americans as pretty idealistic. Here's another generalization - we spend more time and attention reading about national politics (with much gnashing of teeth if you are opposed to who is in charge) than we do in our local communities. I have yet to live in a community that is not filled with transplants from some other part of the world. I've lived in 9 different cities/towns, each a suburb filled with folks who lived there because of a local industry. Suburbs. I know there are folks here in the U.S. who live in the same towns that their great-grandparents lived in and there are some who can trace back even farther than that. The west coast isn't like that for descendants of white settlers like me. And so, in some ways, my sense of community is very different. My sense of cultural identity is as muddied as my heritage. It is easier, perhaps, to try to identify with a national character then a local community. "I'm American" as opposed to "I'm a Northwesterner, a Californian, a Seattle-ite, an Anacortian" (take your pick).

Yet, what I noted in Italy, and in other parts of Europe, was that the local communities are first and foremost the foundation stones of living before the sense of national identity. External conditions (like who is President or Prime Minister) change but the connections of family and community are constants. Rulers come and go, rulers shake things up, cause a little trouble, maybe do some good, but the people are going to rely on their families and local communities to see them through.

I picked up Iris Origo's War in the Val d'Orcia, a memoir written about living through the Nazi retreat in Italy by the author and her family in the province of Siena. What struck me about this particular war journal was the author's ability to share her impressions about what was happening on the national level but also the nuanced way she - and her neighbors - managed the influx of refugees, partisans, allied prisoners of war and the Nazi troops retreating before the allied front.

Talking to our city guide in Siena, she shared just how culturally embedded it is for the city - and the people - to bend like reeds under the heavy foot of invaders (even if that's the Medici family) and continue to do what it takes to live and manage their lives. Nationhood is relatively new to Italy but dealing with would-be emperors or despots is not.

For me, personally, family and community are essential in my life and yet, I haven't used those - in my own head - as cultural identifiers. With a country larger than all of Europe combined, how is it even possible to culturally identify as American? Sure, there's language, shared historical markers, social and cultural norms that come with living in what is called a first world country - but I am more aware than I ever was as to how incredibly different my world view is from people who live in other corners of this country. There is no language or shared experience that is going to change that. So why not localize my sense of identity to region, to family, to my community? In doing so, can I release some of the angst and rage I feel for the political machine that masquerades as national government? Do I begin to understand that perhaps States should have more rights in the governance of their regions? And in wondering about this, does that mean I have to give up my passionate care for the lands and issues of other states?

No. How I see my cultural identity doesn't mean I am not a citizen of this country and that the national government shouldn't function in the best interests (as I define those interests of course) for the people and the natural habitat within the boundaries of this land. I am citizen of a large federation with my cultural identity anchored on the west coast. My values and beliefs (and ideals) are shaped by both of those factors.
And - thinking about this helps me bring my idealism home to roost. Home home, as in my local region and community. It's here where those idealistic notions need to be tested and explored.

Travel out of my region and learn other ways of knowing and being.
Travel abroad and see the multitude of other values, beliefs, and ideals.
Learn, savor, and realize that my perspective on the world is limited to my own experience.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Planning for Summer

Grand Tetons
We decided that this coming summer needs to include a major camping trip. It also needs to include some National Parks - since I am hell bent on seeing each and every one of them.

2017 is going to be a Glacier-Yellowstone-Grand Teton year. With Banff included, of course. Road-tripping from Washington state makes this grouping a straightforward loop. Pulling a trailer, however, means that we can tackle this one of two ways - with reservations or not.

When it comes to National Parks - I'll go with what reservations I can make and fudge if I need to when I get there.

I started with Banff.

2017 is the year of free park entrance to all of the Canadian parks. With the popularity of Banff for summer recreation, I don't really know if the free entry had all that much to do with the sheer craziness of opening day (January 11th) on campground reservations. I was at my computer, poised over the campsite I wanted on the day I wanted and as the clocked ticked over to 7am... I literally watched the whole reservation system bog down. There I am, furiously clicking on my site and watching as other campsites turn red and unavailable. And then my site was gone. I clicked on my back-up site - and YES! - I got it. It took the system about ten minutes to put through my request but it did go through.

Canada Camping Reservations

On to Glacier and Yellowstone...

Reservations in the U.S. are handled a little differently - we have two online reservation systems - and ReserveAmerica BUT some parks - like Yellowstone - have their interior park campgrounds managed through Xanterra.. See Yellowstone Reservations here.

Good news - with Xanterra you can make the reservations in January for a trip in August. Bad news is twofold: make sure you know the exact length of your trailer and don't fudge it on your reservation and, two, in some of the campgrounds - like Bridge Bay campground - you don't get to pick your site. I'm a little nervous about that.

With and Reserve America there is a six month window that you have to use for whatever your date is. I have to wait until the end of February to pick up a couple campground reservations that takes us along the eastern side of Glacier National Park and back out the other side of the Grand Tetons.

Can't we just jump in our truck with trailer in tow and head out on a grand adventure?

Of course we could! That was how it was when I was growing up - but here's the thing: there are a lot more people pulling trailers or driving RVs now than 'way back then'. If you have a tent and a sleeping bag, you're golden for spots because there are so many areas in the west that you can find your own camp nirvana; however, with a trailer, we've got different needs that have to be met.

So many campgrounds don't take any reservations and they are often in the most beautiful locations. We check them out as we travel and if a spot is open, we grab it and cancel our other reservations. In this day and age, its not hard to find wifi somewhere and handle reservations online. Sure there is a cancellation fee - but it's not usually all that much.  The point is - I like having a plan and then putting it on the back burner, pulling it forward if needed.

It eases my mind to know that I've got a spot waiting for me - especially when heading to Yellowstone in late August. It's going to be packed with tourists and I know I'll want to high tail it out of there pretty quick - or at least down into Grand Teton where I can find a quieter campground. National Park campgrounds are usually huge, crowded and cramped. Cougar Rock at Rainer or Fruita @ Capital Reef are a couple examples (see my post on Capital Reef). There are some exceptions that I've found so far - like Arches - but I'm prepared for some crazy this coming summer. With Banff - its a matter of limited spots near the areas that I want to explore - so the reservations help me get where I want to go.

The point of a good camping trip is to get outdoors, relax and have fun. Putting a little time and energy upfront into some planning helps me do all three of those things.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

San Juan Islands

As a follow up to the last post...

I see the San Juan Islands from my house windows. And yet, just because this little corner of Washington state is my backyard, doesn't mean that I should neglect writing about it.

On anchor at Spencer Spit, Lopez Island

Image result for map of the san juan islandsThe Salish sea - that's the body of water that surrounds the San Juan Islands - is an incredibly unique bioregion. The islands are known for their 'high amenity' meaning that there is a lot of recreational activities that draw tourists; its a great location to live and work; there is abundant wildlife, and the natural setting is awe inspiring.

At this point in the summer, the ferries are filled to capacity with visitors from around the world. I've been volunteering over in Friday Harbor and I've talked with so many people who are coming out to the islands for the first time.  Whether they are walking on with rolling suitcases or have a car packed to the rafters with camping gear - everyone is coming out for some island time - and maybe a little adventure.

Link to tourist info for the San Juan Islands

I first started coming out to the San Juan islands by boat. My arrival points were not ferry docks but harbor docks. There are about 172 islands (and named reefs)in the archipelago but only four have ferry service. Some islands are private, others you need an inter-island taxi or seaplane to get to. Many of the smaller islands are accessible by pleasure boat or kayak. Out of the four main islands, San Juan, Lopez, and Orcas tend to offer the visitor the most activities. Shaw island seems to happily get on without trying to entice tourists.

Early morning ferry coming into Friday Harbor, San Juan Island
I'm going to keep coming back to these islands here at Going Out Your Door - there's just too much to say that can't be condensed down into one post. The islands are beautiful and, sure, there's lots of things to do here; however, there is also a very unique ecosystem here that seems so abundant - and actually very fragile. There is history to be found on these islands - wars that almost started, rum runners and lighthouse keepers; pioneers and first nation tribes. You can see the handiwork of the glaciers on all the mountain tops while catching glimpses of orcas moving through the deep waters.

For more information on this incredibly rich bio-region, check out the blog Ecotones of the Salish Sea

Ferry Schedule: Anacortes to Friday Harbor

On a Boat

sister ship Spellbound on anchor at Spencer Spit

I’ve owned a couple boats, I've been on many boats and chartered one.
Until this week.
This is charter number two and it’s pretty fantastic.

Finding the right boat to charter is a heck of a lot easier when you’ve been a boat owner. This current charter, Change of Latitude, is a 42 foot grand banks out of Bellingham from an outfit called NW Explorations. Their diligence in providing their customers with a top notch, completely outfitted boat is exceptional. The amount of time they spend going over every last detail is mind-numbingly complete – and I mean that in the very best way. Taking a boat out onto the water means that the newly minted captain needs to know how to handle all the strange and wonderful situations that come up. When you are new to boating, its probably a good thing you haven't a clue just what kind of weird stuff can happen - but it is good to be as prepared as possible. Having years of boating behind us, we had dealt with a lot of those weird situations and could make sure they wouldn't happen again.

The first time we chartered a boat – and had very little experience – the boat was 39 feet and well used. It was a lightweight planing hull with straightforward controls. The charter company at that time made us spend an afternoon out on the water with their captain to make sure we had the basics down. How to set an anchor; how to dock – and leave the dock; how to check the oil; watch for logs, and basically stay safe. With little more than that, we headed out on our first adventure on the water as a family. Okay, Andy and I had spent time on sail boats and yes, Andy had taken the Coast Guard Auxiliary course for recreational boaters. Thinking back, that trip was a grand adventure. We were inexperienced and naive; however, we were also traveling with experienced boater friends who helped us at every turn. Their smiles, experience and encouragement kept us afloat.

We came home and promptly bought our own boat. However, we were also very aware of what we didn’t know. It’s easy it is to be complacent and think you know enough when you are out on the water – so we hired a captain for a two-day training. That wonderful man put us through our paces. He set up emergency drills in busy channels; he made sure we both could dock and check the engines for problems. Captain Bob, as he was called, helped us feel a little more competent. We also had a deeper appreciation for all the things that could and do go wrong out on the water.

Jessara on anchor in Tenados Bay, B.C.
We were boat owners for fifteen years. We traveled to some beautiful locations on our coast that only a boat can get you to. Selling our last boat, Jessara, wasn’t easy. She was an exquisitely crafted vessel that saw us through so many adventures. And – we were not using her as much as we ‘should’. Owning a boat is like having a vacation home – you feel guilty if you head anywhere else to vacation.

As our kids headed off into the world, other opportunities started whispering in our ears.

But we knew we could always charter. Knowing now that we can charter a beautiful boat like Change of Latitude makes it even easier. Sure, its pricey. But when you’ve owned a boat, paid the insurance and dock fees – and all the maintenance that goes into a boat – the fees feel minimal. There are certainly perks to cruising on one’s own boat – that innate knowledge of how all the systems work is often key when problem solving a weird noise in the engine room. And yes, roaming around the San Juan Islands is well traveled territory for us. We are rarely out of cell phone range. If we hear a weird noise, it’s easy to head into a marina and check it out.

Chartering a boat in our own backyard, so to speak, has been a great test run for chartering boats in other locations. Knowing what to look for and what to pay extra attention to when we go through that initial check list is going to be very helpful. For instance – next time I take note that the holding tank is not reading empty I’ll insist that the charter company makes that happen before I leave the dock. If the water tanks don’t read full – I’ll ask that the charter company make sure it’s not just a fluke of the display panel. These are little things but they can become important pretty quickly. 

The truth is that boating - regardless of how many years you've been out there on the water or whether its your first time out behind the controls - is all about paying attention. Slowing down, taking your time, making sure you've gone through your check lists, and thinking things through. Even in dire circumstances its better to take the time to run through your options and actions than to act impulsively. 

Chartering a boat - or owning one - means you are going to go places that most people don't. Paying attention, following the rules of the road, so to speak (because there are a lot of regulations that boaters need to be aware of), and being aware of your surroundings are all small responsibilities when compared with the rewards.

The rewards are amazing.
Princess Cove, Gulf Islands, B.C.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


I haven’t had an excuse to come up to Sedona over the years – until now. Visiting friends in Phoenix for the weekend had me wondering how I could make that plane trip all the way down to Arizona go a little farther – so why not extend my stay with a couple nights up in the vortex laden, tourist crowded hamlet of Sedona?

I didn’t do any research, I didn’t plan out any hikes or spots that I wanted to go – but I did spend time finding a bed and breakfast that seemed perfect for me. (More about that in a minute). And so I left the 106 degree weather in Phoenix, headed north on I-17 and found myself about an hour later getting peekaboo views of stunning red rock formations, plateaus and spires.  This girl gets pretty teary eyed when I see red rock. I love it. I love the high desert as it climbs into hills that suddenly split open to reveal the jeweled tones of the earth.

Sedona is – shopping, restaurants, hotels and pink hummers taking the hot (it is still close to 100 degrees in town) tourists god only knows where for a nice bundle of cash. Yes, some galleries and shops offer lovely merchandise while other shops offer every piece of shtick you can imagine. Yes, there are some great restaurants and even a Whole Foods market for those of us who want to find our almond milk and organic cheese. Yes, you can find any kind of accommodations that you might want for your visit. 

For myself, I found what I think is the cutest little Bed and Breakfast that I have ever stayed in – Canyon Wren Cabins. I had everything I could possibly want for a couple days of unplugged bliss up here along Oak Creek. I think Slide Rock is less than a mile away and I can walk across the street and down a trail to my own quiet corner of creek side contemplation. The Honeysuckle Cabin is delightfully perfect for my retreat. No TV, wifi, or internet. Spotty cell service.


My only complaint about Sedona is all about the Oak Creek recreational area. While there are a few trailheads with their own gated parking areas - that don't open until 9am, parking on the shoulders of the highway is either prohibited or unavailable. When its going to hit 100 degrees, I'd really like to get on the trail early. Not happening. Other trailheads are poorly marked with limited parking.

I ended up walking to the closest trailhead to Canyon Wren which happened to be the Sterling Pass Trail. It's a 1100 ft. gain in the first mile that takes you up to the saddle of the pass and then down into gorgeous canyon country.

I spent some time chatting with a merchant, a lovely woman who had lived in Sedona for twenty years, and she warned me about the traffic in Oak Creek Canyon. Being off season meant that I could make the ten minute drive to my bed and breakfast pretty easy but try to get into town after noon in May and it might take over an hour. And still traffic snarls in the roundabouts most days that I was there.

Restaurants are everywhere and while for the most part I stuck to eating on my porch with the hummingbirds (5 different varieties) - I had an amazing burrito at Javalina's Cantina. Grilled Chicken with vegetables. The marinade on the meat was incredible and I sweet talked my waiter into finding out the recipe. It was that good. If you know me, you know that I rarely sweet talk anyone.

Sedona feels like an upscale version of Moab - drawing the same crowds for 4x4 tour adventures without quite so many touring buses. There aren't -yet- the same amount of outfitters and potentially the market for that kind of thing will stay smaller due to the scale of what there is to see in Sedona vs. Moab's National Parks. 

I would come back through - mainly to stop by the Canyon Wren for Mike's sinful brownies and Milena's stories in the bird laden garden. I think I found my kind of energy vortex.