Although now in southcentral New Mexico, we were still in Apache territory, the Mescalero Apache. (see Gila National Monument for info on the Chiricahua Apache.)
The Mescalero Apache thrive in their native “heartland” on a 463,000 acre reservation that includes their four sacred mountains… Sierra Blanca, Guadalupe, Three Sisters, and Oscura Peak.
The reservation, which includes other Apache bands, is governed by tribal code, a constitution, and under the leadership of a Tribal Council. Their economy relies on tourism and is supported by an abundance of outdoor activities—fishing, hunting, camping, golf, snow skiing—and the indoor activity of gambling.
It’s the perfect playground for Texans, yet this was our first visit.
Inn of the Mountain Gods
The Mescalero’s Inn of the Mountain Gods Resort & Casino is their mountain jewel, and it was a haven for this road-weary traveler.
Nestled in a peaceful, forested valley overlooking serene, trout-filled Mescalero Lake, Inn of the Mountain Gods is most appropriately named.
Our first morning coincided with the first arctic front of the season. Thirty-five mph winds and frigid temperatures kept our bikes stowed and us mostly inside…
Trey bundled up and ventured out for an icy-windy round of golf at their Championship Golf Course, his last of four golf excursions.
He said the trees protected him from the wind somewhat, but still made the challenging course even more difficult.
From Hwy 48 on the outskirts of Ruidoso, Hwy 532 climbs 12 ½ miles to Ski Apache.
Nine of those miles switch up, back, and along mountain ledges with gorgeous vistas.
The ski area was weeks away from opening, so we had the mountain top to ourselves.
Despite not having water nor proper jackets, we were lured onto a hiking trail just above the parking area.
We made it about a mile in before heading back, but not before appreciating the natural beauty and solitude.
On Wednesday evening, we drove into nearby Ruidoso for dinner without considering that mid-November is a downtime for the ski city. Many restaurants weren’t open or had closed early. After driving around a bit we noticed the Caliente Grill appeared to be open. We were the first of a few diners that evening, which gave us the opportunity to visit with the restaurant’s friendly owners. We chatted about wine and Austin… they were heading there the following week. Overall, the evening, food, service, and company were excellent.
Several dining options are offered at Inn of the Mountain Gods. We particularly enjoyed Wendell’s Steak & Seafood for a reasonable and tasty breakfast and lunch. For dinner, they go more upscale… food was amazing, just pricey.
Trey spent some of his evenings at the Casino’s blackjack tables. He experienced ups and downs, but overall left with an extra $200 in his pocket.
With a casino, first-rate restaurants, indoor pool, workout room and spa, the Inn of the Mountain Gods was ideal for being stuck indoors.
It wasn’t a difficult decision, or even a disappointment, to delay our departure a day… the winter blast would make it impossible to safely climb Guadalupe Peak, our final stop before home.
Quaint Astoria sits on a peninsula barely east of where the Columbia River clashes with the Pacific Ocean. Outlined by Young’s Bay and River on its southern shoreline, with the mighty Columbia River comprising its north border.
Yes, water is the heart, soul, and breath of the community. Its sustenance, and existence.
Accessing Astoria from Washington State requires either a boat or crossing the massive Astoria-Megler Bridge, a cantilever through-truss design. As we drove the 4.1 miles across to Oregon, my thoughts turned to my sister. Many times, she had relayed her dizzying experience bicycling over the Columbia River while water rushed in one direction below and crisscrossing cars whizzed past her side. I was grateful to be inside the Escape Mobile.
Checking into our riverfront hotel just before sunset, we were greeted with an unrecognizable noise permeating throughout the lobby. Curiosity led us down a corridor and out a back door where the now recognizable barks overwhelmed our senses. Seals, hundreds of them, had taken over docks and landings sitting 150-ish yards away. Gladly, the barking did not disrupt our sleep.
With one full day to explore Astoria, we made the most of our time. First order was a must-visit to the Goondocks…
a row of Victorian houses made famous in the 1985 Goonies movie. While we easily found parking and walked up to the primary “Goonies’ House” to snap photos, increased tourist traffic and mishaps have since halted such practices.
Next, a walk around and up into the Astoria Column provided both a historical accounting and scenic overview of the area.
Styled after Rome’s Trajan Column (which Trey has since visited), its spiraling pictorials tell of the “discovery” of the Columbia River, Lewis and Clark’s expedition, and the arrival of John Jacob Astor’s merchant ship which was instrumental in establishing Astoria as a key outpost in North America’s fur trade, helping Astor to control much of that trade. How ironic, or perhaps “offensive’ is more fitting, that Astor’s descendants later dedicated the column as a memorial to the Chinook Indians.
The remainder of Astoria was explorable by bicycle via The Riverwalk…
a roughly 5-mile pathway following the Columbia River bank from the peninsula’s westernmost point, and turning into forested hills at the eastern end.
Along the way, The Riverwalk provides easy access to downtown shops and restaurants. Note, a trolley line follows much of the pathway.
During our bike ride, we enjoyed eating wild blackberries growing aside the pathway, watching the day’s catch being unloaded, the ever-present wildlife, and being entertained by Coast Guard drills while eating pizza.
Astoria is charming with a laid-back, fun vibe that balances well with the hard work and challenges that I imagine accompany living at the convergence of three rivers and an ocean. Also apparent was Astoria’s reliance on tourism.
Astoria Food experiences…
A bit of a foodie city, there were several on-budget options. Five stars to T Paul’s Supper Club for dinner, Street 14 Café for coffee and lunch, and the chain restaurant Pig N’ Pancake was a breakfast favorite for locals and tourists.
Fort Clatsop – Lewis and Clark National Historical Park
Fort Clatsop is just south of Astoria so we saved this historical site for the morning of our departure. The fort sits where the Lewis and Clark expedition settled in for winter, awaiting and planning for their return east.
All structures are replicas based on surviving journal entries. A footpath leads to the Lewis and Clark River and follows the shore 1-1/2 miles to Netul Landing (Netul is the river’s original name).
US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part Two
Mesmerized with our first Oregon coast drive, we stretched the 2 hour and forty minute trip to Lincoln City into most of the day; stopping at numerous overlooks…
touring Tillamook Cheese Factory…
Tillamook’s exceptionally clean packaging area
and traipsing between homes to access a public beach…
Lovely day best expressed through photographs:
We arrived in Lincoln City at sunset, without hotel reservations, and famished. Trey had spotted Puerto Vallarta Mexican Restaurant as we entered town — best Tex-Mex fix since Pittsburgh, margaritas included of course.
Lincoln City’s Sailor Jack Inn stands out as one of our more memorable sleeping experiences; notable in a unique, funny, and lets-not-do-that-again way. It was a cheap motel with a million dollar view.
Slinking carefully into bed, we drifted to sleep easily to the sound of crashing waves. I’m sure the margaritas were helpful, too!
Woke the next morning to clear skies, and another Pig N’ Pancake breakfast fueled our bodies for the drive inland to Portland.
Although Trey and I wanted to see Alaska, it was not on our original wish list of sites and landmarks to visit during our six-month journey. Neither recall why we had not considered Alaska, nor do we remember how we came to realize it was doable. Since we’d booked the cruise only a month prior, the inspiration probably came from one of the many bikers and fellow travelers we encountered during our stay in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Our “we will figure it out” mentality is all about being open to options and opportunities. As I’ve written elsewhere, “It’s about having faith… that we will know which paths to take as we approach the many crossroads of our journey.”
“ It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder, It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.” The Spell of the Yukon, Robert W. Service
Truth is of the highest importance to me. In fact, my book’s subtitle is Truth is Sacred. So here’s a serving of truth about non-stop travel that may not be disclosed or properly portrayed in travel blogs, including this one:
It isn’t necessarily glamorous; it can be exhausting; it’s not conducive to practicing self-care; and immune systems get weary.
Since leaving Austin more than three months prior, I had already experienced two bouts of food poisoning. First, from sketchy pigs ‘n blankets in Atlantic City, and then from a salad in Ottawa. The latter round was especially ugly, but nowhere as odious as the 38 hours I endured in our cabin’s miniature bathroom…I’ll spare you further details, just be assured it was the opposite of glamorous.
Being a seven-day cruise, I was able to rebound and enjoy most of the amazing scenery…
Alaska’s Capital, Juneau is a bustling tourist and government hub relative to the other communities we visited.
The path from the cruise port to the capitol building is a gauntlet of high-end jewelry stores and low-end souvenir vendors.
Our shopping goals included lunch and one item, a corkscrew to evade the cruise line’s corkage fee. We found both at the Red Dog Saloon. (Note, upon initial embarking, most cruise lines allow each guests (21+) to carry on one bottle of unopened wine. Don’t forget the corkscrew!)
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay was the highlight of Trey’s Alaskan scenic experience. Due to the aforementioned illness, I was officially quarantined in the cabin for the duration of our time in Glacier Bay.
Though weak and fog-headed, I loved Trey’s regular and enthusiastic updates of the 65-mile voyage up Glacier Bay into Tarr Inlet. At some point, the ship was boarded by National Park Rangers to help with navigation into the bay’s narrow inlets and conduct informational discussions as we cruised past islands, wildlife, and glacial rivers.
Travel into John Hopkins Inlet was not on the day’s itinerary, but the captain announced he’d been granted permission to enter the inlet due clear weather and decreased ice floes.
Ice floe, John Hopkins Inlet
Ice Cave, John Hopkins Inlet
Through the photos Trey captured and his excitement in describing the day, I experienced it with him. It was absolutely beautiful!
Grand Pacific Glacier
John Hopkins Glacier
Sitka’s city center sits on Baranov Island.
Our ship docked among the numerous tiny islands dotting Sitka Sound, and disembarking was done via a ship’s tender – a new transportation experience for us.
A hard working fishing community, Sitka was closer to our expectations of an Alaskan city than Juneau…
less touristy, with a focus on its people and history. For me, it was like I had finally arrived in true Alaska.
Originally the site of Tlingit Village, Sitka’s roots are prominently displayed throughout. Totems align a walking path in Sitka National Historic Park, and a Russian Orthodox Church is the focal point of Lincoln Street, the city’s main street.
With limited time, and even less energy on my part, we were not able to explore beautiful Sitka as we would have liked. Yet, we were there long enough to discern it as a unique community full of grit, charm, and justified pride.
Raven, Baranov Totem
I immediately recognized Ketchikan from photographs my parents had taken decades before. Quaint, colorful, and picturesque. Creek Street, and its elevated walk lined with vibrant shops perched above Ketchikan Creek, is quintessential Alaska.
We followed other tourists across wooden planks, in and out of shops, and around bends of the creek where an unimaginable number of salmon were making their way upstream.
Continuing beyond the walkway’s end, we found a trail leading up to and through a thicket of firs…
eventually emerging where the creek flattened and opened into a larger pool. Spawning salmon provided the effects of churning currents and rapids within the pool – a truly wondrous display.
With much amusement, we watched a beaver disguise himself with a palm leaf as he snuck into the pool for lunch.
Rather than backtrack, we opted to forge our own path back to the cruise ship, and on the way, discovered totems, Ketchikan’s City Park…
and the Totem Heritage Center, a sanctuary of 19th century Red Cedar totems rescued from neighboring uninhabited Tlingit and Haidi village sites.
The center was established in 1976 to prevent further erosion and destruction of the totems.
Fog Woman – Chief Johnson’s Totem (Replica)
Kajuk Bird – Chief Johnson’s Totem (Replica)
Butchart Gardens, Victoria, BC
After sailing five hours from Ketchikan, we docked in Victoria, British Columbia. We were happy to be back, and chose to spend our time on an evening excursion to Butchart Gardens.
Truly stunning, Butchart Gardens is a must see. The vision of a cement baron’s wife, its expansive gardens stretch across 55 acres in and around the site of a former quarry, the rock source for the cement that helped to construct Victoria and British Columbia.
Arriving at sunset, our visit was muted by the lack of daylight, but enhanced by fantastic light shows and special effects lighting that illuminated spectacular blooms.
Daytime or nighttime tour? I cannot say which is better, having not experienced the former. I think perhaps they’re just very different, and cannot be compared.
Though restricted on time, we managed to stroll through each section, starting with the sunken garden, through the rose garden, and finishing in the Italian garden.
Butchart Gardens – Japanese Garden
Butchart Gardens – Italian Garden
It’s a good thing we didn’t linger much longer, as the shuttle bus driver had miscounted heads and was readying to head back to the cruise port.
Disembarkment in Seattle began the next morning, a Saturday, at 7:00 a.m. Having endured long lines during initial boarding, we resolved to pay for an early disembarkment time.
Numerous tasks awaited, including dirty laundry, returning a borrowed formal dress (required for some cruise dinners), and retrieving our bicycles and camping gear from storage.
It was nearing 2pm when we purchased tickets for the next ferry crossing to Bainbridge Island, leaving just enough time to walk next door and grab some fish n’ chips at Ivan’s Acres of Clams. Then it was…
We traveled from Asheville, North Carolina to Washington D.C. via Charlottesville, Virginia, specifically to stop in on friend of my parents from when I was a child and she a young woman going to college in Wichita Falls. We had a wonderful evening catching up and she was kind enough to indulge me with stories of her time with my parents.
We arrived in D.C. the next day in time for rush hour, but not too late to enjoy a simple evening visiting with my sister who hosted us for the week. Her and her husband’s apartment is very conveniently located to the Smithsonian museums and national monuments, so on our first full day, we opted to use our bicycles instead of dealing with traffic and parking.
After a quick ride through the Capitol grounds, we headed to the National Botanical Garden, but did not stay there long as it was the hottest day of the year for D.C. and botanical gardens aren’t the best places to cool off.
The next stop was a short ride to the National Gallery of Art. We locked our bikes on the rack located near the entrance to the west gallery, which houses the older more traditional pieces, planning to spend an hour and a half there before grabbing some lunch and moving onto the contemporary galleries in the east building.
The beauty of the art took over us immediately and we completely lost ourselves in the worlds and times of Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Pissarro.
Three hours later, the hunger pangs in our stomachs demanded our attention back to the present, so we headed out of the museum with the intention to find a nearby diner or deli. Those plans quickly changed when we arrived at the bike rack to find only one bike – there was no trace of Trey’s. We got the attention of a security guard standing nearby who escorted us back into the museum to file a report.
On the upside, we did get to walk through the gallery’s basement on our way to the security office and see the large art crates being unloaded in the receiving area. Plus, the evening ended well with our first of many planned ballpark stops…
at least it ended well for the Nationals who beat Trey’s Astros 6-5. (It was a rough day for Trey.)
National Museum of the Marine Corps
My sister had previously visited the Marine Corp museum and relayed her positive experience. She knew we would enjoy it, especially the exhibit related to drill instructors. Our father, who enlisted in the Marine Corp when he was 17 and was a veteran of World War II and Korea, had been a drill instructor and rose to the rank of Master Sergeant.
The museum provides a comprehensive history of all major battles, and the stories of the evolution of the Corp from its beginning in 1775 to present day. It was a great complement to our visit to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
United State Holocaust Museum
On the day we toured the United State Holocaust Museum we were lucky to catch a lecture by one of the museum’s archivists regarding the ongoing coordinated efforts to research and return artwork looted by the Nazi’s during WWII, beginning with the works rescued by the international group of volunteers known as the “Monuments Men.” The biggest challenge facing this effort was not the lack of record keeping by the Nazi’s, it was, and still is, the fact that those records were scattered among 18 different countries in the chaos immediately following Germany’s fall. More recently, the verification of the authenticity of records has become more difficult due to advance forgery techniques.
White House West Wing
The highlight of our time in D.C. came on the last evening in the city. Our daughter, Lindsey, flew in from Austin for business and, along with my sister’s son and daughter-in-law, joined us for the evening. Following a fabulous dinner at the Bombay Club, my nephew led us on a tour of the White House’s west wing. The tour included peeks into the Oval Office, the Roosevelt Room where the President meets with cabinet members, and the Navy Mess where cabinet members, senior officials and commissioned officers eat lunch.
The familiar press room is the only indoor area where photos are allowed, and is much smaller than it appears to be on television.
Greenleaf on the Magothy
We ended the week at my sister’s and brother-in-law’s house near the Chesapeake Bay. Their dock and beach area are perfect for bird watching and all possible water recreation activities.
Trey and Lindsey headed directly to check out the dock and in only a few minutes Trey was set up to fish. Unlike the fish in North Carolina, the Maryland fish were very cooperative – Trey caught 28 small bass and one keeper-sized catfish. He released each fish immediately, but as the smile on his face indicates, he had a fabulous time!
Lindsey happily and peacefully snoozed through all the excitement.
My brother-in-law arrived from California early on our last morning at Greenleaf, and despite only a couple of hours of sleep, he was up for kayaking with Trey and Lindsey…
and later, for a ride out into the rougher, and much busier, waters of the Chesapeake.
It was a lovely day, but the afternoon sun soon began bearing down on us and caused us to turn back to shore early.
Greenleaf is an incredibly special place to visit, and I can tell it will be a wonderful gathering place for my sister’s family for generations to come.
With Austin’s zealous housing market, surging population and current questionable water supply, we realize that it may not be feasible for us to be able to return to the city we love and have called home for the last 26 years.
We’d heard good things of Asheville for some time, so scheduled an entire week there in order to be able to thoroughly check the area out and get a feel for the city as a potential place to settle once we decide to do so.
We quickly found out from locals that we are not the only couple considering Asheville as a future place to settle. The rumor is that President Obama has bought property and plans to move his family there upon leaving office. While newspaper reports state that the White House is denying such a purchase, the people of Asheville continue to think otherwise.
Asheville is definitely laid back, slower paced than Austin, and lacks the traffic issues.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time there, particularly the easy access to the seemingly infinite options of outdoor activities.
Just outside of Asheville
We stayed just outside of the city in an “eco” cottage located just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Country living for the week was a welcomed change after staying in the city centers of New Orleans and Atlanta. We awoke with the sun each morning and to the sounds of chickadees, woodpeckers and goats.
The easy pace of Asheville took hold of us immediately as our first full day was spent strolling through artists working studios in the city’s River Arts Districts and enjoying the funky culture and food of West Asheville, which was reminiscent of that of Austin’s South Congress 10-15 years ago.
However, the bulk of our time was spent enjoying the gorgeous landscapes, winding mountain roads, and some of the numerous hiking trails, rivers and lakes that surround Asheville.
Chimney Rock State Park
Located about 25 miles southeast of Asheville, this is a beautifully maintained state park that offers tremendous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
We trekked the 491 steps to the top of the park’s namesake rock, followed by a short hike to Hickory Nut Falls.
The falls is featured in the movie, The Last of the Mohicans, which we have yet to see.
Lake Lure, NC
Just beyond Chimney Rock lies Lake Lure, a quaint to upscale community in a narrow valley on a southern inlet of the mountain lake of the same name.
We took time to walk the footpath along the waterfront, where we watched boats loaded with tourists head out to and in from the main part of the lake, chatted with locals fishing, and admired the lakefront houses.
The Nantahala offers some of the best rafting in the area and normally we would have partaken in such activity, but being less than three weeks since breaking my ankle, we instead opted to enjoy the river by train.
The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad departs from Bryson City, North Carolina, which is 68 miles west of Asheville.
We arrived in the city early with the intention of eating breakfast before catching the train. Yelp offered reviews of several restaurants, but we choose the Everett Street Diner because of the local police cars and five Harley Davidsons that were parked outside its entrance. Outside of New Orleans, it offered the best breakfast we’d had to date, and it was certainly the best price.
The 4 hour round trip train ride wound through narrow passages, crossing the Appalachian Trail and Lake Fontana (which is a dull murky green color due to the copper deposits at its bottom), and along the Nantahala River.
The river’s most challenging rapids are along the Nantahala Outdoor Center where the 2013 U.S. Olympic kayak freestyle team trained.
We also found it interesting that the water flows along this section of the Nantahala are slowed to a trickle each evening by an upstream dam.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park ~ Deep Creek
Trey spotted a national park sign as we were leaving Bryson City and decided to follow it. Stumbling across the Deep Creek area of the park was a great addition to what was already a full day.
We followed two of the three trailheads accessible from the parking lot and leading to separate waterfalls.
We also loved watching the tubers navigate through the creek’s rocks and currents and found ourselves wishing that we had our bicycles to further explore the parks paved pathways. We did end up returning to the park with our bikes later in the week.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Upon finally leaving the Bryson City area, we decided to loop 10 miles out of our way to check out Cherokee, North Carolina, despite plans to visit it the coming weekend. It is the headquarters of the Eastern Band of Cherokees – the band of Cherokees that broke with the Cherokee Nation prior to removal (The Trail of Tears).
We simply drove through the city and made mental notes of places we wanted to visit on our return. I had recalled that Cherokee was the western end of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469 limited access national park road that cuts through and along the top of the Blue Ridge range of the Appalachian Mountains from eastern North Carolina to northwestern Virginia.
Since a quick check on Google maps showed that returning to Asheville via the Blue Ridge Parkway would add only 16 miles to our trip, we decided to do such that and add to the day’s adventures.
Light rain started falling as we entered the parkway at milepost 469, and fell off and on at varying strengths throughout the three hour drive limiting the vistas, but not to the extent that we were not completely impressed and in awe of the surrounding beauty. However, the clouds that sat at higher elevations kept our eyes keenly focused on the only thing visible – the road’s stripes keeping us in our lane.
Despite the occasional nervousness of the drive we foraged through bypassing several opportunities to escape to the lower elevations of state and interstate highways, arriving safely back in Asheville as the sun set.
Fishing and Drawing on the French Broad River
The French Broad winds through and around Asheville and is dotted with “river parks” designated as fishing, swimming, and water craft areas. Trey tried out his casting skills at two such parks but the fish were not biting those days. I took advantage of the scenery and good weather to do some sketching – something I very much enjoyed in my much younger, and less scheduled, days.
Voices of the Cherokee Festival
We returned to Cherokee, North Carolina for the Eastern Band’s annual festival celebrating their heritage, stories, art and culture. We particularly enjoyed a story about the examples we set for our children in the way we care for aging parents, probably because it “hit close to home” for both of us.
The story of why there is an Eastern Band of Cherokee is told at the museum and it describes how, after initially and legally avoiding the forced march west, the band persevered through continued removal efforts through various legal means and also by simply hiding in caves among the Smoky Mountains.
Food & Father’s Day
Like everywhere we’ve traveled and will visit, the Asheville area is not short of amazing local fare. The Everett Street diner was relegated to second best breakfast since New Orleans on Father’s Day when, at the recommendation of a friend, we brunched at the Stoney Knob Café in Weaverville.
Our delightful server at Stoney Knob, Emily, elaborated on President Obama’s plans — she had heard that not only is he moving to Asheville, but that he also plans to follow his passion for craft beer by opening a brewery.
We also enjoyed Tupelo Honey Café in Hendersonville, a streamside lunch at Genny’s Family Restaurant in Chimney Rock Village, and paninis and cherry pie at the West End Bakery in West Asheville.
Trey took some time on his own to play golf on Father’s day at a municipal course close to where we were staying. He reported that the course is well laid out and a fun course with a challenging back 9, but he was particularly impressed with the price – a total of $64 for the green fee, clubs, a cart, 5 balls, a bag of tees, and a golf glove.
We thoroughly enjoyed our week in the Asheville area and left it with the feeling that it is a community that offers everything we think we’ll be seeking after our travels, with one notable exception — family.
This is a record of Trey & Martha's 2014 U.S. travel adventures