Category Archives: National Parks

Redwood National & State Parks ~ September 22 – 24, 2014

The “Redwood Forest” is a patchwork of federal and state parks along California’s northern coastline.

map

Together, they’re a UNESCO World Heritage site with joint missions to manage and preserve the remaining old growth forests. Before effective efforts to protect the giant redwoods were established, logging had wiped out 70% of them. Yes, 70%!

Stout Grove, JS Redwoods State Park

Arriving at the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, located in the northern end, we’d officially traveled from the gulf stream to the redwoods.

Being surrounded by new growth trees and thick underbrush provided our campsite some privacy. And for me, senses of comfort and safety came with sleeping among the giants.

We spent our afternoon exploring the campground and forest. Trey and I had previously encountered a few giants – a young transplanted sequoia in Victoria’s Butchart Gardens, and firs around Mount Rainier and Mount Olympus – but those trees did not prepare us for the magnitude, majesty, and grace of the old growth redwoods.

It was love at first sight!

Giants, JS Redwood State Park

The park’s campground sits alongside the Smith River.

Smith River, JS Redwoods SP
Smith River, JS Redwoods SP

Being September, it was unlikely we’d catch a trout or salmon, so we didn’t purchase licenses. Instead, each evening we walked along the riverbank, admiring river rocks and wildlife, and keeping an eye out for bears.

While Stout Memorial Grove is near the campground—it sits just across the river—the old growth grove is not easily accessible by car. The grove is off a narrow dirt road about two miles from the main highway, US 199.

Because of its isolation, we had the grove mostly to ourselves. Taking a loop trail and then a break-off trail down to the river, we walked among the giants…

Giant Redwood, Stoutgrove

and basked in our quiet communion.

JSRSP, Stout Grove 4

We were thrilled to come across another banana slug because 1) they’re awesome!, and 2) we missed photographing the first one we spotted in our campground.

Banana Slug, JSRSP

Leaving the grove, we continued down the dirt road, Howland Hill Road, into the community of Crescent City.

Howland Hill Road2
Howland Hill Road, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

We highly recommend this drive! In all, it’s only about six miles, but allow plenty of time for winding through the giants, braking and backing for passing cars, and stopping for photos.

JSRSP, Stout Grove 3

Once in Crescent City, we shared a beer and filled up with good Tex-Mex at Perlita’s before heading back to camp for the evening. The sky was overcast, but the chance for rain was only ten percent.

Claps of thunder woke us at midnight followed by a downpour that continued through the night. Though dry inside, by 6:00 a.m. our tent’s floor felt more like a waterbed.

Rainy Campsite, JSRSP

Stepping out to go to the bathroom before breaking camp, we discovered our shoes had floated away with the small stream running thru our campsite and under our tent. We found them in the brush behind the tent, then packed up our soaking selves and threw our gear into the Escape Mobile to leave.

Still raining, we took refuge in The Chart Room, a seafood restaurant that happened to be open for breakfast. The rustic restaurant sits on a narrow peninsula dividing Crescent Harbor and the Pacific Ocean, and its windows provide great views of both.

As we ate, we watched a sea otter catching his breakfast and frolicking in the calm harbor, while across the restaurant, we saw 10-foot waves crashing over the levy onto the road.

Driving south down the coastline on U.S. 101, the waves continued roaring just off the highway. Before reaching the cutoff to our detour to Redding, we stopped at Lady Bird Johnson Nature Grove.

The first First Lady from Texas played an active role in the conservation and beautification of many of our nation’s natural treasures, including a section of the Colorado River that runs through Austin. Of course we had to stop!

Lady Bird Grove & Nature Trail

The rain let up as we arrived, but we’d trekked only a quarter mile and had taken a couple of photos before it started pouring again. Still, a great departing experience and perfect location to say goodbye to the lovely giants.

More pics..

Two Giants, Stout Grove

 

 

Astoria, Oregon & US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive, Part 2 ~ September 15-17, 2014

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.

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Above Astoria, looking west: Views of the Pacific and Columbia, Young, and Lewis & Clark Rivers.

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.

Welcome Party
Astoria’s Welcome Party

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…

Gonnies House
The Goonies House

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…

Astoria Bikepath, Trey
Trey on The Riverwalk near base of Astoria-Megler Bridge

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.

Astoria Bikepath
Eastern end of Astoria’s Riverwalk bike path

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 gulls

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.

Downtown Astoria

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).

Fort Clatsop View
View of Lewis & Clark River from footpath to Netul Landing

US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part Two

Astoria to Lincoln City

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…

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 6

touring Tillamook Cheese Factory…

and traipsing between homes to access a public beach…

Lovely day best expressed through photographs:

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 5

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.

Sailor Jack Inn, Lincoln City
Trey checking in

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.

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 4

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.

More pics…

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 2

Oregon Coast - Drive to Lincoln City 3

Lewis & Clark Routes

 

Olympic National Park ~ August 13-15, 2014

The last morning of our Alaskan cruise, breakfast table-mates recommended hiking Hurricane Ridge, along the northern border of Olympic National Park. With our late departure from Seattle, we decided to spend the night in Port Angeles, a 160 mile drive from Bainbridge Island, and hike the nearby ridge the following morning.

Located on the U.S. side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and with a ferry crossing to Victoria, Port Angeles was a bit of a tourist destination.

View of Port Angeles and Victoria BC
View of Port Angeles with Victoria BC in the distance

We hadn’t accounted for that, nor the fact that it was Saturday. Pulling into town, scores of hotels greeted us… all full or over budget. Before continuing westward, we looped back into town and noticed the Riviera Inn. The unassuming, yet comfortable and clean motel had a few vacancies available.

Also surprised by the many culinary options, we decided on Italian for dinner at Bella Italia and breakfast at First Street Haven, both on East 1st Street (Hwy 101 East). And both good and on budget.

 

Olympic National Park North – Hurricane Ridge

Olympic National Park Map

Encompassing more than 1,400 square miles and the Olympic Mountain Range, with Mount Olympus near its center, one doesn’t drive through Olympic National Park. Like Mount Rainier, you steer around it and enter through various access roads along its changing ecological perimeter.

Relative to the rest of the park, the north is dry with a mix of meadows and foothills leading into the steeper heart of the park.

Trey on Hurricane Ridge

After a stop at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, we were able to continue onto, and park at, the trailhead.

Hurricane Ridge Trail

Rising 700 feet over 1.6 miles, the hike up Hurricane Hill is easy to moderate, and the stunning panoramas are absolutely worth it!

Olympic National Park Panorama

Olympic Natl Park from Hurricane Ridge

Lots of wildlife, too!

Hurricane Ridge Marmot
Hurricane Ridge Marmot

The amazing 360 views beckoned us to stay longer, so we settled down under the shade of a tree to fully absorb the beauty.

 

It wasn’t long before we were surrounded by treat-seeking chipmunks and bunnies.

 

Lake Crescent & Marymere Falls

Sunsetting on a lake

About thirty miles west of Port Angeles, we came across Crescent Lake and a sign post for Marymere Falls. The trail to the falls was just shy of a mile, wound through giant firs and hemlock trees, and deer grazed just off the trail.

 

Marymere Falls
Marymere Falls

That excursion, the extra time spent atop Hurricane Hill, and a stop for hamburgers in Forks, positioned us in a race with the setting sun to the pacific coast.

Ruby Beach, Washington

Arriving at Ruby Beach with just enough light to capture a few photos, we were happy to have officially arrived at the Pacific Ocean. A gorgeous welcome and a memorable setting for what I consider our third left turn around the U.S.

 

Olympic National Park South – Quinault Rainforest

Most National Parks we visited had park-owned lodges that are historic in some context related to the parks’ origin. And all of these lodges are well over our price point, as was the case for Lake Quinault Lodge.

Lake Quinault Lodge
Lake Quinault Lodge

Due to its remoteness along with our eagerness to experience a national park lodge, we made a one-night exception.

Arriving after 9pm, and tired from the day’s hikes, we were thrilled with the prospect of a warm comfortable bed over pitching the tent and blowing up air mattresses.

The next day, we’d arranged an early morning educational tour with a park ranger, so we grabbed breakfast to go and jumped into a van.

Olympic National Park Ranger
Olympic National Park Ranger

Over four hours, we learned about river restoration efforts and the rainforest’s trees and plants. We discovered how the Olympic Mountains were formed by glaciers, and visited the “world’s largest spruce tree…”

 

several waterfalls…

Rainforest Waterfall

and this guy:

Mossquatch
MOSSQUATCH

Before departing Lake Quinault Lodge, we took the time to explore its tranquil grounds and enjoy a quick lunch.

 

The lodge is operated and well maintained by the Quinault Indian Nation, an indigenous sovereign nation. We regretted not being able to spend more time there.

Not included on the tour, the ranger told us of nearby “Big Cedar,” assuring it was worth the half-mile hike.

Quinnault Big Cedar
Quinnault Big Cedar

Located across the lake from the lodge, we decided to visit the ancient tree (1,500 years old) on our own. So glad we did, as it has since fallen due to a storm in July 2016.

 

 

US Hwy 101 Coastline Drive – Part One

The sun had set by the time we left Ruby Beach and turned southward down the coastline, so we missed what I imagine are magnificent views of the Pacific. On the way to Astoria, we got a taste of what we had missed, and of what was to come…

Between Lake Quinault and Astoria

sunsetting-near-astoria-oregon.jpg
Sun setting near Astoria, Oregon

More Pics…

Sully's, Forks
Sully’s in Forks, Washington (We didn’t realize we were in the Twilight zone until we stopped to eat and saw this on the menu.)

Mart with Mossquatch

Ruby Beach, Washington 2
Arriving at Ruby Beach

And because I love trees…

 

Fall Colors

 

 

Alaska Inside Passage ~ September 6 – 13, 2014

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.”

ALASKAN CRUISE

First Sunset of our Alaskan Cruise
First Sunset of our Alaskan Cruise

“ 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.

Mart not feeling too good

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.

Westerdam

Being a seven-day cruise, I was able to rebound and enjoy most of the amazing scenery…

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Juneau, Alaska

Juneau

Alaska’s Capital, Juneau is a bustling tourist and government hub relative to the other communities we visited.

JuneauCapitalBldg
Alaska’s (unremarkable, yet practical) Capitol Building

The path from the cruise port to the capitol building is a gauntlet of high-end jewelry stores and low-end souvenir vendors.

Juneau2
Our floating hotel blends in with downtown Juneau buildings

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, Alaska (2)

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.

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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.

Margerie Glacier (2)
Margerie Glacier

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.

 

Through the photos Trey captured and his excitement in describing the day, I experienced it with him. It was absolutely beautiful!

 

 

Sitka, Alaska

Sitka’s city center sits on Baranov Island.

Sitka Sound
Sitka Sound

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.

Tender unloading passengers
Tender unloading passengers

A hard working fishing community, Sitka was closer to our expectations of an Alaskan city than Juneau…

Sitka Skyline

less touristy, with a focus on its people and history. For me, it was like I had finally arrived in true Alaska.Arriving in Sitka

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.

Sitka

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.

 

Rockwell Lighthouse
Rockwell Lighthouse, Sitka

Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan Harbor
Ketchikan Harbor

Ketchikan Sign

Ketchikan

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.

Ketchikan Shops

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.

Ketchikan Creek

Continuing beyond the walkway’s end, we found a trail leading up to and through a thicket of firs…

Trail above creek walkway

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.

Ketchikan Beaver

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…

 

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and the Totem Heritage Center, a sanctuary of 19th century Red Cedar totems rescued from neighboring uninhabited Tlingit and Haidi village sites.

Preserved Totems
Chief Johnson’s original totem is in the foreground

Heritage Center

The center was established in 1976 to prevent further erosion and destruction of the totems.

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.

Butchart Gardens Sunken Garden
Butchart Gardens Sunken Garden

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.

Garden Entrance

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.

 

Giant Redwood
Sequoia Tree, planted from a seedling in 1934

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.

DSC04349

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…

Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island

on the road again…

More pics..

Ketchikan Otter
Ketchikan Otter

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City Park, Ketchikan
Ketchikan City Park

 

Mount Rainier National Park ~ August 19-21, 2014

The immensity of Mt Rainier dominates the landscape from every approachable vantage point.View of Rainier from Sunrise Road2

After connecting up with US-12 in Yakima, we entered the park’s east border via state highway 410.

The 14k+ mountain also dominates its national park. Within the park, it is not possible to traverse around the mountain by car. Getting from one area to another takes time and planning.

map_driving_tours
Photo source: http://www.visitrainier.com

After much research, we chose White River Campground located more centrally within the park along the northeast facing slope.

White River Campground 

White River offers convenient access to the hiking trails that attracted us. Plus, it sprawls along the bank of the White River, a raging storm of a river furiously fed by three glaciers.

White River from campground

We loved the non-stop sound of water forcing its way down Rainier’s slope, tossing boulders out of its way.

Mart among the gian fir trees
Excitement could not be contained at the sight of these giant Douglas firs!

Because White River campsites are issued on a first-come-first-serve basis, we had a “Plan B” reservation at a campground an hour and half away in the southern end of the park. We were able to cancel that reservation after securing site D17…

 

located directly across from the Glacier Basin Trailhead and a short walk to the Wonderland Trail.

The nearest supply and grocery store is 25 miles away in the community of Greenwater.

Greenwater outfitters
Greenwater Outfitters — good coffee, breakfast and deli style sandwiches.

Glacier Basin Trail

Glacier Basin Trail - HikingFrom our campsite, we followed Glacier Basin Trail into a thick grove of fir trees and past numerous creeks and waterfalls.

Glacier Basin Trail 2
Glacier Basin Trail

Just shy of a mile, we veered onto the Emmons Moraine Trail:  a one-mile (roundtrip) excursion overlooking Emmons Glacier and a beautiful glacial lake.

Emmons tRAIL
Glacial Lake below Emmons Moraine Trail

Instead of trekking the additional 2.2 miles to Glacier Basin, we headed back to camp for lunch and a nap (I was fighting a cold).

Emmon Trail
Trey on the Emmons Moraine Trail

Re-energized, we hopped on our bikes and coasted downhill for six miles, past the Ranger Station to Highway 410. In hindsight, we both agreed the roundtrip hike to Glacier Basin would have been easier than the steep ride back up to our campsite.

Henry Weinhard Private Reserve
Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve – NW Style Lager

Sunrise Area & Wonderland Trail-North

Sitting more than 2,000 feet above the White River Campground, Sunrise has a restaurant, lodge and visitor center. It’s accessible by heading north (away from the river) on the Wonderland Trail for three miles, a strenuous hike due to the rise in elevation.

We opted to drive since we’d planned to hike some of the area’s many trails. Sunrise Park Road climbs up from the campground access road, through a series of sharp curves, switchbacks, and outlook points. Gorgeous drive! northwest panoramic from Sunset AreaIt provides many photographic opportunities of Mt. Rainier and its surrounding mountains, valleys, and glacial lakes.

Sunrise Lake, from Sunrise Park Road
Sunrise Lake, from Sunrise Park Road

Sunrise has ample hiking options for every level. From Sourdough Ridge we headed west to Frozen Lake…

 

 

looped south around Sunrise camp and Shadow Lake, then caught the Wonderland Trail back up to the Sunrise parking area.

 

The loop provided varied hiking environments, conditions and wildlife experiences.

Wonderland Trail-South

The Wonderland Trial encircles Mt. Rainier for 93 miles across varied terrains and elevations. It is a popular trail for fit and fervent thru-hikers.

Wonderland Trail Bridge, White River
Wonderland Trail Bridge Crossing the White River

With our tent and camping gear broken down and packed away in the “Escape Mobile,” we had yet to brave crossing the “bridge” over the White River to venture southward on the trail.

 

Trey went first.

Wonderland TrailSince we lacked the time and transportation to one-way hike to an access point along the campground road, we hiked only about 1/2 mile in before turning around and departing the campground.

Sunrise Area Panoramic

Mt. Rainier stands out as a highlight among our camping adventures – it was our first experience among glaciers, and is a truly majestic towering beast of a mountain.

We will be back.

 

Drive Between Yellowstone & Mount Rainier National Parks ~ August 17-19, 2014

After grabbing dinner at the Old Town Café in West Yellowstone, we gassed up the “Escape Mobile” and headed north to connect with U.S. 287 — a highway we had traveled countless times across north Texas, but never across Montana.

Hands down, the Montana portion is more interesting and beautifulLake Hebgenwhile traversing the east bank of the Madison River, between canyon walls, and along the shorelines of several lakes.

Positioned in the lower western sky, the sun provided great photo opportunities of the lakes. (Photo above is Hebgen Lake.)

A particularly long stretch of a lake prompted our curiosity and called for us to stop at its overlook point. Quake Lake, MontanaQuake Lake had been formed exactly fifty-five years prior when the combination of an earthquake, massive landslide, and subsequent rushing, rising water flooded the valley.

Just minutes after the quake and slide, the new lake began forming. In the following weeks, it grew to encompass an area five miles long and 190 feet deep.

 

The formation of the lake came at a great cost – twenty-eight people died the evening of the earthquake, either by drowning or being crushed in the landslide.

For Trey and I to be the only individuals standing above the former campground on the 55th anniversary date of its tragic demise, was surreal and humbling.

Tree tops emerging from Quake Lake
Dead silver treetops emerge from Quake Lake as an eerie reminder of the past.

Before continuing the drive to Butte, where we would spend the night, we said a short prayer in honor of the lost souls.

Spokane, Washington

The 316 mile trip from Butte to Spokane…Montana Landscapeincluded a seventy-four mile trek across the top of Idaho.

As we approached Idaho, the trees grew dense, steep ravines began crossing under Interstate 90, and fall colors dotted the hillsides.

 

We were in Idaho just long enough to realize we should have planned a stay there. Next time.

After settling into a hotel on the outskirts of Spokane, we headed downtown for dinner and a walking tour of the city. Spokane was a pleasant surprise because we had no expectations. No thoughts whatsoever, other than a place to sleep for the night. I think perhaps its location in eastern Washington, and its lack-luster name, conjures up images of dust and doldrums.

Spokane is the opposite — lively and lovely. Spokane, WaThe Spokane River runs through the city’s center. A river walking path was being extended as a part of a larger Riverfront Park renovation plan.

Spokane Riverfront Park Improvements
Part of Spokane’s new river-walk and Riverfront Park revitalization efforts

On to Mt. Rainier…

We stopped at a lookout point outside of Vantage, Washington to bask in our first sight of the immense Columbia River. Columbia RiverGinkgo Petrified Forest State Park lay just beyond the opposite bank and was once home to the Wanapums, an indigenous, peaceful tribe of fishermen who are near extinction.

 

A few hours after crossing the Columbia, and after refueling both the car and our bodies in Ellensburg, we soon caught our first glimpse of the mammoth Mount Rainier. Mt Rainier in the distanceThe sighting renewed our energy and enthusiasm for the remaining two hour drive to our campsite.

Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks, Wyoming ~ August 13-17, 2014

Upon entering Yellowstone National Park’s northeast entrance (located on the Montana-Wyoming border) we were greeted by Buffalo, and more buffalo escorted us throughout the 85 mile drive to the Grant Village Campground.

First stop along the trek was an overlook view of Tower Fall, the famous 132 foot waterfall of the Yellowstone River.

Tower Fall, Yellowstone River
Tower Fall, Yellowstone River (namesake taken from the surrounding rock spirals)

The overlook sits at the junction of the Yellowstone River and Tower Creek which also permitted us to experience the strength of the water forcing its way through the canyon.

Yellowstone River
Convergence of Tower Creek and the Yellowstone River south of Tower Fall

There is no shortage of wonders along Grand Loop Road which wends through the heart of Yellowstone and around the north shore of Yellowstone Lake.  For this reason, the two-and-a-half hour drive took us about four hours, getting us to our campground with just enough daylight to set up camp and grab dinner at Lake View Cafe.

Yellowstone Lake @ Sunset
Yellowstone Lake @ Sunset

 

Grant Village Campground

Grant Village is located in the southern end of the park on the “west thumb” of Yellowstone Lake, and within the volcano’s caldera. Our third experience camping, and our third experience pitching our tent in the rain.

Grant Village Campsite
Grant Village Campsite, Loop K #391

What a great camping experience! Our site, 391 on Loop K, was spacious and sits near the ledge of a shallow ravine.

Yellowstone is wild, and camping provides a great opportunity to experience that wild. On several nights we were awakened to the howls and barks of wolves running through the ravine below.

The third morning we woke with the sun and to a strange snorting noise outside our tent. A quick look out the window eased our minds – the noises were from two elk cows and four calves grazing just outside.

The calves decided to nestle down in the grass around our tent and keep us company through breakfast.

With everything one would need from restaurants, showers, a post office, and general store, Grant Village is truly a village. We particularly enjoyed exploring the campground by bicycle and the Ranger’s educational presentations at the visitors’ center.

We learned:

  • Yellowstone’s supervolcano incurred three major eruptions over the past 2.1 million years, and it’s doubtful another one will take place within the next 10,000 years.
  • Grizzlies’ forage after dark in the summer months and during the day in the spring and fall.
  • The native lodgepole pine tree has a second type of cone that opens only under the extreme heat of fire assuring the species’ survival

 

Thermal Geysers

There are more than 10,000 thermal geysers in Yellowstone, and Trey attempted to see them all! Kidding, but at times it seemed as if that was his goal.

Of course Old Faithful was a must-see, and due to its southern location, it was our first stop.

Old Faithful
Old Faithful erupting on schedule

Most of the geyser touring areas line Highway 191 on the park’s west side. Raised boardwalks varying in distances from a quarter mile to two miles cut between geysers and keep visitors safe from the unstable, scalding hot ground.

Sapphire HOle
Sapphire Geyser

While visiting each geyser area was impossible over a five-day period, we exhausted ourselves checking out Old Faithful Basin, Biscuit Basin, Fire Hole Loop, and Norris Geyser Basin.

Morning Glory Geyser
Morning Glory Geyser

 

 

Grand Teton National Park

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Grand Teton’s north entrance is located 54 miles south of Yellowstone’s Grant Village which made it ideal for a day trip. After checking out Lewis Falls, we headed out of Yellowstone via the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.

The Parkway follows the Snake River and then Jackson Lake, with the Tetons laid out along the other (west) side of the lake.

The day was spent mostly touring the park in the “Escape Mobile.” There is much to see by car including Signal Mountain, which offers great vantage points for both the Tetons and the Snake River Valley to the east.

View from Signal Mountain
Looking east from Signal Mountain

The initial plan was to hike around Lake Jenny, but we decided to explore more of the park rather than spend the day on a 7-mile hike.

Jenny Lake
A short, but steep, hike to Jenny Lake’s edge, we arrived just as a swimmer made it across from the west side. (his arm is visible in lower left of photo)

As an alternative, we chose the shorter Taggart Lake-Beaver Creek Trail, a 3.8 mile loop. Instead of looping, we hiked about a mile-and-a-half in and backtracked. The trail offered gorgeous shots of the Tetons.

A lovely day that we ended with a fabulous dinner at the Jackson Lake Lodge, donated to the park by JD Rockefeller, Jr. Despite being under-dressed in our hiking clothes, we were seated at window table with a prime view of the Tetons.

Great food! Afterwards, we stepped outside and onto the Lunch Tree Hill trail for a short hike up a ridge overlooking the valley and Grand Tetons. Trey was hoping to see moose, but the sun set while we waited.

Outside of Jackson Lake Lodge

 

Leaving Yellowstone

Having depleted most of our energy, we opted to pull up stakes in Yellowstone a day early, breaking up the 500+ drive to Spokane. We toured another geyser basin on our way to the west exit, where we were escorted out by more buffalo.

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Note, though visiting Yellowstone in mid-August, we kept our jackets handy at all times. The evening temperatures fell into the 30’s, and some afternoons brought sudden, but short-lived, storms and hail.

More Yellowstone Wildlife…