Category Archives: birds

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 8

A grove of aspens at Pyramid Lake.
A grove of aspens at Pyramid Lake.

Thirteen days ago, June 19, 2015.

Exploring around Jasper townsite.

It was another misty moisty day and cloudy was the weather, as my mother would say (in sharp contrast to what we’ve got here in western Washington as I write this — we just came off the hottest June on record, and it’s supposed to get over 90F today, which is 20 degrees above normal), so I decided to start with something indoors, to give things a chance to improve.

But first I stopped at a Tim Horton’s in Jasper townsite, where they sold me a large hot tea and Timbits (doughnut holes) for breakfast. I’d never been in a Tim Horton’s before (I’ve seen their ads on the Canadian TV station I get on my cable at home), but they do very good tea and doughnut holes.

Jasper townsite has an active historical society, and an excellent museum telling all about its human history. The woman staffing the museum told me about at least one place I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, too, and was very friendly and informative in general. I am a big fan of local historical societies who are lucky enough to have volunteers like her.

A display at the Jasper Historical Museum telling about where the local First Nations lived.
A display at the Jasper Historical Museum telling about where the local First Nations lived.

It had cleared up a little by the time I left the museum, so I headed out to a pair of lakes, Patricia and Pyramid, which turned out to be a lovely short drive. I don’t know who Patricia Lake is named after, but Pyramid Lake was named after one of the mountains that looms over it, which is sort of pyramid-shaped. If you squint at it from the right angle. More to the point, Pyramid Lake has an island, accessed by bridge, with a pleasant walking trail around it. Even the rain, spitting and spatting, didn’t ruin the pleasure of that walk.

The bridge to the island in Pyramid Lake
The bridge to the island in Pyramid Lake
A robin and her nest on the island at Pyramid Lake.
A robin and her nest on the island at Pyramid Lake.
Pyramid Mountain.
Pyramid Mountain.
Yellow gallardia, white non-native oxeye daisies, and spiky butter and eggs, on the highway just outside Jasper townsite.
Yellow gallardia, white non-native oxeye daisies, and spiky butter and eggs, on the highway just outside Jasper townsite.

My next goal was Maligne (pronounced Ma-LEEN if you speak English, Ma-LINE if you speak French, according to the lady at the museum) Canyon, the third of those slot canyons I saw on this trip. More deep narrow recesses with water thundering down, more all but unnecessary bridges because it was basically close enough to jump if you were crazy, more wildflowers, more thundering waterfalls. And a sign telling all about how this canyon, at any rate, was created because I was standing on a karst formation. Karst. Here. I always associate karst landscapes with Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. It seemed very odd to run across it way off up here, for some reason. And the landscape was so green and lush. I’d had it in my brain that the whole of Jasper National Park was going to look like the area around Athabaska Glacier, but it doesn’t. Not at all.

The karst exhibit at Maligne Canyon.
The karst exhibit at Maligne Canyon.

Just after I turned around (the trail and canyon go on for several miles, but I only walked down to the third bridge and the waterfall, about a kilometer, mindful of the steepness of the trail going back uphill), the skies opened up. If I hadn’t been wearing my raincoat, I’d have been drenched. My feet absolutely squelched, though.

A view of Maligne Canyon.
A view of Maligne Canyon.
Another view of Maligne Canyon.
Another view of Maligne Canyon.
The waterfall at the third bridge on the Maligne Canyon trail.
The waterfall at the third bridge on the Maligne Canyon trail.

While eating my lunch in the car after, I discovered Jasper must have a repeater for the Edmonton CBC radio station, because I got to listen to a gardening show, which was fascinating. Seems to me like it would be an uphill battle to garden so far north (although many of the houses in Jasper have nice gardens), but apparently it’s worth it.

And so on to Maligne Lake. I passed Medicine Lake on the way, which, because of the karst, drains completely by late summer.

Medicine Lake, which had not disappeared for the summer yet.
Medicine Lake, which had not disappeared for the summer yet.

Maligne Lake is another of those jewels dropped into the middle of a forest, with mountains all around, and should be part of the seven wonders of the natural world, not Lake Louise, IMHO. If it weren’t for the mosquitoes and the rain continuing to threaten, it would have been almost too perfect. But about the time I got back to my car, I got showered with ice pellets. In late June.

Maligne Lake, seriously, utterly gorgeous.
Maligne Lake, seriously, utterly gorgeous.  That’s a historic boathouse on the left.
A view of Maligne Lake from the bridge at its outlet.
A view of Maligne Lake from the bridge at its outlet.

On the way back to Jasper townsite, I saw four bears. One lone male, then a sow with two cubs. Pretty exciting stuff, and by far my best bear photo of the trip.

Mama bear and one of her babies.  The other one was out of sight at that moment, alas.
Mama bear and one of her babies. The other one was out of sight at that moment, alas.  This was taken with the zoom, from the safety of my car, just so you know.

When I got back, I prowled town for a bit, ate supper (better than the night before, thank goodness), bought some candy called naked bear paws (cashews on caramel), and headed for the hostel. Back down the Icefields Parkway tomorrow, the first step in heading home <sigh>.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 6

A cloud-shrouded Lake Louise.
A cloud-shrouded Lake Louise.

Thirteen days ago, June 17, 2015.

Yesterday got away from me. So we’ll start again with day six today.

Off to Lake Louise. The literature says that it was once counted as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I can’t say it lives up to that sort of hype, but it was rather spectacular. And about as crowded as Johnston Canyon was yesterday, due mostly to tour busses carrying folks speaking at least a dozen different languages (primarily French, but several other European languages and at least that many Asian ones).

It was pouring rain when I left Banff townsite to drive the thirty-odd miles to the lake, but by the time I got halfway there, to leave the Trans-Canada Highway for the upper half of the Bow River Parkway, it was just barely spitting.

Memorial for WWI internment camp along the Bow River Parkway.  Men in that camp helped build roads and trails in the park.
Memorial for WWI internment camp along the Bow River Parkway. Even unfairly imprisoned (shades of Manzanar, etc., in the U.S.), men in that camp helped build roads and trails in the park.

It was much cooler, though, and today was the first day I really appreciated the fact that I’d brought my insulated jacket. I was also glad I’d taken as many photos of the mountains as I had over the last two days, because the cloud deck was low enough to drape like a shawl over the shoulders of the mountains, and I wouldn’t have nearly as many unimpeded photos as I do if I hadn’t (I uploaded my photos to my laptop that night, to discover I’d taken about five hundred on the trip so far — thank goodness for digital cameras, is all I can say, and you’re getting the cream of the crop).

Lake Louise.
Lake Louise.
These lakeshore memorials to early pioneers in the area made me think of Han Solo, for some odd reason...
These lakeshore memorials to early pioneers in the area made me think of Han Solo, for some odd reason…
Clark's Nutcracker at Lake Louise.
Clark’s Nutcracker at Lake Louise.

So. Lake Louise. One of the most famous lakes in the world, or so I’m given to understand, named after one of Queen Victoria’s daughters, bright turquoise, nestled in a glaciated valley just below the Victoria Glacier, and ringed by mountain peaks. Really beautiful, actually. The hotel at the foot of the lake, also famous, I gather, is almost exactly like the one in Banff. Big and fancy and run by an international hotel chain, so without the kind of character and uniqueness a hotel in a place like this should have.

The big, blocky Chateau Lake Louise.
The big, blocky Chateau Lake Louise.

There’s a nice, paved path around the west side of the lake which I strolled for some distance, hoping for mountain goats on the mountainsides above, but no luck, alas. Perhaps tomorrow on the Icefields Parkway. And, my curiosity satisfied, I head back down to the turnoff for Moraine Lake, which I’ve also heard good things about.

Moraine Lake.
Moraine Lake.

Moraine Lake, is, if anything, more gorgeous than Lake Louise, backed by a whole range of mountains. The outlet of the lake is marked by a huge natural rockpile, with a trail going to the top. By then it had pretty much quit raining altogether, and the clouds were beginning to rise, so I took the short hike up there to goggle at the view, spotting more wildflowers along the way as a bonus.

I think these are some kind of currant blossoms.  Along the rockpile trail at Moraine Lake.
I think these are some kind of currant blossoms. Along the rockpile trail at Moraine Lake.
Arnica along the rockpile trail at Moraine Lake.
Arnica along the rockpile trail at Moraine Lake.
Least chipmunk at the rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake.
Least chipmunk at the rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake.

One of the exhibit signs said this was where the picture on the back of the Canadian twenty dollar bill was taken, but I took one out of my wallet and apparently they’ve changed the design. Still, the view was well worth immortalizing, so I did.

The view from the rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake.
The view from the rockpile viewpoint at Moraine Lake.
Doesn't the water look almost opalescent?  Especially next to that dark green tree?
Doesn’t the water look almost opalescent? Especially next to that dark green tree?

On my way back to Banff townsite, I stopped in the village of Lake Louise (a couple of miles from the lake itself), and went in their visitor center. Unlike the ones for Kootenay National Park (actually in Radium Hot Springs), which only had a tiny exhibit section, and Banff townsite, which was just a bunch of information desks (although, to be honest, with the Whyte Museum and the Cave and Basin site it would have been redundant to do more), the Lake Louise visitor center had a great set of exhibits on the geology of the area.

And so back down the upper section of the Bow River Parkway, where I saw a wild canine! It was either a very large, very healthy coyote, or a lone wolf.  Or maybe, from the tail, even a huge fox. From the distance at which I saw it, it was hard to tell (this photo has been cropped and enlarged to a faretheewell).

Lone wolf?  Really big coyote?
Lone wolf? Really big coyote? Enormous fox?

And then, further down the road, another bear! My second one of the trip.

Bear!
Bear!

Add to that the loads of Columbian ground squirrels and least chipmunks (the latter of which were all over the place at Moraine Lake), and the ravens and magpies and Clark’s nutcrackers (the latter of which were all over the place at Lake Louise), and I’ve seen lots of critters so far.

Once back in Banff townsite, I filled Kestrel’s gas tank against the drive to Jasper tomorrow, which I was seriously looking forward to. Especially if the weather improved.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 4

Along the Bow River Parkway, Banff National Park.
Along the Bow River Parkway, Banff National Park.

Twelve days ago, June 15, 2015.

From Radium Hot Springs to Banff, aka, why is there a city in the middle of a national park?

Canadians have a much different idea as to what’s appropriate in a national park than we USAians do. I knew that, in theory, before I made this trip. But there’s something just really odd about having what I think of as a gateway community (and a bloody big one) inside the national park as opposed to just outside its border. Let alone what looks like their equivalent of an Interstate highway right through the park.

But I get ahead of myself. Twelve days ago today I drove back up into Kootenay National Park, and what should I see right after I emerged from the red rock canyon? A bear! My first one of the trip, but not my last. I don’t have a good picture of him, alas — I’d already passed him before I could get stopped, and there was another vehicle behind me in the pullout so I couldn’t back up, so the two photos of him I do have were taken through the back window of my car (no way was I getting out of my car to get a better look — I pride myself on not being a touron, as the Yellowstone folks sometimes refer to people who seem to be aiming to win the Darwin award).

A bear!
A bear!

I drove on, chortling about seeing a bear, up the route I’d taken yesterday and beyond, past Marble Canyon and up to the Continental Divide, which is also the border between Kootenay and Banff National Parks. I’m afraid my photo of the sign proclaiming this got sun-glared, but here it is, anyway.

The Continental Divide and the boundary between both Kootenay and Banff National Parks and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
The Continental Divide and the boundary between both Kootenay and Banff National Parks and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
They mean that about the wild roses, too, especially in Jasper NP.  Geographically, I visited Alberta about the way I visit Wyoming when I go to Yellowstone.
They mean that about the wild roses, too, especially in Jasper NP. Geographically, I visited Alberta about the way I visit Wyoming when I go to Yellowstone.

It’s not far from the Divide to the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway (the aformentioned Interstate-alike), a four-lane behemoth of a road that bisects Banff NP. Fortunately, there’s an alternative, the Bow Valley Parkway, which is a winding two-lane that runs from just north of Banff the town to Lake Louise. I joined it about halfway between, just below the imposing and appropriately-named Castle Mountain (although apparently after WWII, it was renamed Eisenhower Mountain, of all things — that didn’t last long).

Castle Mountain.
Castle Mountain, at the junction with the Trans-Canada Highway, hence the light poles.

The Bow Valley Parkway is much more traditionally national parkish. Lots of pullouts with informative signs, trailheads, and so forth, and very peaceful, with one exception. I had thought to stop at Johnston Canyon, which was the second of those narrow, deep slot canyons, this one with a trail that goes along the bottom, but the parking area for the trailhead was so full that I couldn’t find a place to park. So I told myself I’d come back the next day, and kept going south to Banff the town.

Along the Bow River Parkway.
Along the Bow River Parkway.
One of the ubiquitous Columbian Ground Squirrels, which actually remind me more of prairie dogs than ground squirrels.
One of the ubiquitous Columbian Ground Squirrels, which actually remind me more of prairie dogs than ground squirrels.

Banff the town is beautifully situated, surrounded by some really oddly-shaped mountains (I have to say that I’ve never really seen mountains shaped like the Canadian Rockies anywhere else), and where the Canadian national parks began with a hot spring (more on that tomorrow). It’s also incredibly busy and touristy, but I really didn’t mind. Especially since my hostel, right on the Bow River (pronounced like bow and arrow, not bow or curtsey), was within walking distance of practically everything. The hostel was in a huge old building that used to be a hospital, but it was clean and pleasant and if it felt a bit institutional, that was okay, too.

The bridge across the Bow River in the town of Banff.
The bridge across the Bow River in the town of Banff.

After lunch in a restaurant (in a mall! in a national park!), I went exploring. Found the Bow River Falls, which were gorgeous.

Downstream from the Bow River Falls.  This looks so much like Yosemite Valley to me.
Downstream from the Bow River Falls. This looks so much like Yosemite Valley to me.
Bow River Falls.
Bow River Falls.

Visited the Cascade Gardens behind the big stone Banff park admin building, which were another anomaly, albeit an enjoyable one, from my point of view.

A view from the Cascade Gardens.
A view from the Cascade Gardens.
Lily of the valley blooming in Cascade Gardens.  Everything was blooming about a month later than at home, and they were just putting out bedding plants for the summer.
Lily of the valley blooming in Cascade Gardens. Everything was blooming about a month later than at home, and they were just putting out bedding plants for the summer.
Cascade Gardens and the Banff admin building.
Cascade Gardens and the Banff admin building.

Wandered through the public rooms of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel, which was much less iconic looking on the inside than it was on the outside, and drove up to the foot of the gondola, decided that it was not for me (I don’t do manmade heights, and this one made the one at the Tetons that scared me half to death last summer look like a quick lift to the top of the bunny slope), and ended up parked in the shade in their parking lot writing in my journal and enjoying the view.

The Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
The Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
A view from the patio of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.
A view from the patio of the Banff Fairmont Chateau Hotel.

I’d meant to visit at least two of the museums this afternoon, but it was Sunday and they were closed. So I put them on my agenda for tomorrow.

I like Banff the town. It’s just not my idea of what should belong in a national park, is all.

A magpie perched on a ledge at the hostel.
A magpie perched on a ledge at the hostel.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 1

Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit.
Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit west of Sherman Pass.

Twelve days ago, Friday, June 12, 2015

I think it was about three months ago when it was pointed out to me that I’m no farther from the Canadian Rockies than I am from

Yellowstone (about a hundred miles closer, in fact) and I thought, you know, I’ve been to Yellowstone how many times in the 22 years since I moved to western Washington — why have the only trips I’ve made to Canada in that time been a couple of weekends via ferry to Victoria?

So I renewed my passport and started making plans for the trip as soon as the exhibit was finished. That this happened to coincide with the dates the U.S. Open golf tournament was held less than
fifteen miles from my house was just a bonus (I am told the traffic that week was pretty overwhelming).

Anyway. As is normal on any first day of a vacation like this, I spent most of it on the road. Northeast on SR 18, where I began my day with a hawk stooping at prey right beside the road as I drove by, then east on I-90, of course, to the town of Cle Elum, just over Snoqualmie Pass, where I picked up a back road for a few miles to U.S. 97, which stretches north to the Canadian border, and,
incidentally, allowed me to bypass driving up I-5 through the entire
Puget Sound conurbation, plus avoid one of the busiest border crossings between here and Detroit.

I did not, however, go straight up U.S. 97 to the border. I turned east at the little town of Tonasket, in the heart of the Okanogan country, to explore the northeastern part of Washington before I headed on. I’d always been curious about this area, but it was just a bit farther than I’d want to go for an overnight.

I don’t know if anyone familiar with eastern Washington who’s reading this is as surprised as I was to discover how mountainous the northeast corner of the state actually is. I mean, south of here it’s pretty much flat and seriously monotonous all the way from
Ellensburg to Spokane. But SR 20 climbs quickly up from the
Okanogan River valley and enters national forest land. I passed through the “town” (if there were half a dozen buildings, I’d be shocked) of Wauconda, crossed a 4500 foot pass, dropped down to the San Poil River valley at the town of Republic (which could be the twin of Libby, Montana, where I lived briefly a long time ago), then climbed steeply to Sherman Pass, elevation 5500 feet.

The Sherman Pass viewpoint looks out over one of those curvature-of-the-earth views, over mountains that had obviously been burned in the not-too-distant past. An exhibit board said that the fire had taken place in 1988, the same year as the Yellowstone fires, and the landscape looked similar to the park.

View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.
View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.

East of Sherman Pass were a couple of historic landmarks. The first one was the site of a CCC camp in the 1930s, with some fun
sculpture:

Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.

The second one was apparently about logging, but with no sign, it was kind of hard to tell. On the other hand, this is where I saw the first of many, many wild roses in bloom on this trip (photo at top).

I crossed the Columbia River, actually Lake Roosevelt above the Grand Coulee Dam, at the town of Kettle Falls, the namesake of which is now buried under the reservoir.

The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.
The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.

But it had an interesting little historical museum where I took a break from the road.

The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.
The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.

And then I drove the last few miles to the county seat of Colville (pronounced CALL-ville, not COAL-ville), where I spent my first night on the road!

From autumn to winter back to autumn again at Mt. Rainier

Frosted trees at Paradise, Mt. Rainier
Frosted trees at Paradise, Mt. Rainier

This past Monday my friend L and I decided to take advantage of the clear (if rather chilly) weather and make a jaunt up to Mt. Rainier. Our goal was Paradise, at 5400 feet, but that depended on how clear the roads were, it having snowed up there the day before.

The roads were only a bit icy in spots (we only slid once, and that for a few inches), and the rewards were spectacular. Six inches of very sticky snow coated everything, from the Inn to random plant stems. It was clear when we arrived, but the clouds did start building up while we were up there, which is why I have no pictures of the actual mountain from this trip.

Paradise Inn, boarded up for the winter.
Paradise Inn, boarded up for the winter.
Frosted bushes
Frosted bushes
There *is* a Mountain behind those clouds, honest.
There *is* a Mountain behind those clouds, honest.
Nice tall snow sticks so the plows can find the parking lot.
Nice tall snow sticks so the plows can find the parking lot.
6
Nevermore in the almost-deserted parking lot.

It was cold. 31dF, to be precise, with a bit of wind. So we didn’t stay up there long, just enough so my friend could try out her new snow boots, so I could accidentally step in a plowed pile of snow up to my knees, and to eat our picnic lunch in the car.

Then we headed back down, stopping at Narada Falls (where the trail to the falls viewpoint was completely iced over), and at Longmire (at about half the altitude of Paradise), where we walked one of my favorite trails in the park, the Trail of the Shadows.

The Trail of the Shadows leads around the edge of a meadow dotted with hot springs and partially filled with a pond. It’s also the site of the first settlement in what is now the park, where, in the 1880s, James Longmire discovered the hot springs and decided to build facilities so that people could come and soak in them (and drink the water, although its reputation is foul-tasting).

This time of year mushrooms are quite abundant and varied. But the trail wasn’t underwater, which parts of it can be in late fall.

Two of the many, many mushrooms/toadstools/miscellaneous fungi we saw at Longmire.
Two of the many, many mushrooms/toadstools/miscellaneous fungi we saw at Longmire.
Across the golden meadow to the rain forest.
Across the golden meadow to the rain forest.
One of the springs the Longmires tamed for their resort.
One of the springs the Longmires tamed for their resort.
Plenty of running water, but none over the trail.
Plenty of running water, but none over the trail.

It was my first real outing since recovering from pneumonia last month. I’m quite pleased to report that I made it all the way around the mile-long trail without getting tired, as well as doing all the driving on the 3-hour round trip. I must be well!

Lots of wildlife at the wildlife refuge

Which makes sense. Last Sunday, I decided to go out to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge  — the main link doesn’t seem to be working for some reason, but this one should — which occupies most of the estuary of the Nisqually River (the one I showed you the glacial headwaters of last week ). It’s the largest remaining undeveloped estuary on Puget Sound, and the site of a heated battle between developers and preservationists back in the 1970s, which resulted in the creation of the refuge.

The refuge used to be mostly diked farmland, and a few years ago, the management decided it would be better for the critters if the dikes were removed, so they were, and a beautiful two-plus mile boardwalk replaced the dike trails. The boardwalk leads to a gazebo at the very edge of the estuary, where you can see open water and most of the southern end of the sound.

For some reason, on this trip I didn’t see any critters on the way out to the gazebo except for gulls, but I saw lots on the way back. I’m not sure why that was.

The trail to the head of the boardwalk is mostly a boardwalk, too, and traverses forest of bigleaf maple and black alder. In spite of the trees, it’s mostly wetland, and this time of year the water is covered with bright green algae. Jewelweed blooms this time of year, too.

The boardwalk leading to the estuary boardwalk.
The boardwalk leading to the estuary boardwalk.
Bright green algae covering the wetland.
Bright green algae covering the wetland.
Jewelweed blossoms.
Jewelweed blossoms.

Then the forest stops and the estuary starts, and the sky opens up.

Out of the forest and onto the tideflats.
Out of the forest and onto the tideflats.
You can see the gazebo at the end of the boardwalk, just to the left of the end of the bluff (not the dock and building, to the left of that).
You can see the gazebo at the end of the boardwalk, just to the left of the end of the bluff (not the dock and building, to the left of that).  The white spots are gulls.
Looking back towards the twin barns at the beginning of the estuary boardwalk.  The parking lot's about  half a mile past that.
Looking back towards the twin barns (there really are two, although you can only see one of them in this photo) at the beginning of the estuary boardwalk. The parking lot’s about half a mile past that.

I walked all the way out to the gazebo, which, like I said, is over two miles one way. The clouds kept coming and going. I kept wishing they’d stay, because it was warm, and out on the tideflats like that it was humid. Under the clouds it was fine. Under the sun, it was sweaty.

On a clear day, you can see all the way up to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge from the gazebo, a distance of somewhere between 15-18 miles as the gull flies.

If you look very closely, you can see one of the uprights on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, dead center.
If you look very closely, you can see one of the uprights on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, dead center.

And then, on the way back, I saw Critters. With a capital Cr.

An egret.  Isn't he gorgeous?
An egret. Isn’t he gorgeous?  What I really want to know is how he stays so white out there in the mud.
A great blue heron.  I saw about half a dozen of these coming back, but this one was the closest.
A great blue heron. I saw about half a dozen of these coming back, but this one was the closest.
Another heron, who really isn't headless (see his reflection?).
Another heron, who really isn’t headless (see his reflection?).
My birder friend says this is a hawk, probably a red-tailed hawk just because they're so common here.
My birder friend says this is a hawk, probably a red-tailed hawk just because they’re so common here.
And, as the enthralled little girl I was watching this with said, "a bunny!"
And, as the enthralled little girl I was watching this fellow with said, “a bunny!”

I also saw a lot of swallows out swooping around eating mosquitoes, but they were moving far too fast to photograph.

All in all, a wonderful day out at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

Around the Olympic Peninsula, day 2

I really had the best of intentions, but here, five days later, is the second and last day of my friend’s and my trip around the Olympic Peninsula in July.

Both of us woke very early that morning (I’m talking six a.m., which is the middle of the night for me normally), but fortunately, the little restaurant attached to the motel was open. It did breakfast about the same way it did supper — I asked the cook/waiter if I wanted a single pancake or a short stack, and he said I probably wanted a single pancake. I don’t know what this trend is for restaurants to serve pancakes the size of Mt. Rushmore, but the one I ate about half of definitely fell into this category.

We were on the road by seven. Lake Crescent is beautiful at that hour of the morning. Alas, I wasn’t awake enough to think to stop and take photos, but here’s one from a previous trip. Lake Crescent is actually quite gorgeous at any hour of the day.

Lake Crescent at sunset, on another trip.
Lake Crescent at sunset, on another trip.

Our main stop for the day was Hurricane Ridge, so after stopping to get gasoline, we took a right turn in the heart of Port Angeles and headed up into the mountains.

The road up to Hurricane Ridge is seventeen miles long, and gains 5242 feet in altitude, straight up from sea level, so you can imagine how winding and steep it is. There are a couple of tunnels, and lots of pull-outs to enjoy the view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island, but you can’t really see the Olympic Mountains themselves until you’re almost to the top.

We stopped at a trailhead along the way that I always stop at. It’s usually a good place to see yellow monkeyflowers. This time there were no monkeyflowers, but there were several large clumps of larkspur, of a type I’d never seen before.

Tall larkspur at trailhead on Hurricane Ridge Rd.
Tall larkspur at trailhead on Hurricane Ridge Rd.

From there we went on up to Hurricane Ridge itself, where we got out and walked the paved pathway up the hill to the viewpoint, where in one direction you can see back towards Vancouver Island again, and, if you turn halfway around, you can see the heart of the Olympic Mountains spread out before you.

The view north towards Vancouver Island.  One of the weird things about this part of Washington is that most of the radio stations you can get receiption on here are actually in Victoria.
The view north towards Vancouver Island. One of the weird things about this part of Washington is that most of the radio stations you can get reception on here are actually in Victoria, BC, Canada.
The Olympic Mountains.
The Olympic Mountains, from the trail at Hurricane Ridge.

I was a bit disappointed in the wildflowers this year. Most of them had already come and gone by the time of our visit, except in very protected, north-facing slopes.

The last of this year's lupine in a sheltered spot at Hurricane Ridge.
The last of this year’s lupine in a sheltered spot at Hurricane Ridge.

But it certainly was deer season. We saw at least three or four, and after my friend called it a day (she was still sore from the walking we’d done the day before) and went to sit on the deck at the visitor center to enjoy the view, I strolled further around the paths and saw a doe with a fawn. So that was fun.

Deer at Hurricane Ridge.
Deer at Hurricane Ridge.
Doe and fawn (fawn still has spots) at Hurricane Ridge.
Doe and fawn (fawn still has spots) at Hurricane Ridge.
The Olympic Mountains and the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.
The Olympic Mountains and the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.

I also saw some other critters.

A butterfly along the trail.
A butterfly along the trail.
A raven prowling the bistort (the white fuzzy flowers) along the trail.
A raven prowling the bistort (the white fuzzy flowers) along the trail.

When it got to be lunchtime, we drove back down to Port Angeles and ate, and then set out on the three-hour journey back home.

And that was the second day of our trip around Olympic National Park!

Two weeks ago, Day 9

And so on towards home.

From Sheridan — well, actually from Twin Bridges, the next little town down the road — there were two ways to go. One north, which I hadn’t driven before but which led to I-90, which I’ve driven at least a couple dozen times, and one southwest towards I-15, that stretch of which I’d never driven before. Even though it was about twenty miles further, guess which way I took?

And I’m glad I did. The first bit was very pretty, through sparsely populated ranch land ringed with mountains and down into the town of Dillon on I-15. I’ve only been to Dillon once before. It was the first place on my Long Trip in which I couldn’t find a place to stay (due to it being Labor Day and the annual rodeo).

From Dillon I headed north on I-15, and, less than twenty miles down the road, I happened to glance over to the right and saw a bald eagle perched on one of the posts holding up the wire fence running alongside the road. Fully mature, white head and all, he had to be two feet tall, I swear. Too bad I was going 70 mph on a freeway — I’d have tried to take a picture of him. He was amazing.

Deer Lodge Pass over the Continental Divide south of Butte (where I-15 and I-90 cross) is much more gradual and less steep than Homestake Pass due west of Butte. But because of that I think I was climbing pretty much all the way from Dillon to the pass. At any rate, once I hit I-90 I was on familiar territory and pretty much ready to head home.

I stopped for iced tea in Deer Lodge (the town, not the pass, which is about forty-five minutes from Butte (the highway signs say west, but the road runs almost due north-south at that point). I stopped for lunch and more gas in Missoula.

And I crossed over Lookout Pass into Idaho and the Pacific Time Zone about the middle of the afternoon, aiming for Spokane.

I won’t bore you with the hunt I had to make for a motel room in Spokane. Suffice to say that I think I’ve found a new reasonably-priced convenient place to stay there on my way to wherever, which is a good thing as the one I was used to using had upped its price out of reason because of Hoopfest (I’m assuming) that weekend.

Only one photo today, taken along I-90 between Missoula and Lookout Pass, probably closer to Lookout Pass. I was trying to take a photo of the rain falling ahead of me, which actually turned out to be mostly virga (that is, not hitting the ground).

Stormy weather along I-90 in western Montana.
Stormy weather along I-90 in western Montana.

And that was the penultimate day of my trip, two weeks ago today.

Two weeks ago, Day 7

Rain, rain go away, come again some other day.

 Preferably after I get home, but oh, well.

Yes, I woke up to more rain two weeks ago today. I drove back into the park, anyway, of course (it’s about thirty miles from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful), and parked Kestrel (my car) near the lodge. Still feeling optimistic about the weather at this point, I packed up my daypack with all the necessities for a day out in the geyser basin, including, but not limited to, my Kindle, my journal, and my cross-stitch (some geysers must be waited for, sometimes for up to three or four hours).

Fortunately, my daypack is waterproof and I have a good raincoat. My first stop was in the visitor center, to check the eruption predictions. Old Faithful itself goes off often enough that one can often catch it in passing while headed somewhere else, but Riverside only goes off every six hours or so, Castle every nine to eleven hours, and the Grand, that pinnacle of predictible geysers, erupts about every seven to eight hours, so if I wanted to see them, I needed to know when to go sit and wait for them.

Eruption predictions are never on the minute. Grand, for instance, has a three-hour window, which means that it’s most likely to go off up to an hour and a half on either side of the prediction time. Riverside and Castle were predicted to have morning eruptions, and the Grand wasn’t due to go off till late afternoon.

Anyway. About the time I left the visitor center, the sky opened up. Not quite raining in sheets, but in the five minutes it took me to walk from the visitor center to the Old Faithful Inn, I was fairly drenched where my raincoat didn’t cover me, and the visor of my hood was dripping.

Still, as I peered through the murk over towards Old Faithful, I did see Lion Geyser erupting in the distance. But I really didn’t want to get any wetter, so I used the zoom on my camera to get this shot.

The sign says Old Faithful.  The actual geyser in the distance is Lion.
The sign says Old Faithful. The actual geyser in the distance is Lion.

And instead of sitting out in the rain waiting for things to erupt, I went into the Inn and found myself a cozy spot and caught my journal up after several days of ignoring it. Not exactly what I’d had in mind, but there are much worse places to be stranded.

The 85-foot-tall, 500-ton (according to Wikipedia, at least), four-sided fireplace in the Old Faithful Inn, with its hand-forged clock.
The 85-foot-tall, 500-ton (according to Wikipedia, at least), four-sided fireplace in the Old Faithful Inn, with its hand-forged clock.

An hour or so later the rain let up and I finally went out into the geyser basin. I walked out as far as Castle Geyser, which had apparently gone off during the rainstorm but was still bellowing (and I mean bellowing — the sound is pretty impressive) steam.

Castle Geyser, bellowing steam in the distance.
Castle Geyser, bellowing steam in the distance.

I turned right and headed across the bridge towards Sawmill, which was churning away as usual. I know the “real” geyser gazers don’t think much of Sawmill because it robs energy and water from other, rarer geysers like Tardy and Penta, but I like Sawmill, for its chugging sound (hence the name) and simply because it looks like it’s thoroughly enjoying itself.

Sawmill Geyser on the left, and what can only be Tardy Geyser on the right, unless I'm mistaken, which is possible.
Sawmill Geyser on the left, and what can only be Tardy Geyser on the right, unless I’m mistaken, which is altogether possible.

Most geysers do. I can’t help anthropomorphizing them that way. I just can’t. I’ve never met a more cheerful geologic phenomenon than a geyser, and that’s just the way it is.

A view of Geyser Hill from the old road.
A view of Geyser Hill from the old road.

I strolled around Geyser Hill, past Giantess (one of the biggest geysers in the world — and also one that I’ll probably never get to see because it erupts so seldom) and Beehive, which is not an officially-predicted geyser, but can be caught occasionally because it’s got what’s called an indicator, which is a small geyser off to its side that often starts erupting just before Beehive itself does. I’d missed it this morning, but here’s what it looks like from 2008, in much better weather, when I didn’t miss it.

Beehive Geyser, 2008, from the viewpoint across the river.  Note the tiny people on the boardwalk next to it.
Beehive Geyser, 2008, from the viewpoint across the river. Note the tiny people on the boardwalk next to it.

Then it started raining again, and it was past lunchtime, so I went to what’s affectionately known as the Lower Ham (Hamilton, although it’s no longer owned by the family) store, and ate lunch at the counter there. That lunch counter/soda fountain has been there a long time, by local standards. The store itself was first built in 1897, and Charley, who was still Chuck at that point, ate his last meal in 1959 there before he inadvertently time-traveled back to 1877 in Repeating History. It’s also where James first went looking for his son just after Chuck disappeared and met Jo in Finding Home. An important place, the Lower Ham store.

This isn’t my photo, but I wanted you to see what it looks like.

Homesick cover 300

Then again, so is the whole Upper Geyser Basin, so far as I’m concerned. My short story “Homesick” takes place here, too, and one geyser in particular is very significant in both Repeating History and “Homesick.”

My only eruption of Old Faithful on this trip, taken from the shelter of the Lodge porch.
My only eruption of Old Faithful on this trip, taken from the shelter of the Lodge porch.
A blue bird (not sure of exact species) which was hanging around Old Faithful just before the eruption.  The rain started again a few minutes before the geyser went off.
A blue bird (not sure of exact species — ETA, my birder friend Katrina says it’s a mountain bluebird) which was hanging around Old Faithful just before the eruption. The rain started again a few minutes before the geyser went off.

It took the rain a while to let back up again, alas, although I did catch what turned out to be my only view of Old Faithful from where I’d walked back to the Lodge (as opposed to the Inn), and by the time it did, it was getting close to four in the afternoon, Grand’s predicted time. Of course, given the window, it could have already gone off, but I didn’t have anything to lose except the time and a little shoe leather, so I headed back out one more time. Except for the rain, this was a pretty normal geyser basin day for me. Out and back and out and back, watch this geyser and that, have a thoroughly good time.

Anyway, when I got back out to the Grand, there were still a fair number of people sitting and waiting. My spirits rose. And, lo and behold, less than ten minutes after I sat down, guess what happened?! Grand’s pool, which had already been overflowing, started generating little waves, Turban (a kinda sorta indicator) went off, and away Grand went! I think that’s the shortest amount of time I’ve ever waited for the Grand.

This is my alltime favorite photo of the Grand, taken in 1999 during the eruption that inspired Repeating History.
This is my alltime favorite photo of the Grand, taken in 1999 during the eruption that inspired Repeating History.

And it was. Grand, that is. Just one burst, but it was a good long one, and that was enough to make my day. Make my trip, actually.

Especially since I always think of the Grand as Charley’s geyser. It was a crucial half (the other half being an earthquake I’ll tell you about tomorrow) of the phenomenon that sent Chuck back in time to become Charley in Repeating History, and it also caused Charley’s son Will and — okay, this may get confusing — Will’s five-year-old grandson Chuck (yes, that Chuck) to witness something in “Homesick” that changed their lives forever.

The rain didn’t start back up yet again until I was back in my car and headed back to West Yellowstone an hour or so later, either, and that was a good thing, too.