Category Archives: exploring

to the coast

I was sick Sunday and yesterday, alas, but on Saturday my friend Judy drove me to Westport, where we ate fish and chips and we went to the Maritime museum where I got to see their magnificent first order Fresnel lens before I went back to her van and took a nap, while she toured the rest of the museum (I’d been there several times before and I was pretty tired after the 2-hour drive), then went out to the promenade where I actually walked all the way to the first bench, which has a wonderful view of the ocean.

Then I slept most of the way back, but that’s okay.

Here’s the usual photographic proof!  I have a video I want to post as part of this as soon as I figure out how to crop video, too.

A first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens, which is the most beautiful utilitarian object in the world. I have video of it rotating, throwing off rainbows, that I will post as soon as I can.
A woolly bear caterpillar on the sidewalk.
This little dude was singing his heart out along the promenade.
A view from the boardwalk.
A view from the first bench on the promenade (coming from the Gray’s Harbor lighthouse end of the path).

And the next morning, Judy and I started the process that will end with her taking over the distribution of my books and the upkeep of my website when I’m gone.  So my legacy will live on without me.  This makes me so happy.



Yesterday, my quilting friend Kathy came over the mountains and took me to Paradise on Mt. Rainier.  We ate lunch (divine mac and cheese) at the National Park Inn at Longmire, then headed on up.  It was absolutely beautiful, and here is the proof:

My Mountain, aka Mt. Rainier.
Fall foliage on the alpine tundra at Paradise.
Another view of the Mountain, with more foliage.

A couple of plant close-ups.

Scarlet mountain ash berries.
The only wildflowers I saw — these are pearly everlastings, which is a more than appropriate name.

And some little critters.

A gray jay. Otherwise known as a camp robber :-).
M’sieur chipmunk.
Getting ready for winter with a big mouthful.

A view headed down the Mountain.

The brilliant autumn tapestry from the Paradise Valley Road.

And the absolutely lovely quilt I was given by my fellow members of the Washington State Internet Quilters (WASIQ).  Thank you so much to all of you!

A beautiful quilt.

It was a long but glorious day.  I darned near slept the clock around last night, I was so tired, but it was so, so, so worth it…

a flowery day

This morning my friend Delinda and I went to Tacoma, ran two errands, and then went to Point Defiance Park to see what I thought was going to be the last of the fall flowers.

Turns out that the dahlias were still in full bloom, and the roses were still going strong, too.  I managed to stroll and photograph for almost an hour, too!

These tightly petalled ball dahlias are my favorites.
This one reminds me of peppermint.
Positively shaggy!
This one almost glows in the dark.
My dad loved red dahlias (and lots of other red flowers).
My mother, OTOH, was fond of salmon-colored flowers.
This one was just cool.
A purple rose!
I’d never seen a rose quite like this one.
And this rose looks like it could glow in the dark, too!
One of many other things Point Defiance is famous for is its mini-arboretum.

All in all, so pretty!

Those mysterious Mima Mounds, with bonus wildflowers

The odd landscape of the Mima Mounds.

Mima mounds are one of those quasi-mysterious landforms that no one really has an explanation for. They occur in various places in North America and elsewhere, but the landform itself is named after the mounds on the Mima Prairie, which happens to be just down the road from where I live (I’m northeast of Olympia, Washington, and the mounds are about 10 miles south of Oly). This area is also one of the few examples of native prairie left in western Washington, as well as a prime example of the mounds.  It’s now preserved as a Natural Area Preserve by the state of Washington, and as a Natural National Landmark by the federal government.

Some of the theories of Mima mound formation, as posted on the visitor kiosk.

I’d been there once before not long after I moved to Washington, then I completely forgot about it. Which is really too bad, actually.

But the real draw for me, especially this time of year, is the flowers. Of course. I saw at least a dozen different kinds. Here are some of them.

Siberian miners lettuce. A ubiquitous woodland flower, found this time in the woods near the parking lot.
Desert parsley.
A serviceberry shrub. A similar species back east is known as shadblow.
Western serviceberry blossoms.
Salal. Another common woodland plant, related to both blueberries and rhododendrons. I found it at the edge of the prairie this time.
Camas plants are scattered like this all over the mounds.  The yellow blossoms are western buttercups.
A close up of a camas bloom stalk.
The violets grew in patches, not scattered all over like the camas.
Death camas, so-called because the bulb is poisonous. The bulb is almost indistinguishable from the regular blue camas, so the Indians used to dig these up and get rid of them when they were in bloom, which was the only time it was easy to tell them apart.

And two other non-flower photos.

Not a flower, but this unfurling fiddlehead was just cool.
It’s not often you find a sky as open as this in western Washington.

Oh, and by the way, it’s pronounced like lima bean, not like Lima, Peru.

Wow, it’s so lovely and warm

I always wake up at the crack of dawn when I’m camping. Especially this time of year when it gets light before six in the morning. But that’s okay.

I’m not sure why (am I ever sure why?) I decided to drive up to Lake Chelan this morning, but I never really have before. I stopped in the touristy town of Chelan, at the foot of the lake, to buy batteries for my camera and to stick my head in a quilt shop on the main drag. Whoever their fabric buyer is, her taste does not agree with mine. I’m not a big fan of what I think of as sixties neon, and that was about all that little shop held.

There is no road clear around Lake Chelan. It’s a landlocked fjord, and the upper end of the lake reaches deep into the North Cascades. There are two roads on either side. The one on the north shore of the lake is only about twenty miles long. The one on the south side is about twice that length, so that’s the one I took.

Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in North America at over 1500 feet deep (the bottom is lower than sea level), according to a sign I read at the ferry landing. It’s roughly 55 miles long, and varies from one to two miles wide. It’s also pretty darned gorgeous. I stopped at the Fields Point Landing, a few miles up the lake, to poke around the visitor center and ask about the ferry that runs daily to Stehekin, the tiny settlement at the head of the lake. One of these days I want to take that trip, but the boat had left an hour or so earlier. Next time.

But I saw beautiful views, anyway, and more flowers.

The view across Lake Chelan from Field’s Landing. I don’t know if that’s a permanent snowcap or if it’s just because it’s only May.
A view of the ferry landing and down the lake.
Along the path looking northward along the lake. The yellow flowers are more balsamroot.
Prairie Star Flower. I saw these for the first time down in Oregon on my Long Trip last summer. This was the only shot I got of them this trip where the blossoms weren’t blurred by the breeze.

I’d thought about camping at 25 Mile Creek State Park at the end of the road that night, but it wasn’t even noon yet, and I decided I wanted to actually go on up to the Okanogan. So, stopping along the way to make a picnic lunch, I headed up to the town of Omak, where one of my favorite quilt shops (Needlyn Time) is. And, yes, this time I bought fabric, which I needed like a hole in the head, but tough.

After that, I headed up to Conconully, the little town that inspired the ghost town of the same name in my Unearthly Northwest books.

The view from the highway going up to Conconully from Omak. Please excuse the bug blurs — I had to take this through the windshield because there really wasn’t a good place where I could get out of the van.
This is what I meant by more balsamroot than I’ve ever seen on one trip before. Whole *hillsides* of the stuff.

Conconully is one of the few towns I know of with a state park right at the edge of town. But it’s a nice state park, and the campsite I wound up at was right on the lake and pretty secluded. I spent what was left of the afternoon just enjoying the day and reading, and listening to the red-winged blackbirds sawing their courtship cries. Oh, and watching the geese and ducks use the lake as a landing and launch pad. And the deer eating the campground’s mowed grass.

One of the red-winged blackbirds who sawed his mating call all afternoon at Lake Conconully.
One of the deer who wandered through the campground in the afternoon.
The view from my campsite at Conconully State Park.
My campsite at Conconully State Park.
Sunset from my campsite.

All in all, I drove a bit more than I had intended, but it was well worth it.

Over the mountains to sunshine

It’s no secret that this has been the wettest winter on record in western Washington (almost 45 inches of rain between October 1st and April 30th – our average, for well over a hundred years of record-keeping, is closer to 35 inches for the entire year), and one of the coldest. There’s no argument that it’s been incredibly depressing as well (and personal reasons have made it even more so for me).

So, when the weather forecasters for this past week noted (with great cheer) that it was supposed to get to and over 70dF on the west side of the mountains for the first time this year on Wednesday and Thursday, and even warmer, with lots of sunshine, on the east side, I thought, you know what? Screw it, I’m going camping.

Of course, when I thought about the east side of the mountains, my first idea was to go back to the Okanogan, which almost feels like home after the time I spent there researching my first two Tales of the Unearthly Northwest. I was also hoping it would nudge me back into writing the third Tale, which has sat there a few chapters in whining at me for longer than I want to think about it, due to those personal reasons I mentioned above. That didn’t really happen, but at least I got to spend some time in the sun, in nature, and to see lots of spring wildflowers.

The first place I went for flowers wasn’t on the way to the Okanogan, not in the region proper. At some point in the past I had picked up a flyer titled Wildflower Areas in the Columbia Basin, and one of them was about ten miles southeast of Wenatchee.

That turned out to be something of an adventure, as the photo of the Rock Island Grade Road will show. At my first sight of it, I thought, oh my gosh, I hope that little dirt road climbing up the side of a canyon isn’t the one they’re talking about, but yes, it was.

The Rock Island Grade “Road”, looking back towards the Columbia River from where I saw so many wildflowers.

It wasn’t the steepest, narrowest road I’ve ever driven, but I think it’s the steepest, narrowest dirt road I’ve ever driven. The recommended place to stop was about two and a half miles up, and the flyer hinted that there was a parking area. Ha. And what it turned out to be was a place for locals to go up and shoot cans, with all of the attendant garbage. That said, it was also literally carpeted with wildflowers. I managed to park Merlin as close to the edge of the road (not, at that point, hanging over the cliff) as I could, in case someone else came by (no one did, thank goodness), got out, and this is what I saw.

Spreading phlox spreading everywhere along the Rock Island Grade Road.
A phlox close-up.
And another. One of the things that makes phlox one of my favorite wildflowers (and garden flowers) is the infinite variation of a simple five-petaled flower in such a limited color palette.
The yellow flowers are wild radish. The purple ones are blue mustard. Both are tiny, but were profuse.
Yakima milkvetch, which was a new one to me.
And the first of more balsamroot I’ve ever seen in one trip before, which is saying a fair amount.

After I made my way cautiously back down to the highway, I headed back to Wenatchee, then north along Hwy. 97, which borders the Columbia River. It was getting fairly late in the afternoon by then, so I stopped at Lincoln Rock State Park, the first of three parks with campgrounds north of Wenatchee. I’d never camped there before. All of the sites are within sight of the river, and it was a peaceful, warm evening. I sat out in my lawn chair and just absorbed it all. Unfortunately, the batteries in my camera chose just then to give up the ghost, and apparently I’d forgotten to bring the spares, so I have no photos of that.

And that was my first day east of the mountains this year.  More tomorrow.

I found a new park today!

This afternoon, since it wasn’t raining for a change, I decided to go down to my new neighborhood and explore around. Before I left, I checked the city of Lacey’s website to see if I could find any interesting trails close to my new place. I found what I thought were two, marked them on my map, and headed out.

The first one was something of a bust. I found the park all right, and I found what I thought was the beginning of a purported mile and a half trail that was supposed to lead from this park to views of the Sound, but the trail itself petered out pretty fast, and I couldn’t find anything else that looked like a trailhead.

The trail that petered out.
The trail that petered out.

So I headed on to the other possibility, which was actually only two miles from my new place. Woodland Creek Park has a nice little lake, a senior center, a community center, a disc golf course, and playgrounds and picnic shelters, and is located at one end of a six-mile rails to trails path that leads from Lacey to Olympia. Not only that, but the trailhead was easy to find.

Geese at Woodland Creek Park.
Geese at Woodland Creek Park.
The lake at Woodland Creek Park.
The lake at Woodland Creek Park.
A very bright maple tree.
A very bright maple tree.

First, I walked over by the lake (the trail doesn’t go all the way around it, alas), where I saw a flock of Canada geese bedded down on the grass. Then I took the paved path leading to the long trail, which T’d into it. I could go either left or right, and I’m not sure why I went left when I knew the main trail went right, but I’m glad I did.

It was peaceful and quiet out there. You always know you’re home when you’re on a first name basis with most of the plants you see. Or at least I am. The pavement gave out soon, and there was a sign saying that this part of the trail was not developed yet. The path was still smooth and lined with the gravel and pebbles leftover from where they’d pulled the railroad tracks out. Eventually I reached a small bridge over a stream, with some rather unfortunate graffiti (edited out of my photo because I found it offensive), and, on the other side of the bridge I could still see the old rusted railroad tracks.

The rails to trails path.
The rails to trails path.
Oregon grape berries.
Oregon grape berries.
I've never seen a purple fire hydrant before.
I’ve never seen a purple fire hydrant before.
The end of the trail.  See the railroad tracks?
The end of the trail. See the railroad tracks?
The disc golf course at Woodland Creek Park.  Part of it, anyway.
The disc golf course at Woodland Creek Park. Part of it, anyway.

That’s where I turned around. It was probably a bit under a mile one way. I managed to get back just in time not to get rained on, which was a good thing. Next time I come here I’ll have to walk the other way and see what I can discover. All in all a very good day.

I’m glad to have a good trail like that near my new home. And a pretty little park, too.

The view from where I'm staying (until I get into my new place the first weekend in November) this evening.
The view from where I’m staying (until I get into my new place the first weekend in November) this evening.

September 23: Home again, home again, jiggety jog.

One seven-hour drive later, and I’m home. Well, staying with my friend Loralee until I find a place to move into, but you know what I mean.

Across southern Washington, through more brown hills to the Tri-Cities, where I picked up I-82 to Yakima, where I turned west on U.S. 12, over White Pass to the little town of Morton, where I turned north on U.S. 7, which eventually turns into the Mountain Highway, which leads to Tacoma.

The sleek hills of southeastern Washington, and the Snake River.
The sleek hills of southeastern Washington, and the Snake River.
Hayfield in southeastern Washington.
Hayfields in southeastern Washington.
I *think* this courthouse is in Pomeroy, Washington, but I wouldn't swear to it.
I *think* this adorable little courthouse is in Pomeroy, Washington, but I wouldn’t swear to it.
Orchards near Yakima.
Orchards near Yakima.
Heading west from Yakima on U.S. 12 -- I drove this road in the other direction on my second day on the road.
Heading west from Yakima on U.S. 12 — I drove this road in the other direction on my second day on the road.

The west side of the mountains -- can you tell from the weather? [wry g]
The west side of the mountains — can you tell from the weather? [wry g]
15,500 miles in almost four months (it would have been four months exactly next Tuesday). Which I’d have thought have been farther, given that in 1999, I was only gone two and a half months, and racked up 14,000 miles before I rolled my car in California. But that’s what Merlin’s odometer says, and I believe it [g].

Part of me is glad to be here, I think. Part of me wishes I just could have kept going, but well…

Thanks to everyone who stuck with me through all this! It’s been fun writing the posts, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to hit the road.

September 22: Swoop, swoop, swoop.

I love Lolo Pass. I’ve only driven over it once before, but I just love the lazy, sweeping curves along the river on the Idaho side. Hence the swooping [g].

I headed west then south into what passes for Missoula, Montana’s morning rush hour, then west again up the thirty or so miles to the top of Lolo Pass. This is where Lewis and Clark finally made it over the Rockies back in 1804. It’s also where the Nez Perce fled across the mountains in the other direction on their way to Yellowstone to encounter the tourists before they (the Nez Perce) almost made it to Canada. So, a lot of history here, and a nice visitor center staffed by a fellow who apparently didn’t have enough tourists to talk to, because he all but followed me into the exhibit room and kept talking when all I really wanted to do was look at the exhibits. Oh, well. I know I’ve done more than my share of talking the ears off of people when I’ve been on my own for too long, too.

On the way up to Lolo Pass.
On the way up to Lolo Pass.
The foliage over the pass was really gorgeous, in spite of the gray, spitting skies.
The foliage over the pass was really gorgeous, in spite of the gray, spitting skies.
More foliage, along Lolo Creek.
More foliage, along Lolo Creek.
See?  Snowberries are *white*!
See? Snowberries are *white*!
Lolo Pass, elevation 5555 feet.
Lolo Pass, elevation 5225 feet.

The road down the west side of the pass into Idaho (the border between Idaho and Montana runs along the ridge line, and so does the line between Mountain and Pacific time) swoops down next to the Clearwater River through a deep canyon, curving gently back and forth and back and forth, for almost a hundred miles. It’s just so much fun to drive, almost like some sort of carnival ride or something. I’m not doing it justice at all, but that’s life.

The Clearwater River on the Idaho side of the pass.
The Clearwater River on the Idaho side of the pass.
Coming down the Idaho side.
Coming down the Idaho side.

About seventy miles on from the pass, I stopped in the tiny hamlet of Lowell, Idaho, for lunch in a cute little café. Those were the first buildings I saw after the border, so this is seriously wild country.

When the canyon finally opens out, it’s into a lot of warm brown hills (at least they’re brown this time of year) and then out into what I thought would be the southeastern edge of the Palouse, but the road cuts show basalt, not deep soil, so no, not Palouse.

Brown hills on the Nez Perce Reservation.
Brown hills on the Nez Perce Reservation.
The Snake River, which originates in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.
The Snake River, which originates in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

I crossed a big chunk of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation to get to the Washington state line, then stopped for the night in the town of Clarkston, which is directly across the Snake River from the Idaho town of Lewiston. Gee, I wonder where those names came from [g].

Tomorrow night I’ll be back in Tacoma. Sigh.

Home again.  Sort of.  Still have most of the state to cross.
Home again. Sort of. Still have most of the state to cross.

September 21: I could probably make today’s drive in my sleep

Because I’ve driven it at least a dozen times in the last seventeen years. But it’s really the only logical route from Yellowstone to Missoula, so that’s okay. And it is pretty.

Up along Earthquake Lake, which is the only lake I’m familiar with that was created by natural forces in my lifetime [g]. The Hebgen Lake earthquake, which happened on August 17, 1959, caused a landslide that dammed the Madison River, killed over 25 people, and, incidentally and not at all disrespectfully, was part of what sent Charley McManis back in time to 1877.

The natural dam is at the V of the mountains, and the landslide to its left.
The natural dam is at the V of the mountains, and the landslide to its left.

Over the natural dam and down the river to the long, wide valley west of the Gallatin Mountains, which weren’t terribly visible today due to the weather – I’d harbored thoughts of going back down to the park and spending a second day, then camping at Baker’s Hole again tonight, but when I saw the rain coming down I changed my mind. I have spent time tromping around the Upper Geyser Basin in the rain, but I have to say the thought wasn’t all that appealing this morning.

The valley south of Ennis.
The valley south of Ennis.

So on I went, down the valley through the town of Ennis, which is a fly-fishing hub on the Madison River, where I discovered, much to my delight, that the local Town Pump (Montana’s answer to the usual convenience store/gas station combo) sold unsweetened iced tea. No lemon, but that’s what the juice in my cooler is for [g].

North of Ennis.
North of Ennis.
An interesting landform north of Ennis.
An interesting landform north of Ennis.
Almost to I-90.
Almost to I-90.
Homestake Pass, just west of Butte, Montana.
Homestake Pass, just east of Butte, Montana.  A bit lower than Monarch Pass, elevation 11, 312 feet, where I crossed the Continental Divide in the other direction a couple of months ago.

I got back to I-90 about 11:30, and reached Butte about noon. I had my mouth set for another pasty (Butte used to have a lot of Cornish miners the way Michigan’s Upper Peninsula did, and I’ve eaten them here before), but I couldn’t find anywhere to sell me one, so I ended up with a hamburger, alas.

And so on northwestward to Missoula, where I am for the night. In the rain. Which is okay, since I’m indoors.

On the way to Missoula.
On the way to Missoula.

I had an idea this afternoon, too. I haven’t driven over Lolo Pass (about which more tomorrow) in a long, long time. Not since I was researching Repeating History and went to the Nez Perce National Historic Site in Idaho at least ten years ago. So I’m going to do that again, probably spend tomorrow night somewhere around Walla Walla or the Tri-Cities, and drive on in to Tacoma from there. Why not, right? One more day won’t hurt…