I have just returned from my annual trip to Tyler, Texas, to visit my almost 92-year-old mother, and, this time, to make a short (three-day) jaunt with my sister, who lives down there, too. We planned this several months ago, before all of the problems with my condo made me decide to sell it and take another Long Trip, and the plane tickets were already bought, so I didn’t try to cancel it.
Anyway, Mother is getting more and more fragile. I won’t get into her health issues here except to say how grateful I am that she’s still alive for me to go visit. I stayed with my sister Ann, and that’s only one reason I’m grateful she’s down there nearby for Mother.
Anyway, I’d been wanting to go to Austin and San Antonio and the Hill Country for a long time, and since this time I had to rent a car, anyway, I decided to go, and to invite Ann to go along with me. After a couple of days visiting with my mother, we headed south to San Antonio.
One of the nice things about Tyler is that to go any direction but due east or west, you pretty much have to get off the Interstate. The drive to San Antonio, aside from missing one turn, not realizing we had until we’d gone too far to turn back, and having to reroute ourselves, was fun. Wide open spaces, small towns, and wildflowers scattered all over the roadsides.
We arrived in San Antonio in the late afternoon, and found a hotel within walking distance of the River Walk and the Alamo, and went to eat supper along the River Walk. The River Walk reminded us both a bit of certain parts of Disneyland, but it was still fun (and about 10 degrees cooler than up on the street), and we ate fancy pizza right next to the water.
The next morning, it was raining just a bit. We strolled over to the Alamo under Ann’s umbrellas (she had two).
I liked the Alamo. It was very interesting historically (they did a terrific job with the museum exhibit part of the thing), and the gardens were lovely. The rain was a minor nuisance, but not a big deal. Yes, the Alamo is basically a shrine to Texas, but I knew that going in, and, well, I eat history up with a spoon, so I had no problem with it.
On our way back to the hotel to pack up and check out, we saw a whole bunch of carriages decorated as if for a wedding. Turns out we’d arrived the night before San Antonio’s annual Fiesta began. According to one of the carriage drivers, Fiesta attracts more people every year than New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, and was started when a bunch of ladies got drunk and flung flowers at each other 🙂
In the afternoon, we drove up to the Hill Country, which is sort of legendary for its spring wildflowers. It did not disappoint. After lunch in Fredericksburg, we took some back roads out through the rolling countryside (calling it hilly would have been stretching things, IMHO), and saw whole fields of flowers. Bluebonnets, of course, but also winecups and evening primroses and all sorts of things. Just gorgeous.
We wound up spending the night in the town of San Marcos, just south of Austin, and came in for a rude surprise when we turned on the Weather Channel. A huge storm was headed our way. You might have seen the recent news reports about flooding in Texas? Well, we weren’t in Houston, where it got really bad, but the rest of it? We were right where it was about to hit.
So we decided to cut our trip short by one day and go back to Tyler the next morning.
People think it rains a lot here in western Washington, and we do get a fair amount. But it’s a soft rain. Texas rain is like driving through a bleeding waterfall. I’m not overly fond of thunder and lightning, either. At least we didn’t have any tornado warnings. But we made it back, and my only disappointment was that I didn’t get to go to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.
Once back in Tyler, the weather cleared up (bad weather seems to go around Tyler a lot of the time, which is really weird), and until I left several days later (having planned the trip with the jaunt in the middle so Mother could rest up while we were gone), I not only spent as much time as I could with my mother, but I got to stroll around a nature trail just down the street from my sister’s house, where there were also lots of wildflowers.
The last day before I left, Mother and I drove out to a place called Love’s Lookout, about fifteen miles south of Tyler, where there’s a nice little bench with a beautiful view, and we sat and talked for a while. It’s kind of our place, and I’m glad she was still able to go out there with me.
And that was my visit to Tyler this year. Every year now I wonder if this will be my last visit with my mother. I hope not.
I love my new camera. And the fact that we’re edging towards spring. This glory of the snow blossom is in my front flower bed, and I took the photo from a distance of about three inches, which is about two feet closer than I could have taken it with my old camera.
The maple key to the right of the flower is about two inches long.
It won’t be officially astronomical autumn until the 22nd, or unofficially autumn until after Labor Day weekend, but still. It’s been feeling like autumn all week, cool and showery (and we had a very autumn-like windstorm on Saturday).
You can also tell because the hardy cyclamen are blooming beside my front door (please excuse the weeds).
So today when I went for my walk along the Nathan Chapman trail, I decided to take my camera and see what I could see.
Here’s a shot of the beginning of the trail.
Here’s some blackberry foliage already beginning to turn color.
I don’t know what kind of berries these are. Currants, perhaps? The foliage does not say pyracantha or serviceberry to me.
The photo below is part of the result of our very hot, dry summer this year. Things are starting to green back up now that we’ve had some rain, but some things won’t be back till next year now.
The vine maple will be flame-colored in a few weeks, but for now it’s still green.
There are even a few flowers left.
I found some blackberries, too, but the only ones that hadn’t been picked and eaten were up high enough to be at an awkward angle for photographing, so I’m not going to inflict my blurry efforts on you.
No Mountain today, either. Mt. Rainier is visible from where I took the picture below when the sky is clear. It should be out when my friend L and I go to Sunrise on Saturday!
So, yesterday was the Fourth, which means I didn’t spend a whole lot of time on the computer. Plus my monitor died Friday night. Fortunately, Best Buy was open on the holiday.
The penultimate day of my trip was the summer solstice. I also crossed back into the Pacific Time Zone, so it was quite a long day. I woke up at the crack of dawn again, into a gray-gloomy rainy day (which sounds so lovely right now — the temperature outside right now is over 90F, and has been for the last five days).
I’d had a reservation at a hostel in Kelowna, 215 miles down the road from Golden, but I’d decided to cancel it the previous night, because, well, now that I was on my way home, I wanted to see how far I could get. I always get sort of antsy the last day or two on the road on a trip like this — ready to get home.
I headed west again on the Trans-Canada Highway, through two more smaller national parks, Glacier National Park (yes, Canada has a national park called Glacier, too), and Mt. Revelstoke National Park, but there really wasn’t much reason to stop. The section through Glacier, over Rogers Pass, was the last section of the Trans-Canada Highway to be completed, in 1962. That road is younger than I am! There’s a historical site at what I’d call a rest area here in the States at the top of the pass, and I stopped to take a few pictures.
From there on it was down, down, down. I stopped in the town of Revelstoke, at a combo Tim Hortons and gas station, for liquid refreshment for both me and Kestrel, then turned south off of the Trans-Canada at the small town of Sicamous, onto Highway 97, which stays the same number in both Canada and the U.S.
I drove past a pretty lake, and saw some blue wildflowers that had to be inspected and photographed, then south to the big city of Kelowna, where I arrived just in time for lunch (and was really glad I’d cancelled my hostel reservation). By that point, I’d left the lush forests of the western side of the Rockies behind, not to mention the rain and the cool temperatures. It was almost 30C, according to a bank thermometer in Kelowna, which translates to the lower 80sF, and not a cloud in the sky. It only got hotter the further I went, too.
The map had been somewhat misleading. I’d assumed that the double line that was Hwy. 97 through Kelowna meant that I’d be on a freeway, but no, just a four-lane boulevard with stoplights every hundred yards or so. It took me a while to fight my way through the traffic and reach the bridge across long, narrow Lake Okanagan. Then, after I was out of town, it turned into a freeway. Oh, well.
Lake Okanagan is lovely, and the road clings to the cliff as it threads its way down past vineyards and through small towns and the good-sized city of Penticton. After Penticton, orchards were the order of the day, and I could have stopped and bought cherries any number of times. Alas, I was down to my last couple of Canadian dollars and didn’t want to get more at this stage, plus, I wasn’t sure if U.S. customs would let me through with them. So I didn’t.
I reached the U.S. customs station, just north of the little town of Oroville, Washington, along the shores of Lake Osoyoos (oh-SOY-oos — I asked the customs agent), about the middle of the afternoon. A very nice Hispanic lady checked my passport, asked me to take my sunglasses off for a moment so she could get a better look at my face, and to pop my trunk. If I’d known she was going to want to look in there, I’d have put all my dirty clothes back in my suitcase, but the only comment she made was how she, too, liked the brand of chips I had in my food bag. Oh, well, worse things have happened.
And then I was back in the land of miles and Fahrenheit (a rather high degree of Fahrenheit at that, almost 90 degrees, alas). I drove past Tonasket, which was the knot of the lasso of this trip, on to Omak, another hour or so, and got there around four. Found the motel I stayed at on my research jaunts for Sojourn, and crashed and burned. I’d been on the road since about 6 am Pacific time, and I slept like I was really working at it.
And the next day I got up and drove the five hours home, over familiar roads, down 97 past Wenatchee to Blewett Pass, to I-90 and home. I think I made three stops, one for gas and real MickeyD’s iced tea in Brewster, one just north of Wenatchee for cherries, and one just before I got back on I-90 to gather one last picnic from my cooler and food bag for lunch that I ate as I drove over Snoqualmie Pass. I got home about 2 in the afternoon. The condo hadn’t burned down and the cats were fine (although extremely eager to go outside, and beyond annoyed with me).
And that was my trip to the Canadian Rockies. Decidedly one of the best trips I’ve made in recent memory.
Off to Jasper! By way of the Icefields Parkway, which I’d been thinking of as the big highlight of the trip, and it did not fail me.
First, though, I want to mention a restaurant called Wild Bill’s (Peyto, not Hickok — a local fellow from the early days) in Banff townsite, where I ate the night before. Highly recommended, in an old-fashioned western sort of way. I had three sliders, one each of three different kinds, and a really good salad, and was treated to some boot-stomping music along the way.
Anyway, I was up and out early, checked out of the hostel, and walked to a local McDonalds — in a national park! — for a large hot tea (not even Mickey D’s does a proper unsweet iced tea up here <sigh>) before heading out of town, into enough on and off rain to clean my windshield.
And into a serious surfeit of stupendous mountains. The clouds came and went with the rain, but it was clear enough a good chunk of the time, and the cloud deck high enough when it wasn’t, that I had a good view most of the way. I did run into a bit of road construction just north of Lake Louise, but it wasn’t bad. And, after all, they have the same problem with road construction up there that they do in Yellowstone. A very short season for doing it, that coincides exactly with tourist season. Not much to be done about that.
But the views were absolutely amazing. Mile after mile after mile of amazing. After a certain point I just sort of went on gorgeousness overload.
So here are some highlights of a day that basically was all highlight:
I took a short but steep walk up to a viewpoint over Peyto Lake (named after the same guy as the restaurant — and pronounced PEE-to, not PAY-to), which was a beautiful strip of aquamarine dropped down in the evergreens. Lots of wildflowers, too.
I stopped at another viewpoint just south of Bow Pass (over 2000m/6000 feet) to look back towards the Bow River Valley.
And I hiked about half a mile straight uphill to the foot of the Athabaska Glacier (which feeds off the Columbia Icefield, the largest icefield in the Rocky Mountains). It provided a graphic example of why living on a moraine as I do results in a garden full of rocks.
It was cold up there. I was so glad for my heavy jeans and my insulated jacket — and the hoodie with the hood up underneath, especially when it started raining on me again on the way back down to my car.
Then I drove down, down, down, into into Jasper National Park and a climate zone that felt much warmer than at Banff townsite even though it’s over a hundred miles farther north (since Jasper townsite’s altitude is 3484 feet, and Banff townsite’s is 4800 feet, it makes a certain amount of sense — 100+ miles distance is negligible in comparison). It was also sunnier, which was pleasant.
I stopped at Sunwapta Falls, where three rivers come together to form the Athabaska River, which flows into the Arctic Ocean, which just flabbergasted me at the time. I knew I was far north, but really? The falls are pretty spectacular, too.
And on to Athabaska Falls. This time of year, with the snowmelt, I was seeing all the waterfalls on my trip at their best. And more wildflowers, too.
Somehow, after I left the parking area at Athabaska Falls, I wound up on a sort of back road (not really another Bow River Parkway, but more like a paved forest service road back home) which wound north and eventually dumped me on the Parkway just south of Jasper townsite.
And so I arrived in Jasper townsite, which really reminded me of Libby. The scenery was different, but the ambiance was very similar. Small and remote (the nearest big city is Edmonton, about 225 miles, compared to Banff’s proximity to Calgary, only 75 miles) and touristy, but in a much more understated way than Banff. Unfortunately, my supper there was the polar opposite of what I’d had in Banff the night before, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits.
The hostel was several miles outside of town, and they assigned me a bed tucked way back in a corner, which was fine by me.
It was an incredible day. I was exhausted, even after just about 120 miles, but wow, was it worth it. And in a couple of days, I was going to do it all over again, in the other direction. After I explored Jasper.
The knee could have been worse, I suppose. I won’t be doing any hiking today, at any rate.
But I head north to one of my favorite places in the Okanogan Highlands, the little half ghost town, half hamlet of Molson, which has the name of a Canadian beer because when the town was first founded, its settlers thought they were north of the 49th parallel (as it turns out, they were a couple of miles south of it, but oh, well).
It’s kind of a drive up there, another hour or so along the Okanogan River, past the little village of Riverside and through the slightly larger town of Tonasket, up to Oroville, along the southern shore of long, narrow Lake Osoyoos, which is cut in half by the U.S./Canadian border. There’s a huge grocery store just south of the customs building, with a parking lot always full of cars with British Columbia license plates. I guess groceries are cheaper in the U.S.?
At Oroville I turn east on a little two-lane called Chesaw Road (you know you’ve made the correct turn when you see the sign saying this way to the Sitzmark Ski Area, a little rope tow out in the middle of nowhere about forty miles out of Oroville), and head up through a narrow canyon, gaining quite a bit of altitude in the process before I come out on top of an undulating plateau. These are the true Okanogan Highlands, and are mostly ranchland where they’re not part of the national forest. About twelve miles east of Oroville is the lefthand turn on Molson Rd.
This is beautiful countryside, in so many ways. If you love rolling hills, larches and pines, golden brown grass, and wide open spaces, or you have a thing for wondering who lived in the occasional old, abandoned building out in the middle of the meadow, or even if — in spite of being absolutely in love with the thick Douglas fir forests on the west side of the mountains — you’re simply enthralled with the enormity of the bright blue sky, then the Okanogan Highlands are a balm.
And the little town of Molson is well worth the drive. In the first place, it’s the home of the Molson School Museum I mentioned a couple of posts ago.
In the second, the citizens of Molson have preserved about an acre’s worth of historic buildings, which are open all the time so you can go in and explore.
And in the third place, they have Harry the pig.
Now, I don’t know if the plaster pig in the abandoned store window in ‘downtown’ Molson actually has a name — I never asked. But in my novel Sojournhe’s Harry, and he’s very important to my fictional Conconully. As a matter of fact, the town might not even exist without him. So I love him. He’s just such a whimsy for a place like that.
After a couple of hours exploring and a pleasant picnic lunch, and a gravel lane that eventually leads me back to Tonasket, I reluctantly head south again. I need to be home by tonight, and it’s a good five-hour drive if I take the bit of a detour into the Methow Valley that I have planned.
At the town of Okanogan I turn west, and less than half an hour later I realize that I ought to have checked the road conditions first. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last post, this past summer Washington state experienced its largest wildfire ever, which covered over 250,000 acres in the north central part of the state. The Carlton Complex fire caused damage that the area will still be recovering from years from now, and part of that damage was to U.S. Highway 20 between Okanogan and the Methow (pronounced Met-how, pronouncing the T and the H separately) Valley. The traffic was down to an alternating one lane for over a mile, and I lost a good half an hour by the time I reached the valley.
That was just my first check. The second was that State highway 153, which runs south down the valley towards Wenatchee, was also closed due to fire damage. Fortunately, a backroad runs parallel to it and a detour was set up. But I lost another hour by the time I got to Wenatchee.
Still, it was worth it, although I don’t think I’d have made the detour had I known. U.S. 20 climbs up over a magnificent pass and descends into the scenic Methow Valley, and the backroad down the valley was spectacular, crossing and recrossing the Methow River in the shadow of glorious mountains. And I found a non-crowded fruit stand just north of Wenatchee and loaded up on apples and pears.
I didn’t get home till well after dark that Sunday evening. I was tired and my knee was sore. But it was all so worth it. I highly recommend a weekend in the Okanogan country.
A week ago Saturday, having read about something that sounded fun, I headed off to Cheney Stadium, home of the local farm team (the Tacoma Rainiers, part of the Seattle Mariners), to my first-ever food truck event. I paid my parking fee and strolled in.
I’d never been inside a baseball stadium before (I’m a football fan — baseball never did much for me), let alone out on the field. I think that was at least half the charm. A band was playing on a stage set up in the outfield, and the food trucks were strung out like beads on a string around the edge of the field. People strolled around and lolled on the grass and sat in the bleachers, their hands full of food. It all smelled wonderful.
I wound up with the best (and biggest) gyro I’ve ever eaten, and a dish of self-serve (pay by the ounce) frozen yogurt, but while the food was good, the ambiance was just plain fun.
After a while, I decided I needed to walk off my rather large lunch, so I went across the street to the Tacoma Nature Center at Snake Lake. Now, understand, the reason it’s called Snake Lake is its shape, not its inhabitants. I’ve walked there any number of times, and I’ve never seen a snake there.
It’s quite the amazing little place to find in the heart of a city the size of Tacoma. The trail is two miles round trip, and tunnels through untamed woods where animals have a chance to hide from all the development.
One end does butt up against the U.S. 16 freeway, but the noise sounds more like wind through the trees than anything else, and the perspective is — different.
And on the uphill side on the way back, common plants like salal make carpets on the ground, and not-so-common plants like madrona shed their bark to show russet-colored wood.
The list of plants and animals found here is quite extensive, considering how close people press in all around this park. And it’s a great place to walk on a hot day, because the trail is almost completely in the shade!
A couple of weeks ago, I decided that since I didn’t see quite as many wildflowers at Sunrise and Hurricane Ridge this year as I would have liked, I would make a trip up to Paradise, on the south side of Mt. Rainier.
Paradise was purportedly named by Virinda Longmire, one of the early settlers at the foot of the Mountain, who was said to exclaim what a paradise the flower-filled mountainside was. I have to say I agree with her.
A trip to Paradise in the summertime has to be carefully planned, because of how popular it is. You don’t want to go on a weekend, and you need to arrive fairly early, even on a weekday, because the parking fills up. There’s a yellow light on the side of the road at Longmire (about ten miles inside the park entrance) that blinks when the parking areas at Paradise are full, and a sign that says you won’t be able to stop there but must keep moving on through when the light is blinking.
The park service used to run shuttle busses to Paradise to help with the congestion, but they’re not running this summer due to budget cuts.
At any rate, I arrived at Paradise around 10:30 (it takes about 1½-2 hours to get there from my house), which was in time to snag a spot.
The trail I’d had in mind today was the Nisqually Vista Trail. It used to be one of the most popular trails in the park, but ever since they tore down the old flying saucer visitor center near its trailhead a few years ago and built the new one over closer to the Inn, people seem to have forgotten about it, which is wonderful from my point of view. In spite of the crowds everywhere else, I ran into maybe a dozen people on the entire two-mile loop.
And this is what I saw:
Lots and lots of wildflowers. A beautiful Mountain. And an excellent view of the Nisqually Glacier.
All in all, a terrific day at Paradise.
I also stopped in Longmire on my way back, which is the site of the first settlement in what is now the park, and hence the place where they emphasize the history of our fifth national park. I wanted to pick the brain of the ranger on duty at the museum there about some resources for my next novel, and to poke around.
And that was my last summer visit to Mt. Rainier this year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I also saw some other critters.
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!