A Travellerspoint blog

April 2010

Beautiful British Columbia -Part One

Sea to Sky Scenic Byway, Promises Kept, Waterfalls and Vanicide

sunny 50 °F

The last leg of the drive began when we crossed the border into the province of British Columbia (BC) in Canada. My destination was Prince Rupert (PR), the small port city way out on the west end of highway 16, some 800 plus miles from where we crossed the border. I had five days to get to PR, which afforded me the luxury of breaking up the long drive days. Last year, I drove that distance in two long marathon driving sessions; going from the border to Prince George (PG) (490 or so miles) and Prince George to Prince Rupert (449 miles). I didn’t want to have to do that again, and besides, there is a lot of BC that I wanted stop and see. Two of my first goals were to hike up the Second Peak trail in the Chief Stawamus Provincial Park, and I wanted to drive the Sea to Sky Scenic Byway, also known as Highway 99. Beyond that, I didn’t have many plans, other than to make my ferry in PR.

The Sea to Sky Scenic Byway begins just outside of Vancouver, and runs north along the coast passing through the scenic towns of Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton, and Lillooet, before intersecting with Hwy 97 which is the main north/south thoroughfare in central BC. The road begins by following the rugged and picturesque coastline up to Squamish (The Sea), then it begins to climb steadily higher through Whistler and Pemberton. After Pemberton, the highway climbs high up into the craggy, soaring coastal ranges of BC where the road meets “The Sky.”

Back in February, I had made my first visit to Chief Stawamus Provincial Park. On that visit, I had climbed the lofty First Peak trail, the first of the three “chief trails” (see Vancouver Part 3). I really enjoyed climbing up to First Peak. Upon summiting, I was enthralled with the views, one of them being the slightly higher Second Peak. I vowed that I would return to climb it in April, on my drive up through BC.
So now it is April, and here I am just south of Squamish once again. I’m about to fulfill a promise to myself. It was a beautiful spring day; the sky was blue, the leaves on the trees were budding and bright green. The white granite cliffs and faces of the surrounding mountains dominated the views. It was breezy and cool with gusts from off the ocean. I was gazing up at the majestic and powerful lower Shannon falls. The mountainous countryside of coastal BC drops down to the ocean abruptly. Indeed, there are sheer cliffs that drop down from the sides of mountains in dramatic relief. I haven’t looked at a topographic map of this area, but I imagine the contours of the map really challenged the cartographers who had to draw them. Shannon Falls is the result of this radical topography. Melting water from high up in the mountains follows the easiest course down through the mountains low areas, then it falls 1,105 feet over the face of the sheer granite cliff before it regroups, and meanders its way to the ocean. The falls were spectacular, and a lot of people were out to see them. I was struck at how well dressed most people were while viewing the falls. I saw people wearing very nice clothes, smelling of perfume and after shave as they hiked along the trail to the overlook. Is this normal in other countries? When I’m out on a hike (or anywhere for that matter), I’m wearing my zip off adventure pants, comfortable adventure shirt and solid hiking boots. I don’t even own clothes as nice as these people were wearing. They had class, I’ll give them that.

The hike up to Second Peak was a grinder. Hiking up the trail was hard, probably the toughest hike I’ve been on this year so far. It IS a very demanding trail, but I was struggling with personal physical issues. I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep the night before, so I was already tired. On top of that, I was still fighting the last elements of a sore throat, so I wasn’t breathing as smoothly as I normally am. Instead of steadily climbing up the trail, feeling good, I was steadily climbing up feeling bad. I had to stop to catch my breath more several times, before continuing the grueling climb.

It was a gorgeous trail. The trail begins by climbing up a steep and rocky boulder strewn path. It runs along a nearby creek which falls down the same incline in a long set of tumbling falls. The roaring white noise of rushing water blocks out all other noises except for your breathing and footsteps. It’s easy to get into a rhythm during this section, letting your mind wander as it will. The trail splits, allowing you the choice between hiking to first peak or second peak and I chose the latter. The hiking became climbing, as the trail began ascending steep, slippery rock chutes. There were cold, steel chains to grab onto to aid the climb, but I chose to make it more challenging, by using only natural foot and hand holds for aid. I love this type of hiking, a scramble, using my whole body to get up to the top of the rock. It reminded me of Joshua Tree National Park (see Joshua Tree On My Mind), though the environments are completely different.
After the technical chutes, the trail opened up onto a grippy, sloping granite slab that I ran up. I had left the trail, as it wasn’t necessary anymore. All that was left to do was keep going up to the high point. I like following my own path. Upon summiting, I looked down at the town of Squamish and back south towards First Peak. There were several groups of hikers that were doing the same thing I was doing, gawking at the amazing scenery, putting on warmer clothes, taking pictures, eating snacks, and taking long pulls from their water bottles. I liked Second Peak better than First. I loved framing First Peak against the distant coastline. The furthest mountains and islands were pale blue, and each successive jagged band of terra firma was darker then the last. The protected ocean bays were flat and blotched from the wind gusts that blew over it. The sky was light blue looking toward the sun, and chains of cumulous clouds were rolling by changing their shapes in slow motion as they passed. It was a magnificent reward for my labor. Next time I visit the Squamish area, I’ll climb Third Peak. Just to round out my education.

After couch surfing in Whistler, I continued my journey along the Scenic Byway. I stopped briefly in Whistler Village to check it out the popular skiing destination base camp. I wished it was mid-February, because it would have been an easy decision to spend the day carving the powder with my skis. The Whistler/Blackcomb Ski areas are some of the most popular mountains in North America, a kind of Mecca for ski bums like myself. I talked to the owner of a local ski shop, he was very interesting, knowledgeable about the area, and a good example of “Canadian nice.” Canada has an admirable reputation of being nice, and I can tell you it’s true.
I ate breakfast at Nairn Falls Provincial Park, near Pemberton. Then I hiked the short distance to the viewing area of the falls. Nairn falls is a good example of the enormous power of water. The Green River narrows and has gouged its way through the ledge rock, reminiscent of a hot knife through butter. The upper falls are narrow, cutting deep into the rock, almost hiding themselves. The overall falls (both sets) drop about 180 feet. Then the churning, gritty water continues down stream through a narrow rock channel, zigzagging along. It disappears under rock bridge where two carved potholes have met under the water. Finally, it follows through the thirty foot wide rock chute before it falls over the second set of falls in a thunderous barrage of white water. Impressive.
My drive over the coastal mountains from Pemberton to Lillooet was a mental tug of war between anguish over what these steep and winding roads were doing to my old van, and being completely engrossed with the beautiful mountain views that surrounded me. These are some SERIOUS mountain roads, probably among the highest and steepest I’ve ever crossed. It began with a long climb up the pass, where my van could comfortably climb at 30 mph. It’s high whine kept reminding me that if I wanted this van to last, I should treat it better. After topping out on top near Duffy Lake, I descended into a long series of steep hills, with wooden one lane bridges over the beautiful Cayoosh Creek. There were several stretches of road where the angle of descent was over 11%. I estimated at least 6 miles of these brake melting pitches. Down, down, down we went, my ears refusing to pop right away, so my head was a sound proof room, like I was wearing thick earmuffs to dull all sound.
Finally, we reached Lillooet and a break for lunch, and a chance to let the van cool down. It smelled like a strong mixture of hot metal, burning rubber and molten oil. Sorry ol’ buddy. It was over, and the country side had turned dry, desert like. When I think of BC, I don’t think desert, but it is here. The high desert region is just east of the coastal mountains which steal a lot of the moisture that passes over.

To Be Continued...

Posted by Rhombus 21:52 Archived in Canada Tagged photography Comments (0)

Ocean On The Left

The Pacific Coast, Cape Lookout, Lake Sylvia and Seattle

We’ve reached the western coast of the U.S. and the Pacific Ocean. This marks the midpoint of the figurative “L” we are traveling on. We’ve reached our southern boundary on the coast, and everything that follows will be further north. From this point, navigation is easy, just keep the ocean on our left, and keep driving until we hit Prince Rupert. So far we’ve driven an enjoyable, 2800 miles since leaving Minnesota. I can tell you that it’s great to be back on the Pacific Ocean again, I always enjoy my time here.

I’ve spent the last couple days at Cape Lookout State Park. This nice little park is located southwest of Tillamook, Oregon along the “Three Capes Scenic Byway” which also includes Cape Mears and Cape Kiwanda. The park is busy, there are a lot of people who want to enjoy the beautiful spring weather, and the gorgeous views along the coast. I can’t blame them, that’s why I’m here myself.
I woke up to a beautiful, blue sky day. I decided to take my bike down to the ocean, and go for a long bike ride on the shore to the north, possibly biking as far as the small coastal village of Netarts. Distance wasn’t really my goal, I just wanted to ride my bike along the beach. A lot of the sand beaches along the Pacific coast have excellent hard packed sand from drastic tide changes that take place here, making an excellent riding surface. I had checked the tide schedule the night before, and learned that there was a minus low tide, and it would reach its lowest point at 10 a.m. Perfect for a morning ride. I filled my water bottle, applied sunscreen, grabbed my backpack (containing camera, tripod, binoculars, water, book, wasabi peas, and leatherman), and pedaled off to the beach access point.
I love the Pacific shores of the U.S. The sand beaches are immense, and the tides continually change the features of the shore. Like a fickle landscape architect, it will add logs, rocks, dead animals, shells, and stumps one day, only to change its mind, and remove everything the next. When the tide is out, the beach is immense (at most beaches), reaching out to sea at least the length of a football field (if not longer). I like to ride my bike right along the edge of the water, making a game of it. The goal is to ride right along the edge of the wave as it glides towards shore along the sand; a thin salt water carpet, foamy and viscous. I pedal as fast as I can when I see that my timing is just right to “ride” the incoming wave. It’s pretty easy to avoid the wave, but on occasion I’ll screw up and end up getting soaked with cold salt spray from my front time. Another example of “making my own fun.”
It was a great ride, I enjoyed the morning, finding the ocean environment in excellent condition. As I said, the ocean is always offering up bits of interesting stuff. I found a couple of crabs that had seen better days. Crab, anyone?
I stopped at a likeable spot several miles from anyone. I sat down on a driftwood log that had been washed ashore and sun dried. I ate some wasabi peas (my newest addiction), and read my book in the morning sun while occasionally gazing out at the ocean. In the distance, the “kissing turtles” still sat, oblivious to the pounding surf around them. The “turtles” are made up of huge rock islands that have been sculpted by wind and wave over the eons. Kind of a neat backdrop for a picture.
I was washing out my coffee cup at the campground spigot on the morning of departure from Cape Lookout. A white dog trotted up to me, and asked me (with his eyes) if “I would be kind enough to turn on the spigot for him, as he couldn’t do it himself, because of his paws.” I shrugged, and turned on the faucet for him, and he started lapping away at the falling water, in the way that dogs do. He drank his fill, thanked me, and trotted off back to his own campsite. I immediately felt better. I believe that dog gave me some good karma for the day.

After our stay at Cape Lookout, we motored north along Highway 101, one of the most amazingly scenic highways in the United States. Highway 101 runs the entire length of the west coast, running from northwest Washington all the way down to southern California. In northern California, Highway 1 takes over the scenic coastal duties, as 101 becomes a heavily used freeway farther inland. Over the past 8 years, I’ve driven long portions of this highway 5 times, and I never tire of it.
One of the cool things about Oregon and Washington is that they have made their entire shoreline along the ocean a public space, meaning everyone has access to it, and it cannot be privately owned. Oregon has no problem selling the land next to the shore. Indeed, there are clusters of expensive ocean view villas on almost every scenic vista; all of the houses are packed together like sardines. If I was going to spend a lot of money on a house, I wouldn’t want a neighbor in sight, but that’s just me. Anyway, there are hundreds of access points to the shore, and state parks every few miles. Heading north, I decided that I would make a few stops at some of the state parks that I haven’t visited before, just to check them out. Here’s what I found.

Our first stop was at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Oregon. Tillamook cheese is probably my favorite cheese on the market. I love their Pepper Jack and White Cheddar, though I’m fairly certain that they anything they make is good. It was cool to take the self guided tour, watching the cheese blocks roll through the factory being sliced, separated, weighed, and packaged. I also enjoyed the free samples of cheese and ice cream. It was an easy decision to buy some fresh cheese, and get an ice cream cone for the road. There’s nothing wrong with eating an ice cream cone at 8:30 in the morning.
I really liked Oswald West State Park. Walking through the thickly foliaged coastal forest was terrific. I’m glad there are trails through these woods, if there weren’t, it would be a nightmare just trying to navigate. One consistent theme I see re-accuring throughout the Pacific Northwest is the color green. Plants thrive in this moist environment.
I love it when I ‘m the first person on the beach after the tides have erased all evidence of other people. I like the unblemished sand around the boulders, logs and stumps. I think it makes a much more compelling photograph, and it makes me feel like I’m the first person to ever see this place.
It was raining when we crossed the Columbia River for the third and last time this trip. It always rains along the Washington coast when I come to visit. Our destination was Long Beach, we needed to do some laundry, catch up on some phone calls, and get a couple bowls of clam chowder to go from the 42nd St. Café in Seaview. The chowder from 42nd St. is the best chowder on the west coast (my opinion). We brought the chowder to one of my favorite state parks in Washington, that being Cape Disappointment State Park, just west of Ilwaco. We obtained the best campsite in the park (#104), set up the van, and got dinner together. Dinner consisted of the aforementioned Clam Chowder from Seaview,WA, Grilled Cheese sandwiches using fresh cheese from Tillamook and Bread from the Otis Café in Oregon. We used butter which we purchased in North Dakota, and used spices we bought in Idaho. That was probably the best meal we’ve had on this trip, delicious. It rained almost the entire time we were at Cape Disappointment. I still enjoyed walking the shore line, playing chicken with the waves, and watching the incoming tide, smash against the rocks at the base of the North Head Lighthouse. Moving right along through Washington, our next stop was Lake Sylvia State Park, just east of Aberdeen.
Lake Sylvia State Park is a small park, near the small town of Montesano. It encompasses Lake Sylvia, a small fresh water lake, popular among fishermen. My favorite part of the park was the 2 mile hiking trail that circles the lake. I liked walking among the old growth forests full of gigantic Sitka spruce and Red Cedars. The forest is thick and lush, and full of plants. The undergrowth is a tangle of moss covered fallen branches, ferns, shrubs, and debris. It has a jungle like feel to it. The topsoil is spongy and dark, a thick layer of rich decaying matter; a natural potent compost. These coastal forests of the northwest are amazing.
Seattle is a fun city to visit. We made a daytrip into the city, spending time in Pike’s Place Market and Discovery Park. We had a guide for our visit, a native Seattle resident who showed us around the city, and gave us an insider’s perspective to the city.

Pike’s Place Market is a couple block section of the city way up on the north side. It is a collection of traditional market kiosks selling anything imaginable; fruit, veggies, art, jewelry, food stuffs, clothing, photos, fish, etc. Intermixed with these shops are restaurants, businesses, tourists, street musicians and traffic. It’s a neat place to visit, and to check out, especially if you want to browse through a variety of items to buy. We ate lunch there, looked at a few shops, and crowd surfed for a couple of hours. We saw the “flying fish” for the first time (which wasn’t that impressive, but I deal with fish all summer long). We went into “Ye Old Curiosity Shop” which had a collection of macabre artifacts, including two mummies, some shrunken heads, and other random bizarre, old fashioned curiosities. I thought it was a cool collection. Lastly, we browsed through an antique shop, and found a dresser full of old family pictures, which was fun to browse through. It was kind of voyeuristic in a way, sifting through other peoples pictures and history. We left PP market and drove off to Discovery Park.
Discovery Park is a beautiful city park, and a great boon to Seattle. It’s big enough to allow you to get the feel that you aren’t in a major metropolitan area, something that a lot of the bigger city parks sometimes have trouble doing. We walked the “Loop Trail” a couple mile loop through old growth forests, grassy meadows, and coastline over looking Shilshole Bay. While walking through the woods, a tree caught my attention. To me, it looked like it had two ears, a crooked nose and a mouth. All it needed was eyes, to create a tree face. My friend added some rocks for eyes, and there it is, the Loop trail tree man.
One of the ways I judge a city is by its green space and parks, and Discovery Park passes with flying colors. Good for Seattle.

Posted by Rhombus 07:40 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (3)

Oregon and The Columbia River Gorge

The Eastern Desert, How to Coast Down a Mountain with Questionable Brakes, and The Gorge

Spring has sprung here in Oregon. The fresh light green leaves of new growth seem to be on all of the trees. The desert is filled with the strong scent of sage brush, one of the nicest aromas to be around. The cows and horses on the ranches we pass by are all gorging themselves on the fresh grass. Birds are merrily singing everywhere, completing the springtime ambiance. It’s warmer out. Daytime highs are ranging in the 50’s to the low 70’s (Fahrenheit). Night time temperatures are still cool, but no match for a down sleeping bag. It’s a great time of year to be traveling, especially through Oregon. The eastern Oregon high desert was a very pleasant landscape to drive through. We spent two days passing through the long sage brush covered valleys and climbing up and over mountain passes covered in tall ponderosa pine forests. We passed through quite a few small towns and villages, my favorite being John Day; the little town with everything you need, and nothing you don’t. We traveled on a rough northwesterly route on small two lane highways, following highways: 26,19, and 206. I wanted to see this region of Oregon I had never been through before, while catching the better parts of the Columbia River Gorge.
I was driving over Dixie Pass (el=5279 ft), just east of Prairie City, Oregon. As I started to accelerate coming down the far side, I eased my foot on the brake to slow the van down, when an automotive problem I had been ignoring started to demand attention. For the past half a year, I’ve noticed that when I stepped on the brakes coming down hills at higher speeds, it would cause my van to shake, causing the steering wheel to shimmy from side to side. Annoying, but not life threatening, was my assessment. I figured if I ignored it long enough, it might go away. Of course, it didn’t go away. In fact, it slowly kept getting worse. Finally, coming down this relatively high mountain pass, ignoring it was no longer an option. Stepping on the brake immediately caused the van to make a loud knocking noise, and violently rocked my steering wheel in my hand, left and right. Oh Crap! I tried shifting into lower gear, but that didn’t help, as I was already going much too fast. I had no choice. I still had to ride the brakes as we gaining still more speed. I hoped the violent bucking wouldn’t cause anything to snap. I also hoped there was a nice straight stretch in front of us to coast down into the valley. It was one of those moments where you almost have to laugh, here you are flying down a steep hill in a van where the brakes can’t really be trusted. It was almost like a cartoon. I expected my steering wheel to pop off in my hands for added comic effect. Luckily, my brakes worked well enough to slow us down, and nobody was in front of us so we could coast down into the valley. I slowly drove 20 miles into the small town of John Day where I called information to see if they had an auto mechanic. They did, and they were nice enough to take it in on short notice. I was expecting the worst, but all that needed to be done was to “turn my rotors,” whatever that means. They got it done in about 2 hours charging me 90 bucks, and the van brakes real smoothly now. So what did I learn? I learned that putting off automotive problems is a perfectly acceptable practice, and not to worry as you’ll definitely be able to coast down any mountain pass unscathed. The only side effect being, you might need to change your underwear afterward…
I think I’ve found the worst campground in Oregon. Deschutes River Recreation Area has a small campground on the east side of the Deschutes River. Situated on the far easterly edge of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the park was a logical place to stop for the night. The campground was crowded, though not ideal, is understandable, as spring brings out the R.Vers in droves. We found a nice spot easily enough, set up camp, and settled in. Not too long into our stay, the first series of trains rolled by, maybe 150 yards away, blaring its horn as it passed by. The trains seemed to pass, three in a bunch, just to make sure you heard them. I tried to find the bathroom, but it seems there was construction projects taking place on the building containing bathrooms and all they had was on overused biffy (a biffy is one of those portable, plastic john’s usually found around construction sites). It was gross. So, I made the best of it, and what with the trains blaring all night once an hour, I didn’t get much sleep. The next morning, it was no better. Along with the trains, the park and construction workers added to the din, striking up with their lawn mowers, tractors, fence post hammers, and other machinery. I couldn’t take it anymore, I wanted peace and quiet with my morning, not the hub-bub of machinery. We fled north to the north side of the gorge and Washington.
One word strikes me as being the most appropriate in describing the Columbia River Gorge, that being: Green. This color is part of every landscape and view in the gorge this time of year, and after six months of not seeing fresh growth, it makes the spring green of the gorge pop out that much more. Green covers everything; from the grass that covers the steep rocky hillsides that make up the valley walls, to the thick green moss that covers most of the trees, stumps, and rocks of the forest, to the thick spring foliage on all of the trees. I can see why green does so well here, the conditions are perfect for it. It’s a moist climate; strong ocean breezes carry a lot of relatively warm moisture from the nearby Pacific ocean. Being the lowest point river valley around, the Columbia collects all the run off from the nearby rivers and creeks. Spring warmth melts the snow of winter adding even more moisture to the climate. Add in some sunny days here and there, and photosynthesis take over creating all of the wonderful shades of green of the Gorge.
The grand landscapes of the Gorge are beautiful. It’s a huge canyon, long steep grassy hillsides with occasional rocky cliffs make up the valley walls. Rugged, eroding buttes and cliffs, formed from the passing river eons ago rise out of the land. Distant snow covered mountains can be seen, the most prominent being Mt. Hood (el. 11,239 ft.)The river itself is pretty tame; a wide slow moving lake flowing west through the beautiful country. Man has made an immense impact on the gorge. It’s hard to find a view that doesn’t have something manmade in it. There are several dams on the Columbia, creating electricity, but disrupting natural fish cycles (salmon), slowing down the natural flow of the once wild river, and polluting the scenery (my opinion). Indeed, between the roads, freeways, railroads, power lines, bridges, dams, humongous wind turbine farms, and other infrastructure, it’s hard to see the gorge as the wild place it once was. It’s even harder to take a photograph without the above mentioned “progress” entering your picture.

That’s why I like the small landscapes that make up the greater scenes of the gorge. There are many parks, trailheads, hiking trails, boat landings, and waysides that have beautiful natural features to explore. I try to visit several of these “pieces” on a given trip to help me get a better feel of the “whole” gorge. Does that make sense? I usually prefer driving highway 14 on the Washington side of the river. There are several reasons for this, the biggest reason is that it isn’t a freeway (like on the Oregon side). I can stop almost anywhere along the way, and not feel like I’m racing along.
I decided to stop at all of the parks and waysides that I passed while driving west. There were quite a few areas that I hadn’t visited before, and I wanted to at least do a cursory drive through to see how they looked on the surface. At each one, there was at least one thing there to make me enjoy my visit. My favorite park was Horse Thief Lake State Park. I went for a stroll through the park’s deserted picnic grounds, admiring the groves of trees, planted in long rows throughout the park. I had the park to myself, and enjoyed sitting in the shade, catching up on my journal, while listening to the sounds of spring, occasionally gazing at my green world. Eden, came to mind.
We set up for the night at Beacon Rock State Park. Beacon Rock is a towering monolith that rises 848 feet above the river. It’s impossible to miss, and has been a stopping place for travelers for a long time. Lewis and Clark stayed here, and we did too. During the late afternoon, we went for a hike to Hardy Creek Falls and Rodney Falls. It was a good hike through pine forests, with trees that grow to immense sizes. The undergrowth was thick, and green, flowers were blooming, and it was gorgeous.
The falls were impressive. I love the crystal clear water of mountain creeks. The rapids and water falls that occur are pure white, a beautiful clean color against the vivid greens of the forest. I could sit and watch waterfalls all day long. I like photographing these scenes as well, however, I’ve not had much success at creating the “silky” water flowing effect with my new camera. The reason why, is that my camera’s maximum focal length is F8, and to really blur water, I need extremely dark days to be able to use a shutter speed of 1 second or longer. Ah well, you can’t have everything. I was happy enough just to be out in the woods breathing the highly oxygenated air of healthy woods, mingling with the spray of clean waterfalls. You can’t breathe air much cleaner than that.

Onward! To the coast, and points north.

Posted by Rhombus 13:14 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (0)

Northern Utah and Southern Idaho

Bear Lake and a Return To Bruneau Dunes State Park

sunny 55 °F

We found ourselves on the southeast side of Bear Lake at First Point Rustic Campground. Bear Lake is located way up on the northern border of Utah and the south east corner of Idaho. The lake is shared by both states. Bear Lake is a large lake. It’s twenty miles long, eight miles wide, and its deepest depth is just over 200 feet. The lake reminds me of a miniature Lake Superior. The water is crystal clear, cold, and clean. The shore line is a mixture of sand, small pebbles and eroded chunks of sandstone. Sage Brush and Juniper grow in abundance around the lake, giving off a nice scent. I saw a variety of animals foraging around the lake including, White Tailed Deer, Common Mergansers, Loons, Magpies, Sea Gulls, and Robins. There are five types of fish found in this lake that are found nowhere else on earth. They are: Bonneville Cisco, Bonneville Whitefish, Bear Lake Cut throat trout, Bear Lake Whitefish and Bear Lake Sculpin. At first, viewing Bear Lake from the van, I wasn’t that impressed. Granted, at the time I was tired and cranky. However, as I spent more time near the water, I decided that I really liked this lake.

Driving from Montana, it took us 8 hours to get to the lake, and find a place to camp. I was tired, and sick of being in the van. I decided to ignore my sleepiness, hoping to improve my mood with fresh air and exploring. I wanted to get some exercise for the day and explore the lake. I ate a quick snack, before unstrapping my bike from the rack. I pedaled north into the wind. It was a pleasant ride, passing lakeside neighborhoods, farmers fields and horse ranches. I saw 6 corpses of deer lying in the ditch. Undoubtedly, these deer were hit by passing motorists, which probably didn’t see the deer in time as they dashed onto the road from the roadside juniper groves. I biked for a couple of miles before stopping for a water break. I decided to turn back, as I had spied a likeable boulder that could offer a late afternoon climbing session; a good way to finish off my workout.
I was right about the boulder, it was climbable, but not difficult. The boulder provided an easy way to exercise my climbing muscles without having to think too much. I had fun with it. That’s what I like about bouldering, it’s a fun, effective exercise that doesn’t need much equipment. Just a big rock and some climbing shoes. I also like the fact that you can find climbable boulders almost anywhere.
After climbing, I decided to build an Inukshuk, a statue made of rocks. I was inspired by the many statues that I had seen on the beaches of Vancouver. Stacking the sandstone pieces was a lot harder than I anticipated, and my statues fell down 3 times. I gave up on the Inukshuk idea, and instead made a rock tower, which vaguely looks like the Eiffel. The tower was easier to balance, and I was able to complete it on the first try. Satisfied with my efforts, I returned to camp to settle in for the evening.
I spent the next morning in leisurely pursuit of happiness. I ate a good breakfast, completed a full body stretching session, read for awhile, and finally went for a walk along the beach. The lake was completely still, and glassy. I could hear the call of the groups of foraging ducks from long distances away. I was sitting on some boulders right next to the water, waiting for the sun to rise over the nearby hills to the east; high enough to warm me up. The mountains across the lake to the west were lit up by the morning sun, and reflected nicely off of the water. Pale wisps of cirrus clouds floated overhead, completing my ceiling. It was very nice to just sit and watch the water, letting its soft movements lull me into complete relaxation. I enjoyed my reverie, and went back to the van to pack up, and drive west.

Driving west through Logan Canyon from Bear Lake, we passed many campgrounds and trailheads as we drove through Wasatch-Cache National Forest. We stopped randomly at a trailhead, and it turned out to be the starting point for a hike up to the Wind Caves. A sign informed us that it was a 1.6 mile hike that rose over 900 feet in elevation. A steady incline for sure, but we wanted the exercise along with checking out the caves. It was relatively hot out. It was 60 degrees, a heat wave compared to what we were used to. It wasn’t long before we were sweating, while we hiked up the relentless switch backs to the caves.
Upon reaching the caves, we took a lunch break, giving us the chance to catch our breath, reload on fuel (eat), and take in the aerial views of Logan Valley from high up on top of the caves. It was pleasant. After lunch, we dropped underneath our perch to the caves themselves. The caves were a spacious carving of limestone, formed by seeping water through cracks in the rock and eroded out by the wind. Three delicate arches are formed on the ceiling and two large caves made up the main cave system. The caves had great acoustics, and I wished I had brought my banjo. Even so, I had fun singing various lines from the songs that roll through my head like a jukebox on a daily basis. We hung out awhile, then deciding we had enough, hiked back down the switch back trail down to the van. It was a great hike, and we were happy to have made the trek.

I ended up back at Bruneau Dunes State Park in south western Idaho. It was right on our way (any place we want can be “right on our way”), and since I enjoyed the park so much the last time I visited (see Taking It Slow In Idaho), it was an easy decision to come back.
On the first day, I had the best day of bird watching I’ve ever had. I spent the morning and the evening watching the variety of birds chase each other, look for food, and sit in the trees singing their songs. I simply used the van as a blind, and viewed them with my binoculars. I saw: Robins, House Sparrows, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Ravens, California Quail, Red Winged Black Birds, American Coots, Audubon’s Yellow Rumped Warbler, Two Great Horned Owls, and several other species that I couldn’t identify.
Bruneau Dunes is a magnet for wildlife, walking around Big Dune Lake is an easy way to see what has passed by. There are animal tracks everywhere. I saw a jack rabbit, and what I believe to be a porcupine. While walking the top of the dune at sunset, I heard the yowling and howling of a distant pack of coyotes and the chorus of frogs celebrating in the spring evening. This park is a wildlife lovers dream.
My favorite part of the park is walking the ridgeline of the dunes, which rise 470 feet above the desert below. Getting up to the ridge is some of the hardest hiking I‘ve ever done. Every step is in deep sand, and I sank back down almost to my last step. The angle of the incline of the dunes is very steep, adding to the hardship. It took a sustained effort to trudge my way up, gasping for breath, pausing every ten steps for air. When I finally gained the ridge, the hard walking continued. The ridge line is a sharply defined sand edge, and I almost had to tight rope walk along the top in order not to fall to one side. Walking along the side isn’t any easier, as my ankles were always at an awkward angle trying to gain purchase. My toes even get a work out, digging into the sand for traction. This isn’t a place for slackers, the ridge line makes you earn it.
For all the hard work that is required to gain the ridge, the rewards for all that effort are great. I was lucky enough to catch two storm fronts coming through on consecutive days, putting the already picturesque dunes in some amazingly dramatic light. On my previous visit, I had walked the ridge in the morning. I wanted to see how the dunes looked at different times of the day, so I decided to climb up to the ridge during the afternoon and at sunset. Since “a picture paints a thousand words,” I’m going to show you what I saw up on top of the ridge on the two hikes I made to the top.
Here is the Desert Skunk Beetle. This Beetle is the largest that I've ever seen.
It has assumed its defensive stance, ready to spray me, if I got any closer.
These last three were some of my favorite sunset shots.
After climbing the dunes at different times of the day, I think I like the sunset hike the best. I love the strong lighting in the clear desert air playing off of the sloping sands. I like how it gradually softens as the setting sun sinks closer to the horizon. I like how the shadows continually change, shifting and becoming longer at sunset. I really like hiking back to the trailhead during the gloaming of the day, as night begins set in.

So I had another great visit to one of my newest favorite parks. I could come here for a week every year for the rest of my life, and love every minute of it. If I had to choose, I would pick April as the time to visit, as spring is starting to bloom. I really like the dunes, they are continually changing and if you visited them ten times, I bet that during nine of those visits, the dunes would be different. I love watching the wildlife around the park, the birds make it easy to become a bird watcher. The campground is very nice set in a park like setting of trees. It has WI-FI. It also clean bathrooms and showers. In short, Bruneau Dunes has it all.
Where to next? Oregon, beginning in the eastern desert and heading northwest towards the Columbia River Gorge.

Posted by Rhombus 13:04 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (2)

An Alaskan Journey Begins

The Journey from Silver Bay, MN to Bozeman, MT

sunny 53 °F

I began my Alaskan trip on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I was happy to finally start the big trip, a 3 week journey that would lead me eventually to Alaska. First, I would have to travel over 3000 miles to get there, crossing the western U.S. once again, and driving through 800 miles of “Beautiful British Columbia.“ In Prince Rupert, B.C. I’ll be driving my van onto the good ship “Taku” taking it easy for a couple days before I return to the long hours of working at an Alaskan Fishing Lodge. I like taking the ferry. It’s a good way to get a feel for the land, watching the gorgeous scenery and wildlife of Alaska’s Inside Passage. More on that later. On this trip, I’m traveling with a friend of mine, a good traveling companion and world traveler who will be working at the same fishing lodge in Sitka for the summer. The following are some thoughts and photographs of the first days of the journey. From Silver Bay, Minnesota to Bozeman, Montana.
Driving through northeastern Minnesota in the late afternoon, I began to notice that my favorite clouds had begun to form off to the south. Cumulus clouds are a gift from the sky for photographers and loafers. Two activities I take great pride in. I admired the variety of shapes and sizes as I drove. The late afternoon sun lit them beautifully in the blue sky. I decided that at the next place that I could stop, that I would, as I wanted to get out and enjoy the scene. Almost as soon as I thought it, a wayside sign appeared and I pulled off the highway and parked at a little rest area next to a lake. Northern Minnesota has some beautiful lakes, and Embarrass Lake near Biwabik is no exception. Those beautiful clouds I had admired so much were now perfectly reflected off of the surface of the glassy lake. Simply gorgeous. I was enthralled. What a send off, a parting gift, a reminder to come back and visit the northland when I finish my summer travels.
One of the gifts I’ve been blessed with, is the ability to find a comfortable seat almost anywhere, using anything. Now I know this doesn’t sound like a great gift, but for a guy who likes to sit as much as I do, it’s a wonderful talent to have. I was watching the sunset, comfortably perched in my “rocker,” a perfect limb shaped into a seat from a low hanging Cottonwood tree on the banks of the scenic Little Missouri River. I watched the river turn to silver, the buttes and bluffs to the south turn gold from the low sun. I watched the far banks turn dark in shadow, and felt the cold the instant the sun slipped beyond the western hills. I heard the robins cheerily call as they finished their evening forage, I felt the wind die down, and heard it’s last caresses on the dried leaves trapped in the crotches of the Cottonwood branches. I was in Teddy Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota, a beautiful park, and usually my first stop on my trips out west. Sitting in my wooden seat, I reflected upon my morning.
That morning, I had biked 10 miles through the badlands. I enjoyed the ride, relishing the tough climbs up the long hills, and speeding down the other side of the rugged and eroded buttes along the main park road. The rising sun was warm, offsetting the coolness of the morning, making perfect riding conditions. I saw a lot of wildlife, including: White Tailed Deer, Prairie Dogs, Robins and Buffalo. Seeing a buffalo calmly munching grass on the side of the road from a car is an awesome experience. Seeing one from the seat of a pedal bike is downright intimidating. There is something magical about Buffalo. These magnificent animals have an aura of wildness and raw power to them. A reminder that the western plains were once wild and free. A symbol of the American west: The grandeur, the wildness, and the brutality of the settling pioneers and their army. The buffalo was almost needlessly slaughtered to extinction in the 1800’s by hunters, settlers, and the army. The buffalo can run over 35 miles and hour. It can weigh upwards of 1000 pounds. I’m fairly certain that I can’t peddle that fast on my bike, unless I had a huge hill to help me. A couple of times on my ride, I saw a couple of buffalo eating grass on the shoulder of the road. I stopped and watched them, giving them a wide berth as I knew I had little chance of escape if they decided I was a threat. I watched them for awhile, then turned my bike around and headed back the way I came. I’ve seen their athletic ability first hand (see High Plains Drifting), and wanted no part of another demonstration while I was on a bike.

I woke suddenly out of a peaceful sleep mildly disoriented, and wondering what time it was. I laid there for a moment, trying to guess if the sky was overcast, or was it just really early morning blue sky. I did a sit up and looked outside through the window of the van. To the east, a beautiful sunrise was already in full swing, almost to the horizon. The wind was blowing hard, but it was surprisingly mild out. I watched for a minute and contemplated if I wanted to get up and go outside to take it all in or slump back down into my comfortable down sleeping bag, snoozing in the glory of an early morning. Something inside me urged me to get up, so I did. I put in my contact lenses, threw on some sweats, a hooded sweatshirt, slipped on my sandals, grabbed my camera and headed down to the river. I slept the night at the After Bay campground on the banks of the Big Horn River in south central Montana. It’s located in part of the Big Horn River National Recreation Area, way up on the north part of the park.

The night before I had watched a lot of Canadian geese take refuge on a slim, gravel bar close to the south bank of the river near the campground. I considered the situation, and decided to try to get a picture of a goose on the gravel bar. The geese heard me coming and began their warning honks, good news, as I would have a chance to photograph them. Geese are relatively easy to photograph, they aren’t as skittish as a lot of other birds, and I hoped I wouldn’t scare them off. I didn’t, and I was able to silhouette them using the intense golden sunlight of dawn as my back drop. The brilliantly golden light didn’t last long, but I was able to get the photograph I wanted. It was a perfect start to my day, and I was glad I got up.
Bozeman, Montana must be one of my favorite towns to visit. It’s a marbleized western city with pockets of old Montana, trendy, upscale galleries and shops, with touches of college town funkiness. A hub for outdoor activity as several sets of mountains and two ski hills are within an hours drive. A cross roads of where old meets new, an environmentally conscious town, a forward looking city with roots deep in western culture.

I love going out to eat in Bozeman. There are many awesome restaurants, many trying to use locally grown organic products in their menu. Over the years, I’ve eaten at a lot of the restaurants, found many I’ve liked and keep going back to. For Breakfast, I like Main Street Over Easy and the Nova Café. My favorite restaurant of them all is the Montana Ale Works, serving great food, in a cool atmosphere. Plus they offer full size pool tables. Bozeman takes it’s coffee seriously. There are quite a few great coffee shops in town serving terrific coffee. I love the fact that Starbucks can’t even get there foot in the door, because of the plethora of coffee shops serving that wonderful black gold (no offense to SB, I don’t mind their coffee). My two favorites are the Sola Café (where I’m actually writing this), and the Daily Coffee Bar.

I like to do my shopping in Bozeman. Yesterday, I bought my latest pair of Danner hiking boots (my favorite boot). Over the years, I’ve bought camera lenses, film, groceries, binoculars, Frisbee golf disks, banjo strings, and a ukelele. I usually need to get an oil change while in town, and do my banking. In short, Bozeman has a lot to offer, and I like their laid back, friendly people. I’ll keep coming back as long as I am able to.

So the trip is off to an excellent start. We’ve had good weather so far, with the exception of yesterday when a hell of a cold front blasted in, dropping the temperatures 30 degrees and shaking 4 inches of snow on us. We got a few errands done, and met up with some friends of ours. They pulled some strings, with some of their friends and got us free lodging for the night. I love the power of networking, especially when it happens along the road, opening up doors you’d never expect, meeting awesome people along the way.

Posted by Rhombus 15:12 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (5)

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