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Entries about wildflowers

The Wonders of Palouse Falls, Washington

Working the River, The Enjoyment of Revisiting Old Haunts, Palouse Falls Hiking, and Loafing

sunny 70 °F

I’m back in the lower forty-eight once again, working on the boat that sails up and down the Columbia, Willamette, Snake, and Palouse Rivers. It’s a good gig. It is fun to travel a river that requires a lot of nautical skill, vigilance, and know how to navigate it. Our watch officers are busy, and it’s good to see them ply their craft. Baja and Alaska aren’t nearly as navigationally interesting or challenging as our Columbia River trips.

As for me, it’s good work. Each week we travel just under a thousand miles, making our way from Portland, Oregon to Clarkston, Washington, and returning down river to Astoria, Oregon, and finishing the trip in Portland. I know it sounds like a lot of illogical travel, but it is a good route that I will be traveling for the next six weeks.
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One of the stops we make along the way is on the Palouse River. I’ve written about the Palouse Falls area before, just about a year ago in fact. Palouse Falls is one of my favorite places in Washington State, and I decided to take advantage and hike down to see the expansive canyon and falls once again. I really like revisiting parks and natural places I’ve been to before. It’s kind of like visiting an old friend. I like to see if there are any changes, and find new nooks and crannies or views that I haven’t discovered yet.
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I caught the zodiac to shore well before the guests disembarked, and had quite a bit of time to compose some images in the strong morning light. Most of the land was tan, faded grass of late summer, but in contrast, there were large bushes of yellow flowers and sunflowers blooming along the hillsides. We anchor near a rock outcrop named by the Palouse Indians of the region as the “Heart of the Beaver.” The rock sits high above the river, and makes for a nice backdrop.
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When everyone else arrived on shore, we climbed onto the school bus and made our way to the falls.
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I knew exactly where I was going, so while everyone else went straight for the tourist view of the falls, I headed left to the trail that would take me down to the lip of the falls. I was surprised by the amount of birds around. There were many songbirds, warblers, sparrows and the like, and they were all eating seeds from the sunflowers.
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I slid down the gravel talus pile next to the railroad bed. I more or less crouched down on one boot and skiied it, using my hands as balance when I needed it, and I was down in under a minute. Sometimes, you just have to let yourself go.

I walked the familiar trail downstream to the falls. It felt good to be hiking, and I was enjoying the warm sunshine, the sounds of the river, and excited to see what awaited me just around the bend.
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I brought my camera, of course, but I didn’t have any expectations of taking photos I hadn’t taken here on previous trips. However, when I reached the gaping canyon I found myself working new angles I hadn’t done before, seeing the falls, and surrounding countryside in new ways. I was inspired, and pleasantly surprised, by my excitement. I was once again in my element.
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I love this place. I can’t wait to come back again in the next few weeks. In a moment of inspiration, I climbed up the thin rock fingers that sit like an audience above the falls. I found some shade, I found a perch, and that was all I needed. I sat on my rock throne, twenty feet higher than the rocky slope that sits atop the sheer cliff of the waterfall wall. Perfect. I looked out at the surrounding canyon, and took in all my senses could offer me.
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It was a good morning, and I want to spend a couple of days at Palouse Falls, not just a couple of hours. I wearily hiked back to the parking lot, stopping at the upper falls to dunk my head in the water. It was cool and refreshing, and I thought about jumping in. The thought passed, and so did I.
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Back on top of the bluff, I looked over the canyon and found more gorgeous views. The compositions of the Palouse are quite fetching. I finished off my day by loafing. Loafing is a wonderful pastime. Lin Yutang, writes in “The Importance of Living” that, “The first thought that the jungle beast would have is that man is the only working animal.” And this is true! Too many of us work way too hard, and would be far better off lying flat on a cool picnic table in the shade of a large copse of trees that are filled with the songs of birds. I did this very thing at the park, with my backpack as a pillow, and the warm breeze as my blanket, I fell asleep to the chirping of the birds. As I lay there I had the thought, that I should just stay here, and sleep away the afternoon. This was the good life, and I was enjoying it.

Alas, I didn’t make good on my pleasant thought (yet). Like the good american I am, I went back to work to live to toil another day.
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However, this little nap I had in the park has planted a seed of a plan in my mind. It won’t be long before it bears fruit, and this vagabond will be free once again.

Posted by Rhombus 18:14 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes waterfalls birds photography wildflowers Comments (0)

A Day Off In Gustavus, Alaska

When Not To Laugh, Concerning Bikes, Flowers, Libraries, Pizza, and The Great Settlement of Gustavus, Alaska

semi-overcast 65 °F

I had spent the last few hours running around the ship wondering why we were sailing at full speed with our “not under command” lights up. I was also wondering why I was the only one working the night shift while everyone else slept and why nobody told me that nobody was driving the ship. I frantically ran up to the bridge to try and steer the boat away from the island we were headed straight for. I awoke to find myself running in bed, thrashing through my blankets. Argh! Only a dream.

So began my day off. I jumped out of bed, threw some stuff in my backpack, took two sips of coffee and jumped off the ship. I walked up to the Glacier Bay Lodge to inquire the cost of a room for the day. I informed them that I was from the National Geographic Sea Lion, looking for a cheap rate. The nice lady at the front desk looked me over (I was wearing my ripped up comfortable jeans, homemade sailor beanie, xtratuffs and raincoat, completely unshaven and haggard from little sleep) and then responded, “Twen… hundred and twenty four dollars.”
I must’ve misheard her. “Could you repeat that?”
“For a standard room it will be two hundred and twenty four dollars.”
I told her I had to think about it, which didn’t require much effort. I thanked her and opted for plan b…

Plan B began with a frantic exiting of the boat and jumping into a cab against my better judgment to be taken to the small settlement of Gustavus, Alaska with two other crew members. One was going to Juneau for the day, and the other looking for a cheap room to hole up in. The taxi driver unceremoniously dropped me off with Pete at The Gustavus Crossroads. When the driver took my 40 bucks and tucked it into his front pocket without offering me any change, I swear I heard blues music coming from somewhere. The dude made 40 bucks for a five minute cab ride, and left us standing on the roadside wondering what just happened. I’ll admit, my mind wasn’t really operating on all cylinders yet, and so I was literally “taken for a ride.” I guess I’m a sucker.

So Pete calls up the nearest motel to find out they also charge 200 dollars a day for the experience of staying at an Alaskan Bed and Breakfast. Pete gave up and wanted to go back to the lodge to hang out, and not wanting to face the shrewd cab driver again, we decided to hitch hike. When your best options include hitch hiking you might ask yourself if the decisions you’ve made up to this point in your life have been good ones.
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The first guy to pull over was a true Alaskan wild man. Dirty blond hair fringed light on a dark tan face. He had a hunk of chewing tobacco in his lip. He wore a dirty blue jean jacket and jeans (some call this a Canadian Tuxedo) and a deep sullen voice. He drove a rancid old ford that looked in no worse condition than he did, and told us that he wasn’t going as far as we were. He looked like an axe murderer. We hopped in anyway. I sat up front with him, while Pete hopped in the greasy back of his pickup.

I’m seriously trying not to laugh my ass off at this memory. I’m writing this at the Gustavus Public Library, and I’m dying. This guy looked like an axe murderer, and yet we blindly jumped right in his truck like the rubes we are. Silence. He didn’t speak. I didn’t speak. I pondered my last few minutes in this world. I got the giggles. I didn‘t dare to snicker, as I didn’t want to upset “Spike.” I’ve found when I have to laugh, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I can’t, it makes me want to laugh even harder. I had to bite my lip to keep from busting a gut and laughing at the incredible start to my day. I looked back at Pete huddled up against the cold wind, looking less than amused, and damn near lost it.

He let us out several miles up the pike from whence we had come. When we got out of his truck, I burned up some good laughs and we carried on walking through the dense forest of Alaskan’s temperate rain forest. The second ride was unremarkable, and we arrived back at the lodge thirty minutes later, 40 bucks poorer, and hungry.

I decided to eat breakfast which would improve my day immediately. Then I parted ways with Pete, opting to rent a bike while he chose to relax at the lodge.

Finally, I felt in control of my destiny, and my day began to take shape in a series of enjoyable experiences. On the way to and from Gustavus, I had seen a couple of scenes that I wanted to investigate with my camera. Alaskan wildflowers are gorgeous, and so I set off down the highway I had so recently traveled this time at a much slower, less expensive, and much more enjoyable pace.
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The bike was dark green, of a mountain variety. It was missing its front brake, needed some oil and tapped out a six count rhythm for every three rotations of the pedals. “TAP, tap, tap, tap, tap, TAP…TAP, tap, tap, tap, tap, TAP.” The front wheel was slightly oblong and losing some air, but outside of that, she was cherry. I didn’t mind, and set out down the road, tapping my way to freedom.
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I stopped to admire some lupines that were out along side the road. I love lupines and perhaps they might be my favorite Alaskan flower of mid-summer. Moving along, I found a wet meadow full of what I believe are Alaskan cotton, but I‘m going to call them “Thom Heads.” It was in these plants that I found a kinship. I used to think that dandelions were my kin, but even with their fuzzy white heads, they don’t compare to Thom Heads. The heads of the cotton were soft, shaggy and blond. They reminded me of a sheepdog, and if I grew my hair out, it would look eerily similar to these plants.
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I enjoyed my bike ride. It was cool out, perfect temperature for a ride. It was overcast, but the clouds offered no rain. I pedaled on in a pleasant mood, happy to be free of the ship, happy to be biking along a deserted road through a beautiful forest.

One really great thing about biking on Gustavus roads is the fact that everyone waves at you, and it was fun to wave back. I immediately felt like part of the community, and I blended in perfectly with my classic Alaskan ensemble. Those three words were probably never put in the same sentence before, and I want to take credit for it.
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Anyway, I made it into town and stopped once again at The Crossroads. I stopped into the gallery to get a mocha and called up my brother. It was nice to sit in the shade at a small table and talk with him. Staying connected on a ship is hard, and it was good to chat with one of my people for awhile.
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I moseyed down to the beach and found a likeable bench to lie around on and read my book. I’m currently reading, “As Told at the Explorer’s Club” Edited by George Plimpton. A fascinating read about all varieties of adventure. Then my phone rang, and it was my girlfriend. What luck! I spent the next hour catching up with her, and making up for lost conversations. She works on The Sea Lion’s sister ship, The Sea Bird, and so while we might pass each other in the night, I haven’t seen her since May. Such is the life of a sailor.
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After my long siesta on the beach, I went to the library to surf on the ‘information super highway.” My favorite part of the library was the fact they made you take your shoes off, and everyone walked around in socks. At closing time, I was “socked” out, and made my way to The Crossroads and the Homeshore Café. I had been told they sold pizzas and beer, a combination I had been looking forward to all day. I was not disappointed, and they served up a great pizza using fresh ingredients and lots of love.
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Fully satiated on carbs, I was really looking forward to my nine mile bike ride back to the lodge. It was really more of a slog than a bike ride, but fortunately I had my six count rhythm to keep me company. I was entertained by waving at everyone who passed me, however, and they both seemed like nice people.
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I stopped in my field full of Thom Heads for a break. They were brightly lit up with the afternoon sun, and it was a welcome break from my toil. I continued on, running different bear scenarios through my head. I was blinded by the bright sunlight I was biking directly into, and the deep shadows of the forest were black in contrast. If a bear took a dislike to me, and decided to press the situation there was very little I could do about it. I was stuffed on pizza, and was not moving fast. I needed a bed, not a bike, and I decided I was probably a tasty looking long ravioli on wheels.

After an eternity, I finally hit the only downhill stretch of my ride and coasted back down to the lodge. It was a very welcome sight, and I was happy to get my saddle sore ass off that bike seat.
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I spent the remainder of my day off reading down by the water on the dock. A couple passed by talking excitedly of a moose swimming by. I looked out at the water, and sure enough, it was a moose! I grabbed my camera and ran down to the end of the dock to get a very close look at it as it swam by. Moose are very good swimmers and this one had crossed from an island well over a mile away. Impressive. It reached the far shore, climbed out and ran off into the woods.
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Weary with my efforts of the day, and quite satisfied. I settled into my comfortable bunk for an uninterrupted slumber.

Posted by Rhombus 11:26 Archived in USA Tagged bikes towns roads alaska oceans moose photography wildflowers gustavus Comments (0)

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