Warm, Sunny Get-Away to Moab Utah

We love our home, in the lush green forested foothills of the North Cascades. But, this past winter provided a bit too much lushness, countless cool, wet and gloomy days, what many people think of when they imagine the Pacific Northwest. By winter’s end, we felt in need of a change of pace.Curt Remington at Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah

What could be better than a warm, dry and sunny place, more of a desert location, at the opposite end of the color wheel? We opted for the red rock canyons of Nevada and southern Utah, far different than the lush green forest of our western Washington home.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Moab, Utah sounded like a good base, so we rented an Airbnb just outside of town. Moab is definitely different, clearly catering to outdoor adventure sport enthusiasts. Along with cars, streets are lined with ATV’s, Jeeps, and a whole variety of serious off-road contraptions. For those of us that prefer quiet in the wilderness, the area also has mountain biking, rafting, hiking and lots of photography opportunities. On this short trip, I focused on the last two, hiking and photography.

For hikes, we crammed half-a-dozen or so short ones into three hiking days, including: Devil’s Garden, Delicate Arch, Dead Horse Point, Wave of Fire, White Domes, Las Vegas Strip, and Negro Bill or Grandstaff, depending on who you ask.Mary Remington in Arches National Park, Utah

Even on the trip, we saw some sharp contrasts, like the throngs of people in Las Vegas versus the empty, wide-open freeway with 80 mph speed limits or the noisy casino versus the peace in remote desert canyons.

On an earlier trip, discovering Teddy Roosevelt National Park was a real treat. We had driven by it countless times, not realizing it is well worth the stop. On this trip, Valley of Fire State Park, an hour outside Las Vegas, was a similar find. There are spectacular and surreal red and white rock formations that have been used for both science fiction, western, and action movies and television shows, such as Total Recall, Star Trek Generations, the Professionals, One Million BC, Wasteland, Transformers, and lots more. Highlights included bighorn sheep, a slot canyon and the wave of fire, a masterpiece created by the greatest artist, mother nature.

Mary at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Mary at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Like so many, this trip was too short. We did manage to dry out, relax in the southwestern sun, and we came home with some beautiful memories and pictures. We even came home with a tan.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Rafting the Main Salmon River

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Six Spectacular Days with a Primitive Tribe

Rafting the Main Salmon River held a prominent place on my bucket list for years. It turns out, I had it there for good reason. This past summer, my wife, Mary, and I finally made that trip and spent six sunny days surrounded by beautiful scenery, thrilling rapids, and learning the special customs of a unique and friendly tribe.

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Trip Details

On this run, the clear waters of the Main Salmon River, plunge deep into Idaho’s 2.4 million acre River of No Return Wilderness, “the largest contiguous federally managed wilderness in the United States outside of Alaska.” This area contains parts of three mountain ranges, a 6,000-foot-deep canyon, almost no roads or stores, and far more wildlife than people, including bears, mountain lions, wolves, and rattlesnakes. The 80 miles of river we covered holds countless rapids, vast white sand beaches, and canyons lined with steep granite cliffs.

As to logistics, I was a bit flabbergasted when I learned it would cost $475 to have our truck shuttled to the takeout, 80 miles downriver. Then I mapped the driving route and found that because of the vast wilderness area, it was a nine hour, 409 mile drive, with many miles on exceptionally rugged and remote roads. I decided maybe the $475 was quite a bargain.

Way of Life on the River

With that background info out of the way, we can get onto the part about life on the river with a primitive tribe. I better clarify things a bit here, because the tribe wasn’t really that primitive. In fact, they looked a lot like normal people. They just had some interesting, primitive customs that we had to adapt to. Our group consisted of 15 people in seven rafts. Many of these were serious outdoors people that had rafted together for 25 or so years. Three of them had spent their careers working for the US Forest Service.  Their interesting customs included:

  • They pooped in ammo cans and peed in the river. Actually, the forest service requires people to do this, otherwise this tribe might not have followed this custom. These requirements force tribal members to become pretty uninhibited about their bodily functions, often continuing a conversation while nonchalantly urinating into the river.
  • Most tribal members slept on the beach, tent-less, amongst the spiders and snakes. We did notice that after a rattlesnake encounter, two of the tribe members started sleeping in a tent, like Mary and I.
  • Upon finding a rattlesnake that made threatening gestures in the poop can vicinity, tribe members eliminated the rattlesnake. For safety’s sake, this actually made a lot of sense. I may have even taken part in this.

    Tribal Members on a Big Beach

    Tribal Members on a Big Beach

  • Once at a campsite for the day, male tribe members spent a lot of time sitting in, arranging, and adjusting their rafts and gear, while the female tribe members drank intoxicating beverages and focused much of  their time on food preparation. This sort of behavior seems common to many tribes, although many primitive tribal males might focus on carving weapons rather than fiddling with rafting gear. Something that surprised me about this particular tribe was the quality and the elaborateness of meals and intoxicating beverages they prepared. It seemed to me as if the tribe had developed such a strong bond that they strived to honor each other with outstanding meals, including appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and a drink of the day. My wife and I found ourselves enjoying this custom immensely and will try to better honor tribe members during the next trip, with more elaborate gourmet food and unusual drink.
  • On the river, tribal members watched out for one another, waiting at the bottom of a rapids, ready to assist if another member needed help. Then, they generously complimented each other on river-running prowess, after avoiding the majority of boulders in a particularly challenging set of rapids. When tribal members smashed their boats into boulders, others politely pretended not to notice. I appreciated that.
  • Cooking and cleaning was accomplished without electronic appliances or devices. This also applied to communication. Rather than using texting, email, or even phone calls, people actually spoke to one another, telling jokes and breaking into spontaneous laughter.
  • On certain nights, tribal members would have celebrations and ceremonies that included dressing up, dancing, birthdays, and river stories around the campfire. They did use an electronic device (iPod and speakers), rather than traditional drums, on the dance night.

What Set this Trip Apart

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

On a Lower Salmon River trip we took, Mary, our daughter, Heather, and I had only each other, and Mary and I do most of our wilderness trips alone. On our Main Salmon River trip, the tribe is what really stood out. We had been a bit apprehensive about joining a group of people we didn’t know, but they turned out to be a very nice and welcoming bunch of people, with some fun customs.

One of the retired rangers told me that they had been more than a bit apprehensive about letting a raft join their group, without actually knowing the skill level of the people that would be running the rapids. I absolutely understand that, because it could be life-threatening having unskilled people on a remote wilderness whitewater trip. He assured me that after the first set of rapids, the group knew we were perfectly competent to run the river. That was nice to hear.

As we fell into the rhythm of sunny days on the river, we became tanner and more relaxed, increasingly feeling like part of the tribe. We also grew in our river-running confidence and competence. Reading rapids on the fly, and sliding effortlessly past boulders became second nature.  I had initially thought that six days sounded like a long trip, but the days streamed by and were over before I knew it. On the way home, I started thinking about our next rafting destination.

Mary & Curt

Canadian Rockies: Great Vacation Destination

What characteristics make for a wonderful vacation destination? I suppose the answer might vary depending on the person, but the Canadian Rockies has a lot to please just about anyone.

My wife Mary and I spent nine glorious days camped there this summer, and I think it was the best choice for us. We’d planned to visit Italy, but we came up short on frequent flyer miles. Our next thought was to hike a 74 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail. A drought brought forest fires and water shortages to Washington’s high country, so two weeks before departure we switched our plans to Banff and Jasper National Parks, along with Mt Robson Provincial Park.

Not knowing better, we scheduled our trip to start during Canada’s busiest camping weekend, Civic Holiday or “August long weekend.” We figured it out when we couldn’t find a camping reservation anywhere near Banff. Lucky for us, our time freed up and we departed a couple of days early, just in time to grab one of the last first come first serve campsites at Castle Mountain Campground. Those that weren’t so lucky got to pitch their tents a few feet from each other on the edge of a big gravel parking lot (overflow camping).

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Moraine Lake, Banff National Park

Mountain Thrills and Dangers

For thrill-seekers, the Rockies have mountains to conquer, rock faces to climb, and whitewater rivers to raft. Even backpacking in the mountains holds a number of dangers. There are cliffs to fall off, storms that can move in quickly, potential for getting hypothermia, getting lost, and of course, there are bears. We camp regularly in the North Cascades, which has lots of black bears but few grizzlies. The Rockies have a lot more grizzly bears, and grizzlies can be big, mean and ornery. In fact, Banff and Jasper National Parks have frequent trail closures, an electric fence around the Lake Louise campground, and lots of bear boxes for food storage. I kept bear spray close by and heard from a fellow backpacker at Mt Robson that he actually used his. If you’re going to Banff and want to see bears, try the Lake Louise Gondola.Grizzly bear warning sign

We never got around to riding the Gondola, but we did see a couple of bears. They left us alone and seemed far more interested in doing their own thing. The biggest danger we actually faced was our long drive across British Columbia on Highway 1, the major east-west truck route across Canada. We’d left in early afternoon, and I was road weary and still driving past dark, on a section of Highway 1, that winds through mountains with only two lanes. This meant temporary blindness as semi headlights came at me at a combined speed of over 220 kilometers per hour. To make matters even more exciting, we came across plenty of warning signs for deer, elk, moose, and bighorn sheep.

We were very relieved to reach the Husky Travel Centre truck stop in Golden, BC, where we found semis, and a few smaller rigs, parked for the night in every available spot for blocks in both directions. Eventually, we found an opening, crawled into the back of our pickup, and slept until 6 am.

Canadian Rockies: International Destination

I think we heard just about every language and encountered nice people from all over the world. If you’d like to practice your language skills, this could be a good place to do so.

DSC_0137

Our Luxurious Accomodations

French seemed to be almost as common as English. I realize French is the other official language of Canada, but I thought most French speakers were in Quebec. At Lake Louise, we encountered a teenage daughter yelling at her dad about a picture of her he apparently had threatened to post on Facebook. She started her tirade in English then switched over to French, when things really got heated. I chuckled and was glad my youngest of three daughters is now 20 and past that stage.

We also heard a good deal of what I suspect was Chinese (Mandarin), especially while camped in the Lake Louise campground. Our campsite sat in very close proximity to the neighboring site, which held two large tents and lots of young Asian children. The weather continued to drizzle, so we didn’t bother setting up any gear. We just sat in our truck and listened to our neighbors chattering, joking in Mandarin and laughing loudly until long after we’d climbed in the back to go to sleep. I actually thought it was great that they were having so much fun, and exhaustion put me to sleep quickly.

Toyota Tundra

Home Away from Home

The next morning, the neighboring kids started in again early, until their parents noticed us climbing out of the back of our truck. Up to that point, since we had no tent, they must’ve assumed it was just an empty truck sitting next to their campsite. When we wished them good morning, they just smiled nervously and waved. Until we left that morning, they kept shushing their kids.

World Class Hiking and Scenery

People come from all over the world to see some of the best scenery in the world. We love to hike, and there is some fantastic hiking in the Canadian Rockies. I have to admit though that there is an awful lot of spectacular scenery that can be enjoyed without getting far from your car.

Curt at Lake Louise

Curt at Lake Louise

Our first day in Banff, we had clear blue skies, so we decided to cover lots of ground and shoot lots of pictures. We visited Lake Louise then travelled up the Icefields Parkway to Bow Lake, Peyto Lake and finished off the day with a stop at Moraine Lake. That’s a lot of alpine lakes in one day, but each is unique, with a different shade of water, varying from deep blue to milky turquoise.

On our second day in Banff, we got up early and headed back to Lake Louise for a 10 mile hike that brought us high into the mountains above the lake with stops at two teahouses. The Lake Agnes teahouse is a solid log and stone structure sitting at the edge of the lake’s outflow, with a babbling creek on one side and a cascading waterfall dropping off behind it.

Lake Agnes Tea House

Lake Agnes Tea House

At the second teahouse, Plain of the Six Glaciers, we spent $30 (including tip) on two pieces of blueberry pie and a “mocha coffee,” which tasted like a mixture of instant cocoa and coffee. The price almost seemed worth it when we considered employees had to haul ingredients in by backpack and prepare everything without electricity. Besides, the glacial view was fantastic.

During the trip, we hiked a variety of trails and covered more than 60 miles with elevation gains of over 10,000 feet, a good deal of hiking for a sight-seeing trip. We chose our hikes carefully, with exceptional scenery as the highest priority. I do like to take good pictures. The most scenic hikes are also the most popular, so there can be a lot of people on these trails. To escape the crowds, we got up early (5:30 to 6:30 am) and hit the trail hours before the less serious hikers. Less serious hikers also don’t tend to hike more than a few miles, so you lose much of the crowds by choosing longer hikes.

Johnstone Canyon, Banff National Park

Johnstone Canyon

Our Hikes

  • Lake Agnes, Big Beehive Mountain, Plain of the Six Glaciers and Lake Louise Lakeshore (combined together)
  • Johnston Canyon – This unique trail winds up a canyon past waterfalls and pools, with catwalks over much of the creek. The trail is only 3.4 miles round-trip to the upper falls, and it is one of the most popular day hikes in Banff.
  • Lake Minnewanka – The entire lakeside trail is 18 miles long. We only did a small section of this, since we came to a place that requires hiking in a group of four, due to grizzly bears, or face a $5000 fine. Coincidentally, another hiker told us a grizzly bear was on the trail just ahead of where we turned around. The lake and trail looked quite scenic, but there’s boat noise and you may need to have a group of at least four.
  • Bourgeau Lake and Harvey Pass – We felt out of shape as a group of young Banff employees and a number of serious hikers passed us by on this steep, very scenic trail.
  • Bow Summit Lookout – There is a network of trails here, in the vicinity of Peyto Lake. I’m not sure we we’re on the right one, because where we ended up doesn’t look anything like the guidebook photo. Looking down on Peyto Lake is stunning!
  • Parker Ridge – The trail climbs to a high, extremely windy ridge with excellent views of Saskatchewan Glacier.
  • Moraine Lakeshore – As far as I’m concerned, this short hike ranks amongst the most scenic I’ve ever seen.
  • Mt Robson and the Berg Lake Trail – This trail is reported to be one of the most popular backpacking trips in the Canadian Rockies, and I now know why. We’ll be back to do this one again sometime.

Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Banff Springs Hotel

Banff Springs Hotel

DSC_0515

Banff Springs Hotel

We decided to take a break from hiking and drive our truck, which also served as our home, into Banff to see how the other half vacationed. At $600/night, the Banff Springs Hotel was a bit beyond our budget, but it was well worth wandering around in. It was built in 1887, in the Scottish Baronial style, and looks more like a castle than a hotel. The interior has an old elegance that definitely reminded me of The Shining or Titanic. Extensive patio areas to the rear provide wonderful places to enjoy the mountain views. In fact, a wedding was taking place there.

Mt Robson

Rangers cabin in Valley of 1000 Waterfalls

Rangers cabin in Valley of 1000 Waterfalls

Our backpacking trip to Berg Lake, in Mt Robson National Park, brought us deep into a very beautiful and rugged wilderness area. We departed early, in a light rain, and the rain kept up all day. This turned out to be a great opportunity to learn of the shortcomings in our gear, which managed to get very wet. We now have new hardshell jackets, gloves, and a tarp. At Berg Lake, we reached a crowded day use building with a woodstove and lots of wet gear hanging from the rafters, nails, and anywhere else you could put wet clothes. We leisurely cooked dinner while our gear dried.

Mt Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies, towers over the lake. Unfortunately, low clouds and fog blocked the view our first day. The next morning we woke to more low clouds, so we packed early and were on our way back out. A brief break in the clouds and a message from a spirit guide told us to stick around for a few hours, so we turned around and made our way further up the valley. The low clouds lifted and a little sun broke through, making for a stunning 14 mile hike out past Berg Lake, down through the Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls, alongside Kinney Lake and the Robson River.

Mt Robson, British Columbia

Mt Robson, British Columbia

What Makes a Great Vacation Destination?

Like I mentioned, it may depend on the person, but here are some of the things that people look for in a wonderful vacation destination:

  • Luxurious lodging and fine dining – Like we discovered at the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise, you can find it here, but we were perfectly content in our truck.
  • Lakes and Beaches – There are beautiful lakes, but the water is cold.
  • Things to do – There is plenty to keep you busy, especially if you like to hike.
  • Opportunity to learn about another culture – You may have to be outgoing and make an effort to talk to some of these fascinating people from all over the world.
  • Spectacular mountain scenery – The Canadian Rockies are amongst the best in the world!

We had a great time in the Canadian Rockies, and I’ll bet you would too.

Is it Sea Kayaking if You’re on a Lake?

Destinations: Washington’s Ross Lake and Clark Island in the Salish Sea

Can you sea kayak on a lake? In order to answer that challenging question, I signed up for two trips with the Whatcom Association of Kayak Enthusiasts (WAKE), one on Ross Lake and the other to Clark Island, in the Salish Sea. To those of you that think the answer is obvious, don’t be so quick to judge. I’ve paddled my whitewater kayak in sea, as you can see in the video below. This wasn’t considered whitewater kayaking, and it wasn’t even considered sea kayaking. It was considered paddling a slow, stubby kayak in the sea, and getting tossed around a bit. What makes sea kayaking sea kayaking? Is it the kayak? Or is it the sea?

Curt in Whitewater Kayak on the Sea

Curt in Whitewater Kayak on the Sea

 

You might wonder why I would even care. Well, my wife Mary and I had recently joined WAKE. This is a group of serious outdoor enthusiasts, and we certainly didn’t want to look like numbskulls. The Ross Lake trip leader, Reg Lake, along with a group of famous climbers had once carried their kayaks over California’s Mt Whitney to be the first ones to kayak the Upper Kern River. One of the couples on the trip had both belonged to Rocky Mountain Rescue Group, one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the country. Another trip participant would qualify for mountain man status, living and working deep in the North Cascades. Others in our group had kayaked and adventured in remote locations all over the world. So, imagine if on the Ross Lake trip, I slipped up and said, “isn’t this sea kayaking stuff fun?”

One of them might have responded, “Sea kayaking? This is lake kayaking! Don’t you know anything about sea kayaking?” For the same reason, I couldn’t ask anyone the sea kayak question. I’d have to figure it out for myself. Thus, I signed up for a lake trip and a sea trip. Before I answer the big question, let me tell you a little about these trips.

Ross Lake

Ross Lake is a spectacular 23 mile long lake that winds through the North Cascades Mountains. Although most of the lake is in Washington, my wife Mary and I decided it’d be easier to reach the lake by driving up to Hope BC, Canada and down a 40 mile gravel road to the boat launch, which is just across the US border. Three out of the nine of the trip participants opted for the alternate route, paddling across Diablo Lake, up a canyon to the dam, then calling Ross Lake Resort for a portage and paddling another 10 or so miles up the lake.Kayaks on Ross Lake

As it turned out, we struggled hard for each of the 12 miles against a 15 knot head wind. We continued for hours because waves crashing into the rocky shoreline made it unsafe to stop. It sure seemed like sea kayaking conditions. During this struggle, Mary barely responded, when I’d ask how she was doing, so I worried. Is she miserable? Will she ever do a kayak trip with me again?

When we finally reached Lightning Creek Camp, sometime after six, the group that had taken the southern route greeted us cheerfully. They had effortlessly been carried up the lake by wind and waves, mainly using their paddles to steer. We forced a smile and said, “That’s great!”

Although our Lightning Creek campsite was remote, the National Park Service does a fine job of furnishing and maintaining the campsites. We had an outhouse, picnic tables and a bear box. There are lots of black bears in the area, and a few grizzlies too. If you’re not familiar with bear boxes, your food goes in the box, not the bear.

In camp, we really enjoyed visiting with our fellow paddlers. I already mentioned Reg Lake and the search and rescue couple. Our camp neighbor, Pam Beason, whom we shared a picnic table with, is a novelist, part-time private investigator, scuba diver and adventuress with plenty of fascinating stories.

Mary on Desolation Peak

Mary on Desolation Peak

After a surprisingly good sleep, we had breakfast and discussed our day’s adventure, a hike up Desolation Peak. Three members of our party kayaked to the base, while the rest of us opted for the longer route, hiking from camp to avoid more kayaking in the wind. Our longer route covered 14+ miles and 4,400 feet of elevation gain. We definitely got a well-rounded workout, working our upper-bodies the first day and our legs the second day. Views along the way and from the lookout were outstanding, as you can see in the photos. We returned to camp with a strong sense of accomplishment.

Kayaker in front of waterfall

Reg Lake and a Waterfall

The third day was glorious! We started out early and paddled up Lightning Creek and other fjord-like inlets, finding crystal clear water in cascading creeks and beautiful waterfalls. Reg Lake and I even did a little whitewater style surfing with our sea kayaks. Unfortunately, he never referred to it as “sea kayaking,” so my question still hung in the air. If you’re on a lake is it sea kayaking? On our paddle up the lake, we didn’t have much wind, giving us a chance to visit all the places we’d paddled right by on the way down. We visited more waterfalls, campsites and took a close look at miles of beautiful shoreline.

Clark Island in the Salish Sea

On the following weekend’s trip, my wife opted not to join me. She apparently had enough kayaking to last a few weeks. I set out with six other sea kayakers for Clark Island, in the Salish Sea. You probably noticed that I confidently referred to them as sea kayakers, since we were in sea kayaks and on the Salish Sea, leaving no room for doubt.Kayaks at Clark Island

We paddled in protected waters until Pt Migley, at the north end of Lummi Island, where we were suddenly exposed to wind and waves from far up Georgia Strait. To make matters more exciting, Pt Migley has shallow rocks, currents and a dozen or so harbor seals that slid into the water as we paddled by, reminding me of the crocodiles in a safari movie.

Between Lummi and Clark Islands, we contended with wind, waves, and crossing a major shipping channel, definitely sea kayaking. At Clark Island, we pulled our kayaks up onto a gravel beach with stunning views of Mt Baker and the Twin Sisters. Like everyone else, I set out to find an appropriate campsite, choosing one set just back from the beach with surrounding brush for privacy.DSC_0404

Once I’d organized my camp, I set out on a trail to explore the island. We got a better look at it that evening, when four of us paddled around the island. After dinner, we watched Mt Baker turn from snowy white to alpenglow red; then we hiked across the island just in time for sunset.Sunset from Clark Island

Around 1:00 AM, a fierce wind hit, pulling up one of my tent stakes and shaking the heck out of my tent. I stared at my tent ceiling and listened to it flap while contemplating what the wind would mean for us, if it didn’t die down. How big would the waves be? If we had to sit it out, how much food did I have? How much water? Eventually, I went back to sleep and awoke to relative calm. Later, I learned that most of my fellow kayakers had been awake thinking similar thoughts. Our paddle back actually turned out to be quite pleasant.

Conclusion

As to the sea kayaking question, it was clear that paddling a sea kayak on the Salish Sea qualified as sea kayaking. I still wasn’t sure regarding paddling a sea kayak on a lake, so I tried Wikipedia. Searching for “sea kayaking,” their entry for “sea kayak” comes up. It describes “a kayak developed for the sport of paddling on open waters of lakes, bays, and the ocean.” Clearly, it mentions lakes. We’ll have to go with the answer “yes” that it is sea kayaking if it’s on a lake, as long as you’re in a sea kayak. If Wikipedia says it, it must be true. The truth is it really doesn’t matter, as long as you’re enjoying yourself. I sure did on both of those trips.

Beautiful Beaches on the Oregon Coast

Beach Vacation Destinations

Beaches are a wonderful place to take a vacation! There’s the sunshine, sand, spectacular scenery, and soothing sounds of the ocean. We found all of those on the Oregon coast, along with some fascinating sights to visit.

For our last beach vacation, we visited Oahu, spending a day at famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. I couldn’t help but notice that there seemed to be a lot less people at the Oregon Coast beaches, although they hold some distinct advantages over Waikiki. To give you a feel for what Oregon beaches are like, I provided some specific description of each, to help you decide on your next vacation destination.

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii

  1. The water is warm.
  2. The weather is pretty consistently hot and sunny.
  3. The beach consists of a narrow strip of sand with lots of people crowded together, so you won’t need to walk far.
  4. Views include skyscrapers and shopping across the street.
  5. Hawaii is a long, expensive flight from just about anywhere.
Beach along the Oregon Coast

Uncrowded Beach Along the Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast Beaches

  1. The water is refreshing. Okay, the water is damn cold, but this results in less competition for that big wave. From what I saw, you could get out your board and have lots of big waves to yourself.
  2. There is a wonderful variety of weather, including mysterious fog, blasting wind, invigorating rain, and frequent sun, at least in summer. The cooler Oregon Coast temperatures provide the opportunity to make much better use of your wardrobe.
  3. There are miles and miles of enormous white sand beaches with an occasional person visible off in the distance (well, maybe a few people). If you like space, solitude and walking, this is a good thing, however if you prefer plopping down on a beach and people watching, Waikiki has better opportunities.
  4. Instead of skyscrapers and stores, views include spectacular rock formations, picturesque lighthouses, and crashing waves. If you’re looking for a Mai Tai or a Gucci bag, Waikiki definitely has the convenience advantage. On the other hand, if you like nature, Oregon is stunning.
  5. I don’t know where you live, but the Oregon Coast is only a five-hour drive from my house.

Our Oregon Coast Vacation

Lounging on a beach and actually relaxing is not the kind of vacations that we do. Our vacations are goal-oriented, so we made our way down the coast and crammed in as many sights as we could see in six days. After a long drive down I-5 from Bellingham, we reached Fort Stevens State Park, near the northern end of the Oregon Coast Highway (US Route 101), which we would follow down the coast.

We had just enough time to set up camp and have dinner before our first beach walk. By we, I mean my wife Mary, daughter Heather, dog Riva, and of course myself. At the beach, we climbed a row of soft, white sand dunes and found an enormous expanse of flat beach extending along the coast for miles. Protruding from the sand sat the rusted remains of the Peter Iredale, a 285 foot sailboat that ran aground in 1906.

The next morning, we visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria and learned that the area is known as “graveyard of the Pacific,” with at least 2000 large ships that have sunk in and around the Columbia Bar. A variety of conditions come together to make it such a hazard. The currents of the Columbia River, the largest North American River to feed into the Pacific, meet the ocean waves in the area of a shifting sand bar. These features can cause enormous waves to pile up here. The area also has roughly 200 days of fog per year, some of that wonderful variety of weather I mentioned above.

Naturally, these rugged conditions make an ideal training ground for the US Coast Guard’s Cape Disappointment school for rough weather and surf rescue. They venture out with small boats (47 foot motor lifeboats) into huge waves to develop skills which will help them rescue boaters elsewhere.

The Lightship Columbia

The Lightship Columbia

We also toured the Lightship Columbia, a 128 vessel that served as a floating lighthouse for 28 years, marking the entrance to the Columbia River. It has since been replaced by a 42 foot high buoy. A crew of 18 manned the ship, with much of their time spent in boredom, occasionally broken up by terrifying storms.

The Astoria area holds yet more history. Fort Clatsop, just outside of town, is where the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a long, wet winter before making their way back east. We toured the fort and listened to a buckskin clad ranger describe life at the fort in 1805.

Bull elk in Ecola State Park, Oregon

Bull elk in Ecola State Park, Oregon

Short on time, we skipped the Astoria Column, a tower with panoramic views overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River. Instead, we made our way down the coast to Ecola State Park and Cannon Beach. What a beautiful place! A blue hole opened up in the clouds, right over Crescent Beach, providing a highly desired photo opportunity. On the way down to the beach, we passed through a small herd of elk, grazing on tall grass. The bull watched us closely, making Mary very nervous, but he left us alone. That evening we camped at Nehalem State Park and walked across dunes to another enormous sand beach.

Curt, Mary & Riva on Cannon Beach, Oregon

Curt, Mary & Riva on Cannon Beach, Oregon

Our action-packed day hadn’t left enough time for a close look at Cannon Beach and its sea stacks including the famous Haystack Rock. We backtracked to a lovely scene with sunshine burning off the morning fog, as waves crashed into the 235 foot high rock formation. By midday, we reached the Tillamook Cheese Factory, where you can sample a variety of free cheeses or buy a 28-scoop ice cream dish, one of each flavor. Three scoops seemed like plenty. Along with enormous beaches, the Oregon Coast has picturesque lighthouses. We visited two that afternoon, Cape Lookout and Cape Meares. At Cape Lookout, we even lounged on the beach for a few hours, like people tend to do on beach vacations.

In honor of my wife’s 50th birthday, we splurged, checking into a hotel and venturing out to find an appropriate seafood restaurant for her birthday. We tried the hotel restaurant, but Mary concluded it looked too “Denny’s like” for her birthday. Next, we tried Pirate’s Cove, a quaint waterfront restaurant, ten miles up the coast. It looked ideal, but upon arrival, we learned that they rely on propane for cooking, and their propane had just run out. Next, we tried a seafood bar/restaurant halfway back to Tillamook. This one leaned more towards oysters, rather than the crab legs that Mary really wanted. An internet search ruled out a few more restaurants that were too expensive, too cheap, closed too early or otherwise weren’t suitable. We finally ended up at Pacific Restaurant, back in Tillamook. Dinner was good, as it probably would have been at any of the other restaurants too.

Cape Perpetua at Sunset, Oregon

Cape Perpetua at Sunset, Oregon

After the hotel’s free breakfast, we started back down the coast, visiting more beaches, another lighthouse, and we arrived at Cape Perpetua in time to grab one of the last campsites. My campsite of choice sat down in the woods, with a stream running through it. Sure, there were a few bugs, not much sun, but a good deal of privacy. My wife and daughter overruled me and chose an open campsite along the road, with a lot more sun. As soon as we got our gear hauled down, we realized that the adjoining campers were extremely close, just on the other side of a narrow row of bushes. Their party included the whiniest three year-old I’ve ever heard, complaining to mom about everything. I just had to laugh! Even my daughter Heather joined in, probably irritating his parents. I’m sure they could hear us too. That evening we hiked to a 500 year old Sitka Spruce and watched a spectacular sunset over the Pacific.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, the last one of our trip, was the prettiest of all, perched on a rocky point with a beautiful beach and bridge immediately to the north. From there, we continued to Florence for lunch and shopping.

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon

On our final evening, we camped at Jesse Honeymoon State Park, which adjoins the Oregon Dunes, the largest expanse of dunes in North America. They reach heights up to 500 feet and extend for 40 miles to the south. As sunset approached, I climbed up into the dunes, wandering, meditating, and shooting pictures. It seemed more as if I was in a vast desert, rather than on the Oregon Coast.  Wind blasted through the dunes, and the tops were in a constant state of motion with sand gradually filling my tracks.

Oregon Dunes at Jesse Honeymoon State Park, Oregon

Oregon Dunes at Jesse Honeymoon State Park, Oregon

Your Next Trip

It was here, meditating in the dunes, that the contrast between the Oregon Coast and Waikiki occurred to me. If you appreciate the wonders of nature, enormous sand beaches and spectacular scenery, consider a trip to the Oregon Coast. On the other hand, if sunburn, crowds, and designer shopping are your thing, Waikiki may be a better bet.

Quick National Park Trip

Glacier

National Parks: Glacier, Yellowstone & Roosevelt

by Curt Remington

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Fantastic! I got recruited for an impromtu road trip to three national parks: Glacier, Yellowstone and Theodore Roosevelt. Along with that, I would see 3800 miles of our glorious country, visit my mother in Minnesota, move our daughter to Washington, and do it all in five days.  Truth is, it was a trip to pick up my daughter, but I decided to squeeze in the national parks too. My schedule didn’t leave much times for the parks, so I planned to hit a few highlights in each, all at a whirlwind pace.

I set out from Bellingham, Washington on August 27th, taking a scenic route through the North Cascades.  I could have just stayed on the freeway, but what’s a few more miles? I sure didn’t want to miss any potentially stunning pictures. In the Cascades, I saw some beautiful rivers, mountains and waterfalls, but the lighting just was just too overcast for great pictures. Once over the Cascades, I made a brief stop in Leavenworth, Washington, a scenic tourist town that looks like a Bavarian village. I filled up on bratwurst, visited a few quaint shops and moved on towards the Columbia River and eastern Washington.


Glacier Park

After dark that night, I made it to a campground in Glacier National Park and crawled into a sleeping bag in the back seat of my Toyota Tundra. The next morning, I was up before dawn, hoping to catch sunrise over Lake McDonald. As I brushed my teeth, I debated on whether to throw the camping fee into the box. All I had really done was park in a spot for a few hours, not really what you’d call camping. I’d pretty much decided I’d pay, just so my conscience wouldn’t trouble . I arrived back at my truck to find the campground host filling out a registration in the dark. Wow, they sure get up early. I gave him the money and set out to get some pictures of Glacier.

sunsetDriving through Glacier brought back memories for me of many earlier trips. Just out of high school, I had decided to spend a year as a mountain man. My plan was to get a PO box in West Glacier and camp in the mountains south of the park. After about a month alone in the mountains, I decided that civilization in Minnesota wasn’t really so bad. Years later, my wife and I brought our kids to Glacier for a week of rafting, hiking and sightseeing. It was one of the best vacations we ever had.

With these memories going through my mind, I arrived at Lakerivertwo McDonald at sunrise. Like the day before in Washington, the scenery was beautiful but a bit cloudy. This is a definite problem when you only have one day in a park. I shot a whole bunch of pictures anyway, so I’d have something to discard later. Go figure.

Making my way deeper into the park, I stopped at a few trails and falls, hitting the trails at a run with camera gear flopping at my side. Back in the truck, I started climbing Going to the Sun Road, which was carved into the side of the mountains in 1933. The road is always narrow and winding, but road construction made it incredibly so. I folded in the large mirrors and reflected on memories of another earlier trip. Shortly before my mountain man experiment, my dad lent my friends and I his Winnebago, so I could do some scouting. Looking at the cliffs which overhang the road, and the shear drops, it was obvious why motorhomes are no longer allowed. Sure enough, I managed to bang the Winnebago into a cliff, moving over for an oncoming car. I don’t think my dad even mentioned the dent. What could he expect from a bunch of 18 year olds?

horsesAlthough it was August, Logan’s Pass had three inches of new snow and a horrendous wind chill. Hidden Lake, and the trail to it, was still beautiful, so I sat on a rock overlooking the lake and meditated for 15 minutes. A great alternative to Hidden Lake, is to hike north from Logan’s Pass to Granite Park Chalet, a rustic and remote lodge surrounded by alpine meadows, jagged mountains and grizzly bears. That all day hike was too much for this trip. Next, my quick tour took me to Saint Mary Lake, Two Medicine Lake and into East Glacier. Just east of the park, I came across some very rugged looking free-ranging horses with lots of scars. I’m sure there were some fascinating stories behind all those wounds.

Once I left Glacier behind, all I had to do for the rest of the day was drive across what remained of Montana. For those of you that haven’t done this, Montana is one seriously large state. Highway 2 has long straight stretches that seem to go on forever, and it is indeed big sky country. I reached Wolf Point, as the sun was setting, and turned south onto Highway 13. Between Wolf Point and Glendive, I lost count at roughly 60 mule deer, including one with the most monstrous set of antlers I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, it was way too dark for pictures. Near the North Dakota border, I pulled into a rest area to get some sleep.


 

Theodore Roosevelt National Parkbigsky

elkBy dawn, I was up again photographing an elk herd, just outside Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Over the years, I had taken I-94 through the park more times than I can remember. A few of those times, I had thought of stopping and visiting the park, but I always thought it looked like a bunch of little, dried-out hills with nothing much worth seeing. Why waste time on my way to Glacier? where they have some real mountains.

Once in the park, I felt a real connection, driving and running among its buttes, plateaus and gulleys. The connection may have been due to a past life I had as an Oglala Sioux Indian, spending much of my time in South Dakota’s black hills. Or, maybe the blissful feeling I felt was because the sun had finally come out. For whatever reason, I sure enjoyed the winding road through the park, stopping for pictures of bison, prairie dogs, antelope, grouse and wild horses. If I’d known there was so much wildlife, I would’ve stopped years earlier.


 

canyonMinnesotagopher

Along with touring the park, I managed to cover North Dakota and half of Minnesota, arriving in St Cloud early enough to get a truck wash and oil change. The next morning, I arrived at my daughter Sarah’s apartment so we could load her stuff into the truck. I was surprised to find that even leaving her furniture behind, her collection of stuff exceeded the carrying capacity of my full-size, extended cab Tundra pickup. We stuffed as much as we could in, while she decided what to leave behind.

Our next stop was the Twin Cities, where we spent a night at my mom’s. I also managed a side trip to visit some old friends. I mean ones that I’ve known a long time. They’re not that old.


Yellowstone

After a good breakfast at mom’s, we set off towards Yellowstone. The drive was a great opportunity to catch up with happenings in Sarah’s life, and to share all the summer’s events in Washington. It was also an opportunity for her to try out her dad’s traveling style, eating and sleeping in the truck along with driving almost constantly. No point in wasting time. Unfortunately, the truck had gotten a little less comfortable now that it was stuffed with so much stuff. I just thought back to my life as a Sioux in the 1800’s and knew that I’d survived much worse. We spent the night sitting upright in a truck stop, listening to semis coming and going. Maybe Sarah will look back someday and think that “if I survived traveling with dad, I can survive yellowstoneanything.” Like my usual routine, we arrived in Yellowstone at sunrise, hoping to get some of the best photography light of the day. At least that’s what I was hoping. Sarah may have been hoping to get some more sleep. Just after crossing into the park, we came across a herd of elk. The stubborn animals wouldn’t move out of the trees and hold still for a picture. Well, I was pretty sure there were plenty more animals in the park. Our first scheduled stop was Lamar Valley, a broad open valley that’s known for its abundance of game. Unfortunately for Sarah, in addition to “scheduled stops,” traveling with me involves lots of unscheduled stops for wildlife, steamscenic overlooks or because the lighting looked just right. She, and the rest of the family, spent a week with in Europe with me in June, while I shot over 1600 pictures, so she probably knew what to expect.

After stopping for antelope, a bison and waterfalls, we made it to thebuffalo Lamar Valley. In order to find game, all you need do is watch for cars lining the road. We pulled in with the rest of them and watched as a distant wolf pack moved in on a bison herd. The wolves were unsuccessful with their hunting, but it was wild to watch. Anyone remember Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?

Farther up the valley, I got out and ran around a rock formation, looking for a scenic photo angle up the valley. Rounding the corner, I almost ran into an ornery looking bison. As he glared at me, I defensively drew my camera, thinking about the warnings that more people are attacked by bison then by bears in the park. As I took his picture, his only reaction was to stick his tongue out at me, then he went back to standing around. Good thing I found a lazy bison.

Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was an inspiring sight. The upper and lower falls have flows as high as 60,000 gallons of water per second. The 1200 foot deep canyon is steep and colorful. After the falls, we hiked around Norris Geyser Basin, careful not to step off the boardwalk into steaming water.


waterfallHome

After Sarah’s exciting Yellowstone tour with dad, she was anxious to get to her new home in Washington, a condo near our house. I even offered to pull over in another truck stop for some sleep, but she was sure that driving straight through was a better idea. We got to Bellingham at four in morning, ending the fast-paced scenic national park tour. Sarah is now living happily in Washington and enjoying occasional picture taking outings with her dad.