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Tara sitting beside the campfire. Yep, we had a strong wireless signal in camp!

Tara and I went camping on Sunday for Mother’s Day in Silver Falls State Park. We’ve been camping on Mother’s Day, rain or shine, since the kid was in middle school.

This year it was time to find a new place. Over the years I have had Silver Falls recommended for a hike because of the trails and waterfalls.  This state park is over 9000 acres. It’s enormous. There is only one place to camp: a managed campground with paved roads, landscaping, indoor toilets, showers, several camp hosts and an office where you check in and have your problems addressed. There are 103 single-family sites and 3 group sites. I reserved our space online. It’s not at all the kind of place that T and I typically enjoy. We’re more of the kind to pull over in a wide spot in the road, and lug our stuff through the trees till we find a flat spot beside a creek.

So with initial trepidation, it was a relief and a delight to find it lovely. Full of people, yes, but overall a very acceptable large campground. It’s set up so that we could see a few campsites right next to us, but there are too many trees and strategically-placed bushes to get a sense of how big the place is from the inside. We will certainly come back some time.

I have one complaint. Even while our two vehicles fit perfectly well with lots of space left over on the paved pad at our campsite, there is a strict “extra vehicle” charge. And while others arrived in gigantic trucks and huge RVs that could barely fit, Tara’s teeny tiny Chevy Aveo was banished outside the park – outside the whole park! – or else pay the fee. We feigned not having made a decision yet, so the Ranger let us alone on her first trip through. No one showed up again that night and we celebrated that we had gotten away with a free second car. We assumed that we were so well behaved, and the extra car was so tiny, that they would certainly leave us alone. Nope. First thing in the morning they got us! I paid the fee.

South Fork of Silver Creek was near our campsite.

This covered walking bridge goes over the South Fork of Silver Creek to the cabins you can rent if you didn’t bring your own home for the night.

We found one tent site that allows access to the river so next time we will try to reserve this one.

We had a laid-back evening, exploring the campground a little. There are trails of many lengths that begin from the campground itself, from a one-mile nature trail crossing two small creeks, to a 7.2 mile loop past 10 waterfalls. It was perfect. That evening we walked to a wooden covered bridge over a walking path across the Silver Creek South Fork. We explored nearby campsites to find the best one for next time, and then we went walking on the nature trail.

We roasted sausages by the fire and talked and talked. Man, I love that kid.

We walked this nature trail around the campground.

We both thought these looked like prehistoric dinosaur plants! They are huge, and called American Skunk Cabbage, an invasive species in the UK.

Our plan was to get up early and start hiking first thing in the morning and do the 7.2 mile trail and hit all those waterfalls! We got up nice and early, but the weather had changed in the night, and it was cold. C-c-c-cold. So we moved slowly. I got the last of the sausages frying on my little stove, dropped in four eggs, and when it was close to done, topped up the scramble with some white cheddar. Yum! We made tea and held our cups in our hands to warm them, but it wasn’t enough. We finally got out of there, but it was with creaky, frozen joints.

On the map I saw there was a café! I mean, this place, seriously. So we walked from the campground almost a mile to the place where the café was supposed to be, which was on the way to the falls anyway. There is an adjacent lodge that holds a restaurant and I would have been happy for either, to go indoors, get a hot coffee and thaw out. The sign on the door said “closed Mondays.”

Building that hosts the restaurant and the cafe. Just not on Mondays.

The doors were open and we went in seeking coffee just in case, but they were having a flower show. We took some time to learn the local native flowers, all clearly having been harvested that morning from the forest. It was a great educational idea!

Out on the wide surrounding porch of the place, we sat for a bit because Tara needed to get a rock out of their boot. On inspection, it was not a rock, but a nail, newly erupted through the bottom of the boot. It had pushed up from the sole into the boot and had torn a hole in Tara’s sock. We could not begin a hike like this.

“I’ll be fine,” Tara insisted, not wanting to go back.

“You’ll be sorry, and you’ll be miserable, if you don’t protect your foot before this hike,” I said. Twenty years of hiking knocked all the tough-guy out of me. If there’s something wrong with your boots, it needs to be addressed immediately.

We hiked the mile back to camp. Tara put on two layers of socks and put a moleskin patch where the nail head is pushing up into the shoe. We hiked another mile back to where we had last left off.

We hit the trail in earnest and in about 100 yards we were met with the grandeur of the first jaw-dropping waterfall.

A lookout point above South Falls provides a view to the valley below.

Panoramic View of Tara looking down over the top of South Falls.

As the trail brought us nearer, the falls only became more and more beautiful.

Me

The hiking trail goes behind South Falls.

Standing behind South Falls.

I had my geologist Tara along with me on this hike, which added a fun dimension. Tara pointed out lava rock when I wasn’t expecting it, and of course the ever-present basalt columns that make these astonishing waterfalls possible. Tara also talked about the common rock types in Oregon, because of the millennia of volcanic eruptions, and described their favourite rock type: schist. Tara likes schist because other kinds of rock come together to make a new rock, called schist. I asked if that’s what geologists yell as an exclamation. “Schist!” You’ve heard of Dad Jokes, well, I do Mom jokes.

The next waterfall on the journey was Lower South Falls.

Approaching Lower South Falls.

The trail goes behind Lower South Falls too.

After our slow start due to the cold and the nail in Tara’s shoe, we were out of time and couldn’t make the whole waterfall trip. We will save it for another day. For the return trip, we went uphill and zig zagged up the slopes and returned along the ridgeline for a wholly different kind of look at the forest.

Larkspur grew in the cooler, wetter areas.

We found this big field of Camas up in the drier, warmer parts of the forest.

We then made the trip back to our campground and packed up the tent which had dried out by now. We were no longer freezing, and that made packing up easier. After big smooshy hugs, we said goodbye. Tara left south to go back to their college town of Corvallis, and I left to head north to home in Rainier.

Muckross House in Killarney National Park.

We had breakfast at the hotel since it was Sunday, it was early, and NOTHING was going to be moving until 11am. We took a taxi to the airport and rented a car.

We rented a car!!!

You know what that means, of course. It means I had to DRIVE in IRELAND. I had been lulled into a false sense of security by Tara who had volunteered to do all the driving before the trip. But we found out Tara is not old enough to drive a rental car yet. So that meant it was all on me. I was so scared. I mean, really scared. But what can you do? I got into the car and figured it out. Tara navigated while I tried to remember what it was like to drive a manual transmission. Tara gave a helpful yelp anytime I was too close to the edge of the left side of the road.

Our first plan was to go to Killarney National Park, check out the Muckross House and find some trails to hike. There isn’t a town at the park entrance, just a congested area with twisty narrow roads and I was clenching the wheel like my life depended on it. But we found an open space to park. As we walked from the carpark we were met by Patrick. Patrick believed that we were in need of a jaunting car. I had seen this on websites but ignored it. Tara, on the other hand, had done more research on this park than me, and had already determined that to make the best of the time ahead, we should hire a horse and buggy. So we did. Can I confess that I was singing this song to myself in my head the whole time?

Tara made a beeline for the greenhouse, that turned out to be closed to the public.

Tara ran to the shores of the lake because that vast expanse of mowed lawn was irresistible and had to be run across! Then they ran back.

Also, there are some wonderful exposed rocks there that needed a closer inspection by my geologist scholar.

Nancy was not having one of her better days.

Nancy waited impatiently while I snapped a photo of this magnificent rhododendron.

Me under blankets with my trusty camera in the buggy behind Nancy.

Patrick introduced us to Nancy, his horse, who was in a pissy irritable mood the whole time but grudgingly pulled the buggy. We didn’t care. A cranky horse is still a horse pulling a buggy, and it was fun. We walked the garden of the Muckross House, pictured at the top. It’s a beautiful place and beautifully maintained. We didn’t go in because it cost money and time and we wanted to spend our time hiking. Walking the gardens was free, however. Tara ran across the wide wide lawn down to the shores of the lake. Then we hopped back into the carriage where Nancy and Patrick took us to what he called an abandoned abbey surrounded by a graveyard.

On site it was referred to instead as a friary. The Muckross Franciscan Friary was probably founded in 1445 by Donal MacCarthy, a local chieftain. This friary is said to be built around a yew tree inside, which means the tree is 600 years old today. The community here were Observantine Franciscans, so-called because of their rigid observance of rules of diet, clothing, and posession of property. Muckross Friary was said to be in posession of a miraculous statue of the Virgin. The friars were driven out in 1652 by Cromwellians, and the building destroyed. Enough of the ruins survive today to make it a very educational and compelling stop.

Ruins of the Muckross Friary

Graveyard around the friary, and the park beyond, with cyclists.

Interior of the friary and church are still beautiful.

Occasional bursts of sunlight made delicious patterns on the ground, bringing life into the rooms.

The yew tree inside was remarkable.

Next it was time to drive to the trail head and begin a hike. We were both excited to hike near the creek, but we were out of breath because of the elevation gain. Southwestern Ireland has mountains, and we were climbing for real. But we were quickly rewarded by our arrival at a waterfall.

Creek at the trailhead for the Torc Mountain hike.

The trail included these fabulous stone steps for the first half mile.

Torc Waterfall of the Owengarriff River.

Past the waterfall we continued up the mountain and were afforded some great views of the lakes below and the area surrounding us. We walked through forests, which are not as common in Ireland as we are used to in the Pacific Northwest. Finally we continued our loop back down the trail to Muckross Lake. We played at the lake for awhile, enjoying the beauty of it.

View of Muckross Lake and Lough Leane beyond it.

Looking over my head to ferns growing from a tree branch.

Despite the density of the forest, we continued to find views through the trees.

At the shores of Muckross Lake.

Walking back from taking photos at Muckross Lake.

Next we walked the trail that follows the lake back to the carpark where we had miraculously found a parking spot in a tiny carpark for the second time today! The trail was so lovely that we took our time and enjoyed identifying the plants and birds, and then stopping to chat with a pony having lunch.

This pretty pony was only somewhat tolerant of our presence, and soon after this photograph turned its head away from us and stayed that way the whole time.

Life is hard when you’re so beautiful that people want to invade your personal space.

The trail turned into a bike path as we got closer to the back side of the Muckross House gardens, and the lake.

Even in the open area along the lake, we were greeted with gorgeous scenery.

Satisfied with the hike, we got into the car and hit the road again in earnest. We had used up most of our day and because of the extreme rural site of our evening’s Airbnb room, I wanted to get there in the daylight so we would have an easier time finding the place.

We drove out to Dingle, and past it, on to Ballyferriter. And past that. If you looked at a map, you’d see we were heading almost as far west as it is possible to go on the mainland of Ireland. When we began plans for this trip last summer, Tara had said to me: “Cliffs! Cliffs! Cliffs!” and so I made an effort to find a way to get us out to some cliffs. I found an Airbnb room in our price range (which was modest) that was directly ON the cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula. The place was apparently so small we had to share a bed, but it seemed like a good place.

I was getting worn out from the stress of driving, and the sun was going down, but we kept going. We saw scenes like this, and began falling in love:

The clouds lifted a little and showed us fairytale scenes of green hills and white sheep.

Fields divided by hedges and scattered with sheep.

We could see the sea beyond the green slopes.

We passed Inch Beach, where cars drove right out there on the sand, like they do in Oregon.

Crepuscular rays splashed across the sky.

We went north from Ballyferriter and took a wrong turn and took another wrong turn. Each time ending at the seashore and nowhere near anything like the description of our room for the night. It was frustrating. But one stop was very cool, and if we hadn’t got lost we wouldn’t have seen it. At the end of a narrow dirt road was a site named Dunanoir (Dun an Oir in Irish), meaning Fort of the Gold. Its use as a fort may date to the Iron Age (500 BC to 500 AD), but is notable for the events which took place in 1580 AD. A force of Spanish, Italian, and Irish soldiers, supporters of the Desmond Rebellion, landed in Smerwick Harbor in that year and immediately began to build new fortifications here. Before they completed their work, English government forces led by Lord Grey de Wilton, began a three-day seige. On October 10th defenders surrendered, and up to 600 people including men, women, and children, were massacred on the spot. The commanders were spared, but some have written that theirs was the worse fate. It was demanded that they renounce their Catholic faith, and if they did not, their limbs were all broken. The earthen remains of the unfinished bastions are still evident at the spot, and a monument to recognise the event has been erected.

A monument sits at the site of Dunanoir.

We also said hello to the sheep before we got back into the car.

We drove all the way back to Ballyferriter and tried again. Bear right at the golf course, turn left at the handwritten sign, turn right at the next handwritten sign, down a very long, bumpy, very narrow road in which brambles brushed both sides of the car at once. I was panicking that someone in another car would meet us there, and one of us would have to drive backwards for 200 yards. Finally, we came to a spacious parking area in front of a lovely little house. A kind and smiling older man came out to greet us and asked if I was Crystal. Yes! We had found it. The spot was incredible. Our room was a darling tiny attic cottage with lots of glass windows and a tiny sitting room that looked out over the water. We went to sleep that night listening to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing just beneath us.

The stairs lead up to our room.

The view from the garden in front of our room.

 

 

Will and me partway up Beacon Rock, on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

Will came to visit from Rhode Island for two weeks. Prior to this visit he had never stepped foot into Washington or Oregon. I was delighted to be able to show his virgin eyes my favourite part of the world. On our first day back home after Seattle, the day dawned sunny once more, and that meant we had to get outside and explore!

Beacon Rock beside the Columbia River. Photo by Jen Thomas.

This time we went out into the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side because Will was interested in climbing Beacon Rock. The rock is not only remarkable to see, standing alone like a sentinel as it does, but it also has interesting stories behind its formation and its use as a viewpoint.

The rock is a remnant of a volcano that erupted 57,000 years ago – recently, in geologic time. When the eruption was finished, lava that had filled the core cooled and hardened. Between 15 and 13 thousand years ago, a massive event known as the Missoula Floods sent wave after wave of incredibly high floodwaters crashing to the sea, carving and shaping the gorge that I love today. The water eventually eroded the mountain, leaving only the hard lava core.

In 1805, William Clark described and drew the rock in his journals, and in 1806 his traveling companion Meriwether Lewis gave it the name it still holds today.

They were obviously not the first people to note the rock. American Indians used it as a landmark to identify the last dangerous rapids to negotiate – if traveling by boat – before reaching the sea. The Bonneville Dam is visible from the trail as one climbs the rock.

View from the top, looking east toward Bonneville Dam. For a larger image so you can see the dam, just click!

In 1814, Nicholas Biddle edited the journals of Lewis and Clark for publication. Almost exactly 100 years later, his descendent Henry J. Biddle purchased the rock for $1 and began building a trail. He finished it in 1918. Biddle’s children gave the rock to the state of Washington in 1935 so that it could be made into a state park.

My purpose in acquiring the property was simply and wholly that I might build a trail to the summit.   ~H. Biddle

The trail remains today and is one mile long with 53 switchbacks. There is a small viewing place at the top, 848 feet up. There are great views all the way up, so you don’t have to reach the top for a reward. However, if you do press on (and if you skate over the icy patches we found on the shady west side), you have a 360-degree view from the top.

It looks scarier than it is. But yes, it’s basically a path on the side of a rock.

The view west toward Portland/Vancouver.

There are many many switchbacks that make you gasp for breath.

The solution for gasping is to take photos along the way.

Will climbs a rock staircase onto the viewing platform at the top.

At the bottom of the hill, we next crossed the Bridge of the Gods, which gets its name from an American Indian legend that talks about another Bridge of the Gods found in this same place in the river. If you read the book, or saw the movie “Wild,” with Reese Witherspoon, the character chooses the bridge as her final destination before quitting the Pacific Crest Trail.

On the other side of the river is the state of Oregon. We hit Interstate 84 and turned west toward Portland again. But we had to make another stop. Will’s virgin eyes needed to see the astonishing waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge. I pulled off the highway exit to Multnomah Falls, one of the most visited tourist attractions in the state of Oregon. It is named after one of the gods in the bridge story I mentioned above.

Multnomah Falls is a familiar sight, but I never tire of it.

Looking from the bridge out to the tourists below and the Columbia Gorge out there in the sunshine.

Sometimes the best view of the falls is from the parking lot, where you can see the whole thing. On this day, the snow and ice confused the view. The Blue Star Highway sign honors US Armed Forces.

We walked up to the base of the falls and Will was duly impressed with the 620 foot falls. “Just like in Rhode Island!” he joked. We hiked up the trail to the bridge you can see in the photo.

By then we were starving, and it was time to indulge in the fare at the Multnomah Falls Lodge. The lodge is gorgeous outside and inside, featuring walls of glass panes so that we could look at the falls while we ate. The lodge theme is maintained inside the restaurant, with rustic and historic decor, and a massive fireplace. The food is always high quality.

Adventuring spirits and bellies sated, we made the long drive back home to Rainier.

Only Multnomah Lodge can make a burger and a gyro sandwich look so good.

Maria and I sample Thanksgiving food at Zupan’s grocery – finding some space away from all the other people in one of the aisles.

This month I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with friends and that helps brighten up cloudy days and warm up cold ones.

I spent November 7th with Norman and Rodel, as I already mentioned in my last post.

On Veteran’s Day weekend I met my friend Maria and her friend Le, at a wine/beer tasting with food at a Zupan’s grocery in Lake Grove, Oregon. I arrived a little before the others, so I explored this upscale grocery store and found a wine cellar!

The wine cellar at Zupan’s

Maria told me that the wine cellar at a different Zupan’s is larger, and hosts events. That is probably the fanciest grocery store I’ve ever heard of.

We spent the next hour wandering the store (squished among droves of other tasters) and tasting local wines, beers, and heaps of food from their deli counter and aisles. It was all delicious and we were all three stuffed when we left.

After leaving there, I stopped alongside the highway for an overlook point I had never previously investigated. Trees and bushes make the view difficult and I stood on top of a rock wall to see better Willamette Falls, a curved basalt falls in the Willamette River, that is 42 feet high and 1500 feet wide.

Willamette Falls in the Willamette River

A view of Mt. Hood beyond the falls.

An information sign there explains that (while you can’t see them), it is also the site of the oldest continuously operating multi-lift lock and canal system in the United States. Nearby is a museum, and access to the locks, which I definitely want to find another day.

My next stop was to visit a friend who is encouraging me to make a quilt. I got some fabric cut up, and developed some ideas, but it has not progressed yet. If I actually create a quilt, you’ll see it here.

The next day I watched my best friend Genevieve get married to my friend Lloyd. I have loved them so much for years, and their backyard wedding was very sweet. I was able to meet more of G’s family. Best of all I got to see the typically reserved and practical Genevieve look into Lloyd’s eyes with heaps of mooshy love. I’ve never seen that expression on her face and it was precious. I didn’t post any photos because they had a photographer there, and I’m going to defer to Genevieve’s judgement on what the most beautiful photos are to post.

Yesterday I spent the day with Ira & Deborah, visiting Oregon from Hawaii. They have been cold every day, but good sports about it. When they arrived at my house I checked their feet and saw good walking shoes, and suggested a tour of my property that they’ve only ever seen on facebook or instagram. My home itself is in total disarray, due to the kitchen construction. All the furniture in the kitchen, dining room, pantry, closet, and living room has been removed and crammed somewhere else in the house. Not ideal for entertaining. A walk outside seemed best.

Ira takes wonderful photos (find his Instagram account @potatohead_808). He took this one of my pond in the rain.

Ira, me, Deborah standing beside Beaver Creek in my back yard. Selfie clearly by Ira again.

We explored the Rainier marina, and “downtown” Rainier, only a few blocks long. Then I suggested a short hike to Beaver Creek Falls, which you have probably seen on this blog before. I love the falls because it’s close to my house, and great spot to take guests. Also, it’s the same exact creek that I look at every day, just a few miles closer to its mouth.

Someone’s rock sculpture at Beaver Creek Falls.

Ira soon began climbing the walls of the canyon, looking for an ideal perspective for photographs. Deborah and I chatted, and then it began to rain while we stood watching Ira. Not terribly hard, but persistently. I had no hat and no gloves and got soaked. Deborah was smart enough to bring better gear.

He would spot a place that seemed better, and would carefully climb over there. Then he would spot a new place, and make his way slowly. Before we knew it, he had made a whole circle of the canyon, including walking behind the waterfall!

Ira’s shot of Deborah and me from his location behind the waterfall. @potatohead_808

Ira hiking behind Beaver Creek Falls.

I assumed that in order to keep his feet dry, Ira would return the way he came. Nope, he hopped rocks and crossed Beaver Creek. Afterward he said, “I’ve been over and under Beaver Creek today!”

By this time we were starving. I obviously could not feed us, unless we would be satisfied with an avocado and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. So we began driving to one restaurant after another, and all of them were closed because it’s Thanksgiving!! Purely by accident we stumbled onto a full parking lot in front of Stuffy’s II. They had a limited menu, serving only one meal: a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, choice of chicken, ham, or prime rib. We were delighted! A real Thanksgiving meal after all, when we had been ready to accept sushi or a taco, or anything that was open.

Next we hopped in our cars and made the trip to Astoria to try and climb the column before the sun went down at 4:30 pm. We made it!

Deborah at the top of the Astoria Column.

Ira creating another one of his brilliant photos.

Then we checked in at their Air BnB, which is on a pier in the Columbia River! I have been on that pier several times, because I like to visit the Rogue brew pub there. I had no idea there were rooms as well. Imagine being able to leave the pub and walk 50 steps to your room! (I am making birthday reservation plans as I type….)

We went into the Rogue Ales Public House and nibbled a little at amazing soups and some toasted cauliflower, and of course, sampled some ales. We talked and talked and finally hugged goodbye.

The North Fork Toutle River valley, west of Mt. St. Helens, obscured in the clouds.

Earlier this month, my two dear friends Norman and Rodel invited me to spend the day with them. The plan was to drive up to Mt. St. Helens. That day the partly cloudy sky was slowly clearing as we made the trip, and we had fingers crossed for a mountain view when we got there. Sadly, the clouds remained clustered around the peak of Mt. St. Helens. We had a great day together, and the views were gorgeous (as you can see above), but we never did get to see the mountain.

Their idea stayed in my head. Sunday morning I had to run an errand, and as I was driving I looked from a hilltop near my home and saw crystal clear in front of me: Mt. Rainier, 80 miles distant as the crow flies, indicating that the air was very clear. I immediately looked East and saw Mt. St. Helens (38 miles) bold and clear, rising on the horizon. I made a decision right there to head back to the volcano, on this brilliantly sunny day.

I stopped first at the Visitor’s Center, because there is a 3/4 mile trail that’s supposed to be lovely, and has a view of Mt. St. Helens. I asked an employee where to find the trail, and she asked which trail, and before I knew it she had convinced me to skip the one at the visitor’s center and to instead drive another hour down the road to the Hummocks Trailhead.

Hoffstadt Creek Bridge is 370 feet (113 m) high and 600 feet (183 m) long.

On the way I stopped for a bridge overlook. There are four similar bridges that span deep mountain canyons on the way to the mountain, with fascinating and eye-catching architecture. I like the look of the curved bridges better, but this straight one gives you an idea of what they look like.

Do not adjust your set, this is a perfectly focused photograph of Noble Firs.

Something that always baffles me is the eye-crossing effect of looking at the forests of Noble Fir planted by the Weyerhaeuser Company. These trees are the same age and look like exact duplicates of themselves for acres upon acres. Your eyes get confused trying to make sense of what you’re seeing. A Ranger I met at the Johnston Ridge Observatory a couple years ago called them Lego Trees, and that’s apt.

The road to the Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed for winter. But the road is open as far as the Hummocks Trailhead. It’s a clear trailhead with ample parking. On this sunny weekend day, half the spaces were filled. It makes me happy that so many people want to get outside and do things in November. During the winter I’m more inclined to curl up with my laptop and a blanket. Maybe I’m projecting, but I am so proud of myself when I do something ambitious in winter weather, that I am proud of all those other people too!

Sign at the beginning of the trail.

With the sun low in the sky, I faced directly into it. That was annoying, but it also made exaggerated shadows that added interest to the scene.

I arrived at 2:45 pm and moved quickly down the trail, aware that sunset is 4:30. It felt comfortably warm at about 52 degrees, but as soon as the sun set it would drop quickly to freezing. I did not want to be caught out wandering the valley after sunset.

The trail was well-worn and easy to follow, and lovely. It travels through the famous Mt. St. Helens hummocks. These hummocks are big chunks of the former peak of the mountain that were blown off the top and side during the eruption in 1980. The whole valley surrounding Mt. St. Helens is filled with these mini-mountains, and scientists have tracked each one back to where its original location once was on the long-lost pointed peak. Why on earth they would do that is beyond me, but bully for them for completing such a daunting task.

Trail wends over and through hummocks, west of Mt. St. Helens.

For the layperson, what may be most relevant about these hummocks is that they are remnants of a volcanic blast, they form today a most interesting landscape, and that there is a trail allowing us to get a nice close look at them and even to walk on top of them.

There were also stunning views of Mt. St. Helens from multiple locations.

These hummocks are still eroding, because of the Toutle River there. This leaves the face exposed and bare, instead of grass- or tree-covered.

Hummock hills are noticeable to the left, with the volcano on the horizon. You can see here that the blast in 1980 was not directly up, but to the side. In this photo, the left side is missing, leaving a U-shaped volcanic cone.

With the valley filled with hundreds of tiny mountains, it follows that a bunch of new tiny lakes were formed.

Portions of the trail are forested. Here the trail follows a creek.

I recall the volcanic eruption from my childhood, and the aerial images of barren moonscape left in all directions for miles. Thus it is delightful for me to stand in a forest, beside a creek, and know that this has all formed since that devastating day. The size of the trees may not seem impressive at first, considering that it has been 38 years. But it’s not that the trees were cut and the forests were free to begin re-forming the next day. Today’s forests had to recover from this:

Photograph two days after the May 1980 eruption. Photo by Jack Smith / AP

My path was through fields, streams, and forests. There were ducks on the ponds. It’s a healthy land and in a quick glance does not reveal that the old forest floor is buried beneath many feet of volcanic ash, and all this beauty before me sprung out from that poor beginning. Nature keeps me in awe.

Information sign at the shores of Coldwater Lake.

I completed the Hummocks Trail loop with plenty of sunshine left, so I went to explore nearby Coldwater Lake.

The trail at Coldwater Lake is wheelchair accessible, a trail feature I often notice. I think possibly I’m making a list in my mind of trails I will still be able to visit when my future self needs a wheelchair. Hiking a nature trail is one of my greatest joys in life, and I’m reassured that if my legs ever stop working, I’ll still be able to hit some trails.

The sun was very low and that made all my photos warm with light despite the quickening chill in the waning day.

Massive logs from the volcanic blowdown in 1980 remain for us to ponder.

The paved trail turns into wide boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs.

A family plays at the waterside in the reflection of Mt. St. Helens.

The boardwalk spans over the lake.

Some kayakers were returning to shore after a foray into the lake.

On my way home I stopped at the Castle Lake Overlook and spotted not only the snowy tip top of Mt. Adams, but also Mt. Rainier! The moon became visible, and an excited little boy yelled “Daddy! The sun is rising and the moon is rising AT THE SAME TIME!” He may not have had the semantics right, but his Daddy understood exactly what he was saying.

Moon over the tip of Mt. Adams (can you see it above the lake?) and Mt. St. Helens.

The view from the overlook. Again, the tip of Mt. Adams peeks into view.

Golden sunlight strikes the remaining leaves, as well as the snowy mountain.

On my way home along Washington Highway 504, I spotted a good view of Mt. Adams and pulled over to get this better shot for you.

 

Margaret and I went to Ashland for Shakespeare as I wrote about earlier, but also to explore the local area a little bit. Sunday we went to Wildlife Safari, that I covered in my last blog post.

Wolf Creek Tavern in southern Oregon

Built in 1883 and continuously operating since then.

After Wildlife Safari, we stopped at The Historic Wolf Creek Inn for a cocktail. This stop was a delight because it’s in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t know anything about it other than having seen the highway signs for it for many years as I passed through on I-5. Henry Smith built his third hotel to be “the upscale one” along the stagecoach route. Built in 1883, Wolf Creek Inn is the oldest continuously operated hotel in the Pacific Northwest.

Famous guests include Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, and the bed they used is still in use today in the largest guest room. Mr. Gable liked to fish in the nearby Rogue River. The most famous guest was Jack London, whose room is considered so special it can’t be touched, and everything is maintained today as it was for Mr. London when he occupied it.

The Women’s Parlour

Jack London’s Room. Complete with Jack London’s chamber pot.

Our next stop was to find a covered bridge. Oregon has many, and I never tire of seeing them.

Grave Creek Bridge

Touring Wildlife Safari, then Wolf Creek Inn, then a covered bridge, was enough adventure for Sunday, and we dropped to sleep happy at our hotel in Ashland.

Monday morning we left to try to find a trail to the top of Table Rock. This is a volcanic mesa with a wide flat top that is easily seen from I-5. We found trail descriptions for Upper Table Rock and Lower Table Rock trails and made a wild guess that the one we wanted was “upper,” since we didn’t know there was another one, so the other one must be “lower.” We guessed wrong. But the trail was wonderful.

An interpretive sign at the beginning of the trail explains that these mesas were formed as the result of lava flow from a volcano 7 million years ago. Most of the flow eroded away, but the parts that remain are eye-catching plateau formations today. A website I found later claims that the volcanic flow was 9.6 million years ago. The website also explains that the Takelma Indians lived there when the area became overrun by miners and settlers in the gold rush. The Indians fortified themselves on Upper Table Rock and then launched an attack in 1853 to reclaim their lands. Apparently a reservation was assigned to them that included the Table Rocks area. (And there the website narrative ends…leading me to wonder if the Indians ever got to live there in peace, and at what point was the reservation dissolved, since there isn’t one there right now. And frustrated that anyone can say, “The Indians were given some land,” and can pretend with a straight face that it’s the end of the story. Ok, sorry. End of rant.) *

Up close look at the anthracite formations at the beginning of the trail.

Fabulous red trunks of madrone trees that are common along the Oregon coast.

The trail was super short and easy, but Margaret and I extended our time there by delighting in the beauty of the views and the lovely forest of black oaks and madrone.

At the top we headed directly for the edge of the mesa and were impressed with views of the Rogue River Valley.

Margaret looking toward Medford, Oregon.

We chatted with other hikers up there as well.

In the distance I spotted Lower Table Rock, the one I’ve seen a hundred times from the Interstate.

Canyon in the U-shaped mesa.

The top of Upper Table Rock is not as flat as I assumed it would be. As an unrepentant volcano-lover, I was excited to see these formations.

After our hike we went into the darling town of Jacksonville to wander shops and antique stores and enjoy the lovely weather. Next we went to the Rogue Creamery Cheese Shop and sampled some too-die-for blue cheeses. I confess, I purchased a couple pounds of it. Across from there is Lilliebelle Farms Handmade Chocolates, where we also sampled. I was tempted by the chili chocolates, but ended up purchasing the lavender sea salt caramels.

On Tuesday we decided to find another hike before our matinee show. This time we chose what looked like a loop, titled Toothpick Trail to Catwalk Trail Loop in our hiking app. It was a forest trail with a single view of something other than forest, very little interesting nature, and in the end, no loop. Turns out, there is a road the trail eventually intersects with, and you can return down the road, making a loop. Not what we had in mind.

The one and only viewpoint from Toothpick Trail was indeed lovely.

Intrepid hikers that we are, we found things of interest anyway, to keep our spirits up. As with the hike the day before, this trail was super short and easy, so once we realized it connected to other trails, we just kept going. There is a maze of trails on top of the ridge, and I was tickled to find their names all Alice In Wonderland themed, such as Caterpillar, Lewis, Jabberwocky and Bandersnatch.

These trails are popularized by mountain bikes. We were passed by multiple people on bikes, all of them polite and careful not to run us down. There were plastic ribbons strung between trees all over the place to keep the bikes on the best paths, lots and lots of warning signs and informational signs for the bikers. Probably helpful for them, but really ugly for us. We were intrigued by the trails built with humps and banked corners for bikes. This is trail construction we had not seen before.

Humps and banks built for mountain bikers (I cropped the photo to remove all the plastic tape strung between trees).

Trail marker for mountain bikers.

The other amusement we found on the trail was when we came across some experienced older male hikers. M and I must have looked dubious in our light, girly tourist clothing, carrying no pack whatsoever and a single water bottle between us. Makeup, jewelry… you get it. No one else knows that M and I both have over twenty years of backpacking experience. The reason we showed up looking completely unprepared for the forest is because we are *so* experienced that this truly was like going for a walk for us. None of these trails was more than a mile from a road, we were merely trying to kill time waiting for our Manahatta matinee down the hill in Ashland. We weren’t winded in the least, and did not consider the trails a challenging hike.

So. We spot some other hikers and we beeline for them, because we’re hoping to get some insider knowledge on how to make an actual loop out of all this hilltop wandering we’ve been doing. There are three men, 50-60 ish, in full Outdoor Gear, hiking poles, day packs, water bladders, specialty footgear, protctive hats – all of it. They tell us they are locals and hike up there all the time. They are immediately concerned for us, considering that our first question was “Is there a trail over on this side of the mountain that will link us back to Toothpick Trail?” which they interpret as us saying, “We don’t know where we are.” They ask us if we’re hungry, can they share their water with us, are we lost, are we ok? Oh good grief. I don’t think they ever really understood what we were doing up there. We kept saying we were fine, we weren’t worried or lost, we were only trying to make a more interesting hike. They assured us that there was no link back to Toothpick Trail and our best bet would be to return the way we came. “Can you find your way back?” they asked. We managed not to roll our eyes and waved goodbye and thanks. I hope none of them lost any sleep worrying that there would be two emaciated and terrified women trapped on the hill that night. I imagine that must happen around here, with the bazillion tourists who show up for plays like we did.

We got to the play on time and now the timeline goes back to my original post of this trip.

* Quick research on Wikipedia indicates that the Table Rock Reservation lasted a whopping three years. After which, fighting broke out again. Some Indians were marched Trail-of-Tears-like, on foot 300 miles to another reservation; others were put onto ships and moved, all of them that lived eventually ending up on reservations south of Portland.

Colchuck Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. Aasgard Pass is to the left of Dragontail Peak. Colchuck Glacier is to the right.

I slept very well in my tent and woke up refreshed and eager to get along the trail. First though: freshly brewed Peets coffee. The Sulawesi-Kalosi is my favourite.

The trail to Colchuck Lake required some backtracking about 2.3 miles to the trail junction, then another 2 miles uphill. The climb is apparently 615 feet and is very steep in places. Washington Trails Association was there in 2017 and did some great work on the trail. While they did not make the climb any less steep, they made it easy to follow, and stable, putting in many many granite boulder “steps,” for example.

These two had also camped at Stuart Lake with me. “We only have passes for the Stuart Zone,” I heard multiple times from hikers. It was true for me as well. We are headed for the valley between the two hills on the right.

Me, along the Colchuck Trail.

From this vista point, I could see the valley where Lake Stuart lies. Can you see the brown burned trees? (click the image for a larger version) Those are on the slope above my tent.

The hill above my camp shows signs of wildfire. So glad it didn’t burn down to the water’s edge…but I wish I didn’t see so much fire sign when I hike.

I climbed up, up, over roots, around boulders, across streams. I stopped to gasp periodically, while I waited for my heartbeat to slow down again to something near normal. There weren’t any meadow landscapes like the Lake Stuart trail, just climbing the granite stairs to the top.

And then… wow! The jaw-dropping blue of Colchuck Lake hit me. I describe the colour as a mixture of aqua and tuquoise, and a wholly unanticipated hue in the landscape of predictable green trees and blue skies.

This was my very first glimpse of the lake. It stopped me in my tracks and I took a photo from right there.

I must have taken two dozen photos, trying to get my camera to show you the colour I saw. This comes close, but nothing is like it was to be there.

I made a beeline for the lake and found the first of many many beautiful white smooth granite boulders that line the shores. After eating ALL the snacks I brought, and drinking a lot more water, I felt restored, and ready to explore.

Colchuck Lake is larger than Lake Stuart and I easily spent two hours following the trail on the Western shore, taking tons of detours to the beach, or to the multitudinous smooth boulders that are excellent for sitting on to relax in the sun and stare in awe at the colour of that water. This lake has many more great viewing spots than Lake Stuart, and due to its size, there are more campsites. Next year I am for sure going to try to get an overnight pass for the Colchuck Zone.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with The Enchantments in Washington, its beauty and proximity to Seattle make it a very popular place for backpackers and campers. So many people enter the wilderness that the area was getting destroyed from the many trampling human feet. There are now rules in place to control the humans. An unlimited number of people are allowed to walk through on the trails, but the number of people allowed to camp overnight is limited. The passes are disseminated via a lottery.

It was cloudy while I visited the lake, but periodically a sunbeam would burst through and light something up.

Looking south from Colchuck Lake.

I explored several beautiful beaches on my way around the lake.

Exceptionally clear water.

A tiny adjacent lake that is unnamed. Perhaps during high water it is part of Colchuck Lake.

I had heard of the famous Aasgard Pass, and I wanted to find it and hopefully spot Thor, or Odin.

No, not really. Aasgard Pass is the gateway to the Core Enchantments area from the west side. I have always entered from the east side, and never made it as far as the pass. So I just wanted to get a look at it and see how I felt about trying to climb it with a full pack one day, if I should ever have that option.

At the southernmost end of the lake is a large boulder field, and the trail crosses this, as I could tell from the cairns. I climbed across half of it, still trying to get a sense of which saddle hikers climb: the one with the glacier, or the ones to the right or the left of the glacier. I couldn’t tell by looking, and the boulders were a challenging scramble for merely trying to find a trail, just to turn around and come back. In any case, I had my answer: the boulder field was hard enough with only a day pack. I did not have any trouble this day, but there were times when I had to balance on a toe and leap to the next rock. That sort of thing is much trickier with 50 pounds on your back, messing up your center of gravity.

I found out later that Aasgard Pass was this one, directly ahead of me as I climbed over the boulders. Can you spot the cairns?

This beautiful Tamarack is along the boulder scramble to Aasgard Pass. I caught it just before the needles turned yellow for the season.

Looking north at Colchuck Lake.

The tiny lake next to Colchuck Lake.

At the tiny lake, the water is more green than aqua. And a group of Tamaracks on the slope are getting ready to turn yellow.

It was afternoon and I was ready to head back down the trail to my camp. My knees fiercly grumbled about going down granite steps and over roots for a mile, or however long it is. But as I descended, the skies cleared and the weather stayed warm and lovely. I talked to so many lovely people on the trail, who eagerly told me where they came from, where they were staying (most of the people were day hikers only, with no overnight passes), and what their plans were. Curiously, people along the trail trust each other. Perhaps beause of the shared experience.

Oh! Can I tell you the funnest human-related discovery of my whole hike?! Women! Women outnumbered the men far and away. It is the first time I have ever seen this on a backpacking trip. I must have passed around 100 people in three days, and at least 60 of them were women, though I wonder if it was closer to 70. Groups of women in their 20s, pairs of women in their 70s, solo women, women and men hiking together. I love them all for making this an activity for everyone. I want my people back home to stop freaking out whenever I say I’m going into the wilderness for a few days.

The 60-something woman camping next to me on the beach said she had hiked the previous month with her husband.

“Oh, he couldn’t make this trip?” I asked.

“I told him I wanted peace and quiet and to read my book,” she replied.

Ha ha ha!! High-five lady!

This is happy, tired me, with a bit of a sunburn. Waiting for water to boil so I can have supper.

Skies remained gorgeous all evening and I sat on the beach and watched the sun go down till I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

I boiled angel hair pasta (quicker than spaghetti), then mixed in a raw egg from the Hussies. Added pre-cooked bacon and carmelized onions and then dumped in grape tomatoes from my garden, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Viola! Spaghetti carbonara mountain-style. A metal mug of white wine went with it perfectly.

 

Lake Stuart from the little beach at my campsite. Mt. Stuart (9415′) is the peak in the background.

I purchased overnight camping passes for the Lake Stuart Zone in the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. It’s due east of Seattle and north of Mt. Rainier. It takes me 4 1/2 hours just to get to the trailhead, but I can’t help myself: it is so beautiful there.

Interstate 90 in Washington state, heading east of Seattle first thing in the morning Tuesday.

I’ve been through the Enchantments several times, and always from the Snow Lakes trail which approaches the Alpine Lakes from the east. It’s a long through trek, and I have never had the stamina to go all the way through to the lakes on the west side. This year I simply began on the west side!

I think it is a nice touch that the U.S. Forest Service always makes these signs asymmetrical.

At a fork in the trail, I saw signs that left me puzzled. At first glance, “foot log” and “horse ford” sounded like landmarks I had never heard of. I had no idea what trail to take until I calmed down and took the words literally. A log for foot traffic, and a place for horses to ford.

Viola! “foot log,” otherwise known as a log bridge for those traveling on human feet.

One lovely thing about the west side approach is that the Stuart/Colchuck trailhead is higher in elevation than the Snow Lakes trailhead, so I climbed the first 1000 feet (or more) in my Jeep. That was pretty sweet. Once I began hiking, much of the trail was a rather gentle slope, and a couple of steep spots a few miles in. Nothing like the grueling switchbacks at the start of the Snow Lakes trail.

The trail beside Mountaineer Creek.

Look at these scrumptious red roots. Or branches. What are they? Gorgeous, that’s what.

Autumn is the most glorious flamboyant season, don’t you think?

I saw several of these cones on the trail. I don’t think my photography captured it, but they are a deep dark purple.

I’ve said before, my hike pace could best be described as “mosey.” I’m solid on the uphill stretches. Slow, but steady, I can just keep going up, up, up. But steady includes a lot of stops to look at all the waterfalls and pretty foliage and the squirrels and interesting pine cones.

It feels good to be on a trail again. I have not hiked much the last couple of years. My theory is now that I live in the wilderness practically, I don’t have the driving need to escape people and hit a trail as much as I used to. In any case, however wild my own property may be, it’s nothing like truly being in the mountains.

While pausing in a meadow with fireweed going to seed, a gust of wind came and filled the air with flying seed pods. Look closely, and you’ll spot the faeries.

Finally! First glimpse of the mountains. These are exactly the moments I live for on the trail. I get tired, I wonder how far I’ve come, how far there is to go, whether I should stop and rest, and then…. I get a view of mountains. This inspires me.

Another mile along the trail and blam! This, people. This is what it’s all about. My tanks are filled and I’m gushing.

I met a bold, fat chipmunk that practically climbed onto me while begging for food.

And this was a pika that might have been shy around me on another day, but this day rather had to get an urgent message to his buddy across the rock fall.

The pika was so hilarious I watched him for a full five minutes, and listened to another one shriek back at him. He would give a series of short, sharp, shrill shrieks, then occasionally would spew a jumble of high-pitched syllables strung together. I talked to him for awhile, saying, “Hey! Do you see me? Are you not afraid?” Nope. Not afraid. He had to talk and my presence was no deterrent. As I watched him, I imagined the following conversation. Very shrill and urgent:

“Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!” Silence. “Steve! Steve!”

From 50 yards away across the boulder pile, the reply: “Tony! Tony!”

“Yo!-I-can’t-play-tetherball-Mom-says-I-have-to-do-my-chores-but-I’ll-come-over-as-soon-as-I’m-done!”

“Tony! Tony!”

“Did-you-hear-me-I-can’t-play-now-but-wait-for-me-ok? Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!”

Listen, when your hiking pace is “mosey,” it involves a lot of imagination.

Suddenly I spotted a sign that said “No campfires beyond this point.” And I don’t know what crazy person ever starts campfires this time of year, but to me this sign means “the lake is pretty close.” And sure enough, only a little while later, the trees parted and there it was. Only 4 1/2 miles along the trail, an elevation gain of 1665 feet, and I hit Lake Stuart.

Lake Stuart

(Can’t you just hear Anne Shirley saying, “That is not the right name. I think it should be: Lake of Shining Waters.”)

At the far end of the lake, looking back.

I love how the sun lights up those pale green grasses and horsetails in the water.

Many spots were occupied, but when I found this lovely little beach, I knew it would be my home for the next couple of nights.

Um, yep, that would be my campsite. Recurrent theme for camping in the PNW: always gorgeous campsites.

I admit, I crashed early. You know with my exceptional gastronomic tastes, I always bring a pack filled with amazing food, which means: HEAV-VY! I get so wiped out when I have a full pack.

For supper I mixed up the easiest thing on the menu, taco salad. Fresh chopped lettuce, corn chips, beans, tomatoes from the garden, green chilis, hominy, sour cream and salsa all stirred together. An obnoxious chipmunk came to raid my bowl while I left it on the beach and went to get the wine. I was impressed to see that the prize it chose was a big chunk of taco-spiced lettuce and not the chips!

Winding highway drops down into the valley in Eastern Oregon.

Most of our mini road trips will be day trips. But there is one place we wanted to go that was so far away we had to do an overnighter. We decided to do this one early in the road trip series. So day two we headed east and then dropped south from the Columbia River Gorge to explore the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. I found a road I had not traveled before (my rule is to take a different road whenever possible), and as we came through the dry, exposed plains, we noticed over and over the gorgeous views.

The Palisades at the Clarno Unit.

The Palisades are a long string of cliffs along the highway. We hiked along them for awhile, then hiked up to the base.

The landscape in this part of Oregon has it’s own kind of beauty.

The National Monument is in three pieces separated by quite a distance. Our route to our hotel passed one of the areas, called the Clarno Unit. We arrived in the afternoon and had time to park and explore the trails at The Palisades. The Palisades are interesting and beautiful crags that tower above the highway. They were formed 45 million years ago after a volcanic eruption that filled the valley with mudflows called lahars. There were multiple flows filled with rocks, ash, and other debris that settled in layers. Over the millennia, erosion has formed magnificent towers.

The lahars also trapped living things like plants, trees, and animals. It is a treasure trove for fossil hunters. The Clarno Unit is protected as part of the National Monument, so the only time these fossils are disturbed or collected is for scientific study. Near the trail we spotted leaf fossils trapped here from when the environment was wet, lush, and near-tropical.

Fossilized leaves trapped in stone.

Embedded in stone are two petrified logs: one horizontal and one vertical.

An exposed stone that tumbled from the cliffs above shows clearly that the lahars were a mixture of foreign debris. Vlad described it as “concrete, basically.”

The time of day we arrived put most of the cliffs in shadow, but the views were stunning nonetheless.

The first trail we walked had information signs that explained how the landscape changed over time. The second trail took us up the mountain to an arch.

Vlad takes a closer look at the base of The Palisades.

The arch from a distance.

The arch up close.

After the second hike we were hungry and ready to stop traveling. In an hour we reached our hotel in the town of Condon.

I was in this area (and blogged about it) not too long ago when I came over to view the Eclipse in 2017. When I made my way toward the path of totality in August 2017, I passed through the darling little town of Condon, Oregon. I recalled that Condon was the last place I still had cell service before heading farther into the vast emptiness of this part of the state, and for me that is as good a reason as any to choose a home base. Earlier in the week we made reservations at a place called the Hotel Condon that looked interesting online.

It is indeed an interesting place, built in 1920 and restored to a fine state. As one might hope in a place like this, there are rumors of a ghost. I talked with a resident who suspects he has seen evidence of the ghost. The man has stayed here almost 4 months, he said, while doing an electrical project nearby. When the place is mostly empty of guests, he has heard footsteps in the hall and has seen doors opening and closing. Now that is cool.

Hotel Condon (image from http://www.innshopper.com)

The lobby of the Hotel Condon.

Dining Room

Here is the final day I skipped when I had no Internet while traveling in Myanmar. Please click the image to go to the post.

An irresistible smile.

 

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