There’s an old adage among sailors, “What constitutes a sailboat race? Two boats in the water!” The same can be said for RVs. But then, when it comes to the View/Navion group, we seldom limit ourselves to two, and the only race is one for fun.
Sunset Beach RV Resort welcomes 64 Views/Navions for the DelMarVa Rally.
The Skinnie Winnie group, Winnebago’s line of Class C RVs built on the narrower Sprinter chassis, is known for being a close-knit association, often akin to a cult following. Support and social groups on both Yahoo and Facebook, along with rallies from coast-to-coast make for a multitude of opportunities to meet fellow owners with mutual interests. Heading into summer, the much talked about place to be is Sunset Beach RV Resort south of Cape Charles, VA. This was the site of the Delmarva (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) View/Navion 2017 National rally.
If you’re like me, a self-proclaimed introvert, the thought of an RV rally with 64 rigs converging to meet and mingle can be downright daunting. Just the mention of the word “rally” conjures up all sorts of ice breaker comedy themes in the making, from silly hat contests to conga lines. But not this View/Navion group. For some reason, this group seems drawn together for more than the love of ownership. Rallies go beyond the opportunity to meet active, fun loving, like-minded friends. They are also educational. And in the case of the Cape Charles rally, there’s a whole lot of local Eastern Shore of Virginia culture thrown in as well.
Organized bike ride through the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Reserve to visit the WWII gun barrel used on the U.S.S. Missouri.
This summer’s rally was hosted by Pamela Barefoot, founder of Blue Crab Bay Co. – local purveyor of classic coastal cuisine since 1985. That name alone tells us we are going to eat well. What better way to sample Blue Crab Bay Co.’s tasty offerings than with Virginia’s finest locally-grown oysters on the half shell dipped in Blue Crab Bay’s spicy cocktail sauce. Over 400 oysters were shucked by our very own View/Navion crew. Aquaculture-grown oysters and clams are prolific in this region, with Virginia raising more oysters than any other state on the Eastern Seaboard.
Kiptopeke State Park, with nine concrete ships from the WWII ‘Concrete Fleet’ in the background, now serving as the Kiptopeke Breakwater.
Rallies are notorious for their pot luck dinners, but this group takes dining to a whole new level. Rarely do you find a store-bought item, as View/Navion owners love to show off their convection oven skills with items like baked brie in puff pastry and homemade strawberry rhubarb pies. This year’s summer picnic theme features locally sourced fried chicken, salads, corn, and all the trimmings.
Soft Shell Crabs are a frequent special on the menu at the Jackspot, Sunset Beach RV Resort’s beach-side bar and restaurant.
The rally venue, Sunset Beach RV Resort, located right on the cape of the Eastern Shore, lives up to its name, offering spectacular sunset views. Positioned at the tip of the thin sliver of land between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean, Sunset Beach RV Resort offers a plethora of activities for the entire family. It’s hard to imagine a better venue for an RV rally. Full hookups, a beautiful pool, beachside bar and restaurant, sandy pet-friendly beach, guided kayak tours through the Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge next door, shopping and restaurants in historic Cape Charles, and two championship golf courses nearby warrants the overall consensus among rally goers that “there’s something here for everyone!”
Just one-half mile south of Sunset Beach RV Resort sits one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. By special arrangement, the CBBT offers tours of the facility on one of the five man-made islands. Rally participants are taken through the control room down into the tunnel itself, passing alongside 12-ft fans in operation since the bridge first opened to traffic in 1964. Standing on the pedestrian walkway, we laugh like mischievous kids again as we signal for a horn honk from the passing 18-wheelers.
Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Tour view from pedestrian walkway. Overhead Clearance, 13’6”.
The CBBT is soon to undergo an expansion, the Parallel Thimble Shoal Tunnel Project, adding an additional concrete tunnel in parallel to the steel tunnel in existence today. Slated for completion in October of 2022, the new bored tunnel made from approximately 9,000 concrete pieces one mile in length will allow two-lane traffic in both directions, allowing for smoother traffic flow with less risk of lane closure. Unfortunately, the tunnel project will necessitate demolition of the CBBT waterside restaurant, The Chesapeake Grill and Gift Shop, in September of this year. If you are in the area, don’t miss the opportunity for a bit of history to dine overlooking the bridge and tunnel entry.
Jeff Holland, CBBT Executive Director, explains expansion project using Tunnel Boring Machine.
A rally is also an excellent time to learn more about your RV, from aesthetic ideas and modifications shared during the Open House to the highly technical “Understanding Your Electrical System” workshop. There are ongoing tech sessions covering such topics as lubricating the RV steps and refrigerator maintenance. While hands-on demonstrations cover installing a Trik-L-Start to a complete solar install. As small groups assemble, the running joke around the park is “If you want to meet more people, just raise your hood!”
“Understanding Your Electrical System” tech workshop.
So, take this introvert’s advice: If joining a rally feels akin to joining a cult, it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone. Whether your interest is making new friends, learning the tricks of a convection oven, or maximizing performance from your investment, don’t miss the opportunity to rally around with like-minded people who share the love of the RVing lifestyle. And don’t be spooked if 64 of them just happen to look a whole lot like you!
Beach of Historic Cape Charles, VA.
For information about future regional and national View/Navion rallies, consult the View/Navion “Skinnie Winnie” group on the Yahoo forum.
In preparation for my hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I booked two nights at Phantom Ranch, thinking I might need a day of rest in between my South Kaibab descent and Bright Angel exit. The long, 10.5 mile hike out of the canyon with almost 5,000 ft in elevation gain is both daunting and haunting. So an extra day in between to explore around the ranch sounds like a good idea to rest my weary legs.
Although several fellow hikers have extolled about the beauty of Ribbon Falls, that’s a 12 mile round trip hike up the North Kaibab Trail from the Ranch…way too far for my “day off.” Still, I’d like to see a bit of the trail, the only northbound exit trail out of the canyon. Since the North Rim is closed at this time of year, there is no shuttle service back around to the South Rim. So unless one wants to hike a “Rim to Rim to Rim,” meaning cross the canyon twice, one must exit back out to the South Rim during the off season from mid-October to mid-May. Ribbon Falls is almost halfway up the North Kaibab Trail, so I set my intentions to turn at three miles, halfway to the falls. The first part of the trail is reported to be reasonably flat, so I figure it will be a good option to keep my legs limbered up on my day off.
But once I get started, I don’t want to stop. The trail follows the Bright Angel Creek through a deep, dark gorge referred to as “The Box,” a narrow canyon of chiseled cuts through the basement rock of Bright Angel Canyon. The views are stunning, with the sound of the rushing creek echoing across the narrow gorge. Hikers coming in the opposite direction exclaim, “…but you must go to Ribbon Falls…it’s a long way, but so worth it!” So I keep going…and going…and going. Soon, I must admit to myself, I’m not stopping until I get to Ribbon Falls.
It is a beautiful hike, fairly easy with a total of 1,200 ft elevation gain. Once the box canyon ends, the walls open up to desert gardens.. Six different foot bridges zigzag across Bright Angel Creek before reaching the grotto at the base of the falls. A small dirt trail continues up behind the veil of a waterfall.
I make it back just in time for the dinner bell. Prior to each meal at Phantom Ranch, the host stands up to give a short welcome, and share a special interest story. One might talk about “a day in the life” of a Phantom Ranch employee, while another might tell of the Native American pilgrimages to sacred spots like Ribbon Falls or Phantom Canyon. But one consistent message delivered at each meal is out of five million visitors to the Grand Canyon each year, only one percent make it all the way to the Ranch. Suddenly, fifty bucks a night to sleep at our National Park’s “most exclusive lodge” doesn’t seem so bad, even if it is in a dorm room!
The “wake up knock” the next morning comes on the women’s dorm door at 5:00am. I’ve signed up for the 5:30am breakfast in order to get on the trail as early as possible. The sun doesn’t rise until 7:15, so this will mean hiking for about an hour in the dark. But I figure it’s better to put in the dark time at the bottom of the canyon rather than risk having to hike in the dark at the top where it’s covered in snow and ice.
My legs and feet ache from the twelve mile hike to Ribbon Falls yesterday. I’ve now hiked over twenty miles in two days. In retrospect, hiking twelve miles on a day intended for rest was perhaps not my smartest move. Instead of being rested after a planned day off, I am weary before my feet even hit the floor. For a moment, I even contemplate asking if there is space in the dorm for one more night so I can really rest my aching feet this time.
But as I lay there trying to force myself awake, I think about the speech from the dining room attendants, how only 1% of the five million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon actually make it down to the river. This is a staggering statistic, and I begin to realize how privileged I am to have the wealth of good health to make this trip on my own two feet, no matter how tired. This is an epiphany at 5:00am, and I arise motivated and excited to make the climb out of the canyon.
The Canteen feels electrified with the buzz of energy of eager hikers. Breakfast is a feast of scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes. I’m not typically hungry at 5:00am, but I know I’ll need the fuel to keep me moving and keep me warm. It’s a brisk 25 degrees in the pre-dawn hour as we file out of the dining room, heavy boots echoing on the wooden floor, headlamp beams pointed toward the trail.
It’s still dark when I begin watching for the signs toward the Bright Angel Trail. My headlamp illuminates the fog on my glasses from the vapor billowing upward as I exhale. It’s a bit eerie hiking alone in the dark, particularly after I unknowingly pass the mule pen when one of the mules snorts, fluttering his nostrils, scaring what little daylights I had out of me.
But soon, the sky begins to lighten, turning from inky black darkness to steel gray. Although I hate getting up in the mornings, I have to admit this rapid change of morning light is one of my favorite times of day, albeit infrequently seen.
The Bright Angel Trail crosses the Silver Bridge, then doubles as the River Trail for the first mile, running parallel to the Colorado River, slowly rising in elevation as the river appears to grow smaller. I take the first opportunity for a rest stop at the River Resthouse, the 1.5 mile mark along Pipe Spring before the trail turns away from the river and begins the increasingly steep ascent toward the “Devil’s Corkscrew.”
I had not anticipated the Bright Angel Trail to be so scenic. I read that it was a maintained dirt trail up a side canyon, used as the primary mule route, “graded for stock.” So I expected muddy switchbacks and a more limited views and sparse vegetation. But hiking up through the Bright Angel Fault alongside a creek proves to be beautiful, and such a different scene than the South Kaibab trail. There are golden cottonwoods along the babbling brook, so scenes of water and lush vegetation tucked into tight, pancake-rock canyons is an inverted view to the wide open spaces of the South Kaibab ridgeline trail.
I read if one hikes from rim to rim, they have covered all the ecological life zones in North America, the equivalent of going from Canada to Mexico. Geological descriptions talk in terms of “billions” of years accounted for in the multiple layers of rock, nearly forty different layers, from the 2-billion-year-old Vishnu Schist at the bottom of “The Box,” layer by layer, a mile up to the 230-million-year-old Kaibab Limestone on the Rim.
By the time I reach the halfway point, Indian Gardens, I have stripped down to a long sleeved shirt with the sleeves shoved up above my elbows. But Indian Gardens is a milestone of another sort. It’s cold here in the shade. Like shivering cold. Before I delve into my sack lunch, I layer up once again, thinking how the cool shade and availability of water must make a nice respite for hikers during the intense heat of the summer months.
The second half of the trail is definitely the steepest. As the trail becomes more tedious, the switchbacks endless, I face the walls of the canyon head-on, staring them down with each turn. The milestones help give me a goal which I need mentally more than I do physically. Conversation with other hikers takes my mind off the monotony of the switchbacks, as does a fully charged ipod.
It’s the first glimpse of the historic Kolb Studio, perched on the rim that tells me the end is near. It’s a sight that takes my breath away to realize not only have I made the 10 mile, 5,000 ft elevation climb before dark, but I am still smiling. I give my newly acquired friends from the trail a hug goodbye at the rim, and head back to the Winnie, still parked in the Backcountry Information lot. An initial check indicates she has survived the cold unscathed, so I head for the lodge for a pizza and a cold draft beer!
Three days ago, when I first arrived to the Backcountry Information Office, I read on an information board a phrase, “…you will be left with one of two reactions: either you will never hike again in your life, or you will find that your life up to this point has been meaningless and you will be forever enslaved by thoughts of returning to this torturous paradise.” I wondered which it would be for me. Would I be enslaved with thoughts of returning?
Tomorrow, if I could….
On a whim during my recent southerly winter migration, I decide to attempt another long time bucket list item; a solo hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. While on hold with Xanterra reservations, the recording states they are now accepting reservations 13 months in advance. Fat chance, I figure. I start the call by saying “I realize this is a ridiculous long shot, but…” I am shocked out of my socks when the reservationist replies, “We just had a cancellation for two nights in the woman’s dorm next week…” I jump to my feet and grab my credit card.
A check of the weather forecast for the South Rim reports an “arctic blast” on the way, bringing nighttime temperatures down into the low teens. But the bottom of the canyon where I’ll be staying is typically 20 degrees warmer. Highs should be up into the 50’s at Phantom Ranch. With no wind and lots of sun in the forecast, it could be perfect hiking weather. I won’t have to worry about myself…only about my Winnie View, left behind on the icy canyon rim. I spring into action with winterization, borrowing an air compressor to blow out the water lines. I dump the tanks, add a gallon of RV antifreeze to the holding tanks and P-traps, and hope I’ve covered all the bases.
The drive toward the South Rim grows increasingly challenging the further east I go toward higher elevation. The arctic blast overtakes me, bringing with it sub-freezing temps and sideways blowing snow. One interesting tidbit about the National Parks, they do not use any traditional methods toward deicing roads. No salt, no chemicals, only mechanical means such as plowing, but otherwise it’s strictly left up to the sun.
The hour drive on Highway 64 is clear of any ice, but once I drive through the park gate, it’s a different story. Thankfully, there are only icy patches where the roads are shaded. I creep along below the 25 mph speed limit, and pull safely into the parking lot of the Backcountry Information Office, where I plan to leave the Winnie for my hike down into the canyon. There are two large lots, one even having designated RV spaces. The lots are less than 1/3 full, so I find myself a nice secluded, level spot, and prepare for my coldest night yet without hookups on the canyon rim.
It’s eight degrees when I wake up in the Backcountry Information Office parking lot on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Even Siri says “brrrr!” I am relieved to see there’s not a cloud in the sky. My windows and overhead skylight are coated in a prism of sparkles as the sun shines through the ice crystals.
There are three Hiker’s Express shuttles that go directly from the Backcountry Information Office to the South Kaibab Trail at 7:00am, 8:00am, and 9:00am. I figure I will shoot for the middle shuttle, and that will still allow me one other chance if I miss it. The ride down the Desert View drive is beautiful with the morning sun glinting on the blanket of snow lining the roads. Sounds are muffled, both outside from the snow drifts, and inside from the dozen hikers bundled tightly in puffy jackets, hats, gloves, face warmers, and neck gaiters. Its 20 degrees when we unload at the South Kaibab trailhead.
Hikers are hunched over their boots at the start of the trail, attaching their micro-spikes and crampons. I look around to survey the group noticing that every single hiker is equipped with some kind of anti-skid device. I reflect back to my own purchase of “YakTraks,” which seemed like overkill at the time of purchase back in 70 degree Lake Havasu. But as I strap the wire-coiled mesh onto the bottom of my hiking boots, I am grateful for whatever inspired the purchase, as without them I’d literally be “skating on thin ice!”
Like most hikers, I’ve opted to descend into the canyon via the South Kaibab Trail and exit out the more gradual Bright Angel Trail. At only 7.1 miles to Phantom Ranch, the South Kaibab Trail is a shorter route to the bottom. However, a drop of 4,860 ft in elevation also means a much steeper route than the longer Bright Angel Trail. It will be a steady day of switchbacks, stairs, and deep knee bends.
Another bonus of the South Kaibab Trail is its path along the ridgeline as opposed to a side canyon, offering unobstructed views that unfold at each turn. According to the NPS brochure, it offers “panoramic views unparalleled on any other Grand Canyon trail.”
I’m on the trail by 8:20am, and already I can feel the sun warming my cheeks, the only exposed skin on my body. Vapor billows out with every exhale. There is no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. I barely feel the effects of the below-freezing temperature, and it’s not long before I shed my fleece headband and gloves.
Landmarks along the way help me gauge my progress, the first being “Ooh Ahh Point,” the most dramatic panorama looking down across 270 degrees of sweeping canyon views. Cedar Ridge is next at about 1.5 miles, a popular stop for the mule trains, and the last sign of any snow or ice along the trail. I stop here to remove my YakTraxs, already caked in mud from the now melting snow. Skeleton Point marks the three mile mark and the recommended turn-around point for day hikers. From this point, the trail becomes a grueling set of steps down switchbacks that seemingly have no end, murderous on the knees. But eventually it levels out to the Tonto plateau, as indicated by the rest stop named “Tip Off.”
I reach an unmarked bend in the trail when I finally get a glimpse of that green sliver of a river, the Colorado. For the first time, I feel like I am getting close. A later view reveals a tiny thread-like structure across the river, the suspension bridge, which puts the distance to the river in perspective. I still have a long way to go.
Still, reaching the river at the bottom of the canyon, the reason for this massive geological cathedral that surrounds me, is thrilling. I can hear it as soon as I see it, dodging shallow rocks while swirling around deep eddies. Once I finally reach the “Black Bridge,” accessed by a tunnel blasted in the rock, I am in awe. An informational sign at the base tells about the bridge, built in 1928 to replace a one-mule cage cable car; “Much of the work was accomplished at night under floodlights in attempt to escape the summer heat. The eight main cables, each 550 ft, could not be loaded on mules. They were carried down on the shoulders of men.”
Once I reach Bright Angel Campground beneath the golden Cottonwood trees, I know I’m almost there, though it’s still another quarter mile to reach Phantom Ranch. It’s now 3:20pm. The time estimates for the South Kaibab descent are “4 to 6 hours.” It has taken me seven. But I’ve stopped to chat with hikers, mule drivers, taken over 200 photos, eaten two meals, and just stood and basked in the magnificence that surrounds me. Why would anyone want to hurry through this hallowed canyon?
I make it to Phantom Ranch’s Canteen in plenty of time to down a couple of Bright Angel IPAs before they close at 4:00pm to prepare for the evening meals. Upon check-in, Kate, the bartender/hostess/receptionist/and single-handed wait staff tells me to go to the dorm first to secure my spot. “Pick any available bed that has a towel folded on it.” It’s late in the afternoon, so I think I’ll be lucky if I can secure a lower bunk. I am surprised to enter the dorm room to find all 10 beds still up for grabs. I take the one at the far end of the room in a small alcove, offering a bit more privacy.
The dorm rooms are each equipped with a toilet and hot shower, a small towel and a lone dispenser of body shampoo. At $50 a night per bed, one might think they should offer a few more luxuries, but when you consider that everything from the clean sheets to the staff that make the beds must come down over seven miles by mule or by foot, the price seems reasonable.
But if fifty bucks seems like a lot to pay for a 10-person dorm room, you should see the price for dinner! It costs me as much for a steak dinner as it does a good night sleep. But oh, let me tell you….it’s the best steak dinner I can remember in months!
There are two meal shifts each day – the early breakfast at 5:30am, and the “late” breakfast at 7:00am. Dinner is also served in two shifts. The steak dinner is served at 5:00pm, while Hikers Stew seating is at 6:30pm. All meals are served family style. And if you think food tastes better on a camp-out, you should sample the fare at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! The steaks are seared to perfection, while the Hiker’s Stew is sublimely seasoned. Add to that the anticipation of hearing the dinner bell “clang” after a full day of hiking, and well, it can cause salivation like Pavlov’s dog! As the MasterCard ad says, “Priceless!”
While touring the Newhalem Visitor Center in Washington’s North Cascades National Park, I learned of a town on the southern edge of the park, Stehekin, only accessible by hiking, float plane, or boat ride up Lake Chelan. I was instantly intrigued by the thought of such a remote village with a population of less than 100, situated at the end of a fifty mile long lake amid a glacially carved mountain range so rugged, no roads have ever been built there.
If one is to hike in, it’s a 30 mile hike beginning at Cascades Pass near Marblemount, WA on the western side of the National Park. There is no type of hiker shuttle service, so this would require a good bit of coordination and more than one vehicle. It would also require considerable planning, as a minimum of two overnights would be required to reach Stehekin by foot.
Float plane would be a fun adventure, but $79 each way makes it a bit pricey for such a short hop. Besides, I want the experience of cruising along the scenic shores fifty miles up the deepest lake in the nation, Lake Chelan.
To reach Lake Chelan, the launch point for the Lady of the Lake boat trip, one must leave the North Cascades National Park and drive through the Methow Valley around to Chelan, WA. Although Stehekin is only 30 miles from Marblemount “as the hiker hikes,” it requires a 180 mile drive around to reach the mouth of the lake. During my last visit to the Pacific Northwest in 2014, this route was experiencing some intermittent road closures due to forest fires, so I had to abandon my plan to visit for fear of being trapped in Chelan, unable to fulfill my work commitments. So Stehekin was one of my “don’t miss” stops during my return visit to the Pacific Northwest.
During peak season, there are two boats plying the lake, which makes it possible to have a three hour stopover in Stehekin. But now that fewer people are visiting in the Fall, only one trip per day is operating, limiting the time in Stehekin to a short 90 minutes. In order to have more time to experience the area apart from the daytrippers, it will require an overnight stay. After a lot of research, I finally decide that the North Cascades Lodge will offer the best access for the buck.
I leave the Winnie View parked in the lovely BeeBe Bridge RV Park right alongside the Columbia River. Operated by the Public Utility District, (PUD) Beebe Bridge is one of the nicest county parks I have visited. They offer an off season senior rate for only $15, with water and electric hookups. So I have no hesitation in leaving my rolling home alone for a night.
The Lady of the Lake II, launched in 1976, is the largest of the fleet plying Lake Chelan and the only boat operating this late in the year. She is 100 ft long and holds 285 passengers, but thankfully today the boat is only about twenty percent full. Cruising speed is 15 mph up the lake. During peak season a second faster option, The Lady Express, cruises at 28 mph with 150 passengers.
We board at 8:00am, which means an early wake-up call for this night owl. There are snacks on the boat, but I bring along my own Starbucks for what I fear will be a long ride. Turns out, the four hours passes in the blink of an eye as the scenery morphs from the vineyard rows of the arid lower Lake Chelan valley through the increasingly green lush foothills, gradually probing deep into the stark Cascade Mountain Range. It’s easy to see why no roads have been built due to the rugged terrain.
The Lady of the Lake boat ride is narrated, but not so much as to be intrusive. We learn that we will be cruising through the deepest gorge in North America and the third largest lake, surpassed only by Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe. But Crater and Lake Tahoe are 5 and 10 miles across respectively. Lake Chelan reaches this depth at only a mile wide, and at one point, narrowing down to one quarter mile across. The lake dips to 386 ft below sea level, making it the deepest gorge in North America at 8,631 ft.
Upon arrival at the boat dock in Stehekin, we are greeted by a National Park Ranger standing beside a big red heritage-style bus with ceiling windows. North Cascades National Park provides optional tours for $9 per person three miles up the only road to Rainbow Falls, a 312 ft waterfall. Stops along the way include the one room Stehekin Schoolhouse, in operation from 1921 to 1988. Following the construction of a new schoolhouse which educates grades kindergarten through eighth grade, the old school has been turned into a museum.
No trip to Stehekin is complete without a stop at the famous Stehekin Pastry Company, in business since 1989. Yet another quaint bakery in a place that by odds, should not be able to support such a plethora of “from scratch” baked goods in a town of this size, regardless of the daytrippers.
The National Parks tour returns to the dock just in time for the daytrippers to meet the returning boat down lake to Chelan. An immediate unwinding is felt as the crowd, albeit small, boards back on the boat, leaving only a handful of residents and those of us staying overnight.
There are many overnight options in Stehekin ranging from the luxurious cabins at the Silver Bay Inn to “glamping” in tented camps at the Stehekin Ranch 20 minutes away from the boat launch. There are also a few privately-owned log cabin options which include a van as transportation, but these are all beyond my budget constraints. The National Park Lodge seems to be the “Goldilocks” of accommodations, offering the convenience of being within walking distance of the boat dock, the Golden West Visitor Center, the Lodge General Store and Lodge Restaurant. Hard to believe it’s still the most economical option outside of camping at $134 per night, but when you consider that everything must be shipped in by barge, one can rationalize the cost.
The lodge offers the option of a restaurant serving nightly specials and specialties, one such being Bacon-wrapped Meatloaf over Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Wine is available, but unfortunately this night, “the hikers have drank all the beer.” We must await the next shipment…such is life by boat delivery. The evening is rounded out by an excellent talk by the Ranger on “Fire and Ice,” the impact of climate change on the glaciers and forest fires of North Cascades National Park.
Rain is in the forecast for the second day of my visit to Stehekin, but what a pleasant surprise to not only awake to blue skies, but also a dusting of snow on the Cascades! The morning air is brisk and breathtaking, cold enough to feel like fall, but still warm with sunshine on my shoulders as I sit and watch the clouds part over the rugged mountaintops.
Stehekin is a hiker’s paradise with easy, scenic trails leaving right from the Golden West Visitor Center. For the more adventurous hikers, arrangements can be made for the boat to stop on the return and pick up hikers at Moore Point, affording a 7 mile hike from the Lodge. A protruding plank extends from the bow of the boat to accommodate shoreline boarding.
The National Park Service also offers twice-per day shuttle to the end of the paved road, with a turnaround at High Bridge. This scenic stop marks the boundary of North Cascades National Park, and intersects the Pacific Crest Trail. Stehekin is a popular re-supply stop for PCT thru-hikers. I get a chance to meet several of these trail-weathered adventurers, now within less than 100 miles of completion of their incredible 2,650 mile journey begun back in mid-May, they tell entertaining stories of memorable moments on this border to border trail.
High Bridge spans the wild and scenic Stehekin River, where Kokanee salmon are spawning in the shallow eddies right beneath the bridge. The information kiosk alongside the river reads, “Unrestrained by dams, largely unpolluted, little marked by human development and secluded by high mountains, the Stehekin remains one of America’s prime wild rivers. Born of trickling meltwater from snowfields and glaciers above, and from the abundant rainfall the mountains draw from eastbound clouds, the icy emerald waters tumble and turn 23 miles from the heart of the North Cascades to Lake Chelan.”
The ride back down lake to Chelan is downwind all the way with the sun lighting up the snow-sprinkled Cascade mountains. As the ride continues, those mountains give way to the vineyard-covered foothills, now cast with long, end of day shadows as we near the boat dock in Chelan. The only thing that could have made the trip any better would to stay longer next time!
The Methow Valley region of Washington State was once known for some of the best apples in the nation. Still today, the rolling hills from Winthrop to Chelan are lined with apple orchards laden with plump red fruit, while the aroma of ripening fruit from apple packing houses permeates throughout the area. The temperate shores of Lake Chelan with its glacially rich soil make the perfect growing environment. But the cost to produce apples has exceeded the income generated, so apple orchards are slowly being replanted with more profitable crops of grapes and cherries. Great news for the wine drinker, but I sure hope they strike a balance in continuing to produce their delicious apples.
It just so happens that my visit up lake to North Cascades National Park’s Stehekin coincides with Lake Chelan’s “Crush,” weekend, an annual event to celebrate the grape harvest. Many of the wineries offer special events to commemorate the harvest, from the opportunity to taste the grapes straight from the vine, to an old fashioned I Love Lucy-style grape stomp. While momentarily intrigued at the thought of feeling the slippery skins between my toes, I decide I’m not up for it on this chilly autumn day. Instead, I opt to visit some of the Lake Chelan wineries that have been recommended by a local woman I met on the Lake Chelan boat trip.
One of Washington State’s younger wine regions, Lake Chelan is home to over two dozen wineries. The gradually sloping hills toward the lake, along with lake-effect weather patterns create an optimal growing season, extending the summers for developing sugars in the grape through a longer “hang time” on the vine.
What the Lake Chelan vineyards may lack in age, they more than make up for in beauty. The wineries line the shores of the deep blue lake, half located along the north shore, with the remaining half along the south shore, separated by the scenic lakeside resort community of Chelan. The wineries are all in close proximity, making it easy to tour multiple wineries by bike, or without long distance driving between stops.
First up on my list in my DIY wine tour would be Karma Vineyards, known for their “Method Champenoise” or making sparkling wines in the French method. However, this method must be quite pricey, as they wanted over $20 for a tasting flight. So I opted for their red wine sampler at $5 a flight instead. Lasting impressions from this winery were the atmospheric underground wine cave available for special events, and the soft, fuzzy blanket the server brought to counteract the chill while sipping on their outdoor patio.
Next up would be Siren Song Vineyard Estate and Winery, my favorite of the five wineries visited. The ambiance “speaks Italian,” all the way down to the wood-fired pizza enjoyed on their Ravello-style patio overlooking Lake Chelan.
I love their motto, “Everyone has a Siren Song…What’s Yours?” which prompts some self-examination. What is your siren song, or irresistible calling? Mine, no doubt has to be exploratory travel in my Winnie View…and when that includes good wine, even better!
Across the parking lot from Siren Song is the Fielding Hills Winery. Having just finished lunch along with a generous tasting from Siren Song, I didn’t do any tasting at Fielding Hills. However, I was impressed by their beautiful property overlooking the lake and elegant tasting room.
In order to give equal time to both sides of the lake, I drive across Chelan on a tip to visit one of the more “playful” wineries, A Hard Row to Hoe. Typically, one associates that idiom with an agricultural term, signifying for example, the difficulty of removing weeds from a row of cotton. But in this case, it’s actually a double entendre for the brothel of working girls who “served” the miners working along the lake. From their website: “One story has it that a long-time Manson resident ran a rowboat taxi service from Lucerne to Point Lovely in support of the thriving enterprise.” Therefore, all names of their wines have some reference to the world’s oldest profession, such as “S & M” (a blend of Syrah and Malbec) right down to their “Oar House” wine club.
The wine tastings were good here, but what stood out was the smooth and polished gentleman behind the bar who knew when to laugh at a joke and when to tell his own. Oh, and the Port wine drank from shot glasses made of chocolate made the visit to A Hard Row to Hoe even more sinfully delicious!
Last but not least was the family-owned Lake Chelan Winery, the first winery on the valley to innovate after the collapse of the apple market in 1998. By far the largest winery we visited, they offer a lot more than wines, to include their BBQ restaurant, a 3,000 sq ft gift shop, and a gourmet cheese shop with a vast selection of cheeses, offering some of the smoothest blue I’ve tasted since Rogue Creamery.
Lake Chelan Winery is known for its Falling Cow brand of wines. In 2007, a cow fell from a hill overhead, landing on a passenger van. The event was commemorated by naming the next vintage after the incident. As the story goes, “Everyone lived happily ever after…except the cow!” A country wine festival and BBQ is held every summer to mark the anniversary of the cow’s demise.
Lake Chelan Winery also has the unique distinction of offering complimentary tastings with few apparent limitations. As long as I kept tasting, they kept pouring.
Tasting good wines along the beautiful Lake Chelan, all decked out in Fall color makes for a great way to celebrate the harvest season, the harbinger of autumn. Many of the wineries apply the cost of the tasting toward wine purchases, making it a great way to stock the “Winnie Wine Cellar on Wheels.” And if the old adage is true, “We are what we eat,” then maybe if I drink enough of it, I will become like fine wine and only improve with age!
After all the ports of call I have visited in my travels, nothing captivates me like a vessel under sail. In fact, if it weren’t that my solo navigation on water was so abysmal, I might have bought a sailboat instead of an RV. You see, I love boats. All boats. But nothing speaks to my romantic side like the mystery and aura of timeless classicism of a wooden boat. To take something from the elements of nature like a giant cedar tree from the earth, hand craft it lovingly into a vessel to harness the wind for the purpose of gliding across the water under one’s own power makes my heart sing a sweet siren’s song.
During my 2014 visit to Port Townsend, I learned of their annual Wooden Boat Festival. Judging by the size of the beautiful Northwest Maritime Center’s Wooden Boat Academy, I knew it had to be quite an event. I set my intentions to return for the festival next time I pointed the Winnie View’s compass toward the Pacific Northwest. So last winter while planning my summer itinerary, I went online to do the research, only to learn I was about 3 months too late. You see, I not only wanted to be “at” the boat festival. I wanted to be “in” the boat festival.
Each September, the Northwest Maritime Center takes control of the Point Hudson Marina and RV Park. For a three-day weekend, this typically quiet RV Park at the end of town that overlooks the serene Strait of Juan de Fuca becomes the thriving heart of the festivities. With enough advance planning, it is possible to secure an RV full-hookup spot right there in the marina, thereby immersing oneself in the heart of the Wooden Boat Festival amidst the mayhem. For a full-time RVing boat lover like me, to park my rolling home inside the gates of a festival of boats is a double shot of Nirvana!
But I didn’t plan far enough in advance. Reservations begin on October 1st of the preceding year, and typically sell out within hours. So I emailed to ask about a waitlist. I still remember exactly where I was standing last March, boondocked outside Joshua Tree National Park, when Catherine from the Northwest Marine Center called to say “I’ve got good news! You’ve cleared the waiting list! Space 318 is yours if you still want it.” The Wooden Boat Festival would become the pinnacle of my summer trip through the Pacific Northwest.
I spread out the three day seminar program from the Wooden Boat Festival to plan my weekend with low expectations. Not being exactly skilled in working with my hands, I didn’t have much interest in learning laminating techniques or tying thump mats, though some of the tech sessions like Maintenance of a Diesel Engine might have served me well. Still, I anticipated that most of my time at the festival would be spent outdoors, going from boat to boat…and there were plenty of them, from the smallest dinghy to Jack Sparrow’s famous 67’ Pirates of the Caribbean ship.
But once I began reading the biographies of some of the speakers, my paradigm became a lot less “wooden.” The list contained authors, poets, photographers and storytellers. Adventurers and explorers, all eager to tell their tales of life on the water in a wooden boat. The “Who’s Who” list had a plethora of expertise, from cruising consultants working for mega-marine dealers to a PBS-featured couple who circumnavigated the globe in a 24’ wooden boat with no engine! It didn’t take me long to find something of interest in every time slot.
The bonus of keeping to a one hour seminar is one must speak at a higher layman’s level. Photography tips become gentrified for the iPhone audience all the way to the DSLR expert. Complicated navigation gets simplified in terms of favorite apps like Navionics, TideTrac, SailFlow and ShipFinder. And book authors must boil down the essence of what inspired them to write the book. No long, dry presentations on charts or systems. The cream of the crop, the essence of the perfume, the distillation of “spirits” that make up the love and lore of sailing.
There are presentations on “The Unstoppable Boat”; how to keep your boat moving when all those fancy tech systems have failed. How to outfit your boat for blue water cruising (overnight passage without sight of land.) Even the NPS was represented in the presentation, “Find your Park – in a Wooden Boat,” tales of navigating the rivers of our National Parks, most notably the Colorado in the Grand Canyon in a replica of “Portola,” the wooden dory belonging to Martin Litton. Litton was a lifelong environmental activist and friend of Edward Abbey, who together led the opposition to the Glen Canyon Dam, as well as proposed dams in the Grand Canyon.
For three straight days, there was no lack of entertainment. Up with the sun to grab “people-less” photos. Back to back seminars with lunch on the run. And evening entertainment from movie documentaries on wooden boatbuilding, to “Fisherpoets,” readings of poetry and tales from the sea, followed by a nightcap at the Wee Nip Merchant Saloon, located 50 ft from my Winnie View door.
The wooden boat industry embodies the last remnants of the golden age of sail. In today’s fast moving culture and instant gratification with “bigger is better” mentality, wooden boat building is a dying art. It’s only those with a passion for the feel, touch, sound and smell of a wooden boat that are intent on keeping the art alive. Many of these presenters have not only sailed wooden boats around the world, they have designed them, picked out the wood, built them by hand, and circumnavigated, calling them “home” for years. For these enthusiasts, sailing around the world is not as much about the palm fringed beaches as it is sailing out on the sea. “The ocean is the destination….the boat is the paradise.”
After four quiet, serene nights in Kings Canyon National Park’s Azalea campground, where I enjoyed a spacious pull through with my entire passenger side windows and doors opening out into the forest, I move just 18 short miles “across the border” to neighboring Sequoia National Park. I figure as a self-proclaimed National Park junkie, I need to sleep in both camps.
But it’s approaching the weekend which comes at a premium in Sequoia National Park, so I go online and get the last remaining spot in Dorst Creek Campground. Recreation.gov says the site is 24 feet, but my front headlight sticking out in the road says it’s more like 22. For all the spacious quiet I had in Kings Canyon, there will be none of that here. I have tents outside my back window and a pop-up beside me. The “H” Loop is down in a hole, which amplifies the noise and intensifies smoke from the campfires all around. It’s opening weekend for Dorst Creek Campground, and the Coleman Stoves are out in force.
I have only two days to explore the park, so I get an early start to see some of the highlights. But Sequoia is a bit of a “drive through” park with many of the attractions being right off Highway 198, so traffic builds quickly. A drive through “Tunnel Log” is a breeze heading into the center of the park, but when I return a couple of hours later, there is a traffic jam lined up for the requisite photo stop under the hollowed-out log.
I want to climb the 400 steps to the top of Moro Rock, and hope that given the steepness of the climb, it will not be too heavily trafficked, especially this early in the morning. But it’s a steady stream of people climbing the stairs, many who are beyond their comfort zone, or too small to be on a trail so steep, narrow and crowded.
It’s never the height that scares me on a climb like this. It’s the people who are more focused on finding a signal than they are on safety. Most of Sequoia National Park is cut off from cell range with the exception of Moro Rock summit, which has a crowd of people assembled on top with their focus on their smart phones, catching up on emails.
While Moro Rock is considered the premier hike in the park, just 100 ft away is a beautiful trail that links Moro Rock to Crescent Meadow, with gorgeous views of the monolith and the Western Divide. But no one is on it. I hike for six miles and never see another soul. No, they are all jammed up back on Moro Rock.
As I approach the nearby Crescent Loop Trail, word gets out that there is a mama bear and a cub across the meadow. People start running. Given the number of bear bells I have heard clanging on the back of hiker’s packs, one might think people were running from the bear. But no, they are running towards it. The Ranger gallops across the meadow, his rubber-bullet loaded rifle slamming against his chest. He calls for back-up on the two-way. They have to cordon off the bear to keep people away. The Ranger is literally yelling, “Keep moving, people!! Keep moving!” It’s quite a spectacle of paparazzi while the bears are just trying to enjoy a peaceful lunch.
I follow the road to the Giant Forest Grove, which ends at the Giant Forest Museum. I can’t help but ponder the irony of Joni Mitchell’s lyrics, “They took all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museum. And they charged the people a dollar and a half just to see ‘em.”
Many of the giant sequoias are behind fences now for their own protection. In the early days, it took the Calvary to protect them from loggers, whereas the current times, they have fences to protect them from bloggers. One cannot get close enough to touch the bark or hug the tree because there are still people out there who think it is clever to carve their names into the skin of these thousand year old stately beauties.
The most famous of these trees, General Sherman, the largest sequoia in the world, can’t be seen while driving by. One must actually get out of their automobile for a look at the 2,000 year old tree. It has its own dedicated paved path leading tourists to the center of the Giant Forest Grove, where the tree is surrounded by fencing. The half mile paved path descends 200 feet down into the grove with benches and motivational milestones along the way to encourage the weary tourists, “You’re halfway there!”
On my last day in Sequoia National Park, I am longing for a bit of solitude amidst these giants. I want to get away from the crowds and be in a place and state of mind where I can truly appreciate the magnitude, the age, the conditions that must be just right for these majestic beauties to thrive. I plan a double strategy – a way to escape the crowds and the campfire smoke both at the same time. There is a hike into the Muir Grove that departs right from Dorst Creek campground. I will time this hike for the late afternoon when the crowds are back at camp and the smoke from the campfires is building.
The beautiful Muir Grove trail leads through sugar pine, red and white fir trees, and follows Dorst Creek through the forest. The trail is carpeted with fragrant fallen needles that soften the sound of my footsteps through the woods. The sun is casting a horizontal beam of golden light through the dense forest. Although the brochure says it’s only 2 miles to the Muir Grove, it ends up being 2.5 miles according to my Backcountry Navigator app, so I have to hurry to spend time with the trees before sundown. By the time I reach the grove, I am beyond my designated turnaround time, and practically sprinting. But it’s 2 nights before the full moon, and I have a flashlight and fresh batteries.
I reach the grove of giant sequoias just as the sun is getting low on the horizon. The golden light on the cinnamon colored trunks is radiant. There are no fences here, so I am free to touch and tree-hug to my heart’s content. I have not seen anyone the entire hike, so I know I am alone in the forest. I speak aloud to the trees and tell them how lucky they are to be far from the drive-by routes in the park. How fortunate they are to grow free without fences around them, or information boards touting their weight and height rating how they qualify to be one of the largest tourist attractions in the park. I tell them John Muir would have been proud to have such a beautiful place named for him. I tell them to stay strong. Defy the odds. Live for another two thousand years in spite of human intervention…. And then I hug them. First one, then another. True confessions of a tree hugger.
“A magnificent growth of giants…one naturally walked softly among them. I wandered on, meeting nobler trees where all are noble…this part of the Sequoia belt seemed to me the finest, and then I named it ‘the Giant Forest.” ~ John Muir
In the days of my youth, cross-country road trips with my family typically coincided with my Dad having just bought a new car. Dad was a stylish man, and always preferred the Chevrolet Impala. My first trip to California at four years old was in a 1959 golden Chevy Impala with the dramatic, sweeping “bat wings” on the tail. My second trip would be in the more conservative 1966 marina-blue Impala Sedan. It was the summer of 1967, and not unlike today, the headlines were filled with stories of racial tension and talk of revolution. Though most of the killing with assault rifles was taking place on the other side of the planet. Here on our shores, it was “The Summer of Love.”
Things were rapidly changing on the music scene, and American Bandstand was no longer cool. “Flower Power” ruled as the counter-culture theme. There was a new FM radio station in town, and music was going “underground.” Songs were now longer, with often times entire album sides being featured on the radio. Most carried a political message, and posed forbidden concepts like “heavy,” “mind-bending,” and “psychedelic.” Make love, not war. San Francisco had become the “music Mecca” as new bands like Big Brother and the Holding Company, Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane were all converging on a previously unknown street corner just blocks from Golden Gate Park….Haight Ashbury. “Hippies” were converging on the area, and I was a twelve year old “hippie wannabe.”
I begged my parents to take me to San Francisco on our summer road trip. If I couldn’t be a hippie, then please at least let me see some. Finally, they relented. Now, all I needed was some flowers for my hair…
Although I have been to San Francisco many times since then, I haven’t revisited those places from that summer of 1967. It is my intent to do so with this visit. I want to experience all the same things we did on that trip; the tastes, the sights, the smells, and most of all, the emotions, starting with fear…
We all have memories of things that unrightfully terrified us as kids, and one of mine is standing on the “running board” of the Powell-Market Street Cable Car, hanging on to the pole with everything I had in me. The car was packed, and we could not get a seat so we had to stand. I remember the thoughts going through my head, knowing the next turn ahead was going to be “it.” I was destined to fly off into the street as the cable car sped down the hill carrying my family, never to be seen again!
I must still have some fear about this early cable car ride, as I can’t bring myself to stand on the running board again. Instead, I take a spot in the vestibule at the back. Only two riders are allowed to stand there, and my timing is good for one of those spots….if you call waiting in line for 45 minutes “good!” I am glad to see my childhood fears were warranted, as it’s a wild ride up and down those steep hills, that damned bell clanging the warning of imminent doom, being flung out into the oncoming traffic with every 90 degree turn!
I also revisit Lombard Street, the “crookedest street in the world,” to see if it was as “extreme” as I remembered as a twelve year old. I have a passion for hydrangeas in my adult life, so the beautifully landscaped street is even more beautiful than I remembered. Though I think going down it in a 1966 Impala “land yacht” made it seem a lot more treacherous than the “mini” cars of today.
But my number one nostalgic revisit still awaits. I hop on the city bus signed “Lower Haight” bound for that infamous corner of Haight Ashbury, curious to see what I will find there, 49 years after “The Summer of Love.” I signal for a stop at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury and laugh out loud as I step off the bus. There on the corner is a Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream shop. How poignant that just half a block from the famed “Grateful Dead House” at 710 Ashbury is all the “Cherry Garcia” ice cream one could eat.
There are lots of “head shops” (smoking paraphernalia) along with plenty of burger joints to satisfy the “munchies,” but I head for Amoeba Music, the independently owned music store on Haight Street occupying a former bowling alley. It’s the largest music store I have ever seen in my life! They claim more than 100,000 CDs, vinyl records, and cassette tapes. The walls are papered with old concert posters. Dylan. Janis. Monterey Pop, and Fillmore gigs too numerous to name. As I wander the aisles in awe, I realize my entire life of music can be found here in this one 20,000 sq ft store.
I make all the stops on “the walking tour of the stars.” I see buildings that were once inhabited by my music idols, now multi-million dollar renovated Victorian homes on the National Historic Register.
After a wander through Golden Gate Park (now filled with vagabonds of a different sort,) I make one last stop in the Haight. I pull up a barstool in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop, overlooking that famous intersection. I reminisce back to “The Summer of Love” when I sat there in my parents 1966 Impala wearing a wreath of golden yellow and orange marigolds in my hair. It’s hot, and the windows are rolled down. As we wait for the light to change, a group of Hells Angels rolls up in the lane next to us, gunning their engines. One of them looks over at my Mom, quite a looker in her day wearing her teased-up hair and Foster Grants. He looks over and says, “Hey, Mama! How ‘bout a ride?” And all at once, I am crushed that he would choose my MOTHER over a flower-adorned budding young hippie such as myself!
I sit there on that barstool, eating my Cherry Garcia ice cream, and ponder how much music has shaped my life. Those “underground” magazines, the first and only FM radio station KFAD, and concerts like Woodstock and Monterey Pop are ingrained in the fabric of my life. Though a lot has changed, not much has changed. In my mind, I am still that budding young hippie, protesting the war, advocating for peace, and listening to Jimi and Janis on my headphones while longing for that 1967 Summer of Love.
But now it’s time to get out of San Francisco, and I have a decision to make. Will I brave the downtown traffic to satisfy my desire to drive the Winnie View across the Golden Gate Bridge, or go around the long way? It’s not the bridge so much that scares me as navigating through San Francisco’s downtown traffic, cable cars, and hilly streets! It’s Friday morning after POTUS Obama overnighted in downtown San Francisco. I go online to whitehouse.gov to check his schedule, and learn he is leaving early for San Jose. The Gay Pride weekend is sure to ramp up by early afternoon. I figure I’ve got one small window of opportunity around 10:30am, just after the morning commute and before the weekend festivities begin. So I decide to go for it. To quote the famous comic character Oat Willie from the head shop on 29th and Guadalupe in Austin, I say, “Onward: through the fog!”
I consider the hike to Grinnell Glacier to be the pinnacle of my Glacier National Park vacation, and the only part on which I have actually done research. I have been looking forward to this day for months.
When Glacier National Park opened in 1910, there were 150 glaciers. Now there are only 25 remaining. Scientists expect at the current rate, by 2030 there will be none. So I really want the chance to hike up to the foot of the glacier; to stand and contemplate the evolution of our species. This hike will afford me the opportunity to get up close to two glaciers, Grinnell and Salamander.
Grinnell Glacier is named for George Bird Grinnell, a conservationist, explorer, and founder of the National Audubon Society. He spent many years exploring the park and was a major contributor toward establishing the area as a National Park. He was befriended by the Blackfeet tribe, and led an initiative to save the buffalo, among many other species. And Salamander Glacier was named for…..well….it looks more like a Dachshund to me.
The Grinnell Glacier hike can either be done all on foot for a total of eleven miles round trip, or it is possible to shave off four miles with a two-boat tour. One must pass both Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine along the way, so by taking the boat ride, it cuts four miles off the hike, making it 7.5 miles with a 1,600 ft elevation gain.
The boat tour crosses Swiftcurrent Lake on “Chief Two Guns” with a ¼ mile trail over a mound of land that separates the two lakes. Then we will board a second boat, “Morning Eagle” to continue on across Lake Josephine where the dock is located at the Grinnell Glacier trail head. Not that I have any objection to hiking the entire eleven miles, mind you. But I do enjoy a boat ride as much as I do a hike. So I have booked in advance to insure my seat on the two-boat tour.
The tour schedule includes an early morning express run to the Grinnell Glacier trail head, which also features a guided hike with a ranger to the glacier. Not typically being the “guided hike” sort, I sign up for this anyway. One, because of the “Bear Fear Factor” where every sign seems to jump out at me warning, “Don’t hike alone!” Not that I would be alone on this heavily traveled hike, mind you. Quite the contrary! But I didn’t know this back when I booked the boat tour. The second reason was I really wanted the interpretive narration from the ranger in hopes of learning more about the glaciers
The hike starts out along an extensive length of boardwalk over a marshy area, before it begins the steep climb. Our National Park Service guide, Ranger Rick, is a geology buff so he tells us up front this hike will have a heavy geology theme. We review the three different kinds of rock; sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous, which brings back mind-numbing lectures from my school days. This would no doubt lull us all to sleep if only we could catch our breath long enough after the lung-busting climb up the switchbacks. Geology is not really my thing but I feign interest because I need the rest stops.
There are a ridiculous number of hikers on this guided hike, and I often think of breaking from the pack. It’s a bit like a game of whiplash where the fast hikers race ahead, then wait for the slower ones to catch up, while those of us in the mid section collapse and expand like an accordion to hurry up and wait to hear the ranger talks. Just about the time I decide I am going to break ranks and continue on my own, Ranger Rick tells us all that he has a foot ailment, and will not be able to make the entire hike. So he will finish his narration midway up, at which time we will be free to complete the hike on our own, at our own pace. Yes! Best of both worlds!
After the first third of the trail which is mostly climbing, the trail levels out a bit, but becomes quite narrow, most of it carved into the side of the mountain, or positioned on outcroppings. There are a few small waterfalls to cross, and views of the stunning turquoise Grinnell Lake come into view. At the furthest stretch of the narrow trail, it is possible to see three lakes in the distance, Grinnell Lake, Lake Josephine, and Lake Sherberne Reservoir.
Finally when Ranger Rick reaches his limit, he gives the talk we have all been waiting for…the melting of the glaciers. Back when Grinnell first explored the glacier in the late 1800’s, the glacier, then one large glacier consisting of both Grinnell and Salamander combined, was reported to be a thousand feet high and several miles across. Now, an estimated 90% of the ice that Grinnell first saw is gone. It has created its own melt water lake from the massive thawing. Once it is gone, there is concern for a sustainable water source at this elevation. Whether or not you believe Global Climate Change is induced by man, or merely by the natural warming and cooling cycles of our planet, there is no doubt it is having an impact on the park’s ecosystem.
Before Ranger Rick turns us all loose, he tells us of a nice picnic area up ahead with benches and pit toilets. “It’s a good stop to have a rest and regroup for the hardest part of the hike yet. The final quarter mile to Upper Grinnell Lake is steep and rocky. But persevere. Trust me, the views are worth it!”
Although I have done research on access to the hike via the boat tours and the trail itself, I have no idea what lies ahead at the end of the trail. After making the final quarter of a mile climb up through the scree, I crest a large berm to get my first glimpse of Upper Grinnell Lake. I let out what sounds like a combination of a gasp and a sob, as I had no idea I would be encountering an iceberg filled lake! I am mesmerized! I sit on a rock for a good hour, just staring into the shimmering ice-blue lake with the frozen chunks of ice floating, so still and beautifully sculpted by the elements.
I have been hearing a lot of debate lately as to whether our National Parks are really “worth it.” The massive crowds, the entrance fees, the restrictive rules about pets, the smoke-filled campgrounds, the stamp collectors and bucket-listers, of which I am one. As I sit here on this rock pondering the majesty of this place, I for one am extremely grateful for the NPS. Oh sure, there are the crowds, as I have to sidestep and yield to groups of hikers along the trail. But the payoff is so worth it!! Call it a theme park if you like, but just like Disneyland for Outdoor Enthusiasts, I will endure the masses to enjoy the beauty and splendor of such a “Magic Kingdom” of place as this. Can you imagine what Upper Grinnell Lake would look like if there were no NPS protecting it? I would be staring down at the ice-blue lake from a 20 story hotel with a glass elevator overlooking fake iceberg cubes floating in the poolside cocktails below. I am taking the stand (on an iceberg, no less!) “Support our National Parks!”
As a full timer, if often takes me aback whenever someone calls my lovely little rolling home a “camper.” I always respond by explaining, “I live in a motorhome, but I camp in a tent.” But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the experience of sleeping in the great outdoors in a tent. In fact, sometimes it’s even a necessity. Yes, there are some places where even my nimble Winnie View won’t go…take the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California.
Named for the deep trough that separates them from the mainland, the Channel Islands are a chain of eight islands, five of which are designated with National Park status. The closest of the islands is Anacapa, 14 miles off the coast of Ventura, California, with the most distant being Santa Barbara over 50 miles offshore. The largest in the chain, Santa Cruz where I am headed, is at about 20 miles long, and six miles wide, lying 35 miles off the coast of Ventura.
On these islands are 150 endemic species found nowhere else on earth. Of these, 30 are endangered. This has earned Channel Islands the slogan, “The Galapagos Islands of North America.” These islands are thankfully protected as a part of our National Park Service; otherwise they would no doubt be covered by small boutique hotels and bistros like Catalina Island off the coast of LA.
Although all of the five National Park Islands have campgrounds, I have chosen to visit Santa Cruz because it offers the greatest access to hiking and kayaking. But also the campground there, Scorpion Cove has a fresh water source. So unlike other campgrounds, I won’t have to pack in my own water at 8 lbs per gallon.
The pier at Scorpion Cove washed away in a storm with high surf last December, making it now necessary to come ashore via skiff, or small rubber boat. That includes bringing all camping gear ashore, which must then be unloaded “daisy chain” style.
By the time I get all my gear loaded on me like a pack mule and begin the half-mile hike to my designated campsite, I realize I am at the furthest end of the loop. My site is at the bottom of a V-notch in the surrounding hills, which serve as a funnel to channel the stiff wind right down on me. Whereas all the other campsites are surrounded by giant, fragrant eucalyptus trees and therefore somewhat protected from the wind, my site is exposed with no shelter. Yes, I brought layers, but I am wearing all of them and still freezing due to the wind!
My typical M.O. when I arrive at a place like this is usually to spend the first day figuring out how to get the heck out of there, and the remaining days figuring out how to never leave. Santa Cruz is no exception. I set my pack down on the ground, take a seat at the picnic table, and ponder the possibility of the 4:00pm boat back to the mainland.
I figure I will walk up to the Ranger’s residence (she told us “Stop by anytime!”) and ask if there is a possibility to change campsites to the more sheltered, therefore warmer area. If not, I will likely ask for a seat back on the 4pm boat. She tells me “No problem!” and gives me a list of available sites from which to choose. I select one nestled beside a sheltering bluff in the shade of a giant eucalyptus tree.
By midday, I have my tent pitched, and am just about to prepare lunch when I meet one of the island’s many local inhabitants, the Island Fox, endemic to the Channel Islands. One of the smallest foxes in the world, it is the size of a house cat, 20% smaller than the mainland gray fox. They are sneaky little buggers, and if you turn your back for one second, you will be sharing your lunch with him. Don’t ask me how I know…
The Channel Islands Visitor Center stresses that “half the park is underwater.” Although I won’t have the chance to submerge, I did come to spend some time on the surface kayaking the sea caves. I booked a tour with Santa Barbara Adventures, a company that accommodates both visitors from the mainland, as well as campers on the island. They supply all gear including wetsuits, spray jackets, dry bags, and helmets (mandatory if you want to tour the caves.)
Kayaking through the caves is more fun than I had imagined. Often we enter into one opening and exit the other. We see napping harbor seals, roosting and nesting brown pelicans, cormorants, and the clumsy pigeon guillemots. The scenery is breathtaking.
As one of our least visited parks in the National Park system, visitors rarely venture beyond the Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center on the mainland in Ventura. Only ten percent of visitors actually travel by boat to set foot on the islands, as one need go no further than the mainland Visitor Center to get their National Parks Passport Stamp. Of those ten percent, only a lesser percentage stay overnight.
My assessment is of that small group, even less leave the Scorpion Cove area. What that translates to is feeling like I have the entire island to myself. I hiked 24 miles in three days, and saw a total of five other people. No doubt this will all change once peak season arrives…or even the weekend. But for now, I relish in the mid-week solitude of the barren “shoulder season.”
I enjoy long, slow hikes roaming across the grassy rolling hills, wandering along the paths that cling close to the cliff’s edge, and hike up above the low lying clouds roiling over the hilltops like billowing smoke from a block of dry ice. I could walk for days across this island, taking in the change of flora and fauna, from the golden grain grasses left behind by the sheep farmers, their tassels swaying in the sea breeze, through the scrub oaks, home of the endemic Island Scrub Jay found nowhere else on earth.
Walking amid the gnarled and twisted, lichen covered pine trees up on the high ridge trail, I watch the sea mist blow through enough moisture to nourish blooming lupine. A microcosm of sublimates, all in one magnificent place, all in exchange for leaving my comfortable rolling home behind and camping in a tent!
I am not so naive as to think my love affair with Port Townsend isn’t tinted through sky-blue glasses. The weather is nothing short of perfect parked in the Point Hudson Marina. Waking up to chilly mornings under the down comforter, the view from my View is looking out across Puget Sound blanketed in a soft, willowy layer of fog. Long before the alarm starts to shriek, I am awakened by the haunting sound of laughing gulls echoing across the Point. By noon, the sun is out with rarely a cloud in the sky, warming me up to “short pants weather.” Then as the light starts to slant toward horizontal, lighting up the beautiful Victorian buildings, the evenings turn to sweater weather. How could it get any better?
Victorian era architecture has tugged at my heartstrings since I was a young girl doing volunteer work as a docent dressed in period costume for the local summer “Gingerbread Trail.” Port Townsend enjoyed a heyday back in the late 19th century as the harbor was well on its way to becoming one of the busiest in the Pacific Northwest, so much so that the town was dubbed “The City of Dreams.” Victorian architecture is still prominent here, with office buildings and historic plaques all reflecting the late 1800’s. The entire downtown area is a National Historic Landmark
As for ambiance, well, that is the stuff that love affairs are made of, as there is ample music, dancing, and merrymaking enough to suit the most romantic of courtships. Walk the main street and find guitarists and fiddle players busking on the corner, or just serenading friends along the waterfront
Being an introvert, I am not typically the type to strike up conversations with the locals, but at the Thursday evening “Concerts on the Dock” event it’s unavoidable. It’s a street party where no one is a stranger. Since the median age is 47, there are a lot of gray pony tails and Hawaiian shirts in the crowd. A bar section is cordoned off with a plastic rope and a paper sign that says “No Minors,” while $4 beer and wine flow freely. Locals are friendly and eager to talk about their town. It feels like a scene straight out of the movie “Cocoon,” as my geezer tribe-mates bust a move to Chuck Berry’s “Goes to Show you Never Can Tell” on the lawn. It truly feels like a community that plays together.
The Arts are paramount in Port Townsend, where the little town of 9,000 has the Centrum organization, dedicated to creativity who’s mission is “to promote creative experiences that change lives.” They sponsor monthly Arts walks, the “Fiddle Tunes” fiddle festival, Ukulele Festival, Jazz Fest, Blues Fest, and a Film Festival in the historic turn-of the-century Rose Theatre, just to name a few. Even the bi-weekly Farmer’s Market has a festival feel to it. Many Farmer’s Markets have live music, but where do you see one with seating where people actually stop to listen to the music, rather than just giving a passing nod between perusing the booths of local produce?
And as if that weren’t enough romance for one small town, there is a lighthouse! Nearby Fort Worden, one of the three forts established in the “triangle of fire” to guard Puget Sound during WW1 is home to the Point Wilson Lighthouse, built in 1914. The pretty little Fourth Order red and white Fresnel lens still rotates on display for those wishing to tour the lens room. If the barracks of Fort Worden look familiar, it was the location for the filming of “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
No doubt, I will return to Port Townsend again one day. Who knew a little known stopover destination for the work week would steal my ever-lovin’ heart? As Chuck Berry would say, “Cest la Vie, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell…”
Regardless of whether you are a bucket list believer or a bucket list basher, everyone has a secret mental list of “things I wish I could do one day.” If you don’t, then you are not a dreamer. And if you are not a dreamer then you may as well be dead. But that’s just my opinion.
I confess to maintaining two bucket lists….those I think I can actually achieve, like Zion’s Angels Landing, or visiting all 59 of our National Parks. And then there is that “secret list” of things I wish I could do but I know it’s not likely. Things like trekking to Everest Base Camp, or summiting a 14’er. Yosemite’s Half Dome falls somewhere in between. It’s one of those secret desires that I keep to myself for fear it is beyond my reach. I know I have the mental desire but at 61 years old, do I still have the physical stamina?
Half Dome, the iconic 8,800 ft granite monolith dominates every vista point from all directions in Yosemite, one of our nation’s most popular National Parks. It is the focal point of every photographers lens from Ansel Adams’ famous grayscale landscapes, to the backdrop for current day technical climber selfies, even gracing the California State quarter. The 14 mile Half Dome hike is rated “extremely strenuous” in the park’s hiking guide. It involves an arduous, thigh-busting, lung-burning, exhausting climb before one ever reaches the top of the “subdome,” or small false summit. Then, one must dig even deeper to negotiate “the cables,” another 400 vertical feet using cables threaded through loose stanchions as hand holds. I know it will take everything I’ve got.
Hiking Half Dome is best approached in stages. Starting the one way hike with a drop-off at the top of Glacier Point will add an additional six miles of hiking, but mostly downhill while eliminating the 600 steep and slippery stair steps alongside Vernal and Nevada Falls. Spending the night in the backcountry camp of Little Yosemite Valley will spread the 20 mile hike out over two days, but it will also mean hiking with a 30-40 pound pack on my back. Every bucket list has its tradeoffs.
The trail down from Glacier Point is stunning, with views of Half Dome at every switchback. And there are a lot of views, because there are a lot of switchbacks! It’s mostly downhill through dense, fragrant firs and Ponderosa Pines. We encounter a few shallow stream crossings that serve as welcomed peaceful rest stops. After about five miles on the trail, we meet the intersection of the John Muir trail at the top of Nevada Falls, then begin a short uphill stretch and finally the last level mile of a sandy slog to base camp.
Although I have camped and kayaked with backpacking gear before, this is my first attempt at backcountry camping. I have never been further than half a mile carrying everything I need to sustain myself in the wilderness. Make that a bear-inhabited wilderness. Fortunately, Little Yosemite Valley camp has both bear boxes for food storage, and the beautiful, clear running Merced River for water purification. There is a communal fire for meal preparation, but I know I’m exhausted when I’m too tired to roast a marshmallow for S’mores.
Another benefit of overnighting is getting an early start to get a jump on the throngs of day hikers beginning their hike four miles below at the bottom of the trail. Less people on the cables means less anxiety and less margin for error. So we wake with the first chirp of the early morning bird chorus, boil some coffee and fortifying oatmeal, and begin our final three hour uphill climb to the subdome.
Along with mental and physical prep for a Half Dome climb, gear is essential. Deep-treaded, supportive hiking boots are a must. I see some struggle to climb in sandals and tennis shoes. Though sticky granite is typically an easy surface to climb, not so in between the cables. The surface is worn slick on the 3 ft wide path in-between the cables. Gloves are also a must for gripping the cables. I have brought along a pair of fingerless sailing gloves, but instead, I opt for one of the donated pair of rubberized gloves that lay in a pile at the bottom of the cable route.
One of my hiking companions Jona, an Eagle Scout and aspiring young climber, rigs me a modified Swiss sling harness, which is a makes me look more experienced than I am. One continuous loop of nylon webbing that goes around the waist and through the legs, with two carabiners attached will in theory save me from plunging to my death. In reality, it offers me a task on which to focus rather than thinking about the worst possible scenario. “Purple clip on. Silver clip off” is my mantra the steep vertical face.
I make it to the top on sheer adrenalin alone. The views of the snow capped Sierras are breathtaking. Too excited to enjoy my lunch, I circle the gently rounded bald summit snapping photos in all directions. But I won’t celebrate just yet. I am only halfway there. I still have to get down.
Typically descents are harder for me than ascents, but not so with Half Dome. To descend, one must turn around and face the wall as if climbing down a ladder. Since the surface is so slick, it’s easy to slide down the 10 ft in between wooden crossbeams. The scariest part is the hazard presented by others too impatient to wait their turn. By the time I reach the base of sub dome, the crowds are growing along with the temperatures. An early start no doubt contributed to my success.
The hike from Little Yosemite Valley up Half Dome and back down along the Mist Trail, down the stairs of Vernal Falls is over ten miles, almost half carrying a backpack that despite being emptied of food now feels twice as heavy. But there is a reward waiting for me at the bottom. The fridge in my Winnie View holds a nice chilled bottle of bubbly waiting for me. Time to celebrate not just making it up safely, but back down again!