Posts Tagged With: birds

My 20th? annual trip to Sunrise

Actually, it may be my 19th.  I moved here twenty years ago this month, but I don’t remember if I went up there that year.  I know I’ve gone up there twice in a summer at least twice, so does that count?

I love both Paradise and Hurricane Ridge, and I’ve been to a lot of other wonderful wildflower hunting places (including Yellowstone, which doesn’t seem like a likely place to find a lot of wildflowers but most certainly is, and an incredible little state park in Indiana called Clifty Falls, which is absolutely amazing in April), but my favorite wildflower hunting grounds of all time are at Sunrise at Mt. Rainier National Park.

The Mountain from Sunrise.

The Mountain (as it’s referred to locally) from Sunrise.

This year I was slightly late getting up there — my beloved alpine phlox was all but over except in a few favored places — but I still managed to rack up 36 different kinds of flowers.  That’s my best total this summer!

One of the really neat things that the rangers do up at Sunrise (and at Hurricane Ridge) is put little signs near clumps of blooming plants that tell you what they are.  I also have a couple of ID books, and I take photos of everything I see, so I can examine them better when I get home.

Here’s a sampling of what I saw today:

Pink and one yellow monkeyflower on the road to Sunrise.

Pink and one yellow monkeyflower on the road to Sunrise.

Small-flowered penstemons (their name as well as an accurate description).

Small-flowered penstemons (their name as well as an accurate description).

Partridge foot.  I don't think I've ever ID'd this one before.

Partridge foot. I don’t think I’ve ever ID’d this one before.

Subalpine daisies (genus Erigeron).

Subalpine daisies (genus Erigeron) and one of those nifty park service signs.

Magenta paintbrush -- see, they're not endemic to the Olympics!

Magenta paintbrush — see, they’re not endemic to the Olympics!

A clump of scarlet paintbrush in a field of subalpine daisies.

A clump of scarlet paintbrush in a field of subalpine daisies.

Jacob's ladder, aka Polemonium.  One of its relatives is a self-inflicted weed in my garden.

Jacob’s ladder, aka Polemonium. One of its relatives is a self-inflicted weed in my garden.

A field of sickletop lousewort (what a horrible name to inflict on a perfectly nice wildflower!), in a damp spot where it's happiest.

A field of sickletop lousewort (what a horrible name to inflict on a perfectly nice wildflower!), in a damp spot where it’s happiest.

Elephantella.  The flower book calls it elephant head, which is an accurate description of the flowers, but I grew up calling it elephantella.

Elephantella. The flower book calls it elephant head, which is an accurate description of the flowers, but I grew up calling it elephantella.

Dwarf alpine lupine at Sunrise Camp.

Dwarf alpine lupine at Sunrise Camp.

White rhododendron, which doesn't look much like a regular rhody to me.

White rhododendron, which doesn’t look much like a regular rhody to me.

Cusick's speedwell, whose formal name is Veronica.  I didn't see Betty.

Cusick’s speedwell, whose formal name is Veronica. I didn’t see Betty [g].

 And here’s the list, pretty much in the order I saw them:

Monkeyflowers (Mimulus), pink and yellow

Small-flowered penstemon

Pearly everlastings

Broad-leaved and dwarf lupines

American bistort

Potentilla

Gray’s lovage

Thread-leaved sandwort

Common yarrow

Partridge foot

Subalpine daisy

Cascade aster

Pale agoseris

Fan-leaved cinquefoil

Pasqueflower seedheads

False hellebore

Sitka valerian

Spreading phlox

Paintbrush, scarlet and magenta

Polemonium (Jacob’s ladder)

Broadleaved arnica

One lonely Columbian tiger lily

Sickletop lousewort

Elephantella

Beargrass

Harebells

Pink heather

White rhododendron

Cusick’s speedwell

Mertensia

Newberry’s knotweed

Mountain ash

Pussy-toes

Oh, and I saw a bear!  In all the times I’ve gone hiking up at Sunrise, this is the first time I’ve seen a bear.  It was at the Sunrise Camp, which is an ex-auto camp that’s been turned into a backpacker’s camp about a mile and a half behind Sunrise visitor center.  There were about twenty of us watching it browse from a safe distance when I was there.  It obviously knew we were there, and it equally obviously couldn’t have cared less.  It was a bit closer to the trail than I was comfortable with, so instead of making my usual loop, I went back the way I came, along by Shadow Lake.

The first bear I've ever seen at Sunrise -- the ranger had me fill out a report when I went into the visitor center to tell her about it like the sign says to.

The first bear (photo taken with the zoom) I’ve ever seen at Sunrise — the ranger had me fill out a report when I went into the visitor center to tell her about it like the sign says to.

And I saw this bird.  It’s got some blue on its back and rust on its front, and it’s about 6-8″ long, maybe?

A bird I'm hoping my friend will ID for me.

A bird I’m hoping my friend Katrina will ID for me.

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Categories: animals, birds, exploring, hiking, Mt. Rainier, national parks, outdoors, parks, plants, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

counting wildflower species

Can be quite the process on Mt. Rainier this time of year [g].  I spent the day up at Paradise (including a short jaunt down to Stevens Canyon) today, and counted 28 wildflower species that I could identify, and at least one that wasn’t in my book.  Not bad when you consider that there were still two and three-foot snowdrifts around and about at Paradise.  Instead of showing you the usual tourist pictures of the mountain for this trip, I thought I’d pull a Katrina (a birder friend who posts lists with accompanying photos) and show you some of what I saw.

Avalanche lilies -- if you time it just right, you can see literally fields of these at Paradise.  I did time it right this year.

Avalanche lilies — if you time it just right, you can see literally fields of these at Paradise. I did time it right this year.

One of the few I haven't been able to ID yet.  This was a woodland flower near where I stopped to photograph the Columbia tiger lily, between the Nisqually entrance and Longmire.

One of the few I haven’t been able to ID yet. This was a woodland flower near where I stopped to photograph the Columbia tiger lily, between the Nisqually entrance and Longmire.

I must have passed three or four clumps of these Columbia tiger lilies before I found one in a place safe to photograph without running the risk of getting hit by a car.  Thse were growing down near Longmire.

I must have passed three or four clumps of these Columbia tiger lilies before I found one in a place safe to photograph without running the risk of getting hit by a car. These were growing down near Longmire.

One of the two kinds of penstemons -- these are Davidson's penstemons, and I found them on the Stevens Canyon road.

One of the two kinds of penstemons — these are Davidson’s penstemons, and I found them on the Stevens Canyon road.

Rosy spirea.  This is all over the place at Paradise, and was just starting to bloom.

Rosy spirea. This is all over the place at Paradise, and was just starting to bloom.

Alpine phlox, my favorite wildflower, growing out of a crack in the rocks on the Paradise loop road.

Alpine phlox, my favorite wildflower, growing out of a crack in the rocks on the Paradise loop road.

Spring beauties on the trail to Myrtle Falls at Paradise.  They were growing some distance away on the hillside, but I did my best.

Spring beauties on the trail to Myrtle Falls at Paradise. They were growing some distance away on the hillside, but I did my best.

Jeffrey's shooting stars along the Stevens Canyon road at the Snow Lake trailhead.

Jeffrey’s shooting stars along the Stevens Canyon road at the Snow Lake trailhead.

Beargrass! on the Stevens Canyon Road.  I think this is the first time I've ever seen beargrass at Mt. Rainier.  I normally associate it with Glacier National Park.

Beargrass! on the Stevens Canyon Road. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen beargrass at Mt. Rainier. I normally associate it with Glacier National Park.

Red heather along the steps down to the Myrtle Falls overlook.

Red heather along the steps down to the Myrtle Falls overlook.

A patch of glacier lilies (glacier lilies are yellow, avalanche liles are white, otherwise they're basically identical -- repeat until memorized [wry g].

A patch of glacier lilies (glacier lilies are yellow, avalanche liles are white, otherwise they’re basically identical — repeat until memorized [wry g].

Potentilla along the trail at Paradise.

Potentilla along the trail at Paradise.

Part of a huge patch of mertensia along the road almost to Paradise.

Part of a huge patch of mertensia along the road almost to Paradise.

I love summer, and mountain wildflowers are a big part of the reason why.

Oh, and here’s the list of everything I saw today that I could identify:

Goatsbeard

Mertensia

Potentilla

Avalanche lilies (white)

Glacier lilies (yellow)

Violets

Pasqueflowers

Spring beauties

Red heather

Mountain ash

Alpine phlox

Sitka valerian

Mountain bistort

Columbia red columbines

Beargrass

Serviceberry

Pink spirea

Jeffrey’s shooting stars

Two kinds of penstemon, Davidson’s and one not in my book

Lupine

Two kinds of paintbrush (magenta and scarlet)

Clover

Veronica

Columbia tiger lily

Cow parsnips

Ocean spray

Oh, and one more thing, or, rather, two.  I saw a dipper at Myrtle Falls (at least I think it was a dipper — it was too far away for a formal ID, but it was acting very much like a dipper, which is pretty distinctive, at least I’ve never seen any other kind of bird that dives into pools just above waterfalls).  And a pika skittered across the trail in front of me on my way back from Myrtle Falls.  He was too fast to get a photo.  But you can hear the pikas everywhere up there this time of year.  They sound very odd.

That’s it.  I think [g].  It was a gorgeous day in Paradise, what can I say?

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, highways, hiking, Mt. Rainier, national parks, outdoors, parks, plants, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Two weeks ago, Day 7

Some good things, and one disappointment.

I got a kind of late start this morning two weeks ago, and I woke up to overcast skies and a fair amount of wind.  In my experience, the Oregon coast is a very windy place, and I’d just been lucky the day before.

I stopped in Waldport at a visitor center commemorating the bridge over the Alsea River, which was interesting, especially since the bridge they were commemorating (built in the 1930s) had been replaced by a more modern one just a few years ago.

Then I stopped at an ocean view pullout and wrote for a while since I hadn’t the night before, before driving on to Newport, where I arrived about lunchtime, by design.  I’d been looking forward to going to Mo’s, which is sort of an institution on the Oregon coast, famous for, among other things, its clam chowder.  I’d eaten there before and enjoyed it, but not this time.  As I wrote in my journal, it was “an absolutely wretched lunch.  A crab melt, which was watery and flavorless, and, oh, the bread was burned, and a small cup of chowder, which tasted pretty much like Campbells out of a can.  I don’t know what’s happened to Mo’s, but I won’t ever be going there again.”

I then went to the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse (Yaquina is pronounced ya quinn’ a). I’d been there before, but I thought it might be interesting again, and it was.  The rooms are all decorated in period, and the lighthouse itself is in a state park.  I wish Heceta Head’s lighthouse and keepers’ quarters were the same building, because I suspect it would facilitate the plot, but I’ll manage.  Also, Yaquina Bay Light, which was only actually lit for three years (see the website for that story) is supposed to have a ghost, too.

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

The view from the front stoop of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.  You can just see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse from here.

The view from the front stoop of the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. You can just see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse from here.

The kitchen in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

The kitchen in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

A closeup of a baby Fresnel lens.  Fresnel lenses, which concentrate the output of a small light into one direction, making it look much larger, are some of the most beautiful practical things in existence.

A closeup of a baby Fresnel lens. Fresnel lenses, which concentrate the output of a small light into one direction, making it look much larger and brighter, are some of the most beautiful practical things in existence.

A bedroom in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

A bedroom in the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

The Hwy 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.

The Hwy 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.

After that I drove the short distance up the coast to the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area.  I thought I was going to get blown away, but other than that it was a terrific stop.  They have a very nice visitor center with lots of interesting historical exhibits and a short movie about the lighthouse, and then there’s the lighthouse itself, which is the tallest one in Oregon (not in the northwest, that would be the Gray’s Harbor Light, which is in Westport, one of my favorite day trips from home).  Once I was done in the visitor center, I drove on up to the headland, parked my car, and hung onto my hat (literally — my hair is thin on top of my head, and I always wear a hat outdoors to keep my scalp from getting sunburned).  The views were spectacular again, but the tidepools were terrific.  They were seven stories worth of stairs to reach from the lighthouse parking lot, but the basalt beach cobbles and the sea stars and crabs and sea anemones and other interesting critters were well worth the climb back up.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Birds covering a sea stack at Yaquina Head.

Birds covering a sea stack at Yaquina Head.

Gray basalt cobblestones on the beach below Yaquina Head.  Beautiful, but a bear to walk on.

Gray basalt cobblestones on the beach below Yaquina Head. Beautiful, but a bear to walk on.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse from the tidepools below.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse from the tidepools below.

A sea star.

A sea star.

The stairs leading down from Yaquina Head to the tidepools.  The equivalent of seven stories, in wind almost strong enough to lift you off your feet.

The stairs leading down from Yaquina Head to the tidepools. The equivalent of seven stories, in wind almost strong enough to lift you off your feet.

A really big, really gorgeous first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens at the top of Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

A really big, really gorgeous first order (the largest size) Fresnel lens at the top of Yaquina Head Lighthouse.

Then I headed north to Lincoln City, where I visited the North Lincoln County Historical Museum.  They’ve done a very good job there, telling the story of that part of the Oregon coast.  Lincoln City is basically five small beach tourist towns that banded together to provide basic services to their citizens.   Lincoln City today is basically miles and miles of motels and strip malls and beach houses, but the history of the place — I was especially enchanted with the exhibit that told about the gathering of redheaded people that happened there every year, apparently for decades — was much more than that.

And I found a good motel in Lincoln City, too.

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, food, Ghost Light, highways, hiking, history, museums, outdoors, parks, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two weeks ago yesterday, Day 6

Sorry, yesterday got a bit out of hand.  I’ll do today later on today.

I woke up early this morning two weeks ago today.  I always do that when I’m camping.  In the summertime this far north the sun rises pretty darned early.  The day didn’t start out all that excitingly.  I needed to do laundry.  So I got up and out and headed back to Florence to a laundromat I’d noticed the day before, which opened early, fortunately.

With clean clothes neatly packed back in my suitcase, I headed back to the public library, where I finished going through their local history section and attempted to look at some microfilm of the local newspaper for a couple of particular dates, but was utterly stymied, first, by the fact that the young woman who responded when I asked for help did not know, and made it clear she did not want to know, how to run the microfilm machine.  The machine in question made me realize how long it had been since I last worked as a librarian, too, because it was a fancy, newfangled variety attached to a computer, and it took me some time to figure out how it worked.  Once I did, however, I discovered that the roll I wanted to look at had been wound onto the spindle so that it viewed upside down and mirror-imaged.  Totally useless.  It could be fixed, but not on that machine, not by me.  So I made note of the name of the paper, and resolved to interlibrary loan the microfilm when I got home, so I could use it at my local library, where the librarians are much more helpful.

By that time it was lunchtime, so I found some lunch, then headed north, where my day improved drastically.

I was headed for Heceta (he cee’ ta) Head Lighthouse, my favorite place on the Oregon coast, and the setting for the new book, which is going to be a complete rewrite of a story I wrote a number of years ago — it won’t be recognizeable as the same book by the time I’m done with it, I suspect.

Heceta Head is named after a Spanish explorer, Bruno de Heceta, whose real claim to fame was that he was looking for the great river of the West way back when, and totally missed the mouth of the Columbia.  But he did leave his name behind on the headland, and when the lighthouse was built there it, too, took his name.

That lighthouse and I go way back.  My association with it started when I lived in Eugene in the 1980s and went through my first divorce.  The lighthouse was only a little over an hour from where I lived, and was my favorite escape hatch when things were getting too messy at home.  The keepers’ quarters, which are in the Victorian cottage near the lighthouse, are supposed to be haunted, too.  I didn’t know this when I saw something in one of the windows of the then-unoccupied house on one of my many trips there.  As it turns out, what I saw might have been the result of a prank.  But then again it might not have been.  I’ll never know.

But that’s the basis for the story I’m going to write.

I spent most of the afternoon at Heceta Head, touring the keepers’ quarters, which are now a very expensive bed and breakfast, and visiting the lighthouse.  I was too early for the re-opening of the lighthouse itself to tours, after a two-year renovation, by a week, alas, but I did get to see what I needed to see.  And I also got to see lots of shorebirds on the seastack nearby, through a telescope set up by volunteers at the foot of the lighthouse.

Heceta Head Lighthouse and keepers' quarters, from a viewpoint on Hwy. 101.

Heceta Head Lighthouse and keepers’ quarters, from a viewpoint on Hwy. 101.

The lighthouse from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The lighthouse from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The keepers' quarters from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

The keepers’ quarters from the viewpoint, with the zoom.

One of two sea lions basking on the rocks below the viewpoint.

One of two sea lions basking on the rocks below the viewpoint.

The Cape Creek Bridge and the beach below Heceta Head.

The Cape Creek Bridge and the beach below Heceta Head.

The trail to the lighthouse.

The trail to the lighthouse.

A closer view of the keepers' quarters.

A closer view of the keepers’ quarters.

The lighthouse from the porch of the keepers' quarters.

The lighthouse from the porch of the keepers’ quarters.

The parlor in the keepers' quarters.

The parlor in the keepers’ quarters.

A closer view of the lighthouse itself.  You can't see the lens because the renovators are still working on it and keep it covered till they're done.

A closer view of the lighthouse itself. You can’t see the lens because the renovators are still working on it and keep it covered till they’re done.

Cormorants and seagulls through the telescope at the lighthouse.

Cormorants and common murres through the telescope at the lighthouse.

Westward, the next stop is Japan -- from the meadow at the base of the lighthouse.

Westward, the next stop is Japan — from the meadow at the base of the lighthouse.

And I spoke with the man who runs the bed and breakfast, who gave me some photocopies of some research he’d collected, and spent the better part of an hour with me, talking about his experiences there and the history he’d learned.  Which was extremely helpful.

After taking far too many photos (research, I tell you!), I walked back down to the beach, where I noticed that there are caves at the base of the headland.  Thinking they might end up in the book, I went and checked them out, too.  You never know…

It was getting on late in the afternoon by the time I left Heceta Head, but I had one more place I wanted to visit before I stopped for the night, Cape Perpetua (pronounced like perpetual without the L).   It’s one of the highest points on the Oregon coast, and there’s a winding, narrow road leading to a viewpoint at the top.  The view is one of those curvature of the earth things, where you’d swear that you were seeing more than 180 degrees from horizon to horizon.  I’d somehow managed never to go up there before, but I’m glad I did this time.

The southern view from Cape Perpetua.  The highway below is 101.

The southern view from Cape Perpetua. The highway below is 101.

The northern view from Cape Perpetua.

The northern view from Cape Perpetua.

By the time I got back down to Highway 101 it was getting late, and while I was only going as far as the tiny town of Yachats (ya’ hots, not yach’ ets as my father teased when we were here when I was a kid), it was time I got there and settled in.  To a nice little mom and pop motel, where I spent a very comfortable night.

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, Ghost Light, highways, hiking, history, museums, outdoors, parks, research, travel | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Two weeks ago today, day 3

And now we start having photographs.  Lots and lots of photographs.

I left the hostel fairly early in the morning, and drove up into the west hills of Portland to the Pittock Mansion, where I wandered around the gardens, then sat in the car and read for a while before the house itself opened up for the day.  The Pittock Mansion was built around the turn of the last century by the owner of the Oregonian, Portland’s newspaper which is still published today, who apparently had more money than he knew what to do with.  It’s perched on a site with views that reach clear to Mount Hood in good weather (which did not happen while I was there, alas, although I could still see almost all of Portland from up there), surrounded by beautiful gardens, and the house itself is incredibly elegant.  So he had taste as well as money.

Here are some photos, although I have to say the website does a much better job of it than I do.

The Pittock Mansion on a misty moisty day.

The Pittock Mansion on a misty moisty day.

The gardens behind the mansion.

The gardens behind the mansion.

The view from the back garden.

The view from the back garden.

The back of the mansion.

The back of the mansion.

The view from one of the windows.

The view from one of the windows.

The best view I got of the inside -- this is the entry and double staircase.

The best view I got of the inside — this is the entry and double staircase.

After I left the mansion I drove back down into town looking for an on-ramp to I-5 or I-405 southbound, and could not find one for love or money.  I ended up on U.S. 99E, down through Milwaukie and Clackamas County.  Which didn’t turn out to be such a bad thing, since I found lunch along the way.  I had originally intended to get on I-205 from there, but I discovered that staying on 99E was actually going to take me where I wanted to go, anyway.

That was the Aurora Colony, which I’d read about in the book Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community, and Craft by Jane Kirkpatrick, who I met online through a writers’ organization I used to belong to.  I have to say I was disappointed in the Aurora Colony itself, which was mostly a bunch of antiques stores strewn along the highway.  Somehow, in spite of their website, that wasn’t what I was expecting.

So on I went.  Someone on the Hardy Plants email list had told me about a place called Heirloom Roses.  This place did live up to what I was expecting.  In spades.  Acres and acres of roses in full bloom, mostly heirloom and species and shrub and climbing roses, although they did have some floribundas and hybrid teas.  The whole place smelled like sweet tea tastes, which is the only time I like the way sweet tea tastes (despite having been born in the South, I prefer my tea with lemon and no sugar, thanks).  By this point the weather had cleared up again, too.  A perfect place to spend a perfect afternoon.

Anyway, here’s the pictorial proof of how gorgeous this place was.

Some of the roses at Heirloom Gardens.

Some of the roses at Heirloom Gardens.

A rose blossom.  I think it's one of the many kinds of Peace roses.

A rose blossom. I think it’s one of the many kinds of Peace roses.

A David Austen rose.  These are hybrids of old shrub roses.

A David Austen rose. These are hybrids of old shrub roses.

The miniature rose garden.  The roses were miniature, not the garden.

The miniature rose garden. The roses were miniature, not the garden.

A miniature climber.  I hadn't known there was such a thing.

A miniature climber. I hadn’t known there was such a thing.

And, on top of that, I heard a hawk crying over my head, and saw a California quail in the greenhouse, of all places.

The California quail in the sales greenhouse.

The California quail in the sales greenhouse.

After that, I stopped at Champoeg (pronounced sham poo’ ee) State Park, the site of some of Oregon’s earliest political efforts and a pretty riverside park.  I’d been thinking about camping there, but decided against it, so I drove on to Salem and ended up in a motel.  Which was fine, too.

Categories: birds, exploring, gardening, highways, museums, outdoors, parks, plants, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

a winter stroll

About three miles from my house is a place called Bradley Lake Park. It’s not a big place — the lake itself takes up most of the acreage, and the trail around it is less than a mile long (.8 of a mile, according to the little sign where the path from the parking lot Ts into the lake trail itself).  And it’s directly behind a Walmart.

But you’d never know that to look at it.  Or to walk through it.  I’ve seen a bald eagle catch a fish out of Bradley Lake.  I’ve seen rabbits and squirrels there, and of course the resident populations of coots, ducks, and Canada geese.  In the summertime it’s green and lush, and there are more wildflowers than you’d expect — ranging from skunk cabbage, which is much prettier than its name — it looks like bright yellow candles rising from the ground, Siberian miner’s lettuce with pinkish white flowers that look like something a kid would draw, wild geraniums (as opposed to pelargoniums), hawkweed, bleeding hearts, and even the occasional tiger lily.

But not in the wintertime.  Of course, here in western Washington state, winter isn’t what it is in other parts of the country, and if you didn’t know any better, some of the photos in the slideshow below look like they could have been taken in summer — especially those showcasing an unusually blue sky (no, it doesn’t rain all winter here) and bright green grass.  Our grass doesn’t go brown in the winter.  Unless it’s watered, it goes brown in the summer.

Winter is more subtle here, and it has more subtle beauties.  And this is what my little park behind the Walmart looks like in early February:

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I found a new park

 You’d think after almost twenty years of exploring around and about my part of western Washington, I would have found every good walking trail in a fifty-mile radius, but Clark’s Creek Park (named, I assume, like everything else in the Pacific Northwest with that moniker, after the co-captain of the Corps of Discovery), less than four miles from my house, somehow managed to escape my attention until this week.

 I was checking out the back way to the Puyallup Fairgrounds.  We’ll be driving there for the fair this September, because the local busses won’t be running fair specials for the first time this year due to budget cuts.  Which didn’t need to happen, but I won’t get into local politics here.

 Anyway, while checking the map (paper maps rule, in my not so humble opinion, and this sort of thing is one reason why — had I just plunked locations into a GPS I’d have missed this park altogether) I happened to notice a green sort-of rectangle that hadn’t come to my attention before, so I decided to check it out.  It turned out to be a very good idea.

 Clark’s Creek Park is a chunk of, well, probably not old-growth, but forest, at any rate, mostly big-leafed maples which are going to be spectacularly gold in a couple of months, plunked down on the western side of Puyallup.  There’s a creek, obviously, that’s really more the size of a river flowing through as well.  The park contains the usual amenities, a ballfield, lawns, tennis courts, two sets of play equipment (one at each end) and one of the most secluded and beautifully-set off-leash areas, or bark parks as my sister calls them, I’ve ever seen.

 In between the two developed areas, trails run through the woods and along the creek.  The woods this time of year, and because we haven’t had any rain here in forty days (we set the driest August on record this year, not a drop of rain at the airport), are at that stage where they’re just waiting for fall.  Leaves are leathery, and the undergrowth looks parched.  But wildflowers, jewelweed and clover and a pink finger-shaped cluster of tiny blossoms that wasn’t in any of my flower books, but turns out to be a noxious critter called knotweed, were still quite abundant, as were the roses planted along the street.

 The weather has been darned near perfect here lately, sunny and low 70sF with very little humidity day after day, although the light and air are beginning to feel like autumn.  So it was a wonderful day for exploration.  The trails seem to total out to about a mile, and comprise two loops, one along the creek, across a bridge, and back up on what appears to be a small island, to a bridge at the other end where the trail started, and the other a rough loop running through the woods between the two developed parts of the park and past the tennis courts and bark park.  Both are really lovely, and more secluded than I would have expected given how close the park is to downtown Puyallup.

 No matter how long I live here in the Pacific Northwest, the area is still capable of surprising me with places I’ve somehow missed up till now.  It’s one of my favorite things about living here.  What’s your favorite thing about living where you are?

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Categories: exploring, hiking, outdoors, parks, plants, weather | Tags: , | 6 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 9

 Theodore Roosevelt National Park — the north unit

I believe I even had oil workers for neighbors in the campground last night.  At least they had camping gear.  One of them even had a trailer.  They were as nice and polite as could be, though, and since we all cleared out at about the same time the next morning, they didn’t even wake me up trying to get to work on time.

 Fort Buford and its campground were about an hour north of the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, just west of the town of Watford City, where I had tried to get a motel when I was going through my bout of reservation-making a couple of days before.  When I actually drove through it, I was glad I hadn’t been able to.

Do you ever create mental pictures so strong of places that you haven’t been to that when you actually arrive you think you can’t actually be in that place, it has to be wrong?  I did that with Watford City.  Maybe because it’s a town on the edge of a national park, and in my experience towns on the edges of national parks are a bit more attractive than, say, a construction site.  Watford City was one big noisy dusty construction site.  I suppose it was understandable enough given the circumstances, but still. 

But then I drove a few more miles south and the whole world changed.  The edge of the land dropped off from undulating prairie to the bluffs and buttes of the North Dakota badlands, and when I turned off from the highway onto the main (and only) road into the park, I got that lovely feeling I always get in national parks, of being in a place where nature matters.

I stopped at the visitor center, where mine was the only non-NPS vehicle in the parking lot.  TRNP’s north unit is one of the least-visited units of the national park system, and I can testify that it was pretty darned empty the day I was there — I think I saw two other cars the entire time I was in the park.  I looked at their exhibits, then I headed further into the park on a leisurely tour. 

I like badlands.  I like the texture of them and the shape of them.  I like the exposed layers and the unexpected look of the formations.  There’s just something about them that jump-starts the imagination.  Rocks shaped like cannonballs, ledges so flat and chiseled you could balance an egg on them, pyramidal rocks with more layers than an ice cream cake.  Just wonderful stuff.  The weather was nice, too, if a bit warm.  The only disappointment was that the road was only open about halfway into the park.  Apparently the land had slumped under the road, taking the pavement with it, and they hadn’t repaired it yet.  Since slumping is a major method nature uses to create badlands, I couldn’t complain, and I didn’t.  I got out and walked a small piece past the barricade, then decided that it was just a bit too lonely to walk far.  What if I had a close encounter with a bison?  They do live in the park, along with wild longhorn cattle and feral horses.  As it turned out, though, the only critters I saw in the north unit that day were birds. 

I walked a nature trail at the campground, down to the Little Missouri River, and I ate my lunch in the picnic area, well-shaded by more enormous cottonwoods.  Wrote a while.  Then I headed on south to I-94.

I have this book, called the Quilter’s Travel Companion, that lives in my car all year.  It’s basically a national phone book for quilt shops in the U.S. (and Canada, too, come to think of it).  Anyway, it had a listing for a quilt shop in the city of Dickinson, located on I-94 a few miles east of where I met up with it.  It was still the middle of the afternoon, so I decided to go see if I could find some good North Dakota-themed fabric as a souvenir (fabric is a very useful souvenir, especially after it makes its way into a quilt where it reminds the quilter of the good time she had acquiring it).  The shop was adorable.  And I found some wonderful fabric, of course. 

Then I headed back west, Dickinson having been the easternmost point on the entire trip, and found the motel room I had managed to snag in the small town of Belfield, which is apparently just out of commuting distance for the oil workers, and on my way to the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  But that was for the next day.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html

Categories: animals, exploring, museums, national parks, outdoors, philosophy, plants, quilting, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 6

 The Hi-Line of Montana

 Have you ever heard of the Hi-Line?    The first time I ever ran across the term was in William Least Heat-Moon’s book Blue Highways about 25 years ago.  It captured my fancy then, and I’ve thought about driving it off and on ever since. 

The easiest way to explain the Hi-Line is that it’s the stretch of U.S. Highway 2 (the northernmost east-west highway in Montana) east of the Rockies to the North Dakota state line.  I lived in Libby, a town along U.S. 2, for a few months almost twenty years ago, but it’s in far western Montana in a mountain valley, and so it doesn’t count. 

Loma, of the magnificent bed and terrific Mexican food, is about an hour south of Havre, the unofficial capital of the Hi-Line, and its biggest town.  Also the only cluster of more than one fast food place between Glacier National Park and North Dakota, not that it mattered.  I did stop for gas, and was approached by a woman carrying an iPad who was conducting a tourism survey for the University of Montana.  I answered her questions, but drew the line at taking a mail-in version along with me. 

From Havre I headed east across the plains, which aren’t nearly as flat as you’d think they are.  I swear it’s over 200 degrees from horizon to horizon, though, instead of 180.  There’s a reason they call Montana the Big Sky country.  It’s enormous here.  The clouds march across it in ranks like soldiers, except no soldiers in the field were ever that clean.

I turned south at Chinook to visit the Bear Paw Battlefield, where Chief Joseph and what was left of the Nez Perce surrendered to General Miles.  “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”  Chief Joseph has a brief role in Repeating History, setting my kidnapped tourists free.  I hope I did him justice. 

I never know what to say about places like the Bear Paw Battlefield.   It is a very lonesome place.  It doesn’t look any different from the thousands of square miles of undulating prairie surrounding it, but it is.  There weren’t even any trees, just a low place in the ground with two springs and a creek, which I’m sure is why the Nez Perce chose that place to camp.  The modern facilities are modest in the extreme — a pit toilet, a couple of sheltered picnic tables, several brass and stone monuments, and several more modern interpretive signs.  I did not walk the trail, because a) there wasn’t another soul out there, and b) there were signs all over the place warning of rattlesnakes.  Like every other battlefield I’ve been to over the years, Bear Paw Battlefield is a very sad place, permeated with memories.  I’m glad I made the detour, but it did make me feel like apologizing, if there had been someone there to apologize to.

I probably should have eaten lunch in Havre, even though it was way too early.  Chinook did not have much to offer.  The towns along the Hi-Line are sparse and tiny.  I did finally find lunch in the Indian Reservation community of Harlem, in a diner where I had another excellent hamburger and an ice cream cone.  I passed through the next town of Malta, halfheartedly looking for a grocery store and not finding one, then stopped at a BLM campground on Nelson Reservoir, a couple of miles north of the highway.  Nelson Reservior was gorgeous, especially as the sun began to set.  And I saw a white pelican floating on the water.  It was a great place to camp.  And so I did.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html

Categories: animals, books, exploring, history, national parks, outdoors, philosophy, Repeating History, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Three weeks ago, Day 4

From the state capital to the first settlement in Montana, in 132 easy miles.

I guess I should have expected a road through something called the Gates of the Mountains, named by Lewis and Clark no less, to be more beautiful than I thought it would be.  But for one thing, Helena’s geographical situation is rather like Denver’s, right where the Rockies start to rise out of the Great Plains.  And Great Falls is even further east, along the, well, Great Falls of the Missouri River, which were (they’re mostly tamed by hydroelectric dams now, to the point where one of Great Falls-the-city’s nicknames is The Electric City) really more cascades than falls.  So, logically, I should have been driving through flatlands between the two cities.

But no.  I had a hard time getting photographs — there weren’t many places to pull over, and while I have been known to aim the camera through the windshield on occasion, a) the windshield was fairly bug-pocked by that stage, and b) it’s not the greatest, or safest, technique in the world.  But there was a shiny new rest area at one point, so what pictures I have of a road that must have been quite the engineering feat were mostly taken there.  It almost reminded me, the way it was carved through the canyon, bridging and rebridging the Missouri and cantilevered out in places from the cliffs, of the Virgin River Gorge portion of that selfsame I-15 in the far southwestern corner of Utah.  Quite spectacular.

And then the canyon walls opened out onto the northern Great Plains and someone laid the highway out with a ruler the last few miles to Great Falls.

Great Falls is a brick city (the third largest city in Montana, which really isn’t saying much) with one-way streets downtown and shady trees and a charming park lining the Great Muddy (the Missouri’s other name) for several miles.  With gardens, where the iris were blooming, and a pond with fountains, and lots of big shady trees.  And geese.  I stopped for a bit and walked around, then drove on along the river out of town until I reached the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. You cannot stumble over a rock in many parts of Montana without figuratively falling over Lewis and Clark.  And I can’t say I’m overly enthused about the term “interpretive center.”  What’s wrong with a good old-fashioned “visitor center”?  But I was charmed by the native blue flax growing even in cracks in the parking lot, and, when I went inside, by the breadth and depth of the exhibits.  And I must say, just looking at the prickly pear cactus and rocks over which those men hauled their canoes during a twenty-plus mile portage made my feet hurt.

After that, I only had another hour’s drive to go to reach my destination for the night of Fort Benton.  I will write more about this most historical of Montana towns  in tomorrow’s post.  Suffice to say today that I arrived, ate a delicious hamburger in the VFW hall, which was the only restaurant in town open after 5 pm, and camped that night in a municipal riverfront campground, which was just about all I could ask for.

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Repeating History, “A GRAND yarn you can’t put down.” Janet Chapple, author of Yellowstone Treasures
http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html

Categories: exploring, gardening, history, museums, outdoors, plants, travel | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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