Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hiking in the Pacific Northwest: Honor Your Mother

Each April Earth Day is an excellent reminder to take extra care of our wonderful planet. Have you been involved in any activities to make "Mother" Earth a better, cleaner place?

With the seemingly exponential growth of hikers, climbers, and more out enjoying our beautiful trails and mountains here in the Pacific Northwest, I'm  troubled by an increase in trash in the woods/along trails.

So for Earth Day, some practical tips for anyone who ventures into the outdoors. Here in the Northwest (and all over), our ethic is this:

Leave No Trace.

Pretty simple, huh?

That means a few basic things to do/not do. (Find a lot more on the link above, and I realize this post is mostly preaching to the choir. :) 

Don't Toss Anything as You Go.  Even Food.
It's not okay to leave those orange or banana peels or any leftover food on the ground where you had lunch. (It also adds insult to injury if the peel still bears a sticky plastic label.)

To quickly decompose, if left on the ground, food needs the natural bugs and microorganisms in the soil where it originated.  Ever seen an orange or banana tree growing in a Pacific Northwest forest? In the tropics a banana peel  decomposes in a few days. Not so this far north. An orange peel can take months or longer to decompose in a fragile alpine environment.

Not cool.
Also, birds and other forest critters evolved to consume edibles from their native habitat. Maybe they'll eat your leftover sandwich crusts, but it's not great for their health. And it's not pleasant for the hikers who sit at the same spot a few hours or days later.

Carry it Out. Everything.
Yes, that includes any toilet paper you might use (well clear of any water or stream). Bring zip-lock bags (compostable if possible), double bag, and take it with you. Last fall at a popular trailhead I saw over a half dozen different spots just beyond the locked outhouse where people had just dropped their TP and left.

If you must go in the woods, dig a shallow hole about 6 inches deep and do your business in the hole, then use a stick to cover it with soil. (Here is a great website on this topic.) And of course bag any TP and dispose of it at home or the nearest garbage bin.

Your dog?  Just like in the city, bag their doo and carry it out.

In the last couple years I've noticed blue plastic bags of dog doo along popular trails, which were left by hikers with the intent of picking it up on the way down.  Not so great for the rest of us to see a trail of plastic bags along an otherwise beautiful forest/mountain trail.  And some do get left behind.

Please, triple bag if you must, but take those bags with you as you go. (Dog owners have pushed back on this request, what say you?)

Carry a Spare Bag and Collect Litter as You Go.
In the spirit of compassion for our natural places and others around us, try bringing along a spare bag and sticking trash in it as you go. On a hike yesterday we collected orange and banana peels, a McDonald's wrapper, plastic candy wrappers, some foil, and broken sunglasses. There was more that we had to leave after running out of room.

Golden arches not so golden.
Let's do all we can to keep our outdoors as pristine as possible. Everyone and everything benefits.

Think about joining trail clean-up/maintenance parties organized by groups like the Washington Trails Association, Mazamas, or Mountaineers. What are your suggestions/favorite ways to volunteer or address these issues and more?  Jump in with a comment below. Thanks in advance for sharing.

In between blog posts, check out Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for lots more photos and NW news. 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Exploring Seattle Neighborhoods: It's Going in Greenwood

Beyond the downtown core, residents know that Seattle is truly a city of distinct and thriving neighborhoods.  Our outlying neighborhoods are where more Seattleites live and play.

While some neighborhoods are on the tourist radar now, like Fremont (the Troll!), farther north in quirky Greenwood a new energy and revitalized business and arts scene is growing somewhat under the radar. 

Nearby Ballard is close to becoming overbuilt with new condos and is now a  major destination, but farther north Greenwood (about 8 miles north of downtown Seattle) still retains an unpretentious Seattle neighborhood feel. 

So far the area is still mostly low-rise, older buildings, although some in-filling with larger new complexes is beginning and more are inevitable.  But I think these older neighborhoods dominated by small, primarily independent businesses have more unique character. (We'll gloss over the Fred Meyer complex eyesore on 85th.)

I've lived just beyond the western edge of Greenwood for over 15 years and  seen the area slowly evolve and change. Six years ago an arsonist torched several buildings with businesses, but the community rallied to support the damaged business owners. Today with Seattle overall booming, Greenwood is on the upswing too.

Greenwood Avenue, which runs through the heart of the district, is the former route of the Interurban electric railway that ran between Seattle and Everett in the early twentieth century, hence the older buildings and businesses lining Greenwood Ave.

Land of a Thousand Beers
On the far western edge of Greenwood at 8th Ave NW and NW 85th, Chuck's Hop Shop is the hottest draw around.  Formerly a nondescript convenience store on a busy corner, today Chuck's is the de facto neighborhood gathering spot/watering hole/foodie destination.  

Chuck's Hop Shop

A rotating variety of food trucks park at Chuck's every evening and during the weekend days. In the back is the adult pub, and in the front kids can buy fresh-scooped ice cream cones and a multitude of Pez dispensers. It's such an eclectic and successful concept that Chuck recently opened a new location in the Central District.

A Slice of Tibet
Wander east on 85th toward Greenwood Avenue (passing the Northwest Kush Collective, the local pot dispensary) and take a two-block detour south to the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. Outside this colorful, bright yellow building sits a large white stupa (or chorten) surrounded by prayer wheels. A sign invites passersby to walk clockwise around and spin the prayer wheels, which according to Tibetan tradition releases 32,000 prayers for peace. I often stop by on my bicycle and give them a whirl.

Sakya Monastery
Eat, Shop, Arts
Just west of the major intersection of 85th and Greenwood Ave, is the beloved Taproot Theater, which sits across the street from equally beloved Gordito's Mexican restaurant. Taproot suffered severe smoke damage in one of the arson fires, but is all fixed up with a new cafe next door, the Stage Door Cafe.

Between a multitude of little shops and cafes, there are so many fascinating and surprising treasures along Greenwood Ave.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Coyle's Bakeshop
Recently opened Coyle's Bakeshop, a couple blocks south of 85th, hardly needs an introduction; within a few weeks of opening it's already a north Seattle culinary destination. While the French-style pastries are excellent, I think their scones with homemade jam are truly a standout.

Across the street, The Yard Cafe serves up excellent bar food with a Mexican emphasis (I recommend the pork chile verde tacos) and Northwest craft beer and spirits. Last summer this was my go-to destination to watch the World Cup games.

The Yard Cafe's yard

Immediately north of The Yard is another of my favorite hangouts, Chocolati Cafe. This local chain features their exquisite handmade chocolates, but I like the cozy ambiance for sipping good teas while visiting with friends or working on my laptop.

Chocolati Greenwood
On the blocks just north and south of 85th are a trove of spots.  From Insurrection Apparel and Boots, which sells gorgeous leather cowboy boots (in Seattle?!) and motorcycle jackets, to Pema Kharpo Tibetan Treasures, several small shops are diverse and one-of-a-kind.

Insurrection Apparel

These aren't chi-chi, high-end shops that are starting to predominate down in Ballard and Fremont. Rather, I think these are hidden gems catering to everyone interested in niche items.

For entertainment besides Taproot, Couth Buzzard Books sells new and used books and has live music, poetry, and readings almost every day. I love their motto, "Serving up community, one book...one cup...at a time."  To me that's the spirit of Greenwood.

Couth Buzzard
 At the north end of the business district, Naked City Brewery Taphouse, Greenwood's self-proclaimed town hall, "strives to carry on the rich tradition of the American public house" by fostering community with regular events like film screenings and discussions on relevant city topics.

Of course I can't write about the vibrant arts scene in Greenwood without mentioning Greenwood Space Travel and Supply, a former Dave Eggers venture that served as a nonprofit "writing and communications center for the young people of Earth."  Late 2014 it became independent and renamed itself The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas (BFI), with a focus on motivating youth to share their stories.

Really there are a dozen more places I could mention, but then who wants to read a long blog post when you could be out exploring for yourself?

If you haven't explored Greenwood, I suggest planning a few hours to wander the area, poke in all the shops and eateries, and then settle somewhere like Gainsbourg Lounge for happy hour or the Green Bean Coffeehouse for a cuppa and enjoy the community. 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
Greenwood can be accessed from the north and south via the King County Metro Transit Route 5. Route 48 travels east-west through Greenwood along NW 85th.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Changing Pacific Northwest: Staying Off the Beaten Path

For those of us who grew up and have lived most (or all) of our lives here in the Pacific Northwest, the tremendous influx of people moving to the region has changed how we live and travel. 

That strenuous hike with spectacular views within an hour of Portland or Seattle? Forget about going on a weekend if you treasure a quiet time in nature, especially during the warmer, drier months. Or go well before sunrise with your headlamp. 

Or that cozy little neighborhood bakery in Portland/Seattle that serves the most buttery, melt-in-your-mouth scones you've ever tasted? Don't consider stopping there on a weekend morning, and be prepared to stand in line before they open, sometimes even on a week day. (We restless Northwesterners generally loathe waiting in line for more than a couple minutes.)

The annual tulip festival in the Skagit Delta or the Sequim Lavender Festival on the Olympic Peninsula are jammed on weekends.  I sat for almost 30 minutes last year at a dead stop next to a tulip field as the two-lane local roads were clogged like hardened arteries. (Bicycling is the best way to go here, but so many cars make it trickier.)

It's a double-edged sword, the mushrooming growth of the region's population.  We have better restaurants and a more vibrant food scene, transplants have brought fresh vitality to the arts, and more.  But those crowds on the trail!  The lines at favorite eateries, coffee shops, bakeries, and such!

So we adjust.

Blessed with a relatively flexible schedule (sometimes), these days I tend to either go hiking on weekdays (still plenty of people on the popular trails), as early as possible, or on rainy days. There's a reason we all have good rain gear.

The best time to hit Seattle's Pike Place Market? Tuesday morning on a chilly wet mid or late January day (or some variation). Okay, I jest a bit, but it's not too far off.

But still.  Just this week we waited in line over 20 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon for one of those famous ice cream cones at a popular farm stand. (However, there was no line for their incredible fresh seafood counter.)

While I don't want to go all Ron Judd here because I value the infusion of energy that émigrés have brought to the region, sometimes it's better not to openly reveal favorite places.  

So because everyone enjoys nice pictures, I'm sharing a few of places I love around here but not dropping place names. Some, like the photo at the top of this post, are on private property; some can only be accessed via private property; and some are well-known and popular.

Do you recognize any of these locations or where the shots were taken? I've got Oregon, Washington, and east of the Cascades represented.

On the plus side, I'd like to think that more people out enjoying our precious outdoors here in the Northwest will be moved to donate time and/or money to help protect the land. Some worthy Northwest organizations include the San Juan Preservation Trust, Washington's National Parks Fund, Conservation Northwest, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

So how do you negotiate getting outside, around town, to your favorite museum, hike, or such? Have you changed the way your get out and about?
Jump in with a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Hiking Eastern Washington: Ancient Lakes

Suddenly Ancient Lakes is all over social media. Or maybe I'm just starting to pay attention. But the word is out on this geologically unique area near Quincy, Washington.

Despite being a native-born Washingtonian, until this year I've never hiked the "coulee country" near the Columbia River just east of the Cascades. Ancient Lakes is my second coulee hike this year, and it's high on my list now for early and late season hiking.

We arrive at the parking area at the end of the road in the Quincy Wildlife Recreation Area around 9 a.m. on a breezy, sunny Sunday, after a  scenic drive from Crescent Bar just upriver. 

A few cars are in the lot, but the only other person there is a solo mountain biker who takes off quickly and is gone like a shot.  Then we amble along what is basically a pretty flat, rutted dirt road into the first coulee.

After a half mile or more skirting the basalt cliff to our left, we gain a panorama into the coulee before descending slightly past a huge, lonely boulder.

This boulder is about the only shade relief on hot days out here.

A few straggly waterfalls stream off the basalt cliffs as we proceed toward the end of the coulee and a few lakes (these would be the Ancient Lakes, remnant  potholes scoured by the Lake Missoula floods that stormed over the Columbia River basin several millennia ago).

On a spring green knoll across the coulee, we spy a couple tents.  We'd caught a glimpse of the Milky Way and brilliant stars last night and wished we'd known to bring camping gear too. (If you do camp, bring your own water.)

Toward the end of the coulee are the three Ancient Lakes close together. With the sparse vegetation, it almost looks graded and landscaped out here.

For a few minutes we stop and try to identify the waterfowl skimming the surface of the first lake. I see some Canadian geese, but can't figure out the other ducks. Where are my birder friends when I need them?

In the lull, we look back and notice several mountain bikers and hikers not far behind us. 

But still, it's pastoral and lovely out here regardless.

Then we stroll back to the car on what is essentially a loop on the dirt road (and trail in a few stretches) through the coulee.  We're meeting someone for lunch in Wenatchee so just do the 4-mile roundtrip rather than extending our hike another couple miles by dropping into the southern coulee to Dusty Lake.

Next trip.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!  In between blog posts, you can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and FaceBook for more photos and Northwest news.

When You Go
Go on a weekday or early in the morning on weekends to beat the crowds of hikers and mountain bikers. If we'd known in advance, we would have pitched a tent in the Ancient Lakes coulee and gazed at the stars away from city lights. We were too early for wildflowers, but spring is the perfect time to recreate here before wildflowers wither in the heat and rattlesnakes come out of winter hibernation. 

From Ellensburg, drive east on I-90 to  George (Exit 149), about 150 miles from Seattle. Turn left and drive on SR 281 to Quincy. In Quincy, turn left (west) on SR 28 and drive 4 miles to White Trail Road. Turn left and drive about 7 miles or so until you reach Road 9-NW and drive 5.9 miles to the road's end. You need a Discover Pass to park here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sea Kayaking Upper Skagit Bay: Easy Does It

I'm lucky to live in a sea kayaker's nirvana here in northwestern Washington. 

With scenic islands and hundreds of miles of shoreline to explore in Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea, it's easy to escape terra firma for a few hours or days. It's a different world out there on the sea. Quieter, rich in marine life and waterfowl.

One of my favorite destinations for a day or even just half day trip is upper Skagit Bay. It's not much more than an hour north of Seattle on the western edge of the Skagit River delta.

On my recent trip there, we'd passed through heavy fog on our way north from Seattle and discussed aborting to avoid paddling with poor visibility. But when we drop down into the Skagit Flats and get off I-5 at Conway, only tufts of fog remain. 

When we arrive at Snee-oosh Beach on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community west of LaConner to launch around 9:30 Sunday morning, we're the only ones here. I love the quiet of Sunday mornings.

Deadman and Little Deadman Islands in Skagit Bay

As we're sorting gear and hauling our kayaks to the beach, I discover my life vest didn't make the trip up from Seattle with us. Not good. 

However, because the sea is so calm, we decide to do a shorter paddle south to Deadman and Little Deadman islands and then stick close to the shorelines. (I've already blogged about kayaking north to Hope and Skagit Islands and Cornet Bay.)

Paddling south toward these small islands at low tide is tricky because this shallow area turns into mudflats (or tidal flats), the result of Skagit River deposits in the bay. Fortunately the tide is pretty high this morning.

So we shove off into the easy sea and stroke at a relaxed pace southward. 

When we pull abreast of the eastern shoreline of Deadman Island, I look up and spot two big bald eagles perched in side by side trees just above us. (Always check the tops of trees and or snags in eagle country.) They quickly decide not to linger with us nearby. Those big eagle wings are surprisingly quiet as they fly away.

While circumnavigating Deadman Island close to the rocky shoreline, Julie notices an abundance of small mussels growing on the barnacle-encrusted rocks. I notice the lack of sea stars (aka starfish), which sadly suffered a massive die-off along the whole West Coast the last couple years. I assume no sea stars = more mussels and barnacles because a major intertidal zone predator is gone.

Rounding a bend, we scare off a big great blue heron, which takes off and flies over to a rock next to Little Deadman Island, where we're headed next.

Little Deadman Island
And then we kayak back at a mellow pace, seeing no other watercraft nearby except a solo paddleboarder. 

Of course we stop a few times to just hang and savor the unusually warm March day and soak up some sun. Up here in the Upper Left Corner of the USA, most of us are chronically low in Vitamin D.

So today's paddle was short and sweet. We're back at the beach in a little over an hour.  But that gives us more time to make a few stops at some of my favorite places here in the Skagit.

Back at the beach too soon.
After Kayak Eats
We bypass touristy LaConner and stop at my current favorite place to grab a bite in the Skagit: Rexville Grocery, an old gas station converted to a gourmet grocery/cafe/community center.

We order half sandwiches and salads (I get turkey/provolone/pesto) and grab a spot at the counter where locals gather. Behind the counter, the new owner makes our meal.  He tells us he's not going to change the current format but will add more goodies.

We consider an ice cream cone at Snow Goose Produce on our way back to I-5, but darn it, by 1:30 the line for their famous cones extends halfway back to Seattle. Well, not really, but it's too long for us to wait around. It's too early in the season for their also famous fresh local fish and spot prawns, but I snag some fresh chard, kale, and carrots.

All in all, a fun and relaxing day.  

Have you kayaked/paddled in the area? Would love to hear about your trip(s) there under the Comments below!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons. In between blog posts check us out on FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter for more photos and Northwest news.

When You Go
Drive to LaConner, WA, about 60 miles north of Seattle off Interstate 5, cross the Rainbow Bridge over Swinomish Slough, then take a left on Pull-and-be-Damned Road (isn't that a wonderful name for a road, or anything?) to Snee-oosh Road on the bay. As soon as the road drops down to the water level, take a quick left onto the dirt road to the boat launch /parking area, where you can park for free. Check the tides before you go since the currents can get pretty strong around the islands here and a low tide means tideflats that can restrict travel to the south.   (It’s not fun carrying kayaks through sticky, mucky mudflats to get to the water.) 


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Hiking Columbia River Gorge: Lower Eagle Creek

Life happens, the years fly by, and suddenly you realize it has been far too long since you hiked a favorite trail. Does this happen to you too?

After driving down from Seattle on a Saturday morning, it's close to noon when we hit the trail at Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorge. We decided on Eagle Creek thinking it'll be less crowded than the Wahkeena Falls-Multnomah Falls-Angel's Rest trails because it's farther east from Portland.

Nope, apparently Eagle Creek is the most popular trail in the Gorge. When we arrive, there are so many cars parked that we have to walk about 1/2 mile to the trailhead.

For those of us who grew up in east Multnomah County and remember parking close to any trailhead in the Gorge, and then hiking  in relative solitude, the current reality takes some adjustment.

But any day on a trail is a good day.

We start out along the creek and soon climb gently through forest dripping with  moss.

While the trail is plenty wide and there is a cable handrail against the basalt rock walls, walking along the ledge portions of the trail does require being careful and watching your step. Because, well, accidents do and have happened here.

We meander a little over a mile through forest and along ledges, cross a pretty stream, and take the  Lower Punch Bowl Falls Trail cutoff at about 1.5 miles along.

From the cutoff trail, it's less than a quarter-mile down to a rocky beach area below the falls. Many hikers only go as far as the Punch Bowl Falls, as do we today because of time limitations.

And then we step over cobbled river rocks as far as we can get to a decent view of the basalt "punch bowl" into which Eagle Creek tumbles. 

We pass a half dozen or so rock cairns, one of which now bears a stone I carefully added. I love that cairns, or stupas as a Zen teacher I know calls them, are all over these days.

Behold the obligatory Punch Bowl Falls shot.  Because it is indeed breathtaking up close in its natural gorgeousness and power.

As we head back down the Eagle Creek trail, I follow my former high school classmate and hiking buddy Colleen and her trooper of a little dog Marley, my models today. :)


Along an undercut rock wall on the trail, we pass beneath a light waterfall streaming down from the cliff above. 

So there are a few spots along the trail that can be dicey in slick or icy conditions, but on a dry, warmish day like today, ambling along the Eagle Creek trail is a pleasant, easy walk.

After Hike Eats
Who's not hungry after a hike? Afterwards we drive back west on I-84 and cut south into historic downtown Gresham.  The small town where my father had a couple businesses and I spent so much time as a girl is now considered a charming destination. 

Main Street, Gresham, Oregon
Colleen suggests we grab a bite at The Local Cow, a cute little burger bar on Main Street that serves high-quality, Oregon pasture-raised beef.  (And, I discovered, is located in the same building/space where my father operated an office supply business many years ago.) Excellent little beef sliders, great mixed green salad, and refreshing Spire Mountain pear cider

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!  In between blog posts check us out on FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter for more photos and Northwest news.
When You Go
While any time hiking in the verdant mosslandia of the Columbia River Gorge is wonderful, anymore I suggest going on a week day if you can. If it's just weekends for you, go early. 

From the Portland area, travel east on I-84 to the Eagle Creek exit, about a mile past Bonneville Dam. To the Punch Bowl and back from the Eagle Creek trailhead is about 3.4 miles, although we added almost a mile with having to park so far away. You can continue on for several miles, or as a backpack, all the way to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood, as I did when I was in high school. You'll need a Northwest Forest Pass to park or risk a fine.