Thursday, May 16, 2019

Walking Seattle: The City at 3 Miles an Hour

Sometimes accidents can turn out to be happy accidents. 

Last  week my car keys inadvertently traveled over the mountains in a friend's car while I (and my locked car) remained in Seattle. He wasn't going to be back for several days, and my spare key fob went missing a while ago.

Since the City of Seattle is actively trying to make residents drive less, I was a model citizen for a few days. Between the bus, walking, and bicycling, I also got more exercise than normal. It felt great.

Okay, so I did snag a few rides from friends, but not much. I like to go as many days as possible without getting in my car and driving. But this wasn't planned.

What struck me while walking were the details that drivers usually blow past, like the dog that really wanted to crawl out from under the fence I passed but didn't quite fit. Or little sidewalk "libraries," where people add and take books for free.

I passed sweet dragonflies painted on a mailbox.

On Sunday morning I took the bus 3 miles downhill to the Ballard Farmer's Market, with a plan to bus back up to Crown Hill where I live. But when I started walking to catch the bus to go home, well, I didn't stop walking until I got home.  Later I estimated over 5 miles walking around my Northwest Seattle quadrant that day.

The next day there were two mile+ trips to Greenwood for tea and errands. I'm blessed to live around tree-lined streets with exuberant yard landscaping.  I was also fortunate to not have a busy schedule that day.

Tibet in Seattle; I spin the prayer wheels outside Sakya Monastery when I walk past.
When I passed the multi-story developments sprouting up like mushrooms in Ballard and creeping northward, it wasn't so pleasant because the developers basically scrape the lots bare and then add token sidewalk shrubbery. 

Single-family residential zoning is being chipped away in favor of more density in Seattle. This is changing the city's character and eliminating trees, yard landscaping, and gardens. But that's another discussion.

  I realize that to a lot of Millennials and transplants, being without a car is standard practice. But Seattle is still playing catch up with Portland to the south and Vancouver to the north on efficient transit options. And if you use Uber or Lyft, you're still driving around,  even if you're not behind the wheel.

Urban chickens on the next block.
When the days are longer, warmer, and drier, it's easier to walk more. But I'm energized to aim for more car-free days regardless of the weather. How about you?

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 
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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Wenatchee Hiking: Above it all at Saddle Rock

My Wenatchee, Washington, area friends all seem to have found the fountain of youth--or at least an elixir to slow the aging process.

I think in large part it's because they're so close to such splendid outdoors opportunities, like the mile+ dash up to Saddle Rock on the southwest edge of town. One friend seriously does this hike from her home as a morning workout.

Saddle Rock rises spectacularly almost 1,000 feet above Wenatchee in what is now the Saddle Rock Natural Area, a city park. I've heard about friends' hikes there for years but didn't make it up there myself until a couple weeks ago.

The Hike
At my friend's recommendation, we parked at the northern trailhead access at the Wenatchee Racquet and Athletic Club’s (WRAC) main parking lot off Skyline Drive. A few spots near the entrance to the lot are designated for hikers.

While the trailhead was easy to find, we did manage to misinterpret the trail signs (raising my hand here, guilty) and did a longer hike. But no worries, it just made for more exercise and time in this beautiful place.
We wandered left instead of right at the first junction, and ended up just below a lower set of crags (which I'm sure are named). We realized our error and cut right towards a higher junction to Saddle Rock. 

The rocky outcrop to the upper left in this shot is NOT Saddle Rock.

Despite the brilliant sun, the breeze that day had a cold bite, so we bundled up against the windchill and slathered on sunscreen (at least I did). With each strong gust of wind, the silver-green bunchgrass along the hillside undulated like waves on a rough sea.

Of course the arrowleaf balsamroot was coming on strong, but we were a little too early for much purple lupine action. No matter. In a month or so the green in these foothills will fade to dusty brown.

Arrowleaf balsamroot

With the wind and profusion of spring bird calls and wildflowers, it really did feel like the hills were alive. At least many things are alive in the hills (thankfully no rattlesnakes showed themselves). 

The higher we walked, the more spectacular the views became. It's no wonder so many come up here for the sunrise or sunset.

Looking down at Wenatchee and the Columbia River in the distance.
Before Saddle Rock came into view to the south, we crested a rise and then dropped down for the grand finale.

Saddle Rock formations from north and above.
View downriver of the Columbia.
In late April, snow still lingered up on Mission Ridge about 4,000 feet higher. This annual intersection of spring green, blue skies, and snow is my favorite time of year over here. (Well...autumn is pretty spectacular too.)

We didn't spend that much time on the rocks. It drops off pretty steeply. 

On the way down we heard some lovely bird calls from sagebrush near the trail. I couldn't identify, but I'm sure birders would be all over it.

By the time we made it back down to the car, we estimated about 4+ miles of hiking with the detour, with a gain of over 1,200 feet. It was a perfect couple hours on a brilliant spring day.

Have you done this hike or do it frequently? Always love to hear about your experiences too in the comments below. Due to the increasing amount of spam, please leave your name (or at least a pseudonym) and a little something to personalize your comment so I know you're not a bot. We LOVE comments. :)

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 
In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

When You Go
Check out Wenatchee Outdoors' informative web page about this hike, with trailhead instructions.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Into the Woods: Forest Bathing in Mosslandia

While I've always felt better after hiking and playing in the woods, only in the last few years have I learned there's a movement that started in Japan called forest bathing (shinrin-yoku).   

Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. According to a 2016 study, forest bathing significantly reduced pulse rate and significantly increased the score for vigor and decreased the scores for depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion of the participants.

Not that I needed to be told all those years hiking through Pacific Northwest forests have been good for me. 

But with the explosive growth here, which has spilled over to hiking and all things outdoorsy (thank you social media), the hikes I used to take to mountaintops and spectacular views are being overwhelmed. These days, I often head to forest trails that don't particularly lead to a summit or lake. 

And I especially relish our lush forests west of the Cascades, where the ground and trees are carpeted in moss and ferns along with other native shrubs. Things grow in a western forest, often abundantly.

And when trees fall in the forest, lots more things grow on "nurse" logs. It's a big symbiotic chain reaction.

I've been reading The Hidden Life of Trees, and it raises interesting questions: Are trees sentient beings? Do they have feelings? Do they communicate with each other?

While we can't know for sure whether trees possess self-knowledge, the reactions of trees to various conditions and events is indeed real. And they do indeed communicate and support each other in a forest.

As the author concludes: A happy forest is a healthy forest. And I firmly believe that a healthy forest is a healthy place for people to pass through, with respect. Or, as John Muir said, more loftily:
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

I've done many forest hikes over the years and a few recently. Sometimes, like this past weekend along the Salmon River east of Portland, I stop and just sit in silence in the woods, breathing deeply and inhaling the richness of life all around.

Sweet wildflowers sprout beneath trees and along the trail in the spring and summer. As I noted in my last blog post, trilliums are a favorite and still peaking. And this past weekend I was especially enchanted by the abundance of delicate fawn lilies, with mottled leaves resembling the back of baby fawns.

Trillium ovatum

Oregon fawn lily (erythronium oregonum)
So next time you hit the trail, think about a quiet walk in some woods. Observe all the trees and plants, and perhaps think about how they are interconnected. Notice different types and sizes of trees. And then, maybe consider how can you help protect such life and richness.

I no longer blog about every hike I do, but here are a few favorites where you'll get a good "bath" in the woods:

  • For a lowland forest walk near Seattle, try Japanese Gulch or Big Gulch trails in Mukilteo, WA.
  • I've read that the Crater Loop Trail at Larch Mountain east of Portland, OR, has re-opened. However it has suffered from lack of trail maintenance during its prolonged closure after the Gorge fire in 2017. Proceed with caution!
  • Downey Creek Trail outside Darrington, WA, in the North Cascades is reliably quiet. Might have something to do with the 15 miles on rough road to get there.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, andInstagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

When You Go
Check to see if a parking pass (Northwest Forest Pass, Discover Pass) is required for trailhead parking. And think about taking an extra big bag for picking up trash you find along the way, which sadly is not that uncommon these days. Also think about being quiet rather than talking loudly; focus on absorbing your surroundings. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Pacific Northwest Spring: Wildflowers, Blossoms, and Vivid Green

Salmonberry blossoms
While the lowlands in western Washington and Oregon are bursting with tulips and exhuberant floral displays, in the mountains our natives are emerging more slowly. 

But spotting the season's first delicate shoots of spring green, trilliums, and other wildflowers is always a special treat. 

The last few weekends I've hiked on both the eastern and western sides of the Cascade crest in north-central Washington. Of course the west side is more lush and green, while the east side is more arid. 

Weekend before last we hiked up Sauer's Mountain above Peshashtin (just east of Leavenworth), which was mostly snow free.

While the eastern Cascades are brilliant with golden arrowleaf balsam root flowers and lovely purple lupine in the spring, as of this writing they're still a few weeks away from full bloom. But for an early season starter, patches of delicate yellow avalanche lilies and tiny white flowers were scattered alongside the trail.

View from Sauer's Mountain summit toward the Enchantments

By mid summer it will be hot and dry east of the Cascade crest, so the next couple months is prime wildflower season. I'm pretty sure the shoots we saw pictured below are false hellebore, which will wither away in the summer heat. Any of you native plant geeks know for sure?

After a record-breaking snowy February and almost record-breaking dry March, our weather is back to a typically cool and rainy April so far this year. Last weekend we hiked in a gentle rain near Index off US Highway 2 up the relatively short and pretty easy Heybrook Ridge Trail. Such a lush contrast to the Leavenworth area trails!

Indian Plum
This 1.6-mile trail traverses upward through rich second-growth forest to a ridge with sweeping views of Mt. Index (clouded over during our hike). As we passed a pond just beyond the trailhead, the deciduous forest was full of newly leafed out and blossoming Indian plum, an early season favorite of mine.

Soon the trail transitioned into classic western Washington evergreen forest, and not long thereafter I spied my first trilliums of the year. These lovely and fragile native lilies are also a personal favorite (I think for many Northwesterners as well) and should never be disturbed or picked.

And brightening up the forest with bursts of rich magenta are classic Northwest salmonberry blossoms. The berries themselves aren't so vibrant in flavor, but the colors are sure vivid. Right now they're peaking.

Up top on the ridge, the view is quite spectacular if you overlook the massive electrical transmission line towers. No wildflowers up there yet, but some ferns were beginning to unfurl (bracken fern?).

Even verdant evergreen trees here show spring green, including my totem western red cedar along with Douglas firs and western hemlock.

So despite the rainy forecast for the next week or so ahead, it's an especially lovely time of year to get outside and explore the forests and meadows (those that are snow-free) in our beloved mountains here.

I'd love to hear what you've seen so far or your favorite spring native flowers in a comment below.

Happy Spring and Happy trails! Thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons. 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring Arrives in Spectacular Style

I hope you, too, were fortunate enough to witness our spectacular vernal equinox lunar event. As a man who was watching nearby said:

"This is a once in a lifetime event."

Well, I'm not sure about that, but it's pretty darn rare to have this combination: a full moon setting in the morning alpenglow behind the snow-covered Olympic Mountains, under clear skies. On the first day of Spring no less!

I rose early and dashed west to Sunset Hill Park (which is indeed a great place to watch sunsets) in north Seattle with camera and zoom lense ready. I expected a hoard of other photographers there with tripods, but no, I just saw a one other guy shooting and no tripods.

It was still dusky predawn when I arrived and started snapping the first shots.

As it lightened and the moon sank closer to the knife-edged line of the mountaintops, I had to remind myself to stop and just enjoy the view every few minutes.  It's easy to get so hung up on getting the perfect shot that you miss what's happening before your eyes.

And really, there are only so many similar shots you can take.

But also sweet on this magnificent morning (besides the killer lunar show) were the breezy fresh air and ebullient people stopping to watch. Because we all live under the same sun, moon, and sky.

Within about 20 minutes it was over, but the lovely first day of Spring was just beginning, full of promise. I snapped a few more shots and headed to morning tea/coffee with the regulars at Preserve & Gather, where I showed them some shots on my camera.

Did you get to watch the moon setting on the Spring equinox? I've love to hear in a comment below.

Happy Spring and Happy trails! Thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Beyond the Pacific Northwest: Joshua Tree Rocks

In early March, I traded Pacific Northwest snow for a few days of sun in Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park.

On this, my first trip to Joshua Tree National Park, the striking combination of blue sky, dry desert, golden granite boulders, and otherworldy plants was a feast for the senses.  

This was definitely nothing like western Washington and Oregon.

After walking off the rear of the plane in Palm Springs onto the tarmac, I was immediately struck by the dry warmth, which is Southern California doing what it does best.

From Palm Springs, it was about an hour drive up to Joshua Tree through the rugged, mountainous, arid SoCal landscape. 

Some of our group of 11 guys 'n gals stayed in Yucca Valley in a motel, 
but a few of us camped up in the park at Hidden Valley campground, surrounded by huge boulders and striking rock formations. Cold nights with brilliant starry skies brought frosty mornings and glowing sunrises. 

It was glorious.

Before sunrise quiet.

While my motivation was to see somewhere I've never been before, the goal of the group overall was rock climbing. These formerly hard-core climbers and mountaineers (think Half Dome and El Capitan ascents and Himalayan summits) have mellowed with age, but still, the climbing was for real.

Don made scary (to me) look easy. The Tombstone.

My much easier route.

Dave, an experienced and accomplished climber, was patient and took me to much smaller boulders and rocks for climbing and belay practice. After a scary climbing experience in high school, I discovered it was actually fun and pretty safe. 

I'm hooked. Now I want more.

However, there was also hiking and exploring to do. One morning we hiked up nearby Ryan Mountain, the second highest point in the park and a very popular trail. 

This 3-mile round-trip hike is listed in the park guide as strenuous, but really, if you're a hiker in decent shape, it's not tough. Just don't go when it's too hot and bring plenty of water and sunscreen. We gained a little over 1,000 feet to a summit elevation just under 5,500 feet.

Pirickly cactus near summit of Ryan Mountain
Another morning we got up before sunrise to hike the Real Hidden Valley, a lovely little rock-enclosed "valley" near our campground. This easy 1-mile loop also gets tons of traffic, but we had the place to ourselves, which I considered a gift. 

I stopped briefly to sit and meditate just after the sun crested the surrounding rocks, grateful to be in and experience such a beautiful place during the early morning quiet.

Before Joshua Tree was a national park, cattle rustlers used to hide their stolen livestock here in what was then a secret hideaway. 

Another short (1.3-mile) afternoon hike we did was the Barker Dam loop, a pre-park impoundment that remains an oasis in the desert.

With all the extra rain and snow along the West Coast recently, the Joshua trees were starting to bloom and the cholla cactus glowed white with new growth. We were just ahead of a major desert bloom. Nevertheless, it was all lovely and enchanting.

NOT an artichoke :)
Cholla cactus

After Hike/Climb Eats
We did a little cooking (hot drinks in the morning, granola and fruit for breakfast) but drove down to the nearby towns of Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley several times to grab group dinners and snacks. 

We had pretty standard but decent and tasty Mexican at La Casita Neuva in Yucca Valley one night, and what I thought was quite good Thai food in Joshua Tree at the Royal Siam Cuisine Thai Restaurant. Just pass on the deep-fried eggrolls; everything else was fresh and well-prepared. 

But our favorite was the healthy fresh fruit smoothies at the Natural Sisters Cafe, a corner cafe/coffee shop in Joshua Tree near the park entrance turnoff. Oh, and I loved the excellent arugula salad at the Crossroads Cafe, where we had lunch before heading to the airport (sigh).

So I'm back in the land of cold rain (although they're predicting temps up to 70 degrees next week!), but images of Joshua Tree are lingering. I know I'll have to return someday for more.

How about you? Have you spent time there, climbing, hiking, or just sightseeing? Would love to hear in a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.


When You Go

Joshua Tree National Park is in Southern California just north and east of Palm Springs, which is about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. We flew Alaska Air from Seattle, which has plenty of daily flights, but a few in our group drove south in camper vans. They say the summer is beastly hot and the best times to be there are the spring and fall. We had temps in the low 60s in early March, but it rained and even snowed at higher elevations the day after I left.