Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Washington Coast Weekend Getaway: Long Beach Peninsula

Way down at the southwest corner of Washington on the Pacific coast is a lush land with rich coastal estuaries, the proclaimed world's longest beach (although it's really only #8), and a slower pace reminiscent of an earlier era. 

In early June I spent a weekend on the Long Beach Peninsula in a grand old rental home just a 15-minute stroll through scrubby forest and grassland to the ocean. As we drove into the quiet Seaview neighborhood of quaint houses with spacious green lawns and voluptuous rhododendrons, it reminded me of childhood trips to my grandparents' beach home.

But this weekend was no kids trip. It was an annual reunion weekend of high school friends, which eight of us have been doing now for a couple decades.

Home base for the weekend
While we cooked most of our meals instead of sampling the local restaurants and cafes, we did get out and explore. 

A mild, lovely June day with blue skies and wispy clouds overhead greeted us Saturday morning. After one of the longest and best nights of sleep I've had in months, first up was the walk down to the ocean, where a refreshing sea breeze cleared all the sleep webs from my groggy brain. 

On the ocean side of Long Beach Peninsula, you'll see horses and even cars on the beach, except at the north end where it's protected as part of the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Essentially the peninsula is a big sand bar from sediments washed out of the mouth of the nearby mighty Columbia River. And it's still growing.

Discovery Bicycle Trail along the coastline.
It's hard to get anyone to tear away from the intense catching up going on between eight women, but two friends joined me for an easy hike in the afternoon. 

About 20 minutes drive off the peninsula and northeast along Willapa Bay at the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters is the truly enchanting Willapa Art Trail. This short quarter-mile boardwalk trail through a wetland is scattered with sculptural pieces instead of interpretive signs to educate visitors. 

From the huge salmon carcass at the trail entrance to small bronze frogs and fish in trees, these pieces were created and installed by students from the University of Washington Public Arts Program.

From the art trail, we cut off to the Cutthroat Trail to make it a longer loop (1 mile). This trail heads up steep wooden steps and then meanders through lovely old growth hemlocks (the Washington State Tree) and ferns. 

Along the way we passed numerous interpretive signs showing a footprint and a description of an animal, quizzing us. Do you know what this one is?

After crossing a stream and heading back uphill, we passed a charming brick labyrinth alongside the trail. Of course we had to stop and follow its circuitous route to the middle and back.

On Sunday we weren't quite so lucky with the blue skies, but the cool, damp weather that characterizes the Washington coast much of the time makes it especially green and fertile. Personally I love a good walk in the rain.

And so I headed to the north end of the peninsula to Leadbetter Point State Park to walk along the inner tidelands. No one wanted to tramp in the rain with me, but I'm good with being alone in nature. In fact, I seek it sometimes.

Leadbetter Point Park is as far north as you can drive on the peninsula (which wasn't the case when I spent a Thanksgiving weekend here in the 1990s). When I arrived, only one other vehicle was in the parking lot. I decided to do the 1.2-mile Bay Loop Trail to see both forest and beach.

While the forest is young up here, it's very verdant and healthy, as you can imagine with an average annual rainfall of 76 inches, almost twice that of Seattle and Portland. Pacific storms slam onto the Northwest coast here before heading inland.

When the tide is out, like it was that day, the tideland provides fecund feeding grounds for birds and waterfowl. It's a birder's destination and protected habitat for the seriously cute but endangered snowy plover.

On the way back down peninsula I stopped at Oysterville Sea Farms on Willapa Bay, which I basically stumbled upon. I'm not an oyster fan, but the weathered wooden building with a big deck overlooking the bay invited me on in. Inside were a variety of local specialties besides oysters. I snagged some local smoked salmon, dried cranberries, and a bottle of their dry white wine specially blended to pair with oysters.

I'm a sucker for old cemeteries, and the Oysterville cemetery is definitely worth a stop. Chief Nahcati is buried there, for whom the peninsula town of Nahcotta was named. He is known for befriending the original Europeans settlers who founded Oysterville and showing them the prolific oyster beds on what was then called Shoalwater Bay.

Back in the town of Long Beach, I met up with my g'friends at popular Cottage Bakery on the main touristy business strip. I read later that it's famous for having some of the best doughnuts in the Pacific Northwest, although we just indulged in soup and tea.

Early Monday morning I was on the road by 6:45 a.m. with work obligations back home in Seattle. Instead of heading east to Interstate 5, though, I meandered up the coast along Highway 101 through lovely coastal estuaries. With the soft, misty morning light, I had to stop and snap some shots.

If you've not been along that stretch of highway before, be prepared for a lovely scenic drive as the highway winds through estuaries, across rivers, and past evergreen forests in various stages of regrowth from logging. After an hour of early morning driving, I lucked out by stopping at Elixir Coffee Shop in South Bend, where the high-quality hot tea and still warm, freshly baked cranberry scone were a sweet surprise in such a small town

With much more to do there, we'll be back in 2019, same weekend, unless the inevitable tsunami hits before then. But that's another blog post altogether. I'm already plotting where I'm going to explore next time around. Have you spent much time down there? What do you recommend if so?

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

The Long Beach Peninsula is close to the southern border of Washington along the Columbia River. Check out an area map, directions and travel options here. From Seattle, I drove down I-5 to Olympia and then cut southwest to Grays Harbor and down Highway 101 along the coast (here's my route on Google maps). It took me almost 3.5 hours to drive home to north Seattle on Monday morning with some rush hour traffic (but not that much).

We stayed at the historic Bloomer Mansion in Seaview, available for rent. It was spacious, private, well-stocked, and comfortable for sprawling out.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Southwest U.S. Road Trip: Bryce Canyon Sunrise

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don't go back to sleep. - Rumi

By the time we get to Bryce Canyon National Park on a clear, starry spring night, the park entrance station is dark and shuttered closed. We've driven up from Zion after a full day of hiking and exploring, and it's sleepy time.

So we drive on into the park to look for a campsite anyway . Even in the off season, it's not a good idea to hit a popular national park without a reservation. But here we are.

We're not totally out of luck. We're traveling in a newly retrofitted camper van (its maiden voyage), which allows us to be stealth and park for the night. After looping through the one open (and full) campground, we drive slowly along the canyon rim, checking out viewpoint parking lots.

Ultimately we settle on a small lot not far past the Bryce Canyon Lodge, conveniently just a few yards from an overlook and a restroom. We join a Westfalia tucked at the corner of the lot and turn in for the night.

While I love my Pacific Northwest, I also enjoy straying beyond my region to see colorful and different landscapes. Excited to shoot the sunrise, I wake up before the alarm and crawl out into the freezing cold morning for a look.

As you can imagine, it's breathtaking! There's not much breeze, but I heed Rumi's advice. No sleeping in today. After snapping a few pre-sunrise shots, we take off for more viewpoints.

Back in the 2000s I spent a few days at Bryce, where we hiked down in the canyon around the otherworldly hoodoos. These enchanting formations are shaped by erosion over millennia into colorful limestone, sandstone, and mudstone spires, fins, pinnacles, and even arches.

 At our second stop we catch this lovely arch before sunrise still. It's hard to stop shooting amidst this visual feast.

But there's still more to see, so we hop back in the van and dash back towards the lodge, passing the rising sun to the east.

By the time we arrive at the lodge parking lot, the sun is cresting brightly, illuminating the canyon below in dramatic light and shadow. I literally run to the canyon rim to start shooting. Light changes quickly at the cusp of the day.

It's so lovely that I don't notice how freezing my hands are until I've snapped about a dozen shots. Then I shrug and continue in the sub-freezing temps

I could post a lot more photos, but I hope you get the picture that a sunrise at Bryce is a bucket list event.

Since it's close and warm, we walk into the Bryce Canyon Lodge for the breakfast buffet. I love these old historic national park lodges, although they're not necessarily known for their cuisine. But the food is hot and hits the spot.

Then we're off into the gorgeous southern Utah morning, heading north like homing pigeons.
NOT western Washington
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

Bryce Canyon National Park is in southern Utah only an hour or two northwest of equally spectacular Zion National Park and near other destinations like Kodachrome State Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. You could spend much more time exploring and hiking than we did on this trip. But a Bryce sunrise is a must!  This website has good info on lodging and particulars about visiting Bryce. BTW, how about letting your senators, Congress reps, the Administration, and others know that our national monuments deserve full protection. Just sayin'.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Spring in the Pacific Northwest: Still Here

After almost 10 years blogging here at Pacific Northwest Seasons, an overextended schedule and other issues have conspired to keep me away.  

I've been out and about, and I hope to be back blogging new posts more frequently again soon.

I've enjoyed some good spring hikes at a few favorite spots (Deception Pass Park, Leavenworth area in Washington), a few trips north to the Skagit Valley for spring garden goodies and tulips, and a fun road trip through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and back on up to Seattle.

I'll blog more about the road trip. In the meantime, enjoy a few shots from the last month, from both east and west of the Cascades. 

Looking up Tumwater Canyon from Icicle Ridge Trail.
Arrowleaf balsam root, Leavenworth, WA

Spring wildflowers, atop Goose Rock, Deception Pass Park

Bryce Canyon, Utah, sunrise

Road trip! Heading home on I-90 nearing Cle Elum, WA
 But just wanted to say hey for now. I'm still here.

I hope you are too. Check back in a week or two for more.

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. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

BC Road Trip: Rossland and Red Mountain

For years I've heard from friends about the fantastic skiing at Red Mountain and charm of Rossland. A few weeks ago in March, it was finally my turn to experience this fun mountain and great little outdoors town.

While I can't speak authoritatively about the mountain from just one day of skiing, I did have a splendid day skiing there in spring-like conditions. 

Locals told me that about 4 years ago, Rossland got "discovered" and now draws visitors from all over the world. Despite the uptake, Red still retains a local mountain feel.

After a scenic road trip from Seattle, our day skiing was bracketed by two nights in Rossland. We scored a room at the Prestige Mountain Resort on the main street in downtown Rossland, convenient to all the shops and cafes.

We ate very well. Our first evening, we enjoyed an excellent dinner at Gabriella's Restaurant in the lobby of the Prestige. My housemade butternut squash ravioli with wild mushrooms was excellent. I had to restrain myself from finishing it all and getting stuffed.

A brilliant mountain sunrise greeted us before skiing Saturday. Of course I had to grab the camera and snap some shots outside our window.

Before driving the few short miles to the mountain, we walked down the street for coffee/tea/breakfast at the Alpine Grind a couple blocks away. Outside a line had formed before it opened at 8 am, and it was definitely worth the wait. Good quality tea (I can't speak for the coffee but everyone seemed happy) and a toasted whole grain bagel with peanut butter and jelly hit the proverbial spot. (Personally I don't like a big breakfast before skiing).

And on to the mountain, which is literally the other side of the hill from town and less than 10 minutes driving. Morning clouds were cleared off by the time we hit the slopes, which took an hour or so to soften up. However, good grooming made it easy peasy to ski regardless.

There are three mountains at Red, and we didn't go up the actual Red Mountain due to a ski race set up over there.  After a few warm up runs down below, we headed up Granite Mountain, where the panoramic views of the surrounding Kootenay Mountains opened up.

The peak just below is Red Mountain.
For most of the day we stuck to the groomers, and made our way over to Grey Mountain for a few fun runs.

By early afternoon the conditions were softening up quite a bit. I made another foray back over to Granite Mountain and skied down the black diamond front side beneath the chair - Buffalo's Ridge to Main Run.

We quit while we were ahead, tired and happy. Oh, and gotta say, the Thai tofu veggie wrap sandwich I had in the lower lodge was about the tastiest, most healthful lunch I've ever had at a ski mountain.

Saturday night we had dinner at a fairly new place set in an old refurbished gas station/garage in "downtown," the appropriately named Fuel Gastropub and Diner. The salad was tasty, but the real standout dish was the pork belly tacos.

Despite the warmish day, it got chilly as the sun set. We bundled up to stroll and stop in a few shops along the way.

We were up and out early the next day, and while I would have liked another few days to ski, it was a good first taste of what this area has to offer. Next trip I'd like to return earlier in the year - January or February - to hopefully hit some fresh snow and try some of their famous backcountry cat skiing.

How about you, have you skied Red and spent time in Rossland? Would love to hear about it if so.

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

As I mentioned in my prior post, Rossland is about a 6 - 8 hour drive from Seattle, just north of the border in southern British Columbia. It's a historic former mining town turned year-round outdoors destination, but skiing was the original draw. Here's a link to the trail map for Red Mountain. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Road Trip: Seattle to Rossland, BC

One of my favorite things to do is going places I've never been before. I love filling in places on the map with real time adventure.

So I jumped at a recent invite to road trip to Rossland, a charming historic mining town turned outdoors mecca in the famous Kootenay Rockies Region of British Columbia, Canada. While our goal was skiing at Red Mountain, first I have to tell you about the great road trip there from Seattle.

When people outside the Pacific Northwest think of Washington, they usually think hipster-ish Seattle, coffee, rain, deep green forests, and the sea.  Of course our region is much more varied and dramatically different east of the Cascade Crest.

I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Roadside Geology of Washington to learn more about the country we passed through. Some 200 million years ago, much of what became Washington consisted of two large islands drifting in the Pacific Ocean. One after the other they "docked" onto the west coast of the North American continent, which was once almost as far east as Idaho.  

On first part of our trip, from near Puget Sound to Wenatchee on US Route 2 (the Stevens Pass Scenic Byway), we traversed the ancient North Cascades subcontinent. This micro-continent was one of the former islands that collided and merged into what is today the western edge of the Columbia River Plateau.

The former "west coast"
We snuck over to Leavenworth Thursday pm to get a head start on the long drive to Rossland the next day (with a few planned stops). A dusky pink alpenglow hovered over the mountains surrounding town as we arose early Friday, a good harbinger for the day ahead.

As we drove southeast towards Wenatchee, the sun was still below the surrounding mountains. After turning northward onto Route 97 along the Columbia River toward Chelan (our first stop), the sunlight was just cresting the hilltops along the river, to lovely effect.

This much more arid country east of the Cascades is characterized by rolling hills, rocky outcrops, and sparse vegetation. I call it the "dry side."

After a quick stop in Chelan for an errand and to grab a hot drink, we dropped back down to the river and continued northward. The town of Chelan lies at the edge of the glacial moraine formed by the receding glacier thousands of years ago that scoured what became Lake Chelan. [Interesting factoid: The bottom of Lake Chelan is lower than sea level.]

Lake Chelan

We followed the Columbia River, which is dammed into a series of submissive "lakes" along this route, until it drifted eastward toward Grand Coulee Dam and we continued north.

I call this shot "lonesome pine."
After leaving the river behind, we passed through the thoroughly eastern Washington small towns of Okanogan, Omak, and Tonasket. We're definitely not in Seattle anymore Toto.

Downtown Tonasket
A quick shout-out to Shannon's Deli & Cafe in Tonasket, where we stopped for a breakfast sandwich on the way to B.C. and for a slice of not too tart, not too sweet, just right berry pie on the way home.

And for you geology geeks, Tonasket marks the southern edge and west coast of the former Okanogan island continent (comparable to the North Cascades subcontinent) that also docked against North America about 100 million years ago.

At Tonasket we turned right (eastward) on Highway 20 and enjoyed beautiful, snowy, mountainous scenery as the highway angled northeast towards the town of Republic. There's a whole lot of not much out here but lovely scenery and scattered ranches and homes (see the shot at the top of this post).

These remote mountains of northeastern Washington are home to most of the wolf packs that have returned to our state the last decade or so. 

After a stop in Republic for provisions (snacks, a map), we turned north past Curlew and on up to the border crossing at Danville. Several deer were trudging through the snow along the Kettle River as we passed by.

Downtown Republic
Grand Forks, BC, just across the US border, was our destination for a few hours in the afternoon to visit family. This small town, among many others in this part of BC, is becoming a landing spot for refugees escaping the prohibitively expensive cost of living around Vancouver on the coast. Evidence of this transformation shows in some great coffee shops and cafes.

We enjoyed excellent coffee and tea at Kocomo's, owned by a friendly mother and son duo.

From Grand Forks on to Rossland, another 80 minutes of driving through the mountains, I was too distracted with anticipation to take any more photos. So you'll just have to check back in a few day for the next post about Rossland and Red Mountain. :)

What is your favorite road trip around the Northwest, or anywhere? 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
Our total driving time from Seattle to Rossland was between 8 and 9 hours, factoring in stops along the way. We opted to drive north and go over Highway 2 instead of I-90 for an overnight in Leavenworth en route, then north on Highway 97 near Wenatchee, then east onto Highway 20 at Tonasket, then north onto Highway 21 just past Republic to the Danville border crossing, then east-northeast on Highway 3 past Grand Forks, then south onto Highway 38 to Rossland. Sorry, all the routes I searched for online don't show this exact route. Here's a map showing the region and a fairly close route that travels farther east before cutting north.