8 Oct

Moab for Kiwis

Posted by on October 8, 2017 at 11:23 pm

The landscapes around Moab are unlike any others on Earth. So, we couldn’t let a couple of Jason’s relatives, Steve and Wendy, come halfway across the globe from New Zealand without taking them to see that region. Jason’s parents opted to join us for this little weekend excursion, which was during August’s hot thralls. Appallingly, they had never been to Moab in all their years in Utah. Say what? Jason and I have visited Moab dozens of times and, like any self-respecting insufferable-know-it-all, I’ve picked up quite a few useful and not-entirely-useful area details during those many trips. Hence, we made pretty decent guides. Our guests received no shortage of facts and recreation options. Moab stunned them and we wore them out.

The Shafer Canyon Overlook offered our guests their first glimpse of the striking layers that form Canyonlands drop upon drop.

The Shafer Canyon Overlook offered our guests their first glimpse of the striking layers that form Canyonlands drop upon drop.

Although we arrived in Moab late in the afternoon, we had enough time before sundown to drive to the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park and check out the Shafer Canyon Overlook and Mesa Arch. The Kiwis in our group were awed by the sheer scope of Canyonlands’ sheerness. They weren’t prepared for its 1,400-foot plunges of pristine crimson and auburn sandstone.

Mesa Arch is one of Canyonlands' most famous features.

Mesa Arch is one of Canyonlands’ most famous features.

The next morning, we got up at 6:45 AM to hike to Delicate Arch, one of Utah’s most iconic features. Despite our early rising, this 3.2-mile trek was a bit on the unpleasantly warm side. Still, our climb was cool enough that we could legitimately shake our heads at the suckers going up the trail when we were heading down. That’s all that matters, right?

From above, Mesa Arch's precarious position is more apparent.

From above, Mesa Arch’s precarious position is more apparent.

In the afternoon, we went on a rafting expedition down the Colorado River. We thought we’d be cooler on the water. As it turns out, being near water doesn’t actually make you wet… go figure. A little sweat didn’t ruin our ride though. Fine scenery can make one forget about cascades of perspiration flooding every crevice. We saw five otters during our float. Four of these comprised a happy otter family and the other one was a curious and playful fellow that raced our boat for quite a while just for fun. I love otters!

Glory to the tripod!

Glory to the tripod!

Interestingly, the particular rafting company we used didn’t provide paddles for anyone but our guide, which made me feel slightly pathetic. We went through rapids like White’s Rapid and the Trash Compactor but there really wasn’t much point to adrenaline with our fingers securely wrapped around ropes; whitewater is a much different experience when it’s only your flexed toes holding you in a bobbing raft.

Our group was game for the goofy.

Our group was game for the goofy.

The wind swelled to 35 MPH with gusts up to 60 MPH a mile or two from our take-out point. That rushed air insisted on carrying us upstream so our guide expended a whole lot of energy rowing our raft in circles for half an hour or so. Without oars, the best assistance the rest of us could offer was huddling at the bottom of the boat to keep our wind resistance at a minimum. Still, we made it to our journey’s end only about 15 minutes behind schedule.

Jason and I have been to Delicate Arch a number of times but we enjoyed experiencing it with new recruits.

Jason and I have been to Delicate Arch a number of times but we enjoyed experiencing it with new recruits.

On our way home the next day, we stopped at Dead Horse Point State Park and took a little stroll 2,000 feet above the Colorado River. It was two miles of splendid misery. On that skyward plateau, the fierce fingers of the sun pushed waves of sticky heat onto us from above and the extraordinary vistas carved by the Colorado plummeted away from below.

Dead Horse Point is on a plateau 2,000 feet above the Colorado. Looking over its ever-present edges, you feel every inch.

Dead Horse Point is on a plateau 2,000 feet above the Colorado. Looking over its ever-present edges, you feel every inch.

I believe Moab was a hit with our foreign visitors and deprived locals. Steve and Wendy kept saying that they wouldn’t know how to describe what they had seen to others, that it would be hard to convey the size and scope of Moab’s canyons and colors even with pictures. So, I guess that means there isn’t any point in reading this post or contemplating its photos. Just get yourself down to Moab… preferably not in August though.

27 Sep

Back to Flash

Posted by on September 27, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Vegas isn’t one of my favorite vacation spots- too many people, too many mazes, too much smoke, too much irresponsibility. However, when Jason had to go there for another conference this summer I consented to go with him anyway; I’m a sucker for cute boys and good food.

The restaurants and entertainment options in Vegas are pretty spectacular. As much as Vegas irritates me, I can’t deny that. We ate at Table 10 and Yardbird on this short trip. Yardbird, which specializes in Southern fare, was the better of the two restaurants. We ordered way too much there and couldn’t finish our yummy collard greens and peach cobbler. The woes of only having one stomach are many!

The Neon Museum's Boneyard contains the last remains of much of Vegas' glitzy past.

The Neon Museum’s Boneyard contains the last remains of much of Vegas’ glitzy past.

We also visited The Neon Museum, the final resting place of over 200 obsoleted signs from Vegas’ ever-changing boulevards. Learning about Vegas’ colorful history through this Neon Boneyard may sound boring but it was really cool and fascinating.

Jason and I saw BAZ too, a tribute to the tragic works of Baz Luhrmann. Although not a huge production, if you are a fan it’s worth checking out. I quite enjoyed it.

Even in the darkness, one can still see the love... because it's a giant sign with spotlights on it.

Even in the darkness, one can still see the love… because it’s a giant sign with spotlights on it.

Since I had some free time while Jason was conferencing, I made it my scientific mission to try macaroons from as many different places as possible to compare and contrast their tastiness. Boredom = eating macaroons in the name of science? I’m pretty sure I had to do that proof in geometry class. The king of Vegas’ macaroons? Bouchon Bakery’s caramel. Wow!

And that’s about all I have to say about Vegas. Our visit was typical in every way. Vegas was the blazing and blaring maze of masses it always is but I didn’t mind hanging there for a couple days to consume some scrumptious grub and catch a little chic entertainment.

16 Sep

Conquering Utah’s King

Posted by on September 16, 2017 at 1:55 pm

My up-and-down relationship with Kings Peak, Utah’s highest point at 13,534 feet, began when I was eleven. Somehow, my dad convinced me to join him on a journey to its top at that early age. Now, having experienced Kings Peak a couple more times in my life, I realize that I must have been a pretty determined or stupid kid. On that note, I must be a pretty determined or stupid adult. Here are the details of my most recent trek to the top of Utah.

The hail and rain left behind a surplus of water.

The hail and rain left behind a surplus of water.

In early July, my dad mentioned a desire to hike Kings Peak again, an undertaking no one in my family had pursued for 15 years or so. Next thing I knew, Jason and I were preparing backpacks and buying new gear for this expedition. Then, we were getting up at 4:30 AM, after only two hours and 20 minutes of sleep, to drive out to the High Uintas.

We were about five miles in here and still soggy but, somehow, we were smiling.

We were about five miles in here and still soggy but, somehow, we were smiling.

Not familiar with Kings Peak? Well, here’s what reaching it entails. The Henry’s Fork Trail, the shortest route to Kings, requires just over 27 miles of hiking roundtrip. Across those nearly 30 miles, 5,436 feet of elevation are gained and lost again. The trek takes most people at least three days: one day to backpack about seven or eight miles to Dollar Lake or Henry’s Fork Lake and set up a basecamp, another day to reach the summit and make it back to basecamp, and one final day to descend back out of the High Uintas. Kings Peak is rated a Class 2, strenuous hike by Don Holmes, a classification that is only surpassed by the highest points in six other states. Its apex has 40% less oxygen than sea level.

Jason is a pleasant hiker even when he's dripping and drained.

Jason is a pleasant hiker even when he’s dripping and drained.

Our group, which consisted of seven members, included two senior citizens and two young teenagers. Yup, not exactly what one might call the fittest of scoundrels. Yet, with a little gumption, a bit of positive peer pressure, and a few Weird Al songs, you’d be surprised what the human spirit and human foot are capable of.

Within an hour of commencing our hike, the weather seriously dampened some of those humans’ spirits. It started raining and thunder and lightning began filling the heavens with a thumping light show. Then, all hail broke loose. We spread out along the edge of the trail near the patchy cover of conifers for about half an hour while hail whacked and bounced off us like rubbery gravel and rain soaked into our clothes without regard to our rain jackets and ponchos. After that quenching, the youngest member of our group, Miles, seemed to lose his thirst for the adventure. Yet, with some encouragement and coaxing, we eventually made it to Dollar Lake, our destination for the day. We were able to find enough dry wood to light a fire and dehydrate our sopping shoes until they were just damp.

Some of the best moments in the mountains happen around a campfire.

Some of the best moments in the mountains happen around a campfire.

The next day, we got up at 6:30 AM and began the toughest part of our expedition. From Dollar Lake, it’s about 13 miles to the top of Kings Peak and back. Several shortcuts exist but some of them take longer than the established route due to tricky terrain. For the regular path, you first climb to Gunsight Pass, which is higher than Mount Timpanogos at an elevation of 11,888 feet. Next, you dip down 600 feet into Painter Basin. Although Painter Basin is bypassed by all of Kings’ shortcuts, it’s one of the prettiest parts of the hike in my opinion. You emerge from Painter Basin with a steady climb to Anderson Pass, Kings’ saddle, which tops out around 12,700 feet. Nothing but small alpine grasses and mosses grow past Painter Basin; the terrain is mostly rock and prolific fingers of flowing water at that point. Beyond Anderson Pass, Kings Peak stares sharply down from another 800 feet up, a giant mass of immense stone slabs where no marked trail exists and sudden cliffs plunge around every turn.

After trekking for hours in soggy shoes, this fire was an indispensable dehumidifier.

After trekking for hours in soggy shoes, this fire was an indispensable dehumidifier.

All of our group made it to Anderson Pass. However, only three of us journeyed further. Ryan and Benson were experiencing a mix of exhaustion and elevation by then and the results were not good nor speedy. While others in our group waited on them, Miles, Jason, and I started our ascent to the summit.

We look peppy here. It didn't last.

We look peppy here. It didn’t last.

Miles did remarkably well, especially considering his age. He complained a bit but kept on climbing. However, being responsible for a young teenager made me a bit nervous; Jason and I kept him between us the whole time. Around 13,000 feet, we all started suffering from elevation sickness. I began feeling lightheaded, dizzy, and sick to my stomach. The others experienced similar problems with Miles exhibiting a severe headache. Dizziness and cliffs aren’t a particularly good pairing but we took frequent breaks to mitigate the misery.

Painter Basin is often skipped by those heading to Kings but, in my opinion, it's one of the most picturesque sections of the hike.

Painter Basin is often skipped by those heading to Kings but, in my opinion, it’s one of the most picturesque sections of the hike.

Several false peaks veil the length of the climb to Kings’ crown. Believing we were nearly to the top a few times only to discover that we couldn’t actually even see the top yet was a little disheartening but we eventually made it to the one-and-only true summit. There, we enjoyed Whatchamacallits to celebrate our challenging victory.

From saddle to summit, Kings Peak is an 800-foot-high pile of stone chunks.

From saddle to summit, Kings Peak is an 800-foot-high pile of stone chunks.

I mentioned that shortcuts to Kings Peak exist. One cuts off two miles of the journey by skipping Gunsight Pass via a 1,300-foot rockslide. This rockslide is “by far the most dangerous place on the trail” according to some experts. And no, I am not quoting myself as an expert here. As we have on all past hikes to Kings, my family took this rockslide on our descent to save some time. Every time I do this slide I am reminded that I hate doing this slide. It’s crazy steep and each step taken produces the fear of slinging rocks onto the people below you, a reasonable concern since that is the most dangerous thing about the slide. On this occasion, a recent mudslide was still churning out water, boulders, and mid-shin-deep mud on one side of the slide, just another layer added to our chute apprehension. Still, we made it back to camp before nightfall without incident.

Our triumph earned us each a candy bar.

Our triumph earned us each a candy bar.

Although we lucked out weather-wise on our summiting day, no lightning or precipitation, we got rained on again the next day as we were backpacking back to civilization. Fortunately, it was drizzle compared to the first day because the storm didn’t really let loose until we were back in our vehicles. Less rain = better spirits = faster hiking. What took us six hours on the way in only took us four hours to backpack out.

The abruptness of Kings' rockslide is hard to depict via picture. Those dots, my family members, are about 1,000 vertical feet below me.

The abruptness of Kings’ rockslide is hard to depict via picture. Those dots, my family members, are about 1,000 vertical feet below me.

On a side note, I’d like to point out a personal obstacle I encountered during the execution of this outing. Backpacking poses a dilemma for planners. Planners like to plan for everything; yup, that’s where the name comes from… you are smart. I am a planner. I’m the one that remembers to pack everything everyone else forgets. But, backpacking necessitates only bringing the most needed essentials. I had a tough time shrinking my list of supplies to backpacking size.

While we were refilling our canteens in a stream near Dollar Lake, we happened upon this trio of moose.

While we were refilling our canteens in a stream near Dollar Lake, we happened upon this trio of moose.

Kings Peak was an absolutely amazing and utterly exhausting experience. The delicate wildflowers and harsh highlands were stunning. I missed my bathroom. I’ve hiked to Kings Peak during every decade of my life so I’m good for another ten years or so, right?

30 Aug

Oregon Part II: Gone for Goon

Posted by on August 30, 2017 at 12:47 pm

After leaving my family members, Jason and I and drove up the coast from Newport to Astoria, making a couple quick stops to check out the Devil’s Punchbowl and Rockaway Beach. You may remember Astoria from the 80s flick The Goonies. If not, you may be too ancient or juvenile to remember anything memorable.

The Astoria Column was built in 1926 and rises 125 feet from Coxcomb Hill.

The Astoria Column was built in 1926 and rises 125 feet from Coxcomb Hill.

On our first day in Astoria, we visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum and the US Coast Guard lightship Columbia. (Yes, a lightship is exactly what it sounds like, a mobile lighthouse.) The museum recommended allowing two full hours to peruse its collections; we spent over five there and still missed a third of the exhibits. I like to read and process everything at museums so you should avoid going to one with me unless you are an atypically patient person. Learning about the Graveyard of the Pacific, as the mouth of the Columbia River is called, was intriguing. Did you know that over 2,000 ships have gone down in that region? I didn’t either.

In 1906, the Peter Iredale was run ashore by a nasty northwest squall.

In 1906, the Peter Iredale was run ashore by a nasty northwest squall.

We also climbed the 164 steps circling through the Astoria Column to get a peek of the Columbia and Young Rivers and peaks like Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier. It was bitingly windy at the top of the Column so the temperature degrees kept us from thoroughly enjoying the view degrees.

The Peter Iredale was left to bleach and rust on Clatsop Spit.

The Peter Iredale was left to bleach and rust on Clatsop Spit.

Keeping with our maritime-misfortunes theme, we spent the majority of our evening at the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a 285-foot sailing ship that ran ashore about 110 years ago. Her barnacled bones are reachable at low tide and are a fabulous place to take way too many pictures… which we did.

Flavel House was built in 1865 by one of Astoria's earliest millionaires.

Flavel House was built in 1865 by one of Astoria’s earliest millionaires.

We began our last full day in Oregon with a trip through Flavel House, a Victorian mansion worthy of its “mansion” title with 14-foot ceilings and 11,600 square feet. Be still my bygone heart! We’ve toured a number of historic homes but this was one of the best we’ve visited.

Haystack Rock may be 15 million years old but it feels like the 80s to me.

Haystack Rock may be 15 million years old but it feels like the 80s to me.

After Flavel, we spent the afternoon in Cannon Beach, a cute, crowded, uppity seaside town. Although the sand and sunshine seekers swarmed, it was a fun place to spend a few hours. (Really people, you came to Oregon for sun?) We strolled the shore near Haystack Rock of Goonies fame and ambled around Hug Point, a beach with a waterfall and multiple caves. Yup, sounds like a place One-Eyed Willy might still be lurking.

Hug Point features caves, waterfalls, and adventures.

Hug Point features caves, waterfalls, and adventures.

Our Oregon outing was a pleasant mix of relaxation and exploration. That shoreline was windier than I remember but sunnier than I expected. (The last time I was on the Oregon coast, I don’t think I experienced more than a few stolen moments of sunshine.) The seafood sure was tasty but, thanks to gorging, I did OD on it a bit. By the last day of our trip, I couldn’t coax myself into ingesting even one more bite of sea bounty. With how much my family members enjoyed themselves, “magical” was the term they used, Oregon could definitely become a tradition.

Our hotel offered excellent views of the Columbia River and all its watery traffic.

Our hotel offered excellent views of the Columbia River and all its watery traffic.

On a random closing note, Oregon must be an impish land because all of the Devil’s stuff is there from his punchbowl to his elbow. I found the number of deviled names strewn about the shore pretty amusing.

17 Aug

Oregon Part I: Hot for Yachats

Posted by on August 17, 2017 at 9:24 pm

For Christmas, Jason and I gave my sister and parents lodgings for four nights in Oregon, one of their favorite places to visit in summer. It may sound generous of us but, actually, it was a self-serving excuse to rent a beach house.

Rivendell? No, Multnomah.

Rivendell? No, Multnomah.

Since we flew into Portland, we spent the afternoon in that city eating treats at Blue Star Donuts and shopping at Powell’s City of Books. The donuts were probably the best I’ve ever had and that bookstore was overwhelming enormous but really cool.

Climbing a sea-tossed trunk caused an unexpected torrent of giggles.

Climbing a sea-tossed trunk caused an unexpected torrent of giggles.

Upon heading out of Portland, we took a 45-minute detour to Multnomah Falls, a gorgeous 627-foot waterfall completely overrun by tourists. Silly sightseers, don’t you know that nature isn’t meant to be experienced in throngs? Of course, it is meant to be experienced by me.

A few hours later, we made it to Yachats, our beach destination. Yachats (pronounced ya-hots) is a tiny town near Cape Perpetua. For its small size, it has a significant number of tasty places to eat but not a significant amount of anything else. Our beach house, as the name implies, was directly above the beach. It was an excellent spot from which to take runs along the shore, relax on the patio with a warm jacket, or survey the waves and whales. We did all repeatedly.

The beach was just a hop and skip away from our rented home; no jump was required to reach it.

The beach was just a hop and skip away from our rented home; no jump was required to reach it.

On our second day, we explored Thor’s Well at Cape Perpetua, a mesmerizing ocean sinkhole shaped like a toilet bowl (according to Jason). At high tide, we watched water explode out of its opening and then drain quickly, only to burst out again. Frankly, I could have watched its splashy cycle for hours; it was that captivating.

We discovered more than just whales on the Discovery.

We discovered more than just whales on the Discovery.

We visited the same shoreline that evening to catch the daily tide-pool show. With starfish, green anemones, purple sea urchins, mussels, barnacles, chitons, and other coastline critters exposed, low tide at Cape Perpetua did not disappoint. (For the best tide pools near Thor’s Well, walk in the direction of Yachats.)

We came across about 50 starfish in one tide pool visit.

We came across about 50 starfish in one tide pool visit.

The following day, we went out on a whale watching excursion from Newport on the Discovery. Poseidon blessed our voyage; the weather stayed clear and the whales were plentiful. We saw some whale tail and met Scarback, a female gray whale that regularly resides in Newport. She got her name from the huge scar on her right dorsal hump, the result of being hit by an exploding harpoon back in mid 80s.

Later, we stopped at Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, a quaint edifice built in 1871 with a reputation for ghostly goings-on. We speculated about the building’s alleged specters but didn’t see any.

Heceta Head Lighthouse is over 120 years old but is still illuminating.

Heceta Head Lighthouse is over 120 years old but is still illuminating.

Like chips, one lighthouse is never enough, right? That evening, we hiked up to Heceta Head Lighthouse, which was built in 1892. My sister and I toughed out the penetrating wind for way too long to get some sunset pictures of this stalwart structure atop its picturesque bluff.

Beautiful about covers it.

Beautiful about covers it.

The next day, the girls and Jason headed to the farmers market while the rest of the group visited Yachats Brewery. Berries, veggies, jewelry, and knickknacks were bought by some while others got pints. Everyone got happy.

Heceta Head's light is the strongest on the Oregon coast. It can be seen 21 miles from the shore.

Heceta Head’s light is the strongest on the Oregon coast. It can be seen 21 miles from the shore.

In the afternoon, we explored Cape Perpetua’s Whispering Spruce and St. Perpetua Trails. These required a little over a mile of hiking, more than nothing but less than something. The views were incredible and the towering forest trees were stunningly dressed in lacey moss and delicate mist.

When the tide went out that evening, we investigated the tide pools at Cape Perpetua again. We hit the starfish motherlode this time! Not only did we see the typical tide poolers, we also encountered about 50 starfish ranging in color from purple to orange. I believe they were all of the ochre variety. Pretty stellar.

On the Whispering Spruce Trail, massive trees drifted in and out of a foggy realm.

On the Whispering Spruce Trail, massive trees drifted in and out of a foggy realm.

We had just enough daylight left to walk to a 185-foot 500-year-old Sitka spruce tree. I’ve got a squishy spot in my cardiovascular system for quiet giants.

On our last day with my family, we went back to Newport to visit one more lighthouse, Yaquina Head. This structure was built in 1873 and is still operating today in an area known for its foul weather. (Yeah, I’d classify 100-MPH winds as foul.) Her solid construction and five-foot walls hide graceful Victorian details like marble floors and ornate railings. We were able to twirl around all the way to her crown. Toughness, style, and efficiency- that sounds like one fine lady to me.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse has been guiding ships to safety for over 140 years.

The Yaquina Head Lighthouse has been guiding ships to safety for over 140 years.

After heading out of Yaquina Head, Jason and I left the rest of the gang to spend a few days by ourselves in Astoria, which I will ramble about next week.

On a closing note, Jason and I really enjoyed the time spent with my family members in Yachats. We played Phase 10 in the evenings and fought over who was buying dinner. (Everyone insisted on paying.) My sister painted all the ladies’ nails “Oceanside” blue. Those days were filled with plenty of saline moments with some of the people I treasure most.