Posts Filed Under: Excursion Exclusives


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 explored 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.

5 Jul

Running on Steam

Posted by on July 5, 2017 at 11:08 pm

Months ago, my sister asked if I wanted to run a half marathon with her in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Being me, a planner of incurable magnitude, I not only said yes to this race but organized much more than just a 13.2-mile jaunt down a stunning canyon. I soon had a large group of family, runners and rather-not-runners, onboard for a Steamboat weekend.

The five-story townhouse we rented was roomy and comfy.

The five-story townhouse we rented was roomy and comfy.

Our prodding was the friendly sort.

Our prodding was the friendly sort.

Thanks to Jason, our gang found a five-story townhouse to rent for a good price. It had plenty of bedrooms and bathrooms for the group, two patios, and a private hot tub. It was perfect for hanging together but not too snugly.

See those purple lips? Yeah, I was cold.

See those purple lips? Yeah, I was cold.

I don't get to see my sister too often but I always enjoy her company when I get a chance.

I don’t get to see my sister too often but I always enjoy her company when I get a chance.

We couldn’t go to Steamboat without visiting Strawberry Park Hot Springs, one of our favorite spots from last year’s excursion. This time, the water channeled in from the stream to cool the spring flow was particularly frigid because it had recently been snow. So, of course, daring ensued. Who could endure that chilled water the longest or plunge beyond its numbing surface the deepest became the subjects of much persuasion and taunting. John was the winner; he didn’t even need goading to dive in. But, with a few exceptions, most of our swimmers eventually gave in to at least a short dunk in the icy sections.

Everyone enjoyed Strawberry Park's warm pools but some of us appreciated its cold currents as well.

Everyone enjoyed Strawberry Park’s warm pools but some of us appreciated its cold currents as well.

The half marathon itself was beautiful. The route went along the Yampa River for mile after gorgeous mile. The downside? The downhills. The steep slopes made my right knee and Jason’s everything rather sore. Whole information on this half will be given in a later race post, not to fret.

The race's scenery was peaceful yet energizing.

The race’s scenery was peaceful yet energizing.

Hiking isn't usually on the agenda after a half marathon but my family is a little crazy.

Hiking isn’t usually on the agenda after a half marathon but my family is a little crazy.

After the half marathon, we still had enough energy to do the short hike to Fish Creek Falls. We walked to Fish Creek Falls during our last visit to Steamboat so we were surprised to find the river much changed. Spring runoff had transformed the creek into a noisy gush of churning whitewater. It was the kind of river that only provides one-way dips.

Fish Creek was a dangerous mass of rushing whitewater.

Fish Creek was a dangerous mass of rushing whitewater.

Kissing frogs can be fun.

Kissing frogs can be fun.

It was a fantastic trip. I have to say, I kind of love my family. They’re the type of people you can spend a long weekend amid without wanting to throttle someone. We played poker around the kitchen table, chatted at restaurants over dinner, and wandered the streets of Steamboat’s downtown. I will fondly recall this voyage in the boat.

18 Jun

Escalante Escapades

Posted by on June 18, 2017 at 9:44 am

It was my turn to plan our anniversary outings this year. Finals week and anniversary fun don’t play well together but after the presentations and term papers were all done, Jason and I skipped town for some celebratory recreation.

Our yurt was unexpectedly spacious and swanky!

Our yurt was unexpectedly spacious and swanky!

Jason has been wistfully contemplating the merits of glamping for years. So, I decided to organize our anniversary trip around those whims. I found the perfect glamping spot and planned our excursion accordingly. We stayed at Escalante Yurts and absolutely loved it! Experiencing the best parts of camping with the ease of modern comforts was delightful. It poured the first night we were in Escalante and falling asleep to the rain hitting the canvas was as relaxing as waking the next morning to a chorus of birds. I guess Jason’s glamping fancies were not entirely groundless.

Graceful cascades aren't exactly common in the desert. That makes Lower Calf Creek Falls all the lovelier.

Graceful cascades aren’t exactly common in the desert. That makes Lower Calf Creek Falls all the lovelier.

We spent the majority of our first day in Escalante hiking to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Lower Calf Creek Falls is probably the most popular destination in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s a 124-foot desert waterfall that gracefully spills across colorful slickrock into a cool (cold, really) emerald pool. The six-mile out-and-back journey was easy but it still took most of our afternoon. Luckily, since we went on a weekday, this trail and its spectacular endpoint weren’t too crowded.

If only every desert had such an oasis.

If only every desert had such an oasis.

Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument hosts not just nature's creations but ancient man's as well.

Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument hosts not just nature’s creations but ancient man’s as well.

We ended the day with a stroll through the Devil’s Garden. Sandstone hoodoos and permission to climb anywhere make this the perfect playground for the curious and snap happy. We didn’t stay nearly long enough thanks to our bellyaching stomachs.

At the Devil's Garden, you can climb and explore freely.

At the Devil’s Garden, you can climb and explore freely.

The next day we passed on slotting it due to flashing dangers. The area around Escalante contains many famous slot canyons but, thanks to forecasted rain and flashflood dangers, we opted for less-flashy expeditions. Consequently, we spent the morning wandering among sleeping rainbows in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. We hiked the Petrified Forest Trail and Trail of Sleeping Rainbows, about two miles in total. The Trail of Sleeping Rainbows is littered with petrified trees roughly 135 to 155 million years old. The motley colors of that frozen timber were unexpectedly bright and capricious.

The Devil's Garden is a rock and shot wonderland.

The Devil’s Garden is a rock and shot wonderland.

The Devil's Garden is wicked awesome!

The Devil’s Garden is wicked awesome!

After treading through stony trunks, we gambled on the weather staying good as long as it was predicted to and set out for Upper Calf Creek Falls. Calf Creek’s higher but stubbier falls don’t get the same attention or traffic as its lower cascades. The trail to its 88-foot plummet is much shorter but a lot trickier. It descends 600 feet on exposed slickrock before wandering through rocky washes. In essence, it’s not the kind of terrain a non-Neanderthal would attempt when a thunderstorm was imminent (i.e.- flashfloods, lightning) but we did. Yes, trusting the weathermen’s timing clearly does not bode well for our IQ scores. Although the path to Upper Calf Creek Falls is only about one mile each way, due to the rough topography it takes most hikers 1.5 to 2 hours to complete. We did it in one hour and 15 minutes, 45 minutes downwards and 30 minutes back up. How was our uphill faster than our downhill? Incoming lightning and showers, that’s how. The storm arrived two hours earlier than expected. As soon as we saw the first flash in the distance, we picked up our pace to an enervating scramble. Well, I set a hasty tempo and Jason had no choice but to keep up. The meteorological racket followed us as we drove home; it was 31 degrees and snowy at the top of Boulder Mountain.

The Petrified Forest is an astonishing rainbow of rock.

The Petrified Forest is an astonishing rainbow of rock.

Who knew that hundreds of millions of years could turn dead wood into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors?

Who knew that hundreds of millions of years could turn dead wood into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors?

We made one last stop on our return journey at Anasazi State Park Museum. There, we checked out the 900-year-old artifacts of the Coombs Site. Excavations at the Coombs Site have uncovered 97 rooms, 10 pits, and thousands of items. We enjoyed the unearthed bits and the dwelling replica visitors can walk in. That model made us feel all prehistoric and ginormous.

Upper Calf Creek Falls doesn't get the love Lower does, probably because its path requires more exertion.

Upper Calf Creek Falls doesn’t get the love Lower does, probably because its path requires more exertion.

It was a superb trip filled with all the elements of awesomeness: elegant water, scrambling stones, vivid wood, and heavenly fire. Plus, as all anniversary outings should, it came with a large helping of extraordinary husband. Camping doesn’t get any more glamorous than that.

11 May

My Southern Shrine

Posted by on May 11, 2017 at 9:42 am

There is something extraordinary about the places that evoke the remnants of childhood joy. My grandma’s house is such a place for me.

Beautiful antebellum homes can be found in unexpected places throughout the South.

Beautiful antebellum homes can be found in unexpected places throughout the South.

My grandma lives in a rural area of the South. Her small home, humble by adult standards, always thrilled me and my siblings as children. To her grandkids that house meant endless doting, plentiful food, innumerable hugs, rows of dress-up shoes- all the standard spoilings of proud and loving grandparents. We believed our grandparents were loaded, quite erroneously, because they offered us everything they had.

Bingo is a popular pastime in the South; my grandma plays it rather religiously.

Bingo is a popular pastime in the South; my grandma plays it rather religiously.

Running is not a popular pastime in the South. We ran into more rattlesnakes than runners during a 10-mile jog.

Running is not a popular pastime in the South. We ran into more rattlesnakes than runners during a 10-mile jog.

Recently, Jason and I took a trip to visit my outstanding grandma. This time, my sister and dad traveled with us. We toured the sites of my father’s youth, lost at Bingo, visited with living relatives and those no longer around, sampled Memphis barbecue, explored antebellum homes, gobbled catfish and hushpuppies, and enjoyed Easter gatherings.

We don't see our Southern relatives often so it was nice to catch up.

We don’t see our Southern relatives often so it was nice to catch up.

My grandma now suffers from some of the afflictions that get us all in the end and doesn’t have the energy she once did but visiting her still brings back a surge of memories and an onslaught of hugs. And that’s why her stout home, unremarkable to the rest of the world, will forever remain a shrine to unconditional love to me.

27 Apr

Fishy Towers and Dead Steeds

Posted by on April 27, 2017 at 11:16 pm

Due to my school schedule, we again opted to leave our bikes at home when we headed to Moab for a couple days this spring. It was sad to be cycle-less once more but, fortunately, I’m on pretty good terms with my feet.

The Titan is Fisher's tallest tower and is believed to be the largest free-standing natural tower in the United States.

The Titan is Fisher’s tallest tower and is believed to be the largest free-standing natural tower in the United States.

Our first outing was a repeat requested by Jason. We scrambled across the Fisher Towers Trail about six years ago in a darkness-induced fluster. So, Jason wanted to try it again without the runs.

Framing is a preferred photographic technique of mine but I don't often get to use 900-foot goliaths for this purpose.

Framing is a preferred photographic technique of mine but I don’t often get to use 900-foot goliaths for this purpose.

All along the Fisher Towers Trail one finds unusual beauty.

All along the Fisher Towers Trail one finds unusual beauty.

Some things never get old, even after 225 million years or multiple visits, the Fisher Towers are amongst these. The Fisher Towers are extraordinary skyscrapers made of sandstone and red mud. Their uncanny combination of uprightness and cratering makes them visually captivating. They are also enticing to rock climbers and are recognized as one of the best places to climb in the United States.

I dare you to hike through Fisher Towers without constantly gawking in wonder. It's impossible.

I dare you to hike through Fisher Towers without constantly gawking in wonder. It’s impossible.

It took us about four hours to complete this hike with a relaxing snack break at the ending overlook. With no need to hurry, those 4.4 miles passed a lot less hectically than when we squeezed them into two hours.

In Moab, striking colors blend in bewildering ways.

In Moab, striking colors blend in bewildering ways.

We jammed in one more hike after Fisher Towers, maybe because we missed the stupidity-fueled adrenaline rush of running from the dark. Parriott Mesa, a 2.8-mile trek that climbs over absurdly-steep boulder-infested hillsides, was our choice of nearly-nightfall dash.

The path to Parriott climbs abruptly through a rock field where it becomes a faint line in a jumble of stones.

The path to Parriott climbs abruptly through a rock field where it becomes a faint line in a jumble of stones.

On our way out, we got questioned by a returning hiker regarding our preparedness and abilities. He seemed enormously concerned about the approach of sundown in combination with our lethargic-looking limbs. However, he grossly underestimated the power in those wet noodles and the speed at which a stubborn girl can take on a mountain. We did the whole thing in about an hour and 40 minutes despite the 1345-foot elevation gain and rock-littered path. We made it back to our car without even needing flashlights. Darkness, you ain’t got nothing on a determined woman.

Parriott Mesa stands as a sentinel to Castle Valley.

Parriott Mesa stands as a sentinel to Castle Valley.

The sunsets in Moab are some of my favorites on the planet.

The sunsets in Moab are some of my favorites on the planet.

We decided to spend our last day in Moab 2,000 feet above the Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park. We walked eight miles on the East Rim Trail, West Rim Trail, and every overlook detour available. Basically, we trekked all the hiking-only paths at the park.

When you're 2,000 feet above the Colorado, your existence seems immeasurably small compared to the ages carved out in the canyons below you.

When you’re 2,000 feet above the Colorado, your existence seems immeasurably small compared to the ages carved out in the canyons below you.

The terrain around the Colorado River doesn't seem like it quite belongs on this spinning sphere.

The terrain around the Colorado River doesn’t seem like it quite belongs on this spinning sphere.

How would I rate these trails? The magnificent views are as nonstop as the drop-offs. I only shot pictures at a few spots because catching every amazing angle would have required constant snapping and stopping. (Wandering around cliffs while gazing through a lens instead of at your feet seems like a less than wonderful idea.) Since these paths go around the top of a plateau, there isn’t much vertical change along them. Hence, I would categorize them as physically easy. However, if you dread heights, their soaring setting might put you in a nearly-constant state of discomfort.

On Dead Horse Point's Rim Trails, you are almost always just a large leap or two away from a big drop.

On Dead Horse Point’s Rim Trails, you are almost always just a large leap or two away from a big drop.

Without bikes, Moab is missing a little something but I’m not complaining much. Jason and I still got to experience some of Utah’s most enthralling high rises and high places at the speed of foot.