Sunday, March 13, 2016

Death Valley Super Bloom

"16 hours 23 minutes to see flowers". Roger reminded me of his phone's prediction multiple times on the drive to Death Valley to see the "Super Bloom". I must admit he had a point, especially since we usually have our own super bloom in April on the slope behind our house. But Death Valley had been on our list of places to see so the "Super Bloom" put our butts in the truck for the long drive. 

The anticipated two day drive turned into four, not because of problems but because of distractions. We turned onto Highway 31 at La Pine, Oregon and the route from there to Death Valley was all new to us. Roger is Geography Man so he had a good time in that 16 hours and 23 minutes.

First distraction was Fort Rock - which was not a human fort but a geologic one - the remnants of an old volcano rim.
Fort Rock
Continuing on we thought of Malheur Wildlife Refuge, east of Fort Rock, which was the site of the occupation by the Bundy brothers and their followers. We followed the occupation closely since Malheur during the bird migration has long been on our list of places to see. Unfortunately, the end of the occupation turned tragic, but a couple of Portland comedians wrote a satirical song about the craziness before then. Sample lyrics:

"Patrioooooots, Patriooooooots, Stormin' a building surrounded by ducks" 
The third day of our trip we didn't get far, beginning in Reno and ending at Mono Lake. Our route took us up through the snowy mountains and down along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. We did more stopping than driving. There is a reason Californians come to play here. 
Great spot for snow shoeing, skiing and snow play along HWY 431
Roger navigating the granite along Lake Tahoe shoreline
Public beach at Lake Tahoe
Day four brought even greater distractions. We explored magical Mono Lake with its other-worldy tufas and Panum Crater with its large, gleaming blocks of obsidium. Both are facinating. Tufas are formed when the calcium of freshwater springs combine with the carbonates of the lake water and form limestone. Panum Crater is one of the Mono Craters, the youngest mountain range in North America. 
Dwarfed by the tufa at Mono Lake.
South Tufa Area at Mono Lake
My he-man holding up Panum pumice.
Mt. Whitney on right.
The next morning we admired Mt. Whitney and then finally headed into Death Valley. First point of interest was Father Crowley Vista Point overlooking Rainbow Canyon. Lots of people were hanging out, but not so much for the scenery. They were waiting for F-18's to fly through the canyon, giving the crowd an eye-level view. The F-18's had flown over us on the drive into the park so we didn't wait around for the "show".

The more fertile areas of Death Valley were carpeted with flowers, especially Desert Gold. A less common, but elegant flower that I thought stood out was the Desert Five-spot.
Desert Gold in Death Valley
Desert Five-spot
We were blessed that Death Valley had come to life with blooms but the flowers were just a bonus to an interesting and often beautiful landscape.  Zabriskie Point with its chocolate/vanilla hues was a favorite spot of ours - and of a myriad of photographers.
Waiting for the sun at Zabriskie Point
From Zabriskie Point
Salt flat at Badwater Basin, lowest spot in North America 
Roger walking down wash on Gower Gulch Loop
Artist's Palette
Titus Canyon drive
Entering Titus Canyon Narrows

Good way to begin last full day in Death Valley NP.
A bit east of Death Valley is Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, home of tiny pupfish. I'm thankful we took the time to stop at this oasis.  The facilities are very nice but the beautiful blue pupfish is the star. They live in the Crystal Spring pool near the Visitor Center and Kings Pool at Point of the Rocks. Pupfish are a "relic" species that has existed since mammoths drank from the same springs so they've adapted to a dramatically different environment than that of their ancestors. These amazing survivors are most easily seen in Kings Pool.
Pupfish in King Pool
16 hours and 23 minutes? Yah betcha!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit

Bowron Lakes

We bought our first kayak in 2006 from the Northwest Outdoor Center in Seattle and they told us about the Bowron Lakes being a great place to paddle. We finally kayaked the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit this past June. All I can say is: What took us so long!?!

This trip would have been perfect if mosquitoes didn't exist. The Cariboo Mountains of British Columbia are the backdrop for this picturesque 72 mile circuit of lakes, streams, and portages. Wildlife sightings included moose, a black bear, loons, bald eagles and river otters. We totally lucked out on the weather.The gorgeous scenery and placid water prompted frequent exclamations of "Look at that!" from Roger.
Peaceful water on Isaac Lake
Our good fortune stayed with us even on the day that a storm rolled through. We arrived at one of the cabins before the storm unleashed its fury and watched it with a roof over our heads and a fire burning in the woodstove.
Storm blowing in on Lanezi Lake
The Bowron Lakes circuit begins with a portage. It was our toughest because we didn't position the wheels and distribute the weight well. Struggling to push/pull the boat up an incline made us fast learners in the art of portaging.
Wheels ready for the portage
First day scene
Our first day included easy, relaxing paddles of Kibbee and Indianpoint Lake and three less than relaxing portages. We got a break from portages on day 2, starting from our campsite at the beginning of 38 kilometer long Isaac Lake.
Day 2 morning, beginning of huge Isaac Lake
Old cabin at day 2 campsite on Isaac Lake
Lush vegetation and waterfall along Isaac Lake, day 3
On the morning of day 4 we had to decide if we were going to negotiate the whitewater and sharp corner of the "Chute" or do a longer portage. We decided to run the Chute. At the informational meeting prior to beginning the Bowron circuit there was a lot of discussion about whether to run the Chute or not run the Chute. We had no difficulty getting through it. I'm sure Roger's paddling skills had something to do with that.
McLeary Lake, day 4 , site of 1st moose sighting (not pictured)
After McLeary Lake came more excitement - paddling the Cariboo River and evading deadheads and sweepers. Reports indicated that this is the section where people most often need rescue and wrecked canoes can be seen along shore.  A higher or lower water level might have been more challenging but the day we ran the Cariboo it was just fun and easy. I had no reason to be apprehensive.
Cariboo River
The Cariboo River flows into Lanezi Lake. Some canoeists had warned us about a storm forecast for the afternoon so we paddled steadily to the Lanezi cabin. We pitched our tent and then went inside the cabin and listened to the tales of later arrivals who didn't beat the storm.
Lanezi Lake after the storm
The next day we leisurely paddled through Sandy Lake and then took a detour into Unna Lake. From the trailhead at end of Unna Lake we hiked to Cariboo Falls. The falls were thunderous with voluminous spray.
On the trail to Cariboo Falls
We continued on to Babcock Lake where we camped for the night. Babcock is a small, shallow lake warm enough to entice me to go swimming. Later Roger and I sat on the beach and watched a moose feed across the lake. I was surprised that at times the moose was almost totally submerged in the water, with just the top of her back showing.
Morning fog at Babcock Lake, day 5
There was a sign warning of a bear in the area at the beginning of the short portage between Babcock and tiny Skoi Lake. There is another short, easy portage between Skoi Lake and the larger Spectacle Lake. When we completed the second portage I turned around and saw a black bear standing in the trail about 25 yards from us. He must have been just off the trail as we passed through and we didn't even see him!  
Our lunch stop on Spectacle Lake
On our last night we stayed at a campsite just off the beginning of the Bowron River. It was also the beginning of a large swampy area so we were most bugged by mosquitoes at this site. Nevertheless, the first two campsites we stopped at were full so we were glad to find it unoccupied. This was the only day we had some difficulty finding an available campsite.
View from last campsite
On our sixth and final day we meandered around the Bowron Slough for a while, hoping to see moose and not anxious for the journey to end. We did see a moose but it was on the main channel of the Bowron River rather than one of its offshoots.
Canoes turning a corner on the Bowron River with a moose just ahead
Moose swimming in the Bowron River
When we entered Bowron Lake we encountered the roughest water we had on the circuit. The wind settled down by the time we finished so conditions were back to "normal" for our trip. Back to perfect.
 Roger looking back at Bowron Lake.
(Bowron Lake is the only lake on the circuit where motorized boats are allowed.)
What a time. What a place.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Broken Group

Broken Group

In May, we headed to the Broken Group on the west coast of Vancouver Island. A relatively sheltered group of islands, the Broken Group is a very popular kayaking destination. We arrived late in the day to brilliant sunshine at Toquart, the kayak put-in. We decided to wait until morning to do the crossing to the Broken Group.

We awoke to fog, thick fog. The route looked pretty straightforward, travel up the coast a bit and then head southeast at the Stopper Islands. We paddled a ways and eventually came to some islands. They were too small to be the Stoppers so we paddled some more. The fog started to lift and still the Stoppers were nowhere to be seen. I finally got smart and got out our GPS! In the dense fog we had missed the Stoppers and now had to travel directly east to get to the Broken Group. (We later discovered that the Toquart put-in had been moved and the location on the map was wrong.) We put in some extra mileage but the water was so calm the paddling was a treat.
Islet enroute to Broken Group
We set up camp on Dodd Island and surprisingly had the place to ourselves for the duration of our stay. Two beachkeepers from theTseshaht First Nation stopped by. We talked to them about the history of their ancestors on the islands, including catching fish in stone traps. Slapping their paddles on the water, men in canoes would herd the fish into dead end bays where they had built stone walls that acted as traps when the tide went out. We found a couple of the stone fish traps later when exploring the lagoon between Jarvis and Jaques Islands.
Tree "animal" on Dodd Island
On the beach at Dodd Island
There aren't a lot of places to land in the Broken Group but we found a nice beach in the Tiny Group that was sheltered from the prevailing wind, making it a good place for lunch, napping, and on the day we were there, wildlife viewing.

Early one morning, when conditions looked good, we ventured to the outside perimeter of the islands, where the ocean waves sculpt a rugged coastline with surge channels, sea caves and arches. I felt small and vulnerable knowing the vast ocean that lay before us could awaken at any time. Sure enough, as we rounded Gibralter Island and headed toward the more sheltered inner islands, the wind and waves picked up and gave us a taste of their power.
Sea arch
Exploring tide pools is always fun and in the Broken Group we found a couple creatures I'd never seen before: moonsnails and bat stars.
Many colored bat stars
There is more to the Broken Group than we could see in the five days we were there. Next time I'll turn on the GPS!
No trouble in the Trebles.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Costa Rica with Golfo de Nicoya Kayaking

Daughter Celeste blogged about our visit ( so I'll try not to duplicate what she wrote too much.

Our first impression of Costa Rica was that it was hot. Our second impression of Costa Rica was that it was hot. Our third impression of Costa Rica was - well... We arrived in Costa Rica, on the Pacific side, during the dry season so we were greeted with a dry and dusty landscape rather than my pre-existing image of a thick, green, moist jungle environment. The locals were looking forward to the return of rain and the slightly cooler "green" season.
Graham hiking in Ricon de la Vieja National Park
Before heading to Celeste and Geoff's house in Nosara we visited Ricon de la Vieja National Park. Inside the park we walked past boiling mud and steam vents. Outside the park we went to a local swimming hole that the Costa Ricans (Ticos) hanging out there said was "cold like Alaska". That description was an irresistible invitation to jump into the coolish water. Roger made quite a splash with his cannonball but it didn't compare to a couple of the young Ticos who climbed up to a high tree branch and, hurling into the air, somersaulted down to the water.

On our way to Nosara we stopped for a refreshing dip at another popular swimming spot - the beautiful Llano de Cortes Waterfall. Amara showed off her skill catching little fish with a sun hat.
Llanos de Cortes waterfall near Bagaces
We spent several days at Celeste and Geoff's house. We didn't even have to leave their balcony to see an abundance of Costa Rican animal and bird life. A special treat was seeing the beautiful Mot Mot that has been hanging out by their house. It was also fun when a family of Howler monkeys came by. The monkeys are expert acrobats, moving through the trees with ease. The Howler monkeys really do howl and when Graham called to them with his best howling, the monkeys answered!
Mot Mot
Beach time is the right time in Nosara, especially early morning and late afternoon. The middle of the day is time for a siesta and wiping away the sweatstache growing on your upper lip. Most of the beach area is protected from development and, other than the main surfing spots, was surprisingly uncrowded.
Roger and Graham 
Leaving Nosara and the tropical dry forest we traveled up to Monteverde and the cloud forest. Linda, Bob, Lois, Michelle and Colette joined us there. I'm not particularly into bird watching but doing so in Costa Rica could change that. One highlight of our trip was the birding tour in Curi Cancha Reserve in Monteverde. The enthusiasm of our guide Danilo and of our group, including 7 year old Graham and 9 year old Amara, turned a planned 3 to 4 hour tour into 5 1/2 hours.

Curi Cancha Reserve
Graham and Amara in Monteverde
Many in our group also went zip-lining in Monteverde, including my 71 year old Aunt Lois. I didn't go but the participants reported the zip-line was a very intense experience. Once they zipped off the first platform, there was no turning back, no matter how scary. Amara loved it but not everyone else did. Lois said she needed a beer or two afterwards!

After Monteverde several of us went on a 5 day kayak tour with Bahia Rica Kayak and Fishing in the Golfo de Nicoya. Our guide was Vigdis, who moved to Costa Rica from Norway with her husband Thomas. One of the reasons they left Norway was the attraction of the Costa Rican philosophy of Pura Vida, which represents a simpler, more peaceful lifestyle with an appreciation of your blessings.
Vigdis sharing with Collete
Each night we camped on a different beach, sleeping in expedition hammocks. Most meals were provided by local Tico families who had homes nearby. That meant huge helpings of rice and beans for nearly every evening, including breakfast. On the last evening of the kayak trip we went into the kitchen to get our meal. As we were waiting for our rice and beans, vegetable dish and salad, one of the semi-wild pigs, looking handsome in a mohawk mane, strolled through the kitchen. I later shared some of my rice and beans with him.

Roger by hammock, Michelle in backround
Sleeping in a hammock worked better than I expected. It was pretty comfortable for everyone except Collete. She never adapted to what she called her "cocoon". I think Collete felt like a butterfly that was trapped inside and needed to stretch her wings.

The sun went down shortly after 6 so we ended up crawling into our cocoons pretty early to sleep or read or meditate. The evening we spent on Tortuga Island I decided to stay up later by going for a walk on the beach. The walk didn't last long because there was no room to step without crushing a crab. The hermit and halloween crabs blanketed the beach. The tides of Tortuga must bring in a wealth of marine riches to support such a big army of crabs.
Halloween Crab
We didn't have any significant problems on the kayak trip although Collete took over the mantle of Most Mishaps from Michelle. We landed on one beach during a really low tide. Instead of the normal sandy beach we hopped out of our kayaks and stumbled into a sucky mucky mess. I almost lost my shoes. Collete lost her balance and down she went. Seeing her covered with brown slime from head to toe, Vigdis commented that it's customary to take a mud bath without all your clothes on.

Alpha male Spider Monkey
We paddled out to an island with Spider Monkeys and were excited to spot them up in the trees. We landed on a nearby beach and the Spider Monkeys followed. An adult female came down to the shore and checked us out. She was very gentle and sweet. The alpha male was the opposite, being verbally and physically aggressive. He would not let any of the other monkeys come down to the beach. I'm not sure if he was being a protector or a bully.

I felt absolutely blessed to go on a night paddle where we were able to experience the enchantment of bioluminescence. The water sparkled as our boats glided silently along. It seemed like Tinkerbell was lighting our way, dancing on the water. Linda said it was magical. Linda was right.
Lunch stop: Vigdis, Michelle, Linda, Collete and Roger on last day of kayak trip
Then it was back to Nosara for a couple more days of sunsets, beach time, bird watching and family before flying home. It wasn't hard to leave the heat behind but it was very difficult to say good-bye to Amara and Graham. We're looking forward to spending time with them in August when they return to Washington for a visit.

Roger, Amara, Katherine, Graham, Lois, Linda, Celeste 
 Pura Vida