First Long Ride of the Season

I have been looking for opportunities to complete an IBA ride that was something different than a Saddle Sore. After wandering through the long list of possibilities, I decided an Interstate 5 End-to-End was a good chance to get down south to better riding weather and maybe use it to collect some TOH stops in southern California (note – TOH sites in California alternate between northern and southern each year).

The I5E2E ride requires the rider to ride the length of I-5 from Blaine, WA to San Ysidro, CA.You have to stay on I-5 the entire way (excluding gas stops, of course) – that means no detours for traffic and can’t allow GPS to route me along I-805 in San Diego, for example. Planning the ride timing was important because there are several large cities with bad traffic along the way. Everyone knows about Los Angeles, but few consider the choke point that is Portland, OR. I decided that riding most of the ride on a Saturday would avoid most of the traffic issues, and timed my departure from Blaine to try to get to LA after any rush hour.

I headed up to Blaine, WA on Friday and spent the night nearby. It was going to be an early start so I grabbed a light dinner and tried to get some sleep. Fail. As frequently happens to me, I was wide awake again at 1am. I had planned to get up at 2 anyway, so I just got up and adjusted my timeline a little earlier. Out the door at around 1:30 and at the first stop gas station at about 2am – my ride officially starts at 2:01am with a dated business receipt (DBR).

It was cold and damp all the way south to the first gas stop in Castle Rock, WA. I was riding into a head wind the entire way and gas mileage was not so good. In fact, I wound up pulling over once to double check tire pressures! Still, I managed to get to the gas stop by 5:30am. So far, so good. The rain was only intermittent and not much of an issue, and my heated gear worked perfectly to keep me relatively comfortable.

Off to Oregon! Portland traffic was non-existent that early in the morning and I breezed through without really slowing down. That had to be a first! The rain was also done with me but the headwind continued. I had planned my gas stops for around 225 miles each. I managed to make it to my second gas stop in Roseburg, OR at around 9am and was a little ahead of my pace. My route had planned for 15 minutes per gas stop but no allowance for a sit-down meal. A little ahead was fine with me as it gave me a chance to stretch my legs, and also gave me some cushion for the unknowns of LA traffic.

Next stop was just north of Redding in Shasta, CA. Truck traffic was picking up and it was finally getting warmer! I had dreamed of something above 60F for about 700 miles…LOL. My Shasta stop at about 12:30 was even further ahead of plan and it was approaching 70F – time to peel a few layers off πŸ™‚

Next stop was in Lathrop, CA (just about Stockton). Sacramento traffic presented the first slowdown of the ride, but I still managed to gain even more time on my plan. I was now about 45 minutes ahead and feeling pretty comfortable about LA. Now it is about 80F and glorious, and magically the wind has shifted and is pushing me along with great gas mileage!

Next (and last) gas stop was Bakersfield, CA. The Grapevine looms ahead and LA beyond. It is still pleasant riding weather but the sun is going down and it will be dark up on the mountain. Not a huge concern. One thing about the ride between Stockton and Bakersfield along I-5 is that it is flat, straight and boring! You also get the enjoy the alternating scents of citrus orchards (wonderful!) and cow poop (not wonderful!). I remember watching the trip-meter roll through 1,000 miles and was excited until I remembered I had about 380 miles to go…

On to LA! LA presents one of the biggest challenges on this ride because of traffic and also because of the myriad route possibilities along the way. Also consider that riding through LA takes longer then riding through multiple eastern US states! It was a grind and traffic slowed for no apparent reason several times, but I was comfortably ahead of my plan and really had no worries. The slowdowns turned into speedups pretty quickly and before I knew it I was through LA and on to San Diego.

I had planned my ride to achieve the Gold level version and had to get to San Ysidro within 22 hours of leaving Blaine. As 11pm approached I was taking the final exit into San Ysidro making my way to the final gas station. A little excitement on the final DBR when the receipt that I printed at the gas station showed an address about an hour north of my location, but I was able to fix that by buying a bottle of water across the street. I made it with time to spare!

I used the new IBA Insta-Cert process to submit my ride and it was super-easy. The key is to take a picture of your gas receipt and odometer at each stop (which you need to do anyway) and then add that picture to your SpotWalla map. The link to the properly formatted map is all you need for certification using this process.

Final stats were something like 1,386 miles in 21 hours and 4 minutes.

This was my first long ride with my new full-face helmet. I have issues with the way modular helmets fit me – I have a classic Arai shaped head and the modular typically cause some pain in the front of my head. The new helmet was very comfortable but my ability to drink while riding is near-zero…not good for long-distance riding. Back to the drawing board and look for ways to make the modular work for me.

The trip home was a little more relaxed, although I did get stymied on several attempted Tour of Honor cemetery visits. National cemeteries typically have banker’s hours and timing a long ride to include those locations is tricky. I collected several but left even more on the table for a future visit.

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A Small Ride Planned in 2023…

Two years ago I got a PayPal refund and an email from the Iron Butt Association – never good when a refund accompanies the email – it meant my hopes of riding the ’21 Iron Butt Rally had ended before it even started. It is challenging to get an entry to the premier long-distance rally. I knew that, but was still disappointed.

Fast forward two years. I considered whether to apply again because the starting location was advertised as being planned in the northeast US. That’s a long haul just to get to and from the rally. But I am not getting younger, and if the last two years have proven anything to me it is that there may not be a “tomorrow” or “next year”. There is no such thing as normal anymore. So I threw my name into the hat again, and this time I was picked! 2023 IBR, here we come.

I have a lot to think about, and while it may seem that 12+ months is a good amount of time to plan and prepare, I am here to tell you that it flies by way faster than you would hope. So preparation starts now!

My summer riding plans this year are really busy. I have a long rally out of Cheyenne in June and another shorter rally out of Colorado Springs in July. These two rallies coupled with a handful of other multi-day rides should help me get the bike dialed in.

I’ll share the journey when it seems useful.

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Caribbean “Warmup” Cruise

It started like this…”Do you want to go somewhere warm in February?”

The itinerary was fairly simple with 2 at sea days and 4 port calls – 3 of the 4 port calls were new for us. The repeat was Cozumel, and we had a good time there when we last visited, so it wasn’t a big deal. We decided on this cruise because it departed Tampa Bay and that would allow us an opportunity to stop by and visit my Mom in Naples, Florida for a few days.

It was warm and sunny in south Florida while we were there. We took a drive into the Everglades for lunch at a Cuban restaurant, visited the city docks in Naples for some pelican watching and even got to see an alligator up close.

A trio of pelicans posing for pictures on the Naples docks.
Florida Aligator
A little roadside stop and an alligator staying warm on the bank of a pond.

The embarkation process is still streamlined for COVID. I wonder if this process is the “new normal” for embarkation. If it is, I am a fan. It was about an hour from arrival on the pier to sitting down for lunch and a drink. Norwegian has you pick an embarkation time so that the waiting area doesn’t get so crowded. We had to be tested for COVID prior to embarkation and the process was pretty efficient.

NCL Dawn is one of Norwegian’s smaller ships and they are still sailing at about 50% capacity, so waiting is not really something we struggled with anywhere we went on board. The only place that got a little crowded was the pool area (on a Caribbean cruise – who would have guessed??), but even that was fine. We went out on deck to watch the ship transit under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as we left Tampa Bay. We knew it would look close, but as we approached I remember thinking that it was too low! I am guessing that bigger Norwegian ships cannot pass under the bridge. Our first full day underway was spent at sea and we took the time to relax by the pool in the shade.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
The Sunshine Skyway bridge at the entrance to Tampa Bay.
Sunshine Skyway Bridge
The ship was so nice to time our passage with sunset πŸ™‚

Cozumel, Mexico

We had visited Cozumel once before and took a shore excursion to some Mayan ruins that proved a little under-whelming. This time we decided to enjoy a trip to the Mayan Cacao company for some tequila and chocolate tasting. I have bad memories from tequila when younger…this time it was fine. Maybe moderation is really the key. They also demonstrated a more traditional way to make chocolate from cacao beans and we were able to sample the result – it was delicious! A final stop at a bee sanctuary and we were headed back to the ship along the coast in an area I recognized from our last visit.

Cozumel is a place for beach time, and I am not much of a beach person so no plans to return unless a good itinerary stops there.

Cozumel, Mexico
A pair of rescued Macaws guarded the entrance πŸ™‚
Cozumel, Mexico
Sanctuary to the Melipona bee, a stingless bee that produces excellent honey!
Cozumel, Mexico
NCL Dawn (one of Norwegian’s smaller ships) sits at the pier next to the NCL Breakaway (one of their larger ships).

Harvest Caye, Belize

Our next stop was on Harvest Caye, Belize. Harvest Caye is a resort owned by Norwegian that offers lots of fun activities like a large pool, sandy beach, zip line fun and more. We spent most of our time pool side enjoying the weather and also took a few moments to wander through a small wildlife area.

The real fun started when we returned to the ship. We noticed several large brown pelicans “fishing” in the water next to the pier by dive-bombing the surface! It was a lot of fun watching it, and I spent some time trying to get a few decent pictures.

Harvest Caye, Belize
Harvest Caye from the ship. You can see a small portion of the walkway in the lower left of the picture.
Harvest Caye, Belize
The beach area was nice but it was a very windy day and we stayed near the pool instead. The “lighthouse” is actually the biplane tower.
Harvest Caye, Belize
One of the better captures of a pelican fishing.
Harvest Caye, Belize
A pelican taking off πŸ™‚

Roatan, Honduras

Our next stop was Roatan, Honduras. Roatan is an island off the coast of Honduras that is tourist oriented, but we were also told it is a popular place for foreigners to buy land and settle for a much better cost of living. It was beautiful and we enjoyed our visit.

We took an excursion to a wildlife refuge that featured iguanas, white faced monkeys and macaws among other animals. We were told that the animals had been rescued from other places and were taken care of here. They were very tame and there were stops along the tour that we could interact with the macaws and monkeys.

Our guide told us at the beginning that the driving would be entertaining as there were no speed limits and other traffic control measures were “optional”. A bus is king of the road here, so we had few worries, but we did see several accidents along the way. Driving on Roatan is not for the faint of heart!

2022 Caribbean Cruise - Roatan, Honduras
Several Iguanas hanging out in the feeding area waiting for chow.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Roatan, Honduras
A pair of Macaws chilling out in the trees.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Roatan, Honduras
A white faced monkey on the lookout.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Roatan, Honduras
The monkeys were not timid – they would jump up on your shoulders and hang out until a handler came over to help remove them. I am sure they were looking for food πŸ™‚

Costa Maya

Next stop – Costa Maya, Mexico. This port was purpose built to handle cruise ships and increase tourism in the region. The area at the head of the pier is all shopping and restaurants with a large saltwater pool and swamp bar. You really wouldn’t have to leave that area, and there really isn’t much outside the shopping area nearby.

We took an excursion to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins. These ruins were much more enjoyable than what we had seen in Cozumel on a previous trip. Our guide was very engaging and we had a really nice time wandering the ruins. It is a bit of a haul from the cruise port (about 45minutes), but definitely worth it. From Wikipedia, “Settlement by the Maya at the site is estimated at 200 BC, and the structures date from 700 AD. It is characterized by large temples and massive platform groups.”

2022 Caribbean Cruise - Costa Maya, Mexico
One of the more spectacular sunrises on our cruise!
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Costa Maya, Mexico
Looking at the beach area outside the cruise port in Costa Maya.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Costa Maya, Mexico
One of the temples located at the Chacchoben site.
2022 Caribbean Cruise - Costa Maya, Mexico
Another temple located at the Chacchoben site.

The cruise was a great experience and might have convinced us to try to make it an annual warm up from our cold, gray and dreary winters. As if to reinforce that thought, Seattle presented us with another “atmospheric river” when we returned home. From 80F and sunny in Tampa to 40F and absolutely pouring in Seattle in about 6 hours…bummer!

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A Trip to Italy and Greece

SmugMug Album LInk

OK, this is a long post. I apologize in advance, but not too much. Jeannette and I made a trip to Italy and Greece, including a 7 day cruise of the Greek Islands, and it was fantastic. I will include a link to a SmugMug album with a lot more pictures if you are interested. This first post covers the time we spent in Italy and Greece, and the next post will cover the Greek Island cruise.

We originally planned a trip to Rome with a 10+ day cruise into the eastern Med. As we watched the travel complications multiply, we kind of knew the cruise was in jeopardy and eventually it was cancelled by Norwegian (NCL). We (Jeannette, Ken, Karlene and I) decided to vacation anyway since travel restrictions allowed it. Eventually we settled on spending several days in Rome, several days in Athens and the rest on a shorter cruise of the Greek Islands.

Ironically, most of the travel complexity came about because of countries relaxing travel restrictions. The relaxations brought about new requirements to allow tracking of tourists for contact tracing. It retrospect, it really wasn’t all that hard – it was just a pain to keep up with the changes. In the end all we had to do was prove our vaccination status and fill out the visit paperwork online. The airline checked our paperwork during checkin and the authorities in Italy checked us when we arrived.

Day 1 – Arrival in Rome, Italy

Our first day in Italy started pretty early after flying through the night. We landed in Rome around 8am and gathered our luggage for the roughly one hour train ride from the airport to the train station in Rome. Our hotel was a short walk from the train station and we all struggled with our bags over Rome’s cobblestoned streets and sidewalks…LOL. We all agreed that we needed to stay up and force our way through the first day, so we left our bags with the hotel and struck out on foot to explore a few nearby areas. We found our way to the same restaurant we enjoyed last time we visited and then headed back to our hotel for a well-deserved sleep!

Day 1 agenda…fight off jet lag. We went out for a walk and found the Fountain of the Naiads.
A view of the plaza in front of the Alter of the Fatherland with the Church of Saint Mary of Loreto on the left side.
Alter of the Fatherland. It serves as a good navigation landmark.
Yawn…just a quick look down a Rome street to see the Colosseum.

Days 2 – 4: Rome, Italy

Our hotel was nicely located and we decided to walk to most of the places we wanted to explore. After enjoying breakfast, we headed out to explore at a more relaxed pace than our last viist. Our path covered a lot of ground. We headed through some shopping areas toward Trevi Fountain, had a light snack/lunch next to the Pantheon and tried to explore the Castel Sant’Angelo before heading back to our hotel. The Castel was a cool visit but the inside wasn’t open because of a bank holiday. We had seen a very nice restaurant on our way back the night before and we went back to find it for dinner. It was our first experience with having to prove vaccination status before being allowed to dine indoors, and there was no issue with using a picture of our card on a phone. Turned out to be a very popular place with the locals and outdoor seating was full well into the evening. One thing you learn when dining in Italy (and Greece, too, we learned) is that it is something to be enjoyed, can’t be rushed and can last as long as you like. No one drops the check on your table – you have to ask for it when you are ready to go.

Trevi Fountain – the lack of crowds was appreciated and enjoyable πŸ™‚
Ken & Karlene taking a selfie at Trevi Fountain.
The streets of Rome are also sidewalks and restaurants. Some of the best food we ate was enjoyed with a delivery van passing a few feet away!
The Castel Sant’Angelo was a cool stop even if it was closed due to a bank holiday.
The River Tiber with Vatican City on the background.

All 4 of us were really looking forward to August 31st. We had booked a tour of the lower levels of The Colosseum and were excited to see a perspective we had not enjoyed before. We walked over to the meeting point near The Colosseum and joined our tour guide. Our path took us into the Roman Forum and Palantine Grounds before heading over to the Colosseum where we skipped the (short) lines and descended into the basement. It was a fantastic tour and we saw some aspects of the structure that made the whole thing make more sense, like the restored elevator system that moved gladiators, animals and equipment from the lower levels up to the main floor. The Colosseum was one location that required mask use indoors and outdoors, and it was pretty warm the day we visited. Lots of water and looking for shade whenever possible – that was the order of the day!

After enjoying the tour and finding a place to cool down a little, we decided dinner the previous night was fantastic and headed back to our new favorite restaurant for a repeat performance!

Looking at some of the carvings on the Arch of Titus.
Another view of the Palantine Grounds with the Alter of the Fatherland in the background.
A portion of the lower areas of The Colosseum. One significant difference involves the construction materials – less marble, more limestone, and no attempt to make it smooth since slaves were the primary occupants of this area.
Colosseum underground tour.
It was a warm day and we avoided the sun whenever possible. This was taken at floor level looking into the lower levels we had just visited.

We spent our 3rd and final full day in Italy on a tour to Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius. We were trying to find something new to go explore and this seemed like just the ticket. We had to head out of the hotel kind of early to make the walk to the meeting point, and then boarded a tour bus for the trip to Pompeii. Our guide was pretty entertaining, and after a brief stop to grab a snack, we arrived. To say Pompeii is amazing would be a dramatic understatement. One of several eruptions of nearby Mt Vesuvius buried Pompeii under 20+ feet of volcanic rock and debris. Pompeii didn’t burn – it is more likely that the inhabitants were killed by suffocation.

The ruins remained hidden until a portion was discovered during the early part of the 18th century. Excavation has revealed essentially an entire town with streets, buildings and portions of some finer details like floor mosaics and wall frescoes. It was an amazing experience, one I will not soon forget.

After enjoying the ruins and grabbing lunch, we got back on the bus for the trip up a narrow, winding road to get to the parking area for the hike up to Mt Vesuvius. The hike wasn’t particularly difficult or long, but it was pretty warm and I was not enjoying the pizza in my gut! The views of the caldera are pretty cool, and the views of nearby Naples, Italy (a city of roughly 3 million) and the adjoining Bay of Naples were fantastic!

We got back to our drop off location around 7:30, so a search for dinner was the next task. We found a place on the way back to our hotel. Sadly, it was one of the less enjoyable dining experiences we had in Italy.

It turns out that the best time to visit the Spanish Steps is 7am…who knew?
The rocks are used as stepping stones to allow pedestrians to cross flooded streets. They are spaced to allow a chariot to pass!
The ruins of Pompeii.
This is a good example of how some of the building decoration survived the eruption.
A nice view while cooling down in the shade.
Mt Vesuvius crater.
Here’s a good view of the crater of Mt Vesuvius. We made it to the second checkpoint (working on the trail from the left, it is the larger of the buildings).

Days 5 – 8: Athens, Greece

We enjoyed Rome, but now it was time to make the trip over to Athens, Greece for some new exploration and, eventually, our Greek Island cruise. The trip from Rome to Athens was uneventful – we used the train to get from our hotel to the Rome airport, and we had set up a driver for the trip from the Athens airport to our hotel there. I had looked over transportation in Greece and most people agreed that using a taxi should be approached with caution as you might find yourself stuck with a very large bill. We decided to avoid using a taxi, if possible, and the hired service worked out well. Uber worked in Rome, but the service doesn’t seem to be available in Athens – only taxis showed up.

Our first day in Athens was spent wandering around near the hotel, grabbing some dinner at a nice street-side cafe, finding a bakery for a sweet treat and then a drink on the rooftop bar at our hotel. A quick lesson was learned about Athens in particular, and Greece in general. Food and drink prices were very reasonable throughout the country…except at the hotel. No big surprise, just confirmation that hotels charge a lot no matter the location. We enjoyed awesome views of the east side of the Acropolis from our room and from the rooftop bar.

A view of The Acropolis from our hotel room balcony at night.
A busy intersection below our hotel provided some fun opportunities!

Our first full day in Athens was spent exploring the Acropolis and the surrounding neighborhoods that were full of shopping, eating and snacking! We had looked forward to visiting the Acropolis and having that view from the hotel only multiplied the anticipation. Ken did some research and we decided to go early (it opened at 8am) to try to beat some of the diminished crowds and avoid the heat of the afternoon. It was a good plan as it approached 90F in the afternoon.

Cats! Lost and lots of cats around this area of Athens. For anyone that has visited Kauai and seen the chickens, Athens’ version is the feral cat. They were everywhere, and we even watched one stalk and capture a pigeon inside the Acropolis grounds. The thing about that scene that will stick with me was the sound of all the other birds as they tried to make the cat release the bird and go away (unsuccessfully).

The Acropolis is a fantastic area sitting on top of high ground in the middle of Athens. They have done a lot of work in this area and there is a nice museum nearby that has quite a few artifacts on display. After exploring the grounds and museum, we walked the streets in the old section of the city and browsed shops, had a nice snack and slowly wandered back to our hotel. One unexpected delight was watching the changing of the guard at the parliament building (it happens at the top of each hour, 24 hours a day).

A typical Athens street near the Acropolis. It was early and not many shops were open, yet, but that would change later!
A portion of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus with Athens sprawled behind it.
The BeulΓ© Gate offers entry into the Acropolis grounds.
Morning light brightens the inside of the Parthenon.
My favorite view of the Acropolis from Filopappou Hill.
We enjoy some shopping and the crowds are getting al little busier.

After a long day of pounding the pavement the day before, we decided to use one of the hop on/hop off busses to see some more of Athens. The bus was pretty easy to use and we just kind of went along until something struck our interest. One of the things we had decided we wanted to see was the Temple of Zeus. It was kind of along the walk we did the day before, and it was also pretty close to the cafe that served excellent mojitos…so off we went.

The Temple of Zeus is in the shadow of the Acropolis and probably not as popular, but it was still pretty neat. As with all sites that are this old, it is interesting to me to try to imagine what was going on when it was active. The Acropolis is visible from the grounds of the temple.

After enjoying the Temple of Zeus, we hopped on the bus for a museum visit, a few drinks and a snack, some shopping and, finally, a fantastic dinner of Greek food with unbelievably large portions!

Another view of the Acropolis over the entry to the Temple of Zeus. No, it never gets old πŸ™‚
A column lays on the ground, waiting for restoration at the Temple of Zeus.
Several of the columns have been restored, and the scaffolding is in place to protect them. Jeannette poses for the shot πŸ™‚
Our dinner venue for the night – it was like a street fair of fantastic smells and tastes!
One of the shopping areas that we enjoyed in Athens.

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Where’s the Heat?

I have this uncanny ability to choose riding days that turn into the hottest days of the year! It’s not hard to do this year – we have all been baking in the PNW. I took a little time to make a trip down into Northern Nevada for some Tour of Honor stops and some PNW Grad Tour stops, too.

What is PNW Grand tour, you ask? It is a little grand tour style rally I put together last Fall that has grown to over 350 riders. We have had our share of growing pains, but overall I would say it has been a hit with most of our participants. I tried to choose locations throughout Washington, Oregon, Idaho and portions of California, Nevada and Montana that would take riders to places they may not have explored, yet.

My first day took me down to Burns, Oregon via Portland and John Day. Temperatures rose to about 103F by the time I made my first bonus stop in Kimberley, Oregon. I also saw clouds building on the horizon and knew some rain showers might be in the plan for the day. I honestly was looking forward to it since I knew it would cool off quite a bit if I did encounter one of the cells. Alas, I managed to dodge all but one shower. It did cool off to a comfortable temperature by the time I made my way down to Burns for the night.

One of the struggles associated with riding these days is the availability of food on the road. A lot of fast food places don’t have enough workers to open the lobby (try the drive thru on a bike!), and a lot of other restaurants have hours that don’t show up accurately on their websites. There have been a couple e vending machine meals in the past few months 😦

Kimberley, Oregon for my first PNW GT stop.
Some of the thunder storm activity – I did well dodging them!
A little road work with thunder booming behind me. What trip would be complete?

Day 2 found me making my way down through Nevada to the interstate via McDermitt, Nevada and then back up into Oregon via the bustling metropolis of Gerlach, Nevada. It was still a hot day and as I approached my stop for the night just south of Bend, the smoke started to get thicker from nearby fires. If you have never ridden through Northern Nevada, the thing that sticks with you is the sense of isolation! I think I saw maybe 2 cars on the stretch of road between Fernley, NV and Alturas, CA. And not much road work to speak of, either.

Gerlach is an acquired taste…
McDermitt, Nevada is a blip on the map.

Day 3 was a more leisurely ride up through central Oregon to the Dee Wright Observatory and then over to Salem and then home. If you have never been to the Dee Wright Observatory, make the trip. It is a beautiful drive and a rather fascinating landmark with spectacular views of some of Oregon’s most famous mountains.

The Dee Wright Observatory in the background.
A peaceful morning ride up through the forest to Dee Wright.
Mt Washington in central Oregon is a fantastic landmark on a mostly clear morning from the observatory!
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Snowshoeing in Paradise

My son and I decided to head up to Mt Rainier National Park after Christmas to enjoy some snowshoeing in the Paradise area. The road up to the visitor center is open year-around if road condition allow. It is controlled at lower elevation to limit travel to daylight hours.

We took off at a reasonable hour since the gate doesn’t open until 9am. Weather forecasts predicted pretty nice weather up at elevation, but the drive didn’t give any indication it would be enjoyable. We had steady rain all the way to the outskirts of the park. It was like magic when we neared the entrance station – the rain stopped, the clouds thinned and we could even catch a glimpse of blue skies once in a while. The road was in very good condition all the way to the top. Plows had obviously been working hard to get it cleared. The mountains had received over a foot of new snow over the holiday.

The parking area was a little more crowded than we expected, but given the fantastic conditions, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised. Even with a full parking area it didn’t feel crowded. There were a lot of families with kids on sleds. It was fun to watch!

We took off with no real destination in mind. Our trek took us past one of the park’s most recognizable and iconic waterfalls – Mrytle Falls. It was totally different with all the snow, and clouds obscured the mountain that normally dominates the background of the picture. It was actually easier to access on snowshoes than it normally is in the summer months. We crossed the creek on a snow-buried foot bridge and continued up the Skyline trail to a hill with a great view of the Tatoosh Range.

All-in-all, it was a great way to spend a weekend day!

The road up to Paradise was well maintained.
Some fresh ski tracks in about a foot of new powder. Someone had a fun time πŸ™‚
Myrtle Falls looks remarkably different with all the snow. Those people in the frame are standing on (or near) a footbridge buried by over 5 feet of snow!
The Tatoosh Range dappled with mid-day sunshine peeking through the clouds.
Sun splashes across mountain tops.

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A Trip to Utah – Part 2 (Zion, Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend)

Zion National Park

Jeannette and I visited Zion one other time…on a Memorial Day weekend. To say the experience was not enjoyable would be fair. We were looking forward to another try at a slower time of year, and when Sherry suggested we rent electric bikes, we knew it was going to be fantastic. The trams that most people are used to using up here are running at a reduced capacity and require an online reservation. They are also running fewer of the busses, so riding bikes into the park seemed like the ideal solution.

Zion was only about an hour away from our condo. We headed over at a reasonable hour and got our bikes around 8:30. It was pretty cool and windy the morning we went, and riding into the wind made it a little cooler. It was my first time on a e-bike, and I have to say it was pretty fun. You could work as hard as you wanted, or just twist the grip and let the bike do it all. I did a combination of those and still didn’t drop below 50% after a full day of riding. Pretty amazing technology.

Zion is unbelievable! We enjoyed a fairly easy hike to see the Emerald Pools near the lodge, had a nice snack of soft pretzels and then headed up the canyon to the Temple of Sinawava. This final stop is the jump-off point for one of the more popular hikes into the canyon narrows. We didn’t do it this trip (not prepared), but I can see the attraction and want to go back. We had a great time and I believe October is a good time to visit the park.

At the pedestrian entrance to Zion on a cool, promising day πŸ™‚
The e-bikes worked out really well to get us around the park without relying on the shuttle bus.
Just a little sample of the beautiful scenery we enjoyed all day long πŸ™‚
The Virgin River flows from the mountains through Zion Canyon.
At the Zion Lodge.
More of the Virgin River.
Looking towards the slot canyon that leads to one of the more popular hikes in the park – The Narrows.

Grand Canyon National Park

The North Rim was probably the part of the trip I looked most forward to. I have never been to the Grand Canyon and longed for a visit. We decided to wait until Wednesday to make sure crowds were not too large with the great weather that was forecast. Sherry (really Brandon) wanted to try to book a ride on mules and managed to grab a reservation at 8:30 in the morning, so we loaded up and headed out at 5:30 in the morning to make sure we arrived with time to check in and use the bathroom before the ride. The only problem with the plan was that I forgot about the fact that Arizona doesn’t observe daylight savings time…so we arrived an hour earlier than needed.

It actually worked out OK because we were able to wander around and grab a snack at the lodge before heading out. The weather was just about perfect, but it wasn’t clear that the ride would be enjoyable on the way into the park with temperatures hovering at or below freezing much of the way. Thankfully it warmed up at the visitor center and a parka and gloves were not required!

The mule ride was fun but very, very dusty. “The mules walk close to the edge of the trail…”don’t worry, that’s how they are trained.” Yikes! The views were good, the company was good and the ride was fun.

After the mule ride we headed away from an increasingly crowded visitor center and lodge and made our way back towards the park entrance. We had heard from one of the park staff that there was a “must stop” visit to Cape Royal on the way, so we headed over to see what it looked like. It was spectacular, maybe the highlight of the entire trip! If you go to the North Rim, make time for the drive out to Cape Royal. Great views of the canyon, including a glimpse of the Colorado River as it makes its way through the canyon. Just wow!

We stopped on the way back out…too cold in the morning!
An hour early, but a great location to find something to do for an hour πŸ™‚
Grand Canyon Lodge – a beautiful lodge in a beautiful location.
The view of the canyon from the rear deck of the lodge. Can you imagine eating breakfast here as the sun rises???
The back side of the lodge.
Brandon gets some help from a cowboy.
An amazing scene πŸ™‚
Our first glimpse of Angel’s Window. The rock bridge over the window leads to a pretty fantastic vista of the canyon.
Looking through the window at a glimpse of the Colorado River.
A little better view of the Colorado River.

St George and Horseshoe Bend

We took a breather on Thursday and stayed close to St George with a visit to Red Hills Desert Garden. The garden is a free trip to an area near the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. It was a good way to spend some time enjoying the desert landscape as well as some fun Halloween decorations.

I convinced everyone to get back in the car for a trip out to Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. This iconic landscape is a must-see for anyone in the area, and recent improvements to the entrance, parking area and trail make it a fairly easy visit in all but the hottest summer months. They have smoothed the trail down to the overlook since my last visit and added several shaded rest areas for people making their way back up to the parking area. Beware – the entire trip (except the shaded benches) is fully exposed to sun and can be extremely hot during summer months.

An example of the scarecrows on display at a St George garden area.
A macabre scene on display at a St George garden area.
The area surrounding the gardens in St George is beautiful.
On our way down the path to the viewing area at Horseshoe Bend. You can just start to see the opening.
Lighting (for pictures) wasn’t ideal, but the scenery was spectacular. And much more comfortable than the last time I visited!
I took a short hike to a higher area and was able to get a good view of the viewing area below.
Lake Powell from the Glen Canyon Dam visitor’s center.
Glen Canyon Dam near Page, Arizona.

You can see more of the pictures I took using this link.

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A Trip to Utah – Part 1

Like many people, our vacation plans were altered by travel restrictions. We had planned to visit Kauai this year with friends. With Hawaii off the table for the near term, we decided to head down to southern Utah to explore and make our first visit to the Grand Canyon. We found a nice 2 bedroom condo just north of St George – convenient to many great locations including Zion, Grand Canyon and several nearby state parks.

We decided to drive down instead of flying, and that turned out to be a good choice because rental cars are ridiculous right now! Twin Falls was the planned stopping point on the first day (Friday), and I hoped to make a brief stop by Shoshone Falls on the way out of town on Saturday morning. Our drive started with a road closure caused by a police chase within 10 miles of home and was punctuated with a truck fire on I-84 outside Baker City, Oregon that probably shut the freeway down after we passed through. The hotel was a welcome stop.

Shoshone Falls is a really neat place on the Snake River on the edge of Twin Falls, and when the water is flowing, it is spectacular. The water doesn’t flow much in the early Fall, but the views were still very nice. It was a cool contrast to what I had experienced in the Spring a few years earlier. Our first indication that the flow might not be so good came when there was no entry fee charged…it was still very cool to see, just different.

Shoshone Falls on a low-flow fall day.
Shoshone Falls
Shoshone Falls at a much higher flow during the spring a few years earlier. The observation platform in the lower right is where I stood to take the more recent picture.
Looking at the Snake River downstream of Shoshone Falls.

We made our way south through eastern Nevada on US-93 towards southern Utah. It was a quiet drive with little traffic and good weather. We were fortunate to see the booming eastern Nevada metropolis of Jackpot, Wells and Ely (LOL). We got to the condo before dinner and meet up with Sherry, Charlie and Brandon for a nice dinner.

Sunday – Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)

We looked at the map and decided to go visit a local state park just outside St George – Snow Canyon State Park. It became clear pretty quickly that this park was going to be a very nice stop. Lots of red rock cliffs and canyons as is typical of the area, and not too many people out wandering around on a holiday weekend. It was a great stop!

Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
Interesting rock formations in Snow Canyon State Park.
Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
Brandon and Sherry.
Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
Charlie getting brave.
Snow Canyon State Park (Utah)
Brandon and Jeannette clowning around πŸ™‚

Monday – Kolob Canyons

The rest of our week started to get full, so we threw a dart and decided to head about 30 minutes north to visit Kolob Canyons. Kolob Canyons is a part of Zion National Park but requires no entry fee, is much less crowded and isn’t connected by road to the main part of the park. It was an easy drive up the interstate and the entrance was immediately off the freeway. The drive quickly turned scenic and the interstate was forgotten for several hours.

The road winds up through a canyon to a parking area with several trailheads. We made our way out to the Timber Creek overlook and enjoyed some spectacular scenery along the way. This little slice of Zion is very beautiful and totally worth the short side-trip if you are traveling in the area.

Kolob Canyons
Good luck combined with good timing…on the way up to the parking area.
Kolob Canyons
Timber Creek Overlook – a nice little 1 mile trip out to some great scenery.
Kolob Canyons
The view from the overlook.
Kolob Canyons
Surrounded by natural beauty.

The second part will cover our trips to Zion, Grand Canyon and somewhere else πŸ™‚

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Sunrise at Sunrise :)

I am crazy. Yes, I admit it. In fact, I embrace it. I like the challenge of getting up at 2am, hitting the road at 2:30am to get up to the Sunrise Visitor Center in time for one of the spectacular sunrises up there. Then, because just getting up early isn’t enough, I enjoy heading out on a 6.5 mile hike. Yes, that’s me πŸ™‚

So, so dark up there that early. I forgot my headlamp, so I decided to look like a total rube and use my phone flashlight feature. It wasn’t perfect, but it got me to a good spot safely. I found a nice section of the trail that had wide open views of the mountain and few people walking by. The I set up the tri-pod and wait for some light. It was pleasant with just enough of a breeze to keep the bugs away. The light in the early morning hours progresses from this deep, dark blue to a kind of muted light to fantastic oranges to, well, just plain old sunshine. I loved every minute of it!

Pre-dawn hour. Climber headlamps on the upper left of the mountain, the lights in the foreground are other people out on the trail.
Pre-dawn and the sun is just starting to make itself known.
At sunrise. You can see the line of the sun about a third of the way up the mountain.
A little closer look at the summit.

I kept seeing flashes of light in the pre-dawn hour that I thought were climbers making their way up to the summit. They leave very early to allow a summit and safe trip back down before the sun warms up the ice and causes rock falls. I couldn’t get them in my view finder, but the flashes kept happening occasionally. I took a few early pictures with longer exposures to get that nice blue light and the headlamps showed up in a few of the pictures. I also took a few pictures of the summit area with a zoom lens without any plan of capturing the climbers, but when I got home…BAM! I caught two groups of climbers on the mountain. They looked like little ants marching along. Super cool!

A low-light view of the summit. I couldn’t see it in this image on my camera, but I actually captured two groups of climbers on the left side of the frame near the top.
Here’s that section of the picture blown up. I was very excited!

After enjoying the sunrise I headed out to hike the Burroughs Mountain trail. It is a little more challenging than my previous adventure up there, and that tends to keep the Saturday crowds in check. I saw other people, but not many, and all of them were serious about hiking and enjoying the scenery. It was a very nice day.

A portion of the Sunrise Rim trail between Burroughs Mountain and the visitor center.
Shadow Lake near the visitor center on Sunrise Rim Trail.
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Olympic National Park – Ruby Beach and Coastal Areas

Olympic National Park is an incredibly diverse park. Mountains, alpine meadows, rain forests, raging rivers and calming creeks. I’ve seen many areas of the park but have never ventured out to the coast to enjoy the slice of the park that makes up several beaches. It isn’t you typical drive to the beach – it requires some commitment to the day-long adventure since it is about 3 hours from home. I have been through there on the highway on my bike but never had an opportunity to stop and enjoy the beauty until yesterday.

As with most things associated with my picture taking hobby, I needed to get out there early to take advantage of some good lighting, so I loaded up and headed out the door by 4am. I drove up towards Port Angeles on the north Olympic Peninsula so that I could (maybe) enjoy an early sunrise at Lake Crescent. I was there but the clouds didn’t cooperate 😦

My first stop was Ruby Beach on the northern edge of the park boundary. I honestly don’t know which beach is most popular. My limited research showed that everyone had a favorite, and they were all different. Ruby Beach seems popular because it has some nice rock formations and plenty of driftwood, plus it has one of the bigger parking areas to get access to the trail down to the beach. I made it to the parking area around 7am and had the place mostly to myself.

The trail down to the beach area is pretty short and well maintained. Once at the bottom you are faced with a wall of large driftwood that is pretty easy to navigate through, and then it is rocky beach bisected by a small creek flowing towards the ocean. I took my time wandering around taking pictures and enjoying the peace of hearing waves crash and gulls call. There was one rock stack in particular that was interesting – it took the shape of what my eye calls an ape. Take a look below and imagine for yourself πŸ™‚

Ruby Beach – still lots of marine layer out there. Driftwood piles up in abundance.
Ruby Beach – looking south and over the small creek that bisects the beach.
Ruby Beach – The clouds are starting to burn away. Looking over a small pond formed in a low section of the creek. The size of the pond and shape of the rocks calls out to the boy in me to skip some rocks πŸ™‚
Ruby Beach – One of the more interesting rock formations. It doesn’t really take shape until you get around to the other side of it.
Ruby Beach – here’s the other side. Can you see an animal, maybe an ape, in the shape of the rock?
Ruby Beach – someone had too much time on their hands…no, not me πŸ™‚

I trekked back to my car and made my way a little further down the coast to Kalaloch Lodge and the beach behind it. Kalaloch is part of Olympic National Park and has a small lodge, restaurant and convenience store as well as several small cabins that are available to rent. The beach behind the lodge has easy access down a set of steps and is much different than Ruby Beach – it is mostly dark sand and easy walking terrain. Similar to Ruby, Kalaloch Creek bisects the beach and flows to the ocean. I was there near low tide and there is a lot of room on the beach to walk around and enjoy the ocean sounds.

Kalaloch Beach – I am pretty sure they were plotting their next target…
Kalaloch Beach – looking across the creek on a beautiful day.

I decided to continue the loop around the Olympic mountains and continued down the coast to Hoquiam and Aberdeen before heading inland and towards home. It was a day well spent, and I am looking forward to exploring more coastal areas of the park. Other areas I have not spent much time in include the upper and lower Queets valleys and the Quinault River valley. The Quinault region is supposed to have some of the best waterfalls in the area so I will need to bring my tripod and make a day of it!

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