Traveling the Northern Rockies – A Video

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Glacier National Park and the Northern Rockies

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Summer vacation began and ended with vegan pizza.  Specifically, vegan pizza at Allie’s Vegan Pizza in Spokane, Washington.  Even though it sounds weird, the mac and cheese pizza was fantastic, especially when dipped in ranch.  After a late arrival, our first real day of vacation included lots of driving, fueled with breakfast by Casual Friday Donuts, which has a plentiful selection of vegan donuts.  Happily full of maple bars and chocolate frosting, we aimed for the first National Park Site of our trip – Nez Perce National Historical Park.  Commemorating their culture as well as the flight of the Nez Perce from the U.S. Army during the Nez Perce War of 1877, this site is spread over many miles.  I’ve been curious to visit this site after reading, and teaching, the speeches, letters, and history of the Nez Perce, especially Chief Joseph.  We spent time at the visitor center in Spalding, Idaho and followed the Nez Perce National Historic Trail as we drove east, stopping at a canoe camp and “The Heart of the Monster” a site of cultural significance, where I scared a rattlesnake and we listened to a recorded story from a speaker.  We also stopped at Lolo Pass – which Anthony is very familiar with due to work.  Leaving our home mountains, the Appalachians, to visit these western mountains is a great change of scenery.  The Appalachians are worn down, green, and rounded.  The hills and fields we drove through from Spokane to Missoula (our stop for the night), were variously yellowed and then pine scented as we rose to higher elevations.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

After a night in Missoula, especially poignant for me after just finishing Jon Krakauer’s Missoula, we drove on to Glacier National Park.  We have both wanted to visit Glacier for years.  Anthony has spent many days working on fires near the park, but has never had a chance to step inside.  I have dreamed of coming here after reading hiking stories in Backpacker and various other outdoor publications.  My parents also wanted to plan a trip here, so while we camped, they stayed in hotels near the park.  We began our week long visit on the west side of the park.  After setting up camp at Apgar Campground, which has nice, semi-private spots, we met up with my parents for a short hike along the shore of Lake McDonald.  Our first view of the lake was mind bogglingly beautiful.  Calm waters, lush woods, and pointy peaks in the distance.  We managed to collect some of our park stamps as well, and enjoyed watching the light change over the lake as the sun set.  

The next day, Anthony and I set out to hike to Avalanche Lake.  A moderately strenuous hike of about six miles, the end view is amazingly tranquil and yet wild at the same time.  A popular hike, we shared the trail with many others, but were still able to enjoy the peaceful nature of the lake and the multiple waterfalls cascading down from Sperry Glacier.  That afternoon, we drove through storm clouds and wind to Bowman Lake.  Following mostly dirt roads all the way, we were on a quest for another passport stamp.  

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

After two nights at West Glacier we made our way to Saint Mary via the infamous Going-To-The-Sun Road.  I was driving, and constantly pulled over to marvel at the views.  Truly stunning, the road is also an amazing feat of engineering.  These views made us eager to come back someday to backpack more remote areas of the park, since we didn’t have enough time to do so on this trip.  After visiting with some mountain goats at Logan Pass (they were right on the side of the road and Anthony got amazing pictures out of the car window), we descended to the Saint Mary campground where our already reserved spot seemed to be the most exposed in the campground.  Many sites were privately tucked back, but ours butted right up with another site and offered much less space than many others.  I suppose we can’t complain too much, since we had to reserve so far ahead of time and this was the only space left!  Also, Glacier only charges half price for pass holders – which was a nice perk.  We spent the rest of the day meeting up with my parents again and driving down to the Two Medicine area of the park.  There we collected our stamp and hiked a short distance to the lake and then to Running Eagle Falls.  This waterfall cascades, in high water, from above and then within a cave.  Since we were there later in the summer, the water was only coming from inside the cave – which was really neat to see.  Dinner was at Serrano’s, a Mexican joint in East Glacier Park.  Awesomely, they had tofu specials on the menu and we ate happily alongside my parents.  

The following morning, we hopped in the car again and drove to Many Glacier.  First collecting our stamp, we then picked up our boat tour which motored us across Swiftcurrent Lake and then Lake Josephine.  Beautiful, foggy views greeted us as we managed to dodge most of the rain.  After lunch in the lodge, we headed back to the Saint Mary area and Anthony and I hiked to yet another waterfall – Saint Mary Falls.  The turquoise water rushing over the small falls was beautiful, though we hiked through increasingly intense thunder, lightening, and rain to get back to the car.

Waterton National Park

Waterton National Park

Our next foray took us up into Alberta, Canada to visit Waterton Park, which is attached to Glacier National Park as an International Peace Park.  We were again plagued by rain, but still managed to see everything we could drive to in the park, and explore the little town within.  On our way to Cameron Lake (stunning in its own right), we saw a Grizzly bear!  The bear ran in front of the car (much happier to see it from the car than while out hiking), and proceeded to dig around in the dirt for a while on the side of the road.  We also made it out to Red Rock Canyon, though again rain kept us from enjoying it for too long.  

We said goodbye to my parents, the cooler Glacier weather, and long days in order to head south into Idaho.  We had two more stops in Montana first though.  Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site commemorates cattle and the people who created this industry in the west.  Much warmer weather greeted us as we walked around the site, peering into barns and watching a blacksmith demonstrate her skills.  We also sampled cowboy coffee and viewed many photographs detailing the history of the ranch.  We finished our day by driving to Butte, whose mining history fascinated me.  Many of the mining buildings are still standing and there are various memorials to those killed in mining accidents around the city.  

We began our next morning early at The Hummingbird Cafe where we were able to have a tasty vegan breakfast of potatoes, tofu scramble, vegan sausage, and toast with fresh made jam.  Great way to start the day!  Big Hole National Battlefield was our first NPS site of the day.  The visitors center included a sad yet realistic depiction of the battle and the history of the Nez Perce.  Continuing the path we began a week before, we learned more about the men and women on both sides of the Nez Perce War.  After the film, we drove down the battlefield and walked around the beautiful Big Hole River near the battlefield.  The past echoes in the sunshine, waving grasses, and whispering water.  

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve

Later in the day, we made it to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  Very hot, especially with the sun reflecting off of the volcanic rock, we still managed to fit in a few short hikes through the landscape.  There were many others outside enjoying the park as well, and the visitors center was packed.  We hiked along the North Crater Flow Trail, up Inferno Cone, and to several caves that we were able to hike through.  It was much cooler underground!  The landscape is rugged and stark in comparison to the yellow hills surrounding it.

Since we stayed in Twin Falls, Idaho for a couple of nights, the next morning I woke up early and went for a run along the Snake River Canyon.  I kept stopping to admire the views along the pedestrian path the city has built along the rim.  I always appreciate a city that has a great running path!  Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and Minidoka National Historic Site share a visitors center, so we went there before we visited either park.  At Hagerman, we walked around a little, seeing part of the Oregon Trail – you can still see the wagon tracks!! – and the hills where the fossils have been recovered.  The most famous fossil recovered is the Hagerman Horse, among 200 other species of plants and animals found.  Minidoka preserves a troubling time in American history, when the government moved people of Japanese 

Snake River Canyon

Snake River Canyon

ancestry to internment camps during World War II.  Part of the property has been preserved, as well as a few old buildings.  Most of the land was actually turned over to returning soldiers as homesteads after the war ended, but the National Park Service has saved enough space that we were able to follow about a mile long trail detailing where some of the buildings were.  Signs also offered historical data about the site while 13,000 internees were forcibly living there.  Quiet now, we were the only ones wandering around.  We baked in the sun as we observed the site and tried to imagine ourselves in the shoes of those interned here for years.  By the end of the war, the internees had changed the landscape into viable farmland and were producing most of their own food.  Asked to leave, many wanted to stay after becoming attached to the land, and knowing they had nothing to return to.  We took an evening visit to Shoshone Falls, driving down into the canyon in order to stand close to the huge falls.  

Our last stop of our vacation out west was City of Rocks National Reserve.  Mostly a haven for rock climbers, we drove through the park and stopped to admire the strange rock formations, meandering through some of them and watching climbers off in the distance.  A quiet spot, we felt very secluded, a nice conclusion to our time out west.  

We spent the night in Boise, Idaho and had a fantastic dinner at BBQ4LIFE, a restaurant with both vegan and traditional BBQ.  Dinner, and dessert, were seriously amazing.  We stuffed ourselves.  The next day, we stopped in Grangeville, Idaho to visit friends Anthony knows from working in fire, and then continued on our way to Spokane, vegan pizza, and our flight to Connecticut.  Before driving from Connecticut back to Asheville, we attended a cousin’s wedding in Rhode Island (on our wedding anniversary!), and visited Anthony’s stepfather at Sloan Kettering Hospital in NYC.  Undergoing treatment for cancer, Allen is bravely facing a long recovery from the removal of a tumor in his shoulder.  After a long day of driving, we arrived safely back home to enjoy the rest of our summer.

Midwest National Parks – Part 1

The theme of our summer vacation was twofold: we need kayaks and beavers changed the path of American history.

For vacation this summer, Anthony and I decided to loop through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and a little of Missouri.  Our industrious plan covered 18 National Park Sites.  Collecting stamps, magnets, and park brochures, we made our way through some beautiful and depopulated countryside.  Mostly, we were on backroads – the blue highways that William Least Heat-Moon famously enlivened for the American public.  Many of the parks we visited we have placed on a list of “need to return to”, and in these cases, we need a boat to fully enjoy them.

Our trek began in Shepherdstown, WV, where Anthony was attending a class.  Once he was released on Friday afternoon, we made our longest drive of the trip to Detroit.  Anthony lived in Detroit for a short period of time, and our first stop was for some authentic Mediterranean cuisine at Al Ameer.  We feasted on falafel, mujadara, garlic dip, and hummus.  The food was absolutely fantastic, and we left completely stuffed.  Arriving at 9pm, the restaurant was fully packed and echoed with laughter and the frantic movements of the waitstaff.

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

River Raisin National Battlefield Park

The next morning, still kind of full, we backtracked south to visit River Raisin National Battlefield Park.  The site is still being developed, since it was only determined to be an NPS site in 2009.  So far there is an informative visitor center and a short walk to the battlefield.  There are also some monuments in the park.  Until recently, the battlefield was covered by an abandoned paper factory.  Through the efforts of citizens, the city of Monroe, and the state, now River Raisin (Remember the Raisin!) will be protected.  A war of 1812 site, the rangers will be quick to point out, River Raisin demonstrates a time when we were battling against Canada through the British and their Indian allies.  Not only were the Americans ultimately beaten at River Raisin, there were such casualties and fear of retribution, that the dead soldiers remained unburied for months after the battle.  An horrific image to say the least.  So many of these historical sites we visit offer a sobering view of American history, and I feel (as does the National Park Service) that it is immeasurably important to remember and preserve these moments in history.

Afterwards, we met up with friends at Cafe Muse in the Royal Oak neighborhood north of Detroit.  On our way there, we were amazed to see so many burned out and abandoned homes along the freeway through downtown.  Detroit is obviously losing its population in the downtown and southern areas, and I have heard city officials are discussing turning some of that land back into farmland.  Hard to know what can be done, since crime is so high and the city has declared bankruptcy.  Anyway, it was lovely to catch up with friends we hadn’t seen in years and to enjoy a delicious meal.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

We departed Detroit to head up to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the first of all four National Lakeshores that we would visit on this trip.  It was a long drive through rural Michigan, cutting north and west across the state, but we arrived at Sleeping Bear Dunes, just in time to snag one of the last campsites at D.H. Day Campground.  We explored the nearby Glen Haven Historic Village and the small town of Glen Arbor nearby, where we visited Cherry Republic, sampling cherry hummus and cherry root beer.  As rain began to fall we dashed back to our campsite, hoping the storm would break long enough for us to make dinner on our camp stove.  Thankfully it did, and we were able to sleep dry in our tent.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

The next morning we set out to complete the dune climb, a 3.5 mile hike over shifting sand dunes to the shore of Lake Michigan.  It was quite a tough hike, over and through the dry, drifting sand, but the view of the lake at the end was well worth it.  We were right on the shore of the lake, looking out over the pristine (and freezing!) waters of Lake Michigan.  It was a fun hike, though we were both pretty tired by the time we completed it.  We then finally made our way to the visitors center, and eventually to drive the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive.  We were rewarded with more great views of the dunes and the lake, this time from the top of a sand dune.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

After stopping for some Thai food in Petoskey, we stayed the night in Mackinaw City, next to the Mackinac Bridge, which took us over to the Upper Peninsula the next morning.  While driving the back roads of the U.P. we continuously saw signs for pasties and wild rice.  The scenery was stunning, and the uncongested roads were a treat.  Our next NPS stop was Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior.  We first stopped in the Grand Sable Visitor Center for information, and our cancellation stamps.  As we chatted with the ranger, she told us there was no longer a ranger at the Lightkeepers House Museum.  We mentioned we were hoping to go there in order to get the lighthouse stamp, and the ranger asked if we’d like her to mail it to us!  So we left our address and when we arrived home, there was our lighthouse stamp with a great note from the ranger.  So sweet of her!  We set up camp that night in the Hurricane River Campground, which was not even half full.  In fact, when we set up our tent, there was no one else on our loop!  We were introduced to the frenetic and persistent mosquitos of the U.P.  They do not quit, and even a layer of Deet does not always keep them away.  Temperatures dropped into the 40’s the night, and didn’t rise much the next day – and still the mosquitos were attacking.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

While there, we also took a short walk to the Log Slide Overlook, where loggers used to slide trees down the dunes into the lake for transport.  The view of the dunes was stunning from the angle of the overlook.  We also visited the Munising Falls Visitor Center, and the Interagency Visitor Center in the town of Munising.  Another short walk took us to Munising Falls, which we observed crowded by senior citizens on a bus tour.  We then walked down to see Miners Castle, which is where you can best see the Pictured Rocks (unless you have a boat).  Miners Castle is a unique rock formation, and the walkway takes you right to the edge of it.  One of my favorite American poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote beautifully about this area of the country in The Song of Hiawatha.  The exposed layers of rock in the sandstone and the streaks of minerals along the face are what make the area so notable.  As we walked out onto Miners Beach, the rain that had been threatening throughout the day finally started to fall.  There were other waterfalls we wanted to see, but the chilly temperatures and wet weather kept us from doing so.

To be continued…

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Our next stop was Yosemite National Park.  We spent over a week there, part of it backpacking, and part of it with my parents – who were gracious enough to plan a vacation to Yosemite and then invite us along!  Yosemite is crowded, the valley is mobbed, especially in the middle of summer, but there is a reason that it is so full of humanity – and that is the sheer, unadorned beauty of the monolithic granite rising up out of the valley.  No one can deny the heart stopping views, and it is not surprising that people flock here, clogging the roads and filling the lodging.  Unfortunately, some people do very stupid things here – you put together a lot of humans who do not go out into nature often, within arm’s reach of animals and hiking trails, and you tend to have clashes.  I like to think that most people though, leave Yosemite with a renewed sense of the importance of preserving nature, and a reverence for the sublime – John Muir called this area the “range of light”.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

The backpacking portion of our trip included 50+ miles over five days and four nights in the backcountry.  We applied for our permit months in advance.  In fact, we had our permit in hand long before we even had plane tickets!  Still, we had to wrangle our hike because so many permits had already been taken.  We hiked out of Wawona on the Chilnualna Falls Trail.  That meant we gained approximately 3,000 feet on our first day of hiking.  We started around 4,000 feet and on our third day, topped Red Peak Pass at a little over 11,000 feet.  Our first night was spent at Johnson Lake, falling asleep to the gentle plopping of fish in the otherwise still lake, where we awoke to frost on the ground.  As the sun rose, it quickly melted, but I still registered my complaints and refused to leave my sleeping bag until the sun hit our tent.  Late on our second day of hiking, we spotted our first views of the high Sierra, where the peaks are barren and covered in moraines.  Through fields of wildflowers and forested hills, we spent the day rolling up and downhill until we reached the final push to the Ottoway Lakes.  We spent the night camped on the shore of the lower lake, enjoying the tinkling of a small creek through the evening.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Day three took us up and over Red Peak Pass, and though the temperature hovered in the 60’s the mountain sun was intense.  That, combined with the altitude, made for slow going up the pass.  The area is above tree line, therefore completely exposed.  We arrived at the summit around noontime, and while Anthony huddled in the shade, I tried in vain with my camera to capture the sun on the rocks and the view of the various tarns dotting the horizon.  The hike down from the pass seemed to take much longer than it should have, but we did stop several times to dip our feet in mountain streams, or swim in lakes.  Anthony swims, I am the toe dipper.  The freezing cold glacier meltwater does not seem to bother him.  Our third night was spent next to Triple Peak Fork, which eventually dumps into the Merced River.  We hadn’t seen another human since the night before, and we were camped completely alone out in the woods.  It’s amazing to be able to do that in a park that sees over four million visitors a year.  The following day we followed Triple Peak Fork down to the trail junction at Merced Lake, where there is a campground with platform tents.  We spent some time resting on the shore of Merced Lake, enjoying the quiet beauty.  From this point on, we were on a highly traveled trail down to the valley, so our days were not as peaceful.  Up until we arrived at the Merced Lake area, we’d seen less than a dozen people total.  After Merced Lake, I stopped counting as we ran into people backpacking up to the platform tents, mule trails, and as we got closer to the valley – day hikers.  I found a secret camp spot up above the Merced River that night, and we enjoyed a warmer night in the shadow of a granite dome.  Our hike out was stunning, even though we had to share the trail with so many others.  Following the Merced River was magical, and we found many places to cool off in its waters.  We hiked down the grueling steps by Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls, admiring the views with literally thousands of other people, to end our hike back in the valley.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

We spent the next couple of days with my parents, enjoying the less rigorous pursuits in Yosemite – a short walk to Lyell Fork in Tuolumne Meadows was a highpoint.  We also took a drive up Tioga Road, and then down to Mammoth to visit Devils Postpile National Monument.  60 foot high towers of basalt rock, that look like french fries to me, are the reason this was declared a protected area in 1911.  Another day we drove to Glacier Point for unobstructed views of Half Dome and the valley below.  It was a wonderful few days in an amazing park and I am glad we spent an abundance of time here, especially since we were able to enjoy such a wonderful place with my parents.

Upon leaving Yosemite, we made our way back to the San Francisco area.  We spent a morning at John Muir National Historic Site.  It was really fun to go there right after being at Yosemite, since John Muir loved Yosemite and was integral in pushing to get it protected.  He adored Yosemite, and spent days upon days wandering footloose through the peaks, with barely any supplies and a carefree regard for the natural world.  At the site, we were able to walk around his family home and read much of his original work.  As always, the park rangers were helpful, friendly and talkative.

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park

Our next stop was Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.  When Anthony and I first met, our first date began at the Oakland Airport.  We had planned a backpacking trip on the Lost Coast.  Before we headed up north in our rental car, Anthony suggested we check out the new National Park Site that had just opened – Rosie the Riveter.  A memorial sculpture had already been built, which is what led to the designation and participation by the NPS.  We both remember going to the site, and wandering around the memorial, but at that point, in 2007, there was nothing else there yet.  Now there is a gorgeous visitors center, with amazing exhibits, films, and photographs – all commemorating the women who worked and toiled in the war effort of WWII.  The Rosies are inspiring and the history presented and the care given to preserving it, make this site a very special place.  Dinner was at Souley Vegan, in Oakland, where we ate piles and piles of starchy goodness.

Our last day on vacation began with a visit to Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site.  Open rarely, and only accessible by park shuttle, we had made reservations the previous morning, but the shuttle never appeared – so we waited the next morning, a Saturday, for a shuttle that did not require reservations.  In the meantime, we discovered Ike’s Place, an amazingly tasty sandwich shop.  It’s not an all vegan place, or even vegetarian, but they have an extensive vegan menu that includes all kinds of meats and cheeses.  I think both of us would agree that these were some of the best sandwiches either of us has ever had.  Back at the site, the lives of Eugene and his family made for an incredibly interesting tour of his house.  Being an English teacher, I was of course fascinated to see his library and hear about his writing practices.  He was very reclusive while writing, and “trained” his wife Carlotta to ensure his privacy while working.

Our last stop of vacation before flying a red eye out of SFO, was Jelly Belly, where we took a factory tour and bought a lot of Jelly Belly Jelly Beans.  Anthony spent a lot of our visit on the phone with his work, because within the hour of us arriving home from vacation the next morning, he left for Alaska with work!

All in all, an amazingly wonderful three week vacation – lots of memories, good food, and beautiful scenery.  An added bonus was spending time with my wonderful parents!

Northern California

Whiskey Town NRA

Whiskey Town NRA

We left the cool weather of the Bay Area behind, and headed north to Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, where temperatures soared over 100 degrees.  Most come to Whiskeytown to enjoy the lake, and we were no exception.  We went swimming twice, once at Crystal Creek Falls, and then again in Whiskeytown Lake.  Since the temperature was so hot, it was a welcome relief.  We also took a short walk to a few relics of the mining past surrounding the area.  Even walking less than a mile was taxing in that weather!

Lave Beds National Monument

Lave Beds National Monument

Our next stop took us on a drive up to Lava Beds National Monument.  We spent two nights camping there in the Indian Well Campground.  A smaller park, we had a great time exploring.  Lava Beds is known for the extensive system of caves located beneath the surface of the park.  We trekked through three of them, some of the easier ones to walk through.  We didn’t attempt any of the more serious caves.  Golden Dome is so named for the glowing bacteria on the ceiling.  It really does glow golden in the light!  We also walked the length of Sentinel Cave, and climbed down into Skull Cave.  There is a permanent ice floor when you get all the way to the base.  The temperature in the caves is a cool 50ish degrees all year, a welcome relief from the sun and heat of the rest of the park.  While staying there, we also experienced a hail storm so severe we feared for the paint job and dinging of our rental car.  One night we ventured down to the amphitheater to listen to a ranger led discussion of the Modoc people who have lived in the area for thousands of years.  We also visited the remaining petroglyphs at Petroglyph Point, which were actually created by people on boats, though now the area is dry.  We didn’t know what to expect from Lava Beds, and were greatly impressed by the array of landscapes to be explored within its borders.  Far from other cities, it is also pretty secluded, so we took a ride up to Klamath Falls one evening for dinner and the movies, something we both enjoy doing anytime.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument

While in the area, we were also able to explore one unit of World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.  A relatively newer site, set aside in 2008, the Tule Lake Unit encompasses sites were both prisoners of war and Japanese internees were housed during World War II.  A sobering part of our history, it was powerful to stand on the grounds where Japanese citizens were kept and basically imprisoned during the war.  As the wind ceaselessly poured down from the hills, we read inscriptions about the difficulties the POW’s and Japanese had adapting to this harsh environment.  The visitors center has a comprehensive museum of the area, that includes many exhibits and relics from this time period.  Fascinatingly, after the war was over, and the interns sent away, many people repurposed the barracks into homes.  As we drove around Tule Lake (sometimes written as Tulelake), we were able to pick out these houses by their characteristic rectangle shape.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Our next drive took us to Lassen Volcanic National Park.  Beautiful, remote and not very crowded, Lassen was a direct contrast to other, more popular National Parks.  We were both amazed and surprised by just how stunning the scenery was in Lassen, and by how calm and quiet it was compared to other National Parks.  We camped at Manzanita Lake for two nights, and though the campground was full, it was still pretty peaceful and did not feel overly crowded.  Upon arrival, and acquiring our stamps at the entrance station, we set up our tent, and then embarked on a drive around the park.  There is one long road that goes from entrance to entrance.  Within the park, there are also many miles of backcountry hiking, including a section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Sierra Nevada in California.  It is a life-long dream to hike this entire trail, which is 2,650 miles long.  Unable to climb to the top of Lassen Peak (which is only open a few times during the year), we settled for a walk down to Bumpass Hell, a geothermal area.  It is a fascinating, smelly area with steam rising into the air and muddy sludge bubbling out of the ground.  You can hear the hiss of the steam and the burping of the water as it boils beneath the surface, as well as observe the varicolored ground and impressive array of features within a small area – all accessible by boardwalk.

The next morning we went on another short hike, this time to Paradise Meadow.  The climb to the meadow was well worth the effort, as the view was stunning.  We spent some time laying in the meadow, eating snacks, and chatting with other hikers.  It was an absolutely beautiful spot, and I think we could have laid there for hours.  We truly enjoyed our time in Lassen, and we would love to return and spend more time there.

To be continued…

Cumberland Island National Seashore

When I first heard about Cumberland Island National Seashore, it seemed like a magical place full of wild ponies, sea birds, maritime forests, and peaceful beaches.  The reality was that magical.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

On our drive to St. Mary’s, Georgia we stopped for dinner at Tios in Columbia, South Carolina.  They served meat and vegetarian food, but offered vegan cheese for any order on the menu.  We took advantage of that and were very happy with the results.  Yummy tacos and burritos!  Upon arrival in St. Mary’s, a precious, quiet town on the water, before we could take the ferry to the island, we stayed the night at the Riverview Hotel, a relic of the past, replete with the requisite ghost stories and lounging cat.  All the rooms are unique, and are named after different people or things.  We stayed in the Nimitz Room, named for Admiral Nimitz, a naval officer during WWII.  We saw no ghosts, but did see the cat.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

In the morning, we explored the visitors center while waiting for our ferry to Cumberland Island.  The weather was warm and sunny, wonderful conditions for a weekend on the beach.  The ferry ride itself was lovely, as we chugged across Cumberland Sound from the St. Mary’s River.  We landed at the Sea Camp Ranger Station, where we were given some rules and regulations before being given our camping permits.  We were planning to stay on the island for two nights, and were able to get both of the camping spots we wanted.  As soon as we were told we could camp at Stafford Beach our first night, we shouldered our packs and headed into the interior of the island to follow the Parallel Trail to the Pratts Trail.  Not an overly taxing hike, no hills, we hiked the three or so miles through maritime forest relatively quickly and set up camp at a large site right off the trail.  I spent the entire time looking for any of the feral ponies that roam the island.  It wasn’t until dusk that I heard, and then caught a glimpse, of two trotting by our campsite.  By then we had made our way to the ocean to touch our toes to the Atlantic waters and collect shells.  There is an abundance of shells on the island, and since they are considered a renewable resource, visitors can take home as many as they can carry.  We spent a peaceful night sleeping under the stars, lulled to sleep by the pounding waves.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

The following morning, we meandered south along the beach, looking for sand dollars and picking up shells.  By the time we arrived back at Sea Camp, I had amassed a huge stuff sack full of shells!  I later decorated our dining room table with them – so we always have a reminder in our home of this truly magical place.  Anthony found two intact sand dollars.  We pretty much had the beach to ourselves, and it was a gorgeously sunny day, magical indeed!

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Back at Sea Camp, we established camp once again, in a secluded spot surrounded by trees.  Even though this is the most popular spot, and many people haul tons of stuff off the ferry to this nearby campground, it was still quiet during the night.  Once we had set up our tent, we took a walk to the ruins of Dungeness – which was a Carnegie mansion built in 1884.  It burned down in 1959, but the ruins of this magnificent house with beautiful views and solitude are still standing.  Rumored to be infested with snakes, visitors cannot actually enter the ruins, but can wander through the grounds and appreciate the lifestyle the Carnegies and their friends lived on this out of the way island.  They threw lavish parties that lasted for months, and enjoyed summers of leisure.  Only populated with the wealthy (and their slaves and servants) before it became part of the NPS system, Cumberland Island has always been a special place to its residents.  While walking around the property I spotted a small herd of feral ponies, and spent lots of time photographing them and refraining from approaching them.  Though used to people, they are wild animals.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Cumberland Island National Seashore

We crossed back to the Atlantic side of the island and walked up the beach in the fading light of the day.  After enjoying our couscous over our camping stove, and playing cards, we settled down onto our camping pads for our last night on Cumberland Island (at least on this trip – I hope we can come back and explore the rest of the island sometime).  The next morning we boarded the ferry, with some sadness.  The following day meant back to work and impending winter.

On our way home, we were able to stop at one more NPS site – Fort Pulaski National Monument.  Built in the mid-1800s, Fort Pulaski was first occupied by the Confederate Army during the Civil War.  Fort Pulaski was believed to be impenetrable, but new weapons had been invented, and the Federals took advantage of this.  Fort Pulaski was attacked from Tybee Island and the Federals were able to get the Confederates to surrender within 30 hours.  The fort has been preserved and restored enough so that we were able to walk through many of the underground tunnels, as well as examine all the interior rooms.  After this stop, we headed back home to Asheville.

Shining Rock Wilderness

A few months ago we hiked the beautiful Shining Rock Wilderness, located on the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. We went from Black Balsam to the top of Cold Mountain, enjoying the amazing views the whole way. Carrie is a huge fan of the novel Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, so she was thrilled to hike this influential mountain. I strapped my GoPro camera to my chest and took several thousand photographs along the way, this is the end product.

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